It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
-Twilight Zone, ep. 28 ‘A Nice Place to Visit’
So there’s this great episode of Twilight Zone called ‘A Nice Place to Visit’. In it, a lifelong small-time crook finally has the law catch up with him after an attempted robbery, and after being shot by a cop, wakes up seemingly unharmed and in a bright white place, with a luxurious apartment, a gourmet meal, and a busy bustling casino. His guide, a mysterious figure named Pip, explains that this world was built entirely for him, and that anything and everything he could ever want would be provided for him. No one in the world is real, but they’re all meant to satisfy his every whim. He can eat whatever he wants whenever he wants, he lives in the most beautiful luxurious high end apartment, he can have any woman instantly fall in love with him, and no matter what he can never lose a single bet at the casino. Figuring this must be heaven and somehow he managed to get himself in despite how he’s lived his life, the man goes on to fully enjoy his seeming reward.
Of course, after about a month, he starts to grow bored. There’s no thrill without the possibility of loss. He no longer derives any joy from having his every whim instantly satisfied. He tires of the fake crowds, always cheering him on, always into him, always ‘on’. He tells Pip he’s tired of heaven, tired of this unsatisfying existence, and asks to be brought to ‘the other place’. And this is where and why this episode sticks out as one of my all-time favorites. This is where that signature Twilight Zone twist comes into play and you realize the horror of it all. Pip starts to laugh as the man struggled with the locked door trying to escape and says with self-satisfied glee, ‘Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!’
Ooh, that always gave me shudders. Now I was really young when I first saw that episode. Always wondered what could possibly be so wrong with getting all of your wishes to come true. How could having everything you’ve always wanted spread right in front of you be a bad thing?
Then, many many many years later, I was watching Travel Channel’s Buffet Paradise and there was a particular buffet that caught my eye because it was fairly close by in Rhode Island, and it seemed to me like the buffet straight out of my wildest dreams, serving and focusing almost solely on the things I loved the most.
So of course, on my way back home after two weeks in New England, I decided to extend the stay one extra day for personal reasons and finally take the opportunity to go to this buffet. I’d been dreaming of this place ever since I first saw the Buffet Paradise program back in 2013. I would often tell friends and family of it if the topics of New England, Rhode Island, or seafood ever came up. It was one of my goals to finally make this pilgrimage.
But it was on this journey that I finally understood the torture Valentine had to live through in A Nice Place to Visit. Because at the Nordic Lodge in Charlestown, RI you walk in thinking it’s heaven, but you crawl out feeling like hell.
Words cannot describe my initial elation to finally be walking up the path to the Nordic Lodge. I couldn’t believe years of dreaming and yearning were finally about to be fulfilled. The location is absolutely stunning. The restaurant is a giant wooden lodge on a beautiful stone foundation right next to a large lake. On the other side is a man made lake with a shooting fountain and the entire property includes a couple wide open acres of farmland with horses, alpacas, and sheep roaming around. If you’re thinking to yourself ‘oh this is lovely, a great setting to walk around and walk off my meal’, that’s what I thought too. You’re wrong. It’s to lull you into a sense of false security.
The inside is just as remarkable but for wholly different reasons. The Lodge looks like a
hunting lodge. There’s a stuffed grizzly in the bar area and mounted heads of various animals decorate the walls. It’s an all wood interior which is homey, comfortable, and nostalgic. The people are incredibly friendly. Everyone greets you with a smile, from the hostess who takes your money and gets you seated, the server who greets you with an all-too-knowing grin and gives you a personal tour of the layout of the buffet and knows just when to refill your iced tea without you ever having to ask, to the many buffet attendants who are all too happy to pile prime rib, lobster, crab legs, oysters, hot foods, or ice cream onto your plate.
