Atlantic City beach buffets are not just for grandmas anymore [photos]

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The days of serving dishes heated under red lamps are over, making way for a more customized dining experience at the Jersey shore.

Once upon a time, buffets were a demonstration of wealth, but in recent decades, the cattle-call lines and overcooked entrees have left a bad taste in the mouths of many diners.

Luckily, this is no longer the norm at casino buffets, which have come a long way in a short time. As the trend toward a higher-end experience has not been lost on the buffet crowds, people expect more without sacrificing quality for quantity.

There are still $20 all-you-can-eat deals available at the shore. But for just a few more dollars, the beach buffet experience goes from eek! to chic.

Harrah’s in Atlantic City now offers locally sourced and sustainable items prepared in small quantities by chefs — and presented in such a way that going back for more is decidedly a must.

With produce coming in from Master Farms on the mainland in Galloway, and sustainable seafood sourced from River and Glen, a favorite of Philly chefs, Harrah’s is offering a buffet experience no one else in Atlantic City can touch.

Just as the quality of the food has improved, the flow of the room and wait times have been addressed as well.

One of the biggest downsides of dining at buffets during peak hours (lunch from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., or dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) is the lines — not just at the stations, but also waiting to pay and be seated.

Just this summer, Caesars launched a new feature that allows diners to reserve a table via digital kiosk and receive a text message when the table is ready. No more waiting around for the Gold Card line to die down. Take a stroll through the casino and head back to the buffet just in time for the prime rib and crab legs.

While most of the casinos in Atlantic City offer a buffet, not all are open seven days a week, which is why I’ve chosen to focus on these. There’s nothing more disappointing than the unfulfilled promise of all-you-can-eat shrimp.

While Atlantic City has been bolstering its non-casino activities with family-friendly dining and shopping options, not everyone likes the casino scene. That’s understandable. It can be cold and devoid of any outside elements, like sunshine.

Over at The Quarter in the Tropicana is Zeytinia, a gourmet food store that may not be all you can eat, but that offers anything you could care to eat. They carry everything from specialty chocolates to international cheeses and lunch meats sliced fresh at the counter. Fresh fruit and smoked salmon, a cold salad bar and, of course, pastries, coffee and teas.

The assortment is really impressive, and the store is the perfect spot to pick up some snacks for a build-your-own beach picnic or a quick bite to eat in your room.

Time spent taking in the scenes of the Shore can’t be complete without a bit of the bay. Over in Wildwood, Urie’s Waterfront offers a view like few others and a deal on all-you-can-eat blue-claw crabs seven days a week.

While the dining room will do the trick, it’s the wooden deck overlooking the bay that’s the real draw of this waterfront favorite. Just take your time and enjoy the view. The crabs may take a while.

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