Friday, July 15, 2016

The Pie Nobody Seems to Want

For the past three months Old Country Buffet, Ryan's, and Hometowm Buffet, at least all those who are still open, have been trying to sell strawberry pies. This is an odd offer that Corporate has been pushing on the restaurants, sending emails out about it, emailing coupons, and prominently featuring a pie in a glass pie display with a sign on the counter of the cashier. "Take Home a Strawberry Pie! - $9.99"  I have gotten emails with coupons that say - "Buy any adult or senior dinner and take home a Strawberry Pie for $X." I say "$X" because X started out as $8.99, and then another coupon came that said $7.99, and most recently the coupon is for $6.99. At the cashier desk we caught a glimpse of "rules" for the cashier to follow in dealing with customers. One of those "rules" was sell the strawberry pie. Interestingly, we have never been asked to buy a strawberry pie by the cashier.

Now, why do I say this is odd. Certainly other restaurants and buffets have offered their baked goods for sale to take home - those they are well known for, those that customers can't get enough of. Well, the odd thing here is that they don't serve this pie in the restaurant. It has never been on the buffet and customers have never had an opportunity to taste it. When we asked if the pie is on the buffet when we first saw it at an OCB a few months ago, we were told that it would be on the buffet dessert bar in June. June came and went  - no strawberry pie.

You also have to wonder what are they looking to feature with this pie. Their great baking? It is not so great. In fact in all of the OCBs, etc. that I have been in over the years the baking is just fair. Often cakes are dry, baked goods are either over baked or under cooked, and frankly, their baking is nothing to brag about. I have taken and not eaten almost raw corn bread, crunchy stale chocolate cake, and other desserts that were not good at all. Where did they get the idea to sell pies that they don't serve? I wish I knew. But with this Corporation nothing makes sense.

Does the pie look good? I am not sure if what is on display is a real pie. I wonder if it is then at the end of the day what happens to it? It certainly is not cut up and put out on the dessert counter before closing - at least not when I have been there at that time. Is it the same pie sitting there day after day? I hope not, but it does not look like it is not fresh - yet it has sat there from opening to closing - with its dabs of whipped topping around the edge and its strawberries in glaze filling the pie shell. I say whipped topping because what OCB, etc.  put out on the dessert bar as whipped cream is a thickened artificial whipped topping that is not good. This has also shown up on other desserts.

And the price! I know bake goods sell at high prices these days - but I have bought some really excellent pies at bake shops for less than $9.99. I recently bought an exceptionally good Lemon Sponge Pie for $8.00. Selling an untasted Strawberry Pie for $9.99 where the baking is just fair is not a great sales idea. Now, had that pie been out on the buffet and people had a chance to have a slice - and they liked it, this would be different. 

I also have to wonder what happens if someone actually buys a pie. Do they run into the kitchen and start baking a fresh pie? Is it ready when you leave? Are they keeping a stock of pies in the kitchen that never seem to sell? I have never seen anyone buy a pie - and we have been in remaining OCBs since this pie feature has been introduced. Are the pies frozen and sold that way? I don't know. I certainly hope that these pies are not made each day and sit in the kitchen for as long as it takes to sell them - because I doubt they ever sell.

I hope that selling the pies is not a test of which locations they keep open. It would be terrible if not being able to sell these pies meant your restaurant was no the list to go next! Is selling pies no one has ever tasted going to bring the company out of yet another bankruptcy or boost income to the point that restaurants show a profit? I don't think so. It is all just so bizarre!

Here is a clue Ovation Brands or Food Management Partners or Buffets, LLC or whatever you are calling yourselves these days - if you want to sell a pie in a buffet that costs the ridiculous price of $9.99 - put it out on the buffet and let your customers find out that they like it - maybe then you will sell a few pies!