This is not your Vegas style fly around the world smorgasbord. There are at best, maybe around twenty different dishes. But what they lack in variety they more than make up for in actual noticeable quality. All of their grilled meats are certified Black Angus beef and the prime rib is juicy, tender, and cooked to a nice medium rare with a gorgeous amount of pink. You can dress the meat however you choose, with horseradish mustard,
sour cream, au jus, sauteed mushrooms and onions, or more butter. The scampi is sweet, buttery, garlicky, and full of fresh plump shrimp and scallops. There are bacon wrapped scallops that are fatty, meaty, crispy, but still sweet, soft, and buttery. The lobster are bright red and hefty, full of meat and juices. There’s nothing like cracking into a fresh lobster and knowing there’s going to be a good amount of meat inside. The lobster juices (what experts and aficionados call the tamale) inside the head taste like the sea. If you’re lucky and get a female, there might even be some super sweet lobster roe inside too. The claws are meaty and the tails are plump and slide right out of the shell. The Nordic Lodge also prides itself in its raw bar, and the oysters were sweet and meaty and full of great flavor and the oyster liquor is never spilled or wasted. The crab legs, giant meaty king crab, are sweet and salty and freshly steamed and pop right out for you.
After the first bite, I was in heaven. After the first lobster, experiencing nirvana. After the first plate, convinced I was in paradise. Around the third plate I was beginning to wonder what I had actually gotten myself into. By the fourth, I knew my soul had been lured into a trap. Long distance runners will tell you about hitting ‘the wall’. A mental
barrier that threatens every runner’s resolve and could spell disaster. The mind wants to shut down and every step feels like a leap. Well, eaters have the same thing. Every small bite feels like a pound of food in your mouth. Swallowing becomes arduous. Sweet becomes sickeningly sweet. Salty becomes super salty. Textures become warped and take on sinister mental implications. By the time I made it to the dessert bar, not only had I hit the wall, but I felt like it had fallen right on top of me. But, my mind implored, it’s Haagen-Dazs! Who gets to eat all you can eat Haagen-Dazs? We should probably get some anyways. Ooh and look at all the pretty baked things! Everyone at the dessert bar funnily enough had the exact same look. A dead, thousand-yard stare just trying to look beyond the void and read the list of available Haagen-Dazs flavors and toppings. We’re all beyond the ability of standing on our own accord, leaning against the wooden counter just to make sure we don’t fall over from the sheer weight of our stomachs. We all look at each other knowing the pain we’re going through and yet we can’t help but get a scoop of ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, a spoonful of strawberry topping, and some of the baked desserts too.
This is literal and figurative hell at this point. You’re so full of food nothing makes sense anymore. You have an existential crisis in the middle of the restaurant, questioning everything you know. Suddenly all the mounted heads feel like they’re looking right at you. Every one of the god damn staff is so god damn nice and polite and cheerful you feel sick. They’re so happy! Why are they so happy?! I’m miserable! What is going on. Stop smiling at me. You bastard, you know what you’ve done to me. I wonder if behind their smiles they take secret pleasure in causing so much pain. I just want to stumble around in pain and misery but everyone keeps greeting me and saying hello and asking how I’m doing and if I’m happy and if I’m enjoying and joking about the food and I want to wring their necks. I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I feel like all the constituent parts I’ve eaten have reassembled themselves into whole animals in my stomach. I don’t know how to walk anymore. I see more and more people coming in and I want to yell out warnings, tell them to turn back, abandon all hope ye who enter here, but all that comes out is a mighty burp that only slightly relieves the pain. I’ve never spoken in burps before but I fear I’ll never get rid of all this pressure. What was at first a gorgeous expansive property is now just a vast wasteland separating me from my only means of escape from this hell. I finally reach my car and become one with the chorus of moans and cries echoing from all the weary drivers in the lot. This buffet did what I thought wasn’t possible. What I failed to understand about that Twilight Zone episode from my youth. That you can actually be destroyed by having too much of everything you’ve ever wanted.
I am a big fan of The Twilight Zone. I love how it never tried to be explicitly, overtly scary. It was never about monsters or ghouls, ghosts or zombies, Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Instead, it wanted to get into our heads, peel back our innermost fears, terrify us not with the extraordinary, but with the ordinary. It was pure psychological horror in TV opera form. It might not get you while you’re watching. It might not even be the subject of that night’s nightmares. But eventually, inevitably, you’re going to feel that immeasurable dread like you, too, are caught…in the Twilight Zone.
Jerel says, ‘it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’.