BY PETE TITTL
Bakersfield is not a town with a shortage of good pizza lunch buffets. Those that come to mind on my recommended list include Mountain Mike's, Pizza Bob's and Round Table for both quality and value. But in the process we've not checked out Rocky's Pizza & Arcade in the northeast or the latest Magoo's Pizza in the southwest (which just changed its name from Big Daddy's Pizza & Pub).
Located on Niles Street, east of Mount Vernon, Rocky's has all sorts of specials at all hours of the day, but the weekday buffet when we went (with a coupon) was a great value: $5.99 including drinks, salad bar, fried chicken, wedges and four types of pizza: pepperoni, Hawaiian, combination and some sort of cheese bread version with bits of purple onion and green pepper on it. I'm guessing it was a vegetarian version. When we arrived just after 11:30 a.m. everything was fresh and the crowd was light, so we had exceptional pickings.
Although the wedges can't compare with the nearly perfect version at Magoo's Pizza on Ming Avenue, the chicken was crispy and hot, and definitely fresh cut and breaded. I could tell because whoever was wielding the cleaver back in the kitchen was nearly chopping the "drummette" off the wings, leaving those with a sort of stumpy appearance. There wasn't a drop of grease on any of this, another plus. The pizzas had uninspired crusts -- I'd really just call them serviceable -- but the meats on top were impressive, particularly the chunks of sausage. The salad bar was small, but did have sliced hard-boiled egg, fresh broccoli and two lettuce mixes (but no fresh spinach). The dressings had that brackish note you get from commercially prepared concoctions.
It was a somewhat interesting ambiance, and I use the word interesting in the way that people do when they're trying not to insult someone to their face. Most of the decorations were provided by beer companies. There are four pool tables, but the arcade games are mostly throwbacks from a decade ago, such as Dance Dance Revolution (which was, sadly, dark) and that old NFL game Blitz, which I played, pitting my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, against the Chicago Bears. Brett Favre (remember him?) was quarterbacking the Pack but the red pass button only worked occasionally forcing him to run repeatedly, and even with the turbo button pushed constantly he struggled to get first downs. I called Suicide Blitz for every defensive play, and that frequently killed me. Pack won 9-7, so the game is pretty much like real life even today.
The biggest warning I have about the arcade atmosphere was the noise. One of the games, a token-launching truck game called Big Haul, kept yelling repeatedly "Jacked Again!" I mean like every three seconds. If I worked there I'd hear that in my sleep. If you have a hearing aid, leave it at home, or you'll be tempted to play the game just to shut it up.
No such noise at Magoo's, which has a similar buffet running from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays for $7.25. The salad bar was not as extensive -- no hard-boiled eggs, less variety in the side vegetables -- and four different pizzas when we visited: pepperoni, pepperoni with jalapeno, meat heave (pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage, ground beef, Canadian bacon) and an innovative one, cheeseburger (made with ground beef chunks, pickle slices, onion strands and a yellow mustard sauce instead of conventional tomato sauce). I thought it was fascinating, but the mustard hints dominated, the onions would've been more of a presence had they been caramelized and the meat just got washed away in the vinegary influence of the pickles and mustard. There was a lot of cheese on top, oozing off in strings as you pulled it away. The crust at Magoo's has improved a lot since they opened: dark brown on the bottom, airy like good bread up top.
But they had a secret weapon, those potato logs I've raved about in the past. Not sure how they make them so amazing, but they are devoid of grease, crispy to the max outside and soft like a perfectly baked potato inside. Get some ranch with these things, and you're in heaven. The chicken is superbly made, too, but only thighs and drumsticks were in the bin when we visited. No wings, not even the hacked-off variety.
The place is still impressive inside, clean, with a TV turned to ESPN's "NFL Today." Great to get that with lunch.
I should give them props for service, too, as when the guy in the kitchen came out with new potato logs he first went table to table offering them to customers. They also seemed to announce whenever a new pizza was brought out.