Just as this article was about to publish, it was learned that they have given up on selling the pies. As I suspected, no one bought them. It was said that more time was made in making the display pie each day than it was worth as the pies did not sell. So apparently that display pie every day was the real thing. I wonder who ate it - or after sitting under glass all day it was likely tossed.





Friday, July 01, 2016

Price Increase at Yummy China Buffet, East Meadow, NY

Yummy China Buffet was our Top Asian Buffet for 2015. At the time of the article detailing that honor we knew that the weekend price - Saturday and Sunday - had increased to $15.99 starting in 2016. The price has just gone up again - only now the prices for all nights have increased with Monday to Friday dinner now at $15.99 and the Saturday/Sunday/Holiday price now at $17.99. Lunch prices Monday to Friday are now $9.99.  These prices do not include soft drinks. We did not see the sign - which is large and behind and above the cashier desk to the outside wall about the prices until we were seated and had started dinner. Had I seen the sign when we walked in I would have walked out.

This is a small buffet that has good Chinese/Asian cooking for an Asian buffet. We have noted this buffet as Best Asian Buffet in 2014 and Top Asian Buffet in 2015. To be a Top or Best Buffet one of the criteria is value for the money spent - and this buffet just priced itself out of that.

We have dined at this buffet for dinner on weeknights, Friday nights, and weekend nights. There has never been more than six tables (including ours) occupied in this restaurant with two dining rooms and a party room. When it opened under this owner and management it was overpriced to the point that the night we went in to try it, we walked out as soon as we heard the price. It took about a year for the buffet to lower its price to a more reasonable price for a small buffet that is in competition with several Asian buffets that have always been lower in price within a radius of less than ten miles, and a very large Asian buffet not far away with a higher price but that offers a great deal more in variety. With the lack of business it is hard to understand why this buffet does not come closer to the lower prices charged by its competitors. There is never even close to a full house at this buffet. I have often wondered - even here in articles how they can remain in business with the little business that they get - and perhaps they need to raise the prices to maintain the cost, but if this is the case it is a desperate move that will put them out of business. 

They are calling themselves a "Sushi and Seafood Buffet" but there has always been Sushi and the seafood that is there at this increase in price is little different from what was there before. In the last couple of visits we found that they had added raw Oysters on ice to the buffet. Oysters are nice, but I will tell you that I will not eat raw oysters that are not being consumed frequently by diners present which insures that freshly shucked oysters are going out to be eaten. That certainly does not happen here and the oysters remain on the ice and I have seen that they begin to look glazed over. No, cold oysters have to be shucked shortly before they are consumed raw. They added fried fish to the buffet along with the same shrimp dishes, salmon, half fried crabs, and single leg crab legs that have always been on the buffet. Other than the crab legs all of this is at the lower priced Asian buffets in the area including the raw oysters. What was labeled as a crab dish was not real crab. It was the fake crab made from a fish often called "Krab". Krab does not have the same texture as real crab - and too many Asian buffets are calling Krab dishes "Crab" - which they are not. If I don't see it in the shell at Asian buffets lately, I know it is not real crab by the texture, consistency, and appearance of the meat. For $15.99 I should not be served Krab and have it called crab.

I have also recently observed that temperatures of some of the buffet trays are not being maintained and some of their signature dishes are still there but just not as good as they once were. One of our readers had commented and also emailed to say that they thought that the buffet was under new management (which it isn't) because they had come back with friends for a meal and the food was not as good as it was on past visits. I confirmed that the management is still the same - and at that time we had a good meal as we always had - at $13.99 - and commented that to the reader. I have to say right now, that I, too, find that things are not as good as they had been - and now for a higher price.

If you want to overpay for what you can get at lower prices nearby or don't want to pay a little more for a greater and fresher variety of foods then go. It is still mostly good. I am not going back and at this point I cannot recommend this buffet because there is better value out there near by - some of which feature coupons in advertising that make the prices even lower. Is the cooking as good elsewhere? If this was five months ago, I would have said no. Things are not as good here now - and you are paying more for it.  This really saddens me. I have really liked this little buffet. I have been a big champion of seeing it succeed. There has been a Chinese buffet in this location for may years - various names and various owners - some better buffets than others. If I see a reduction in price, I will go back and try it again. With the current prices, I am not going back.

