Move over Valentino’s and CiCi’s Pizza, there’s a new pizza buffet in town.
For the full effect, the above sentence should be read out loud and with a Western drawl.
Those who have dined at the Pizza Ranch in northeast Lincoln know why. The new family-friendly restaurant is cowboy-themed, right down to naming one of its dining rooms “The Bunkhouse” and calling its servers “ranch hands.”
I half-expected Woody from "Toy Story" to pop up somewhere. But he didn’t.
Jess Meekma opened the Pizza Ranch, a 6,000-square-foot restaurant at 84th Street and Lexington Avenue, on Nov. 18. As a kid, he washed dishes at a Pizza Ranch in his hometown of Orange City, Iowa, where the restaurant chain is headquartered.
A financial adviser in Omaha since 2000, Meekma dreamed of running his own business. Having visited Lincoln often when he was an athlete at Northwestern College in Orange City, he realized a Pizza Ranch would be a good fit here.
He moved his family -- he has two daughters ages 8 and 6 -- to Lincoln after securing the franchise rights for the city.
Pizza Ranch is known for pizza and broasted chicken, an odd combination, but it works. The Lincoln location emphasizes a buffet, but takeout and delivery are available. The Lincoln store also is big on community involvement, with partial proceeds on Monday nights benefiting charitable organizations.
The buffet includes a pizza, hot (broasted chicken and sides), cold (salads) and dessert bars.
The pizza buffet is a mix of basic (pepperoni, hamburger, etc.) and specialty pizzas, with most featuring the original crust, which reminds me of Godfather’s. Pizza Ranch also has thin and skillet crusts.
The specialty pies are the way to go, ranging from Buffalo Chicken to Chicken Broccoli Alfredo to this month’s special, Brushfire, a pie made with andouille sausage and Tabasco.
Finding fried or broasted chicken in Lincoln is a chore. Name three other places not called Lee’s, KFC or Popeye’s. See what I mean. I’m thrilled the Pizza Ranch serves chicken on the buffet and as a menu/takeout item. Broasted, unlike fried, seals in the juices. These pieces are juicy. I’ll be back for the chicken. Grade: B
It’s loud and chaotic, especially if the 220-seat restaurant is busy and filled with hungry kids. The restaurant tries to keep the noise level down with high-backed booths and well-placed walls. But it’s a losing battle.
The place is extremely kid-friendly, providing coloring pages and funky napkins with corny sayings to the fellow who makes balloon animals on Tuesday nights. Grade: B
Our group ordered three buffets and one menu item, a two-piece chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and a biscuit.
You may want to stick with the buffet, because food coming out of the kitchen takes some time to prepare, even the chicken dinners. That was odd because the chicken on the buffet was replenished before our meal arrived. It seemed as if the kitchen could have snagged a couple of pieces before sending the rest out to the buffet.
On the plus side, the restaurant will prepare special-ordered pizzas for buffet customers. They’ll give you a number, bring the pizza to your table and give you as many slices as you desire. The rest of it goes to the buffet. Grade: B
Veggies for pizzas include green peppers, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, black and green olives and Roma tomatoes. The salad bar features a mix of expected fare, from lettuce salads to potato and macaroni salads. Hot sides include mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, corn, green beans and buttered biscuits. Grade: B