DinnerUncle Willy’s


Uncle Willy's

Everyone I know appears to have some sort of childhood memory of Uncle Willy’s — that quintessentially mid-80’s dining phenomenon known as the all-you-can-eat buffet. Quite frankly, it surprises me to no end that this artifact of the past is still around. On a mutual dare, a group of us decided to head out to Uncle Willy’s to revisit this culinary curiosity and to reminisce about days gone by. Fried chicken and ice cream, here we come.

Uncle Willy's
(Clockwise: 1. The Roast Beef is actually not bad. 2. Lime Jello, a classic buffet condiment. 3. Uncle Willy’s has a time limit policy — you know, so you don’t stick around overnight for breakfast the next morning.)

Not much has appeared to have changed at Uncle Willy’s, although to be quite honest any memories I have about the restaurant is just a haze of foggy recollections of extended family gatherings. The parental generation has always regarded Uncle Willy’s as good value — whatever twisted notion of value that cramming as much food into your face as your stomach could handle actually offered.

We arrived on an early weekday evening and the restaurant was unsurprisingly empty. The vast restaurant felt like a cafeteria in a retirement home. One corner of the restaurant was cordoned off with tape. We paid for our meal and received a green slip with the rules of dining printed on them. Our friend Steve, who had arrived earlier and was already seated at a booth, had already been admonished for not displaying his green ticket on the table. Rules are important here.

Uncle Willy's
(Clockwise: 1. A plate of food, including the infamous fried chicken. 2. The roast chicken is roasted on-site and is perfectly edible. 3. The feed line.)

When we’ve all settled, staking our claim on a table in the middle of the restaurant, we headed towards the beginning of the buffet line. The familiar row of heat lamps hovering over trays of steaming food was highlighted by neon signs proclaiming a particular section as a certain course in the meal. There were the old standbys: green salad with your choice of familiar dressing: italian, thousand island, ranch; corn niblets; peas and carrots; some kind of pasta; french fries; roast potatoes and mashed potatoes with gravy. There were also some new dishes I didn’t recall having seen before: sweet and sour pork; curry chick peas and chow mein. Dishes like the pasta were predictably terrible: haphazardly seasoned and the consistency of baby food. Others like the corn niblets and peas and carrots were sufficiently adequate, as these canned and frozen types of products are ideal for withstanding abuse.

What most of us were actually looking forward to was the infamous carvery and the fried chicken. There, at the end of the line — the holy grail of the buffet. Meat. Today (as it was decades ago), they had roast ham and roast beef. The server at the end dutifully slices off two thin layers of meat and gingerly places it on our plate. The ham was a bit dry, but otherwise the flavour was decent. The roast beef was not bad: adequately seasoned and tender and moist (depending on what end you get sliced off).

The famed fried chicken didn’t disappoint. I mean, it wasn’t outstanding by any stretch, but the batter was nice and crunchy and the majority of the pieces were quite juicy.

Uncle Willy's
(Clockwise. The four desserts of the apocalypse. 1. Cream Puff. 2. Rice Pudding. 3. Apple Crumble. 4. Chocolate Brownie.)

The dessert bar was basically a stainless steel and glass cabinet, much like that of your typical high school cafeteria. Lonely, carefully portioned cups of dessert sat waiting in the chiller awaiting someone to select them. Together, with our friends Steve, Mike and Virg, Case and I altogether tried out the soft serve, cream puff, rice pudding, chocolate brownie, apple crumble and lime jello. The cream puff, we were told, was decent. We found, however, the rice pudding and apple crumble to be hideously unappetizing. The chocolate brownie was so-so, but suffered from being dried out while the lime jello had a similar texture to a rubber tire.

Overall, for just under $30 for two people — we found it to be a terrible value. Consuming large quantities of subpar food is not a good deal, no matter how you slice it. It wasn’t all bad, though. For 3 hours, we enjoyed  reminiscing and carousing, well past the 1.5 hour limit. To be fair, we really only ate for 1 hour, the rest was just friendly chatter — proving that even the most terrible meals could be enjoyed in the company of good friends.

If the stars are properly aligned one day, then we may do what our friend Steve suggested — come back in 15 years and try it all again.

Perfect for: reliving the past or preparing yourself for winter hibernation.

The Details

6411 Nelson Avenue, Burnaby

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