Hole In the Wall: Celebrity Soul Food Buffet's Southern Comfort

Somehow, Lake Forest has become a focal point for African-American life in OC. A recording studio attracts the likes of Snoop Dogg; black churches dot the area. Kathryn McCullough was the first (and only) African-American mayor of an OC city. And since last summer, Lake Forest has hosted OC's only true soul-food buffet at the perfectly named Celebrity Soul Food Buffet. The place is massive—you can easily carve it into three distinct restaurants, with a whole section already cordoned off for banquets. But here is the best stand-alone buffet in the county, with three gigantic tables groaning with trays of Southern food. There's even a superfluous salad bar to the side—why bother with crappy roughage when all the veggies you need are next to all the fried catfish, dirty rice and neck bones (!) you can pile onto your plates for seconds and thirds?

I've traveled enough through the South to know a proper soul-food buffet, and Celebrity nails it. There's the requisite fried chicken, the DIY waffle station, the sweet tea with enough sugar to raise C & H's stock price. The mac and cheese congeals too quickly, it always seems to run out of chicken and dumplings when I'm there, and I wish there were more 'cue options, but everything else is perfect. Celebrity rotates more than 40 distinct entrées, few available anywhere else in OC, all noted with stickers above the sneeze guard save for the ones that read either “Daily Special” or—better yet—”Special Request.” You know you're in a down-home place when cooked cabbage is on a tray, not too far from the steamed yams, both ready for eaters to ladle over the black-eyed peas and green beans for the best non-Indian vegetarian meal of your life.

And then there's the peach cobbler, rotated seemingly every hour, with a perfectly crisp crust and peaches from an orchard. African-American life is sadly hard to find in OC, but Celebrity makes up for it with heaps of food and good graces: When a clueless guy went in recently and asked the cashier what kind of food was sold there, she replied, “Souuuuuul food!” HELL, YA!

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