Buckaroo Bonanza

Circle the wagons at Monrovia’s new Pioneer Point

By Erica Wayne 10/28/2010

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We got a call from friends who know a good thing when they see it. “Pioneer Point,” they said. “It just replaced Macaroni Grill on Huntington. You’ve got to try it. The food’s great, and what a bargain!” Well, that kind of recommendation’s not to be ignored. So, the next time we got together, that’s where we met.
Pioneer Point’s only been open a few months. I assumed it was a chain, as so many themed restaurants are. The name brought to mind both Bounty Hunter and Outback Steakhouse. And when we walked in, the faux-rustic interior certainly reinforced the impression. But the hostess told us that, so far, the Monrovia Pioneer Point is an only child, though probably not for long.
You see, Pioneer Point’s proprietors are the same folks who own the Ono Hawaiian BBQ chain. Though there are several close by (Alhambra, Rosemead, Temple City), Island cuisine isn’t a favorite, so we’ve never tried it. But, obviously lots of people do, since Ono has opened close to 40 locations all over California and Arizona. 
So dining at Pioneer Point now is almost like watching the Big Bang in miniature. To paraphrase the first President Bush, will we soon be seeing a thousand Pioneer Points of light? Or is it invasion of the body snatchers? It all depends on what you think of the homogenization of America and, of course, on what you choose to eat.
Here’s the deal: the prices are great, ranging from $1.60 to $13.99 depending on your age (2 to 60-plus) and when you eat. Seating is pretty nice, with enough room between tables for conversation. They’ve even got a side area lined with comfy booths for further seclusion and (dare I say it?) the kind of intimacy one rarely finds at buffets.
And now for the food. Pioneer Point bills itself as “Where the West Gets Fed.” A blurb on their “Rustle Up Some Grub and Fill ‘er Up Menu” says:
“The pioneers of the Old West believed in following their dreams. If America was the land of opportunity, California was its fatted calf. Our early forbears immigrated across vast oceans and arid deserts to realize a new life for themselves and their families. For those brave frontiersmen, there was no greater reward for a hard day’s work than a satisfied stomach. Family diners were best served with healthy helpings. 
“At Pioneer Point, we intend to uphold that American tradition for the 21st century cowboy and cowgirl in all of us. We’re cooking up all-you-can-eat with the freshest of ingredients every day to appease the heartiest of appetites for you and your kin.”
This is a charming way of describing the opportunity for a total pig-out and, again, your opinion will likely depend on what you put on your plate.
The buffet area is divided into food-groups with a tip of the hat to several only faintly pioneer cuisines, including Italian, Asian and Mexican. A big plus is the “Old West Barbecue” area, with chefs grilling ribs, chicken, pork, salmon, etc. as you watch. The pork ribs were great, tender and charred with a choice of sauces to slather on.
On the other hand, the bland steam table enchiladas weren’t worth the effort. The chile verde with pork was better, but this isn’t the place if you’re craving south-of-the-border fare. Ditto for Asian —the orange chicken was heavily breaded and missing the “crisp” you want in this dish. Italian was OK. Pizzas (under a hot light) were thin-crust and pleasant. My husband, a simple soul, liked the spaghetti with meatballs and sausage.
I don’t know if they fried many chickens in the Old West, but, being from the South, that’s what I honed in on. Getting there just as a pile of freshly cooked birds was delivered, I made off with two wings and a plump thigh — hot, crunchy, juicy and well-seasoned. I cushioned them with sweet potatoes with marshmallow, creamed spinach and a garlicky biscuit for a true comfort meal.  
When we got back to the table, our pals were feasting on barbecue, cornbread, fries (which they swore were among the best in the universe) and broccoli with cheese. (Look for the last two in the “Little Buckaroos” section, with mac and cheese, sweet potato fries, mini-burritos and corn dogs.) My mate had a spoonful of beets, but none of us made much use of the salad bar. Instead we did extra carb-loading with a pitcher of draft beer.
Desserts aren’t worth holding back for. A brownie and some cheesecake were about average, and a slab of bread pudding, was definitely under par (too doughy and too cold). The small selection of pastries did not tempt me much, but a cup of chocolate pudding and some soft-serve pleased our friends. Hot coffee and tea is self-serve, along with a number of soft drinks.
Pioneer Point is already a local success and, like any force of nature, I see it tsunami-ing across California in record time. If the proliferation of chains or mountains of food annoys you, don’t go. But if hot barbecued ribs, freshly fried chicken and a huge choice of sides for less than $15 in a Disneyesque “Frontierland” setting appeals, Pioneer Point’s just dandy. If Monrovia’s a bit far, just wait. It’s undoubtedly coming soon to a location near you! 

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