CHARLESTOWN — You might think a place charging $91 for a meal, albeit at an endless buffet, wouldn’t have a lot of regulars. Think again.
Lou and JoAnne St. James have been coming once a month for upward of 25 years to the Nordic Lodge, deep in the woods of Charlestown, to take part in its legendary all-you-can-eat buffet, making a roughly 200-mile roundtrip from the Hartford area to do it.
“We love it here,” JoAnne St. James said as she cracked into a lobster. “This place is consistent, with food and service. It’s guaranteed to be the same, and delicious.”
The Nordic, as it’s commonly known, has been drawing regulars and newbies alike since 1980, when the restaurant adopted a buffet format, offering endless everything and a picturesque setting on Pasquiset Pond.
Without question, the limitless lobster is what pulls in most customers — the Nordic steams about 5,000 a day — but it’s not just that. The high-end buffet includes steak and prime rib (all certified Angus, all the time), Alaska king crab legs, a raw bar of local oysters and clams among other things, vegetables, baked stuffed shrimp, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and everything in between. All served in a rambling one-story, brick-and-beam building that looks exactly like what it’s named after.
“There’s no other place in the country offering unlimited lobster,” said Steven Persson, the barrel-chested bearded man running the business. It has been in his family for three generations and boasts a towering wood-carved Viking out front, a nod to the clan’s Swedish heritage. “If there were, I’d know about it.”
The Nordic, which has a full bar, is open Friday-Sunday nights from late April to mid-December, and packs them in regularly to serve up literal tons of lobsters, along with another big draw, the Alaskan king crab, 2,000 pounds of it a night, more than any other single-unit restaurant in the country, Persson said.
Between bites of lobster, the St. Jameses lauded the Persson family. Of the 75-person staff at the Nordic, about a quarter of them are Perssons.
“The family is so nice, the service is amazing, and we see the same people working here for years,” JoAnne St. James said. “That says something about management.”
Her routine includes going for the clam chowder and steamed little necks first, then the raw bar, then lobster. She’s usually full by then. But not her husband.
“I’ll hit the grill room,” he laughed. “The prime rib is great.”
Persson knows the price tag is high — it includes soft drinks, coffee and tea, and a 10-percent gratuity — but he won’t compromise the quality that keeps the place and patrons full.
“We have the best, from grade AA butter, to the cheesecake, to lobsters we make sure are blemish free, to the Angus beef,” he said. “If we have to adjust our price up, we will. But we’re not going to offer second-rate products.”
Patrons can order just appetizers, which run in the $11 range for things like lobster mac and cheese, clam chowder, and raw oysters and clams. They can be had inside, but part of the Nordic’s charm is the immaculate grounds set on the pond, where you can have appetizers and drinks by the fire pit and relax in hammocks and Adirondack chairs. Nearby is a grassy enclosure with resident alpacas and a Norwegian fiord horse, and a sand volleyball pit.
Celebrities are no strangers here. Spottings over the years have included pro basketball players Vin Baker, Ray Allen and Cedric Maxwell; the New England Patriots’ Jeff George; boxer Peter Manfredi; and such film notables as Robert De Niro, Leslie Neilson, and Woody Allen, who came last year with his family but reportedly didn’t eat much.
The Nordic draws customers from New York and Philadelphia, Persson said, and does a brisk bus-tour business, with groups taking in the Nordic and nearby casinos. The restaurant does it with virtually no advertising, he said, just word of well-fed mouth.
A huge boost came recently when the Travel Channel named it one of the country’s top 10 buffets, and the Huffington Post upped the global ante, calling it one of the world’s best.
“Last week, we had six executives from Texas fly in on a private jet just to eat here,” Persson said. “And they said they’ll be back. That happens a lot; we get true foodies here, and it’s very flattering.”
Flattering but not necessarily as fattening as you might think, unless you linger at the dessert buffet. Stacey, a veteran server, advised slow and steady.
“Take your time, get a little of this and that, and pace yourself,” she said. “On Friday nights, we get a lot of big groups of guys, and they can wolf it down. But that fills you up quickly.”
To avoid long waits, Persson advises coming on Fridays, when the crowd is lighter “because people driving long distances tend not to want to do that on a Friday after work.”
His best tip: Discard preconceived notions about all-you-can-eat buffets, which he admitted generally have a cheesy image.
“It’s not so much how much you can eat here,” he said. “It’s having quality food in a high-end environment.”
178 East Pasquisett Trail, Charlestown, R.I. 401-783-4515, www.nordic
lodge.com. Open Fri-Sun: Arrive between 5-8:30 p.m. Fri, 4-8:30 on Sat, 3-6:30 Sun). Adults $91, children ages 8-12 $50, 3-7 $25.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.