119 S R 3
New Castel IN 47362
Date of visit: November 27, 2011
I haven’t stopped food blogging: for the past several weeks, we’ve been traveling, motorcycles in tow, to extend the short Michigan riding season and of course to work (my real job) at different locations. Traveling gives us an opportunity to talk to prospective clients face to face in other States. Not only do we travel, we eat, and did a lot of eating during this trip. In fact, I have several weeks of reviews coming up including the worse places to eat and the best to date.
On this excursion, we initially traveled to Florida, staying there for a few weeks and then took a short sojourn in Louisiana and Nashville respectively; with stops in-between (Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio and not necessarily in that order) as we headed back to Michigan. One of our two last meals on the road took us to Portland Indiana, where we dined at Ming’s Garden Restaurant in the evening followed by Richards’s restaurant for Breakfast. (Richards deserves its own review.)
Ming’s Garden has a New Castle address, situated just outside Portland. From Portland Indiana, we were about 250 miles from home but being travel weary we decided to stop for the night. We were hungry, and having passed several well-known chain restaurants, we decided to find something local to the area. Something good. We decided to try Chinese. In retrospect we have had some of the worse Chinese food on this trip I ever put a fork in, but call us crazy, we decided to try road Chinese one more time.
Now I rarely look at other peoples restaurant reviews however afterward I checked for Mings and found three commentaries dated 2008 which include statements like: “Sometimes the food isn’t all the way hot” and “beware of foreign objects in your food” but rated the restaurant with reasonably high marks in spite of those revelations. There are recent reviews online where some diners praised Ming’s as the best and some, in so many words, declared the place a disaster area. If we had read the comments, I do not believe this review would have been written.
Ming’s Garden is located in a strip mall. Which mean lots of parking for any sized group. There were several cars near the front door; no other place seemed to be opened so we assumed the cars indicated that Ming’s was somewhat crowded. Once inside it’s a short walk up to a counter where we were greeted by a friendly Oriental girl who told us, after she took our money, to sit anywhere. They take your money first, before you get a close look at the dining area and the food. I’m sure we could have looked over the buffet before committing to a meal, but we didn’t.
The restaurant has the typical layout for a buffet, large dining area with a few rows of steam tables holding trays of food, all within walking distance from any place you’re sitting. Included on the floor is the usual dessert / salad table, a beverage center along the wall and a Sunday bar next to the drinks. The dining area had several unoccupied tables all in need of cleaning so we selected a small table for two, with no crumbs or tabletop food debris. Our table butted up against a low wall, which served to divide the room into sections. Nearby was a party of six, which included two children. They seemed to be all related and I’m sure the kids didn’t drive there, so at least one possibly two cars may have belonged to the adults at that table (So much for the car theory). On a trip to the women room, I did discover two other diners sitting in a remote corner a couple – eating ice cream. So I was thinking three customer cars, that leaves seven employee cars? The place is big; you could hide seven employees in there.
Everything is self-serve at Ming’s, including the beverages. We made our own version of Arnold Palmers (they had lemonade and ice tea) and dove into the buffet. I like to walk around the entire buffet before I start piling food on my plate. My husband always starts with Hot and Sour soup therefore, he is always back to the table before I am. The choices were colorful. All the food was labeled, none of the labels matched the food items, it was total label chaos. For example a label (scotched taped to the overhead buffet lights) that read sweet and sour pork, was actually Lo-mein. However, having eaten Chinese food before I recognized some of the dishes. And as norm for most Chinese buffets, next to egg foo young and fried rice items there was macaroni and cheese, rolls, pizza and French fries. I realize that the non-Chinese dishes are probably there for the kids – and to Ming’s credit I imagine it is a lot of trouble stir frying pizza.
I decided on stuffed mushrooms, Crab Rangoon, rice, pepper shrimp and one spring roll to start. The mushrooms were large I had two. They were cold and filled with something unrecognizable, very rubbery and squished when I cut into them; it was like cutting into a wet soft sponge. Passing those, I tried the Crab Rangoon. It was cold and greasy. And rubbery too. I saw a trend. The pepper shrimp was cold, but tasty. I checked the shrimp for veins, I will not eat dirty shrimp – the shrimp appeared cleaned, but the coldness of the shrimp did not make it very appetizing. The rice, how could you screw up rice in a Chinese restaurant, had hard pieces of uncooked grains in the mix and then there was the spring roll, didn’t try it. As I sat there, my husband pushed his unfinished soup aside and told me it was one of the worse Hot and Sour soups he has ever had. Warm, not hot, with a strange flavor. . “Want to try it?” he offered. I passed, why would I try something that I already know sucks.
As were sitting there, a waiter emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray of some kind of cooked food. We decided to follow him around the buffet (he had hot food) and as he replenished selected areas of the buffet, going back and forth from the kitchen to the steam tables we took some of whatever he dished out. I ended up with a hot spring roll and some hot pepper steak. After eating the spring roll, which was beyond hot, I tried the pepper steak…too tough to chew I gave up. I decided a trip to the ice cream bar might work. The ice cream, what was left of two large serve yourself 10 gallon of ice cream containers may at one time been vanilla and chocolate, I passed that up and went to the fruit bar.
Canned pineapple, a tray of community chocolate pudding, a tray of rice pudding (I think), some red gooey banana slices, and cakes, the type of cake that looks neat and uniformly made, miniature cream puffs and chocolate fudge was waiting for me. I was hungry; I took two cream puffs, fudge and some cake. The cream puffs were awful. I think the filing was butter cream, they sure didn’t taste right. The fudge was okay but the cake was excellent. And, while weaving my way through the not so steamy food tables, from the dessert area back to our table, I noticed something I had missed. On the steam table near the fried rice, were taco shells, ground beef, shredded cheese, something that looked like liquid cheese and something that appeared to be salsa? That entire arrangement had obviously been sitting out for a while, the cheese had skin and grease was floating on the meat.
Retuning to my seat, (my husband was still mulling over the canned pineapple chucks at the dessert table), I noticed a busboy cleaning tables headed my way. He stopped at our table and asked, in his best English heavily accented with Spanish if we were done with the plates we had left on the table. Nothing unusual except he was definitely not Chinese; perhaps Mexican which may explain the Tacos and the food, Mexican Chefs?
In summary Mings Garden has a big well-lit dining area, affording lots of privacy. I don’t think any group of any size would have any problems sitting together. The food, not so good. However, I did notice that Chinese buffets in general serve their best foods about lunch and dinner time. Eight o’clock may have been too close to closing, and with only ten people eating, two of which were little kids, there was no incentive for the chef to keep hot fresh food coming. However one paying guest or hundreds, patrons should get the best they have to offer as they paid for dinner and should expect nothing less than fresh hot food, not all day leftovers (which I think most were).
Good biker restaurant: might be if you get there early (and f’n starving). Nevertheless, the attitude of doing as little as possible for a paying guest – Ride On By.
$18.90 before tip
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