Founders Richard and Karl Persson opened the Nordic Lodge in 1963 and their Scandinavian roots helped inspire the “Viking Buffet” concept back in 1981. Twenty-five years later, the Nordic Lodge continues to provide “a truly unique dining experience,” as its brochure aptly proclaims. For an all-inclusive (tax, tip, soft drinks or coffee) $67.50 per person, it damn well better be.
Whatever the cover charge (signs in the bar area note how the tariff will increase next year to $70), we’re here to declare the Nordic Lodge is a luxurious bargain, guaranteed to provide a memorable evening (not to mention return visits).
Cynics may expect a sprawling, Vegas-strip buffet overrun by starved throngs of over-sized tourists, but the scene is a humble presentation of two modest-sized rooms, packed with an assortment of land and sea delicacies, and an expeditious service staff devoted to keeping us fat and happy.
Some two-dozen benches line an outdoor canopy in anticipation of the giant tour buses that fill the restaurant (mostly on early Saturday evenings). Arriving a bit later on that day of the week, and needing only a table for two, seemed to work to our advantage. Having experienced a 90-minute wait for a two-top plenty of times in the past, this diner found a 30-minute pause more palatable. The interior resembles a classic hunting lodge, with lots of hardwoods and enormous grizzly bears on display.
The waitstaff basically plays the role of fleet-footed busser, standing close by to whisk away plates and refill the sodas. Our excellent waiter Cale (on board more than 12 years) informed us of a new addition to the lobster station this year: king crab legs. The spiny, Wiffle-bat sized crab legs were the talk of the evening. Also duly noted were the impressively plump lobsters dominating the oval dinner platter, as well as the hefty yet tender sand-free steamers that evoked childhood memories of family clambakes.
For all the talk of unlimited lobster, filet, and prime rib, the little things can make a lasting impression, from the surprisingly tender and flavorful baked stuffed shrimp to bacon-wrapped scallops, my personal weakness. The maple-hickory flavor of the bacon offered additional sweetness to the delicate scallops, which were juicy and perfectly cooked.
Another personal highlight was a spread of various seafood salads prefacing the lobster station. The creamy crawfish salad and a simple concoction of mussels and hot peppers in olive oil each go perfectly atop a filet, and the small but inviting raw bar was loaded with peel-and-eats, oysters, and littlenecks aplenty.
There is some great people-watching, too, from the guy hunched over on a bench outside, digesting with a smoke and sporting a “Time to get cracking!” lobsta bib, to the rookie demanding two lobsters while making his way through the line (one of the unflappable staffers patiently retorted, “Sir, I assure you we will not run out”). The array of diners was well represented at our table, from my chowhound cohort Tom, who meticulously shelled his lobster, keenly focusing on his personal goal of consuming five, to yours truly, cracking shells like a rabid sea otter, and horrifying my pal by slathering the green lobster guts, or tamale, on a slice of garlic toast.