Usually when people think of Thanksgiving, they conjure up images of a magnificent mahogany dining table, lined with the most gluttonous spread of food: a giant turkey in the center, surrounded by stuffing, sweet potato casserole, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course, pumpkin pie. The dining room and home is full of cheer and all one can hear is laughter, the clinking of silverware, and the occasional ringing of the doorbell, as more family members arrive to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast.

Perhaps this is a highly stereotyped version of a Thanksgiving meal, or maybe you’re part of the lucky bunch who gets to experience such a lavish dinner. For me, Thanksgiving is anything but nostalgic. Ask me how my family celebrates Thanksgiving, and I’d give you a one-worded answer: buffet. But not just any kind of buffet—Mystic Lake Casino's Thanksgiving buffet.

Considering that my entire extended family lives on the East Coast and my immediate family in snow-laden Minnesota, it isn't a surprise that my Thanksgivings consist of a small gathering between my brother, parents and I. "Why cook such an extravagant meal for 4 people?" seems to be my mom’s reasoning come Thanksgiving time. And so to the casino buffet it is!

cake, beer, chocolate, tea
Sunny Tang
salmon, fish, rice, seafood
Sunny Tang

And you’d think I’d be saved by the sight of food. But to my disappointment, the buffet had little to offer. I started off with what other than the Thanksgiving staples: carved turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet potatoes.

While the carving station had my mouth watering, the meat itself did not. It was dry and rubbery, and lacking flavor. The stuffing wasn’t bad—a good mixture of sausage, with large pieces of celery and onions, but the lukewarm temperature of the dish was slightly off-putting. The mashed potatoes and gravy were way below IKEA standards, and the sweet potatoes were nothing special.

As if the casino ambiance didn’t stray from Thanksgiving enough, the stations of Chinese food, pizza, pasta and sushi, threw me in for a loop. I decided to go for Chinese. Some fried rice, General Tso’s chicken, Lo Mein and spring rolls could never hurt. All I could say was that I was immediately transported to those times of college all-nighters filled with sub-par Chinese delivery.

sweet, chocolate
Sunny Tang

Everyone knows that the best part of Thanksgiving is the desserts, namely, the pumpkin pie. Of course I couldn’t just limit myself to one slice of pie when faced with a full dessert table though.

Why not also try the apple pie, some chocolate mousse, bread pudding, and crème brûlée? Go big or go home, right? After sampling all, my word of advice is to always, always just stick to the ice cream machine. This is one of the few exceptions to not be adventurous and to go for the familiar.

So while many of you are dozing off post-Thanksgiving meal, bellies full of home-cooked green bean casserole, I’ll be on the 45 minute car trip home from the Mystic Lake Casino Thanksgiving buffet, yet again wondering how next year’s Thanksgiving can be different, and thinking of the many ways of how I can get rid of the cigarette fumes on my jacket.