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Pizza Ranch

Review No. 132: Pizza Ranch

955 Covington Way

(501) 329-1688

60.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: The western-theme atmosphere might make you think that Pizza Ranch has roots in Texas (there are lone stars on the chairs), but in fact the franchise was born in Iowa in 1981. It has grown slowly and steadily over the years, and now has some 200 restaurants. It’s the largest regional pizza franchise in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and has locations, as well, in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and the Conway location is the first Pizza Ranch in Arkansas.

The company has a clear Evangelical Christian philosophy and is associated with conservative politics in Iowa, but (unlike some other franchises with that pedigree) is not on any lists of places with discriminatory practices, that I have seen. The corporate website has links to a number of online spiritual messages intended to uplift.

They serve mainly pizza, fried chicken, and salads, with a few complementary sides as well. Lunch is basically a buffet, but you can also apparently order online and pick up or have your food delivered.

She Said: Our readers have been quite excited about this restaurant opening in Conway, and since I love pizza, I was curious about it. It was new to my awareness, even though it’s in my home state of South Dakota already. I had just had my staples removed from my surgery and wanted to relax and celebrate with my favorite comfort food, so I thought it was time for us to visit for a leisurely lunch.

 

Ambience:

He Said: There’s a very western feel to the décor here with pictures hanging around on all the walls of cowhands painted on wood, and those Texas-style chairs around the tables. There are booths as well in a room that feels open and bright and not too crowded.

She Said: I never get used to the PAY FIRST! way of the buffet, but aside from that, it was a chill and open eatery, with the aforementioned lone stars on the chairs, and a clean and open, franchised “down-home” feel.

 

Drinks

He Said:This is a Coke restaurant, and they have two self-serve Coke fountains. But they have a bigger variety than most places, and in addition to the usual suspects they have Mr. Pibb, Barq’s Root Beer, Cherry Coke, and Mello Yello. I picked the Mello Yello as the one I see the least often, and it was all I dreamed it could be.

She Said:I was eating and drinking my feelings since my surgery, so I went for a full-on Coke (huzzah!) from the fountain. It was perfect.

 

Food

He Said: Since Pizza Ranch specializes in both pizza and chicken, I figured maybe, for your sake, Dear Readers, that I ought to give both a try, in addition to some sides. I’ll say at the outset that this is not a terribly pancreas-friendly restaurant: The cheese and meat on pizza usually renders it fairly fatty, and although chicken in itself is not very fatty, the crispy skin of fried chicken is. Even the salad here is hard to eat without some addition of fat, at least in the dressing. Each station along the buffet lists calories in the various items, and although the official Pizza Ranch list did note a few low-fat options for dressings that came in packages, the Conway store did not have them out—except for a low-fat Italian packet, but I wasn’t feeling it, so I had a bit of French.

I started with a slice of the Texas Taco pizza, which was not as caloric as some others. The online nutrition guide for Pizza Ranch indicates this contained 10 grams of fat. It was worth it. The crust was thin and crisp, and the taco toppings were delicious, with the nice touch of actual nacho chips mixed in. I also had one chicken thigh, which contained 13 grams of fat (though I only ate about half of it, letting She Said taste the rest). The skin was crisp and flavorful, and the chicken undry (that’s for you Jones) and tender.

But the high point of the whole meal came in the form of potatoes. I was sucked in by the potato chips or “Ranch Chips,” which looked to be home-made and tasted like it. They were like potato-crack, and a full serving (3 ounces) would have contained 10 more grams of fat (I had perhaps half a serving). But I was also intrigued by the mashed potatoes, which were served with a tasty looking chicken gravy. These were delicious as well—the potatoes were like velvet and either they or the gravy had a very faint hint of seasoning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but that tasted incredible. A full serving of those mashed potatoes contained 3.5 fat grams, and a quarter cup of the gravy contained another 3.5.

For my healthy option I had some green beans as a side, which added no fat at all and were delectable. They tasted fresh, though I suspect they weren’t. But they were definitely a cut above the sort of canned-Green-Giant green beans usually available at a buffet.

For an additional healthy option I tried a salad. There are some extra options you can add to your salad, and I added some mixed greens to the lettuce as well as some mushrooms and cucumber slices. There were carrots there, but they looked like they’d been sitting out since last Christmas (they had a dry white film over them), so I skipped them. As I said, I had to go with the French dressing because of the lack of low-fat options, and two tablespoons of this would have added 11 grams of fat to a salad that had none to begin with, so I skimped a bit on the dressing. The salad, as I think you may be gathering, left something to be desired.

Had I eaten the full serving of everything I had, it would have been a lunch with 51 grams of fat—pretty much my quota for the day on my low-fat diet. So if you’re looking for low-fat options, be careful here.

She Said: I was eating my feelings, so I didn’t care about fat or calories… I averted my eyes to the nutritional signage on the buffet. Honestly, I, along with many other Eat It readers am not a big buffet fan, but overall I was pleased with the food here.

I started out with two pieces of thin crust pepperoni pizza, cheese bread and mac and cheese. The pizza crust was thin and delicious. It was too buttery to be the cracker crust I most enjoy, but it was delicious, and I could have eaten more of it quite easily. The cheese bread was rather standard, but satisfying, and the mac and cheese was much better than I expected from a buffet, tasting almost homemade.

My second round, there was no more thin crust pepperoni (this is the short-coming of buffets), so I had a slightly thicker crust piece of pizza and the mashed potatoes He Said was raving about. The pizza was the one thing I didn’t finish, as it was too bready in the crust department. The potatoes, however, were plant crack, and with the gravy (which for once in restaurant history was not too peppery), it was down-home lusciousness. I actually had those for my “dessert” and was too full for the dessert pizzas on offer (there were several offerings in this department).

The things I tried from He Said’s plate were downright delicious: The fried chicken was expertly cooked, with crispy coating and tender, flavorful meat and the homemade chips were absolutely addictive.

 

Service

He Said:It’s a buffet, so there’s not exactly a lot of service involved. The guy who took our money was businesslike and quick. I did ask someone behind the counter whether those were mushrooms on one of the pizzas and she told me no, they were jalapeno peppers, which was a good safety tip, although she did call me “ma’am,” which I thought was a little strange. My beard usually prevents such errors in person.

She Said:  She thought you were She Said, Ruud!? The service also includes waitstaff who come to your table to clear used plates and refill your sodas, and the woman who performed this job was very friendly and helpful.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two adult lunch buffets with drinks for $20.88. We had a 10 percent discount on one of the lunches because He Said was considered a “senior.” The same discount applies to active members of the armed services.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:4 minutes

 

Rating

He Said: Pizza Ranch is a buffet that specializes in just two things but does them very well and does potatoes scrumptiously. But I’d skip the salad for now, at least at the Conway location.

She Said: As buffets go this is better than most, and some of the dishes truly shine. The thin-crust pizza is definitely worth the trip.

Is Pizza Ranch Good at What it’s Good For? Better than usual buffet food, with potatoes that will addict you and thin-crust pizza that will make you stalk the buffet for more.

 

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