See our other articles on this buffet for the location if you want to go.





Friday, June 17, 2016

Expansion at Yoders, New Holland, PA

We had an opportunity to head down to Lancaster and while we were there we went to dinner at Yoder's in New Holland, PA., one of our Top Buffets for 2015. As we pulled into the parking lot we were surprised to see that on the sign at the entrance it said "Newly Remodeled". At first we thought that this was the remodeling that took place in 2015 when the dining room was completely redone. When we went inside we were quite surprised - again - by some changes at Yoders.

The entire restaurant has been expanded. Business must be going very well - and I am not surprised by that for this buffet/restaurant. The two businesses that were next door to the restaurant inside the building complex have been taken over by Yoder's (of course, Yoder's owns the building - as it owns the supermarket and restaurant inside). There was a Christian book store and a professional office in those two store fronts. Now those businesses are no longer there and the restaurant has expanded into them to create additional dining rooms.

The original dining room with its new look remains from 2015. There are two dining rooms now to the left of that dining room as you enter with both tables and booths. The restaurant has also expanded to the rear. If you are familiar with Yoder's there was a door to the kitchen down a short hall that lead to a banquet and large table dining room in the back which had not been openly visible from the front before. This has now been opened up so that the dining room for larger parties (most tables in the main dining room can seat up to four or six) are more open to the rest of the restaurant. Not only that but the desert buffet servers have been moved to that dining room as well so that you now go into that dining room to get your desserts. The bread, the baked oatmeal, and the hot sticky buns and cinnamon buns now have their own server along the wall in that passage  that leads back there. Soups remain where they had been. The area that once held the desserts is now open.

It really was a pleasant surprise. We were there in the middle of the week for dinner during the Spring so only the main dining room was needed but this new expansion allows Yoder's to seat more tables at one time and also opens the dining room for larger parties to feel less cut off from the restaurant.

Of course, the food was as good as always - as was the service. The buffet servers remain basically the same with the exception of the move of what has been noted. There are not more buffet servers and the number of selections remain basically the same - which were never a problem. The grill is still serving from two sides with a variety of items that change by the night.

This restaurant has come a long way in a very short time with the changes that they have made in the past year and a half. We had not been there since October and as I have said here, this was a big and nice surprise!

Friday, June 03, 2016

BBQ Featured At Old Country Buffet

Yes, there are still Old Country Buffets, Ryan's and Hometown Buffets out there somewhere. You may have to travel far to get to one or you may be one of the lucky ones to have one of these restaurants nearby. It has been a long time since OCB and the rest have had a special feature and they are currently having one now, though if you go to their website you would never know it. They call it "Backyard BBQ". As all features, it is for a limited time. They do not say how long it will be available.

We had an opportunity to try it. It is served on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at the dinner buffet with some items also at lunch.  When one hears BBQ in most of the US they think smoked meats in sauce while in some places - for example the Northeast, BBQ is what you cook on the backyard grill. This is neither. What you will find on the buffet with this feature is meats in sauce - not smoked meats - meats. OCB, many years past did BBQ well in summer month features. Like most of the restaurant chain now, those days are gone.

What we found - and what is noted on the poster at the cashier about "Backyard BBQ" - was "BBQ" Brisket, "BBQ" chicken" (available all day), Boneless pork ribs, Pulled Pork, and Smoked sausage (available all day). The poster shows corn on the cob cooked on a grill - complete with charred kernels - there was none of that to be found. It would be better to describe this feature as "BBQ-style" if one is going to be honest in advertising. Nothing here has been cooked for hours and hours in a smoker. You will find no smoke ring around the edge of the brisket. Nothing is fall off the bone tender. The brisket was baked in an oven and then the outside was covered in BBQ sauce after it was cooked. The chicken was baked with BBQ sauce over the skin. The Boneless Pork Ribs were baked in a pan with BBQ sauce. The Pulled Pork is made without sauce. The smoked sausage is the usual OCB smoked sausage cut up and baked in a pan with onions and green peppers in a overly sweet sauce (not really BBQ sauce) which they have been serving on and off for years.  While they are not mentioned anywhere on the poster, they threw in the honey riblets that they have also been serving for a long time.

I love BBQ. When I saw the poster, I was anxious to get to OCB to try this. I have eaten real BBQ in a  number of restaurants in the South and have always enjoyed it. I have also had some of OCB's BBQ in the past including their Baby Back Ribs which at one time were excellent - though the last time around - about a year ago that they came back onto the buffet - they were not good at all. We had a chance to go and we went - me, with great anticipation, and my picky eater wife who does not eat BBQ at all hoping that some of the regular buffet items that she eats would be there.  We were both disappointed.

Let's start with the "BBQ" Brisket. I know that corned beef and brisket are the same cut of meat prepared differently. The brisket that was served to me at OCB looked more like a cut of corned beef than any BBQ brisket that I have ever had. It was baked to a hard crust on the outside - it seemed that within that crust were the spices and herbs used when cooking a corned beef. It was 75% fat and 25% meat. When I cut a piece and put it in my mouth I could not chew it. It was like rubber. I chewed as long as I could and it went down eventually, perhaps whole. I decided later to go back for another try just in case the next brisket that was brought out might be a better piece of meat and cooked better than the first one that I sampled. There was less fat, and it chewed a little better. I added more BBQ sauce from the squeeze bottle that was at the taco bar, to give it more "BBQ" flavor. Both times, despite the fat, the meat was dry. The second try was a minor improvement over the first. At least it was slightly easier to chew.

The Boneless pork ribs - these have been at OCB in the past. They are not really pork ribs. They are a pork roast cut up into strips, put in a pan with BBQ like sweet sauce and baked. There is no resemblance in any way to a BBQ pork rib - not in taste, texture, or appearance. I cut a piece of the "rib" and put it in my mouth. The meat was hard, dry, and again difficult to chew. It was not tasty.

The pulled pork - oh boy!  It looks like pulled pork - it is baked pork pulled apart and it is close in appearance to what to expect pulled pork is without the sauce. It sits in a pan of grease - deep grease - likely the fat that has melted off the pork as it was re-heated after it was shred. There are burned, hard pieces mixed in with shreds of pork meat accompanied by pieces of pure fat. All of this is swimming in clear, yellow grease. I carefully picked pieces from the top that were just above the grease. It was not easy and despite great effort came up with shreds dripping in grease that also went on my plate.  I went to the same BBQ sauce squeeze bottle and covered the pulled pork so that it would become as close as possible to BBQ pulled pork. If this was not full of fat and swimming in grease it would be OK, but the grease and fat make this unappetizing in the serving tray as well as while eating it, and I was hesitant to eat it. I did pick through what I took to avoid the pieces of fat and the charred outside meat that was mixed in.

The "BBQ" chicken is the same baked chicken regularly served at OCB but with BBQ sauce put on the outside of the skin and baked. It is red on the outside. To be fair, we did not try it.

The smoked sausage - smoked only because that is how you buy this type of sausage - as I said earlier is the same as OCB has served for years. When I eat this I usually wipe the sauce off of it because it is not BBQ sauce and it is overly sweet. I am a smoked sausage fan, but not of this one. I would have much rather have this sausage grilled on OCB's chargrill and served dry. Even when it is boiled and served over sauerkraut it is better than this.

What can I say about Honey Riblets? I have said this before - in fact I even said this to the OCB regional rep who contacted our site a year ago for feedback on OCB and its menu. The Honey Riblets are short sections of flat pork bone (ribs, I suppose) connected by grizzle and a tiny bit of hard, overcooked meat. They are burned, overly sweet, not tasty, and not worth the effort of trying to scrape out the bit of meat with your teeth. For some reason, these ribs live on at OCB - too often served week after week for a very long time now.

There was one side dish on the buffet that I have not seen before. It had no label and it looked like baked corn bread - which it could have been, though there was another tray of baked corn bread out and this one was baked in a deep tray. I noticed a corn kernel in the pan so I took a small amount to try. I suppose it was supposed to be corn pudding. It was an underdone corn bread with a few corn kernels in the mix.

Along with all of this there were a few of the usual OCB menu entree items - popcorn shrimp, baked fish, orange chicken, fried chicken, and meatloaf. At the carving station aside from the brisket and the boneless ribs, there was the usual ham and dry roast beef. None of this really made my picky eater wife happy. She took some of the popcorn shrimp. She later took a slice of ham. And she also made a vegetable plate, for lack of anything else to take that she eats.  I too a variety of the "BBQ" items once, had meatloaf next (I like OCB meatloaf) and then took the second try of the brisket and nothing else.  As has happened on other occasions in which I bring my wife to a buffet where it turns out there is little for her to choose from of things she will eat, I felt bad for her. She pushes on, however, and goes along - even when she knows before that she will find little that she will eat.

It is hard to understand the current owners. They seem to be setting the rest of the locations to fail so that they will have an excuse to close them all down. They certainly could have done a BBQ feature much better. They certainly could provide better cuts of meat and better recipes to cook it. Wouldn't it have been nice if part of this feature was their famous, and much sought after Beef Ribs made with the original recipe! Those come up in so many discussions about what is missed at OCB! They could have provided better brisket, trimmed off the fat, and come up with a way to cook it slow and moist. I don't expect them to have a smoker, but there are ways to cook meat to be real close to smoked BBQ. This was not it. And don't let the photos in the poster fool you - what you get is not what it looks like on the poster.

Now despite all of this, my wife likes OCB - and I do also, depending on what is being served. I will continue to go to OCBs, Ryans, and even try a Hometown Buffet (if I ever come across one) but we won't be going on "Backyard BBQ" nights. "Backyard BBQ" gets an A for idea, C for effort, and D for execution.








Friday, May 20, 2016

Two More Ryans CLOSED!

Food Management Partners has done it again! It swept in under the cover of darkness and closed two more Ryan's Buffet locations on May 8, 2016 - the day after Mother's Day. Employees arrived for work on Monday to find a sign on the door - CLOSED! Once again done in cowardly fashion which is standard operating procedure for Food Management Partners and the former Ovation Brands.

One of the Ryan's closed was the location in Richland Township, (Johnstown) Pennsylvania. The other was the location in Beckley, West Virginia. The closing at both locations was, of course, a surprise to both restaurant managers and the employees. They worked their shift on Sunday and left that evening expecting to be back at work on Monday. Of course, Food Management Partners had other plans for them. Food Management Partners, of course, have no comment on the closings.

With the sweep of closing just over a month ago across the United States of Old Country Buffets, Ryans, and Hometown Buffets these two restaurants thought that they had escaped the axe. These closing took the employees and the managers of these two locations completely by surprise. When attempts were made by employees to call the corporate office to find out what happened, the phone number answered with a "no longer in service" message.


It is reported that food remaining at the Richmond Township Ryan's was removed that Monday and taken to a local food shelter. Community officials in Beckley are shocked as this was a popular restaurant. Popular to the customers, popular to the community, popular and necessary to the people who were employed there - but not so popular to Food Management Partners. To F.M.P. it is just business - to the people who had these jobs it is their livelihoods. This company certainly shows no consideration, much less loyalty, for their employees.

What little details we have about these two closings are credited to Daniel Tyson, reporter at the Register-Herald of Beckley, WV. Special thanks go to our of our readers, "B", who made us aware of this story.


One of our Readers informs us in a comment below that a third location also closed at this time - the Hometown Buffet in Columbus, Ohio on May 11, 2016.

Another reader informs us that the Grand Rapids, MI (Wyoming) location closed on June 14, 2016. A second reader informed us that the Ryans in Alcoa, TN closed also the week of June 14, 2016. There is a list of the closures on June 14 - here they are: 
San Jose, CA
Arlington Heights, IL
Laurel, MD
Wyoming, MI
Duluth, MN
Mankato, MN
Greenwood, SC (Ryan’s)
Alcoa, TN (Ryan’s)
Crossville, TN (Ryan’s)
Bellingham, WA
Onalasca, WI


Friday, May 06, 2016

A NEW RULE...

Oh yes, another new rule to add to our existing 30 Rules of the Buffet. I don't really believe myself that such a rule as this would ever have to be stated to anyone, but for some reason, some people just don't seem to have any common sense and can't figure out on their own that there are just somethings that just are not done. So here it is Rule #31.

31. Do not change a baby's dirty diaper on the table or on a chair at a table in a buffet restaurant.

Yes. We have watched this happen more than once. And these have not been tiny new borns, but babies several months old. I just can't understand how this would occur to anyone to do in a busy restaurant. We have seen it done on the middle of the table - with plates being eaten from on the table. We have seen it happen on a chair at the table. Just this past week we saw - while the table next to us was in the middle of their dinner, that the baby was put down on a chair and the dirty diaper taken off, put down on the chair, the baby's bottom wiped, the dirty wipe and the diaper held up to wrap them together and then lifted over the table to someone holding a bag open for the diaper to be tossed into - and this diaper just barely made it into the bag and not onto the top of the table. As this was going on in front of me - it was not possible to not see the whole thing, I happened to be eating meatloaf. I have to say that this put me right off continuing to eat that meatloaf! AND it is not that there was no place else to change the baby. This buffet has a baby changing station in both the men's and ladies' restrooms. And I suppose cleaning a baby's butt and then continuing with your meal without washing your hands - and then going up to the buffet table and picking up the serving spoons is OK for these people as well - but you know, it is not OK for anyone else!

So, friends and readers, over the years we have seen a lot of just ridiculous things at buffets from the people who dine at them, but this one may be at the top of the worst. Now, if you are thinking what a silly rule this is - I agree - such a thing should never be necessary to tell anyone. Everyone should know this on their own. But they don't. And if you think - "how picky a thing this new rule is" - then I want you to just think about it for a few minutes. You are eating your dinner and you look across to a baby's dirty diaper - open with all of its contents on the table next to you - and then think about the next people who will sit at that table. And then think that this may have happened at the table you are sitting at just before you sat down there to eat, right where you plate is now. Disgusting!

So here is Rule 31 taking its place with all of the rest of the Rules of the Buffet.

1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4. Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7. For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In the buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

28. Never put the serving utensil, whether it a spoon, fork, or tongs, up to your nose to smell the food that you have taken out of the serving tray.

29. Do not eat while walking with your plate back to your table.

30.
If you take a plate, bowl, cup, or piece of silverware and you decide you don't want it, do not put it back on the stack of clean dishes or back with the clean silverware. Take it back to your table or put it on the side of the stack where it will not be taken as clean.  

31. Do not change a baby's dirty diaper on a table or on a chair at a table in a buffet restaurant.



Friday, April 22, 2016

Top Asian Buffet 2015 - Yummy Asian Buffet, East Meadow, New York

Yummy Buffet is our choice for Top Asian Buffet for 2015. We have, of course, written about Yummy before.

Yummy is a small, local Asian buffet on Long Island in the town of East Meadow. This has been the location of a Chinese restaurant for many years and a few years ago it was bought and re-done by a family who have brought excellent Asian cooking to this restaurant. It does not compete in this area in size. It is smaller than the rest in physical size and the amount of food that can be out at any one time on the buffet. It more than make up for this in the quality of the food that is cooked and the "menu restaurant" taste of what is served - which is something that generally cannot be said about usual Chinese/Asian buffet food.

This buffet, in addition, to the foods on the buffet tables, also has a small hibachi grill and a sushi chef that will make you whatever sushi rolls or sashimi that is on an extensive menu posted at the sushi station - to order. Both the hibachi grill - you choose the meats and vegetables and noodles - and give them to the chef (who is also the Sushi chef) who will cook them for you to order. I like what I have grilled a certain way and I have never been disappointed - and the sushi bar are included in the price of the buffet.

This restaurant more than meets our top buffet requirements of quality and taste. It also has excellent service. If the young women who come to your table are not family they work as if they are - I suspect that they are. They are there to take away your used plates and refill your beverage - always.

The other criteria that we look at is value and this meal has been $13.99* - 7 days a week for dinner. Less at lunch. This is equivalent to the formerly local chain "country" buffet (formerly as the nearby OCB is now closed) - and far exceeds what you got there. There are also discount coupons in local advertising publications and also on their website. This makes the value of this buffet even better. (Unfortunately, I have to make note that the price on Saturdays and Sundays plus holidays changed to $15.99 in 2016. As this award is given for 2015 that does not effect our decision on the exceptional value that you get here. If this price remains for 2016 for weekend dinners we will re-evaluate when looking at our 2016 awards. The value on weeknights including Fridays is still very much there. When it gets even two dollars higher without any changes on the menu, when we look at a buffet for a Top Award we have to take that into consideration. The restaurant will tell you that for the higher price there is lobster and crab legs on the buffet on the weekends. From past visits on weekends when it was $13.99 there has been lobster and crab legs on the weekend dinner buffet. On a 2016 Friday visit there was lobster on the $13.99 Friday dinner buffet. Lobster on an Asian buffet on Long Island means lobster pieces in the shell in ginger sauce - and generally the result is whoever can get there first will empty the tray.  Every restaurant does what it needs to do for business reasons, and this has been their decision for 2016.)

This buffet never seems to be crowded - despite the good food and everything else good. It can be almost empty when other buffets have lines to get in. We have never been able to understand this and when those who we have recommended this buffet to have gone, they have been pleased. If you go and it looks empty - go in anyway. The food is always fresh and if there are few people dining they just put less in the trays to keep the food from drying out and refill as needed. They "tend" this buffet very well - making sure that everything is being served as it should be. Ordinarily, if I go to a buffet for the first time and there is no one inside dining, I will walk out. While our visits here now are not a first time visit, we do not hesitate to go in and dine.

So - this is our choice for 2015 for Top Asian Buffet. Try it on a weeknight including Friday or if you don't mind the extra two dollars try it on a Saturday or Sunday for dinner. Lunch is less but do not expect the same foods that might be found at dinner on the lunch buffet - taste and quality will still be there but some of the foods found at dinner will not be on the lunch buffet.







Friday, April 08, 2016

TOP BUFFET - SHADY MAPLE SMORGASBORD, East Earl, PA

For many years, Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has been a Best and a Top Buffet. There can be no list of top buffets in the United States without including Shady Maple Smorgasbord. Shady Maple is the most impressive and largest buffet restaurant not in a Casino or lavish hotel (and it has those beat too) in the country. Once again, Shady Maple Smorgasbord is a Top Buffet - and now for 2015.

In the land of the Plain People - Lancaster, PA - Shady Maple Smorgasbord serves the food of the Plain People along with a large and wide varieties of foods in a setting outside of rolling farmlands and inside in a large restaurant complex in a building with two floors, a lobby rivaling the finest restaurants with huge crystal chandeliers and one of the largest buffets - if not the largest