by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Patrons at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel have gotten used to having a top-notch buffet available to them.
Starting today, they'll have access to a Thunder Falls Buffet fresh off an $8.5 million redesign.
"Today, a restaurant already regarded as the region's best buffet has become even better," said Barry E. Snyder Sr., president of the Seneca Nation of Indians. "Our award-winning culinary team has redefined what it means to eat at a buffet and locals and tourists alike will come to know Thunder Falls Buffet as a must-visit dining location when visiting the Niagara Falls region. More than 1 million people dine at the buffet every year and we fully anticipate that number to increase."
The complete redesign includes new food serving stations, new lighting displays and video screens and a plethora of new menu items, totaling more than 100 dining options.
Guests can sample various cuts of meat, Mediterranean seafood, Asian cuisine, pizzas, salads and fruits and even desserts, made specially for the casino by the students at Niagara County Community College's Culinary Arts Center on Old Falls Street.
The students in the pastry arts department are being asked to produce not only the highest quality items for paying guests, but also in large quantities.
"It's kind of cool," second-year student Joy Letson said during a special unveiling of the newly redesigned buffet Thursday. "This is a lot bigger than what we're used to. We get to learn how to work to prepare large quantities of food and to do it at the highest quality possible."
College President James Klyczek said the students – about 100 of the 350 enrolled in the center – work with Thunder Falls Head Chef Gary McHale to create a menu of enticing dishes, from cheesecakes to chocolate cake, each day.
As for the rest of the food, McHale said the new buffet is "the best Christmas present a chef can ask for."
His new playground allows his staff to offer new courses the previous buffet only dreamed of creating regularly. Of course, the buffet also accommodates food requests from patrons, just like it did before.
But the prepared food options are more numerous than ever before, McHale said.
"This will allow us to attend to individual tastes," he said. "Whether you have vegan needs, vegetarian, allergy or gluten free, we have lots, and I mean lots, of options. You can even eat healthy at the buffet, you just need to exercise a bit of self control."
One of the most notable features of the redesign is the open area connecting the dining area with the gaming floor. Seneca Niagara and Buffalo Creek General Manager Chuck Kilroy said the new layout will allow the buffet to serve 80 guests every 15 minutes during peak hours. Seating capacity at the buffet also increased to 500, up from 420 in the old layout, and includes booths, tables and a chef's table, all within the immediate vicinity of much of the food.
Building the new buffet required it to be closed since October and employed more than 20 local contractors and subcontractors to complete the redesign. In all, 200 workers finished the work on time, Kilroy said.
Patrons using a Seneca Niagara Player's Club card can enjoy lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for $15. Dinner runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday. The normal dinner price is $20, while a special menu will be available Friday, Saturday and Sunday at $24 per person. Guests not using a Player's Club card – free from the casino – will pay $2 extra per admission.