By David Thorpe

Shut up, everybody, because I have HUGE news: Billy Ray Cyrus is teaming up with HomeTown Buffet!

Buffets, Inc.® is proud to announce its latest tie-in with country music, this time with the singer/songwriter/actor Billy Ray Cyrus and his 13th studio album, Change My Mind. Beginning April 11, guests can pick up Cyrus' latest CD at Ryan's®, Country Buffet®, HomeTown® Buffet, Old Country Buffet® and Fire Mountain® for a special $8.99 price, while supplies last. Proceeds from the CDs will support the Armed Services YMCA® for Operation Outdoors, a camp program that assists the children of military personnel during deployment.

Count me in! What could be more sublime than listening to a Billy Ray Cyrus record in its natural habitat, pairing each song with authentic HomeTown cooking? Almost everything! But it's also a fine opportunity to combine two iconic American traditions (doofus pop country and shoveling food into my fat face) into one gravylogged bacchanal of sensual hillbilly excess.

Here's a bad look: waltzing into HomeTown Buffet at 6PM, buying a Billy Ray Cyrus CD and sitting alone for an hour with earbuds on, eating and photographing plate after plate of bizarre food combinations. Even among the strange denizens of early-bird hour — and believe me, there were some real specimens — I felt like an unprecedented creep.

Being the weirdest guy in HomeTown Buffet isn't an easy thing to cope with, but one thought raised my spirits: I am doing important work. You, the reader, probably the only reader, are counting on me to create delicious buffet meal pairings for each and every track on this Billy Ray Cyrus CD. Maybe you didn't ask me to do it, but damn it, I won't rest until…

Hey, where are you going? I haven't even started this stupid thing yet.

1. “Change My Mind”

The album's title track celebrates returning to the arms of an old love, which would seem to demand a tried-and-true comfort food. While I'd love to start with an appetizer, this album skips straight to the entree: this track is a big ol' southern pile of banjos and bombast. There's no sense getting too creative with this one — goodness knows Billy Ray wouldn't — so I went with some fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy.


Pairing verdict: A classic. The chicken was a country coma of fried horror, and the potatoes tasted like pure glue… the glue that holds America together.

2. “Once Again”

We move on to a maudlin track about pining for a lost love, so it's time to slow things down with a more wistful culinary choice. The balance out the lyrics of rainy nights, cold wind and moonlight on the windowpane, I chose the classic American pick-me-up: chicken noodle soup, served in some kind of plastic safety bowl for mental patients.


Pairing verdict: The song is dull as dishwater, and the chicken soup is largely composed of the same, but I got through them both without much of a struggle.

3. “Hillbilly Heart”

Time to get things moving again: “Hillbilly Heart” is a stompy blues hoedown about keeping it country. I was still recovering from the fried chicken, so I decided to go lite-country with a nice biscuit (it was the last one out — pre-mutilated, probably bitten by a child). Lest that not seem hillbilly enough, I paired it with a little pile of bacon bits from the potate bar. I'm not sure that's what hillbillies actual eat, but hey, I tried.


Pairing verdict: My heart is now all clogged up with hillbilly pride, ready to thump right along to the next track in a labored, worrying rhythm.

4 “Tomorrow Became Yesterday”

Despite the Beatlesque name, this one's a syrupy ballad about love fading away — very much a classic crying-in-your-beer track. Unfortunately, HomeTown seemed to be a dry buffet, so I had to settle for puking in my root beer.


Pairing verdict: The Barq's had a little too much bite to work with this one. Would have worked better with something goopy and flavorless, like Mug.

5. “Good as Gone”

This brisk fiddle workout demanded something with a little more zing. I was crashing hard on a carbohydrate fade-out, so I paired it with the kind of late-night diner food that puts the pep back in a cowboy's step: black coffee and a slice of apple pie.


Pairing verdict: The coffee was decent enough, but the apple pie was mostly composed of inert pie goo. Seriously, it's like they left out the apples entirely and used the denatured filling of a factory pie blank.

6. “Forgot to Forget”

Since this was only a mid-tempo rocker with not a whole lot going for it, I decided to pair this one with a much-fucking-needed break from all this horrible food. I could get clever and say I forgot to eat, but I have too much respect for you, my beloved reader.


Pairing verdict: He seems to fit in just fine.

7. “That's What Daddys Do”

A big comforting daddy weeper demands a big sloppy dad of a food. I used all my manly instincts to craft a culinary horror that only a winging-it weekend dad could construct: a single fish stick, covered in nacho cheese, stuffed inside a tortilla shell. Bless your heart for trying, pop. A real dad would probably give this dish a cool name involving the word “surprise,” but that's beyond my level of parenting expertise. Warning: the following image may upset sensitive viewers.


Pairing verdict: Somehow– and I admit this with great personal shame– this was the best thing I tasted all night.

8. “Hope is Just Ahead”

This is a song about finding solace in the Lord during our troubled times. It begins with disturbing descriptions of a school shooting, but ends with big gospel triumph. Is such a shift in tone even possible in the context of a buffet menu? I somehow had to create a dish that moved from tragedy to redemption. The closest I could come was this: a grisly scene of these brutally slain banana hunks, which ascended to heaven as jello (the glorious afterlife of fruit).


Pairing verdict: The song and the food are both saccharine mush, but at least the song doesn't smell like expired dental chemicals.

9. “I'm So Miserable”

A tongue-in-cheek country blues rocker about the double-edged misery of being with or without a lover. I've had plenty of comfort food tonight, but what's misery food? The easy answer would be “at HomeTown Buffet, all of it,” but I decided to hunt down the single the most miserable item on the menu. After taking a few laps around the buffet line, I found this thing. I have no idea what it is (Savory Hell Loaf?) but it is without a doubt the most loathsome thing under this roof.


Pairing verdict: Upon tasting this hunk of matter, I instantly knew what it was: a compressed hunk of all the stuff they scraped off used plates after people left. Its misery is a little too sincere to match the jokey track.

10. “Stomp”

The final track has a truly charming chorus: “the more you stomp in shit, the more it stinks.” It seems like a perfect setup for some self-slopped chocolate soft serve — one of the only legit reasons to patronize a HomeTown Buffet. Alas, the machine was broken, so I settled for a reasonable substitute: this horrifying bright-orange sorbet, which I managed to coil into a fine poo.


Pairing verdict: The sorbet is a perfect match for the song.

* * *

And with that, I slunk away, clutching my swollen belly, leaving a pile of half-eaten plates of weird buffet food. Well, maybe two-thirds eaten.

OK, fine: I ate everything except those awful murder bananas.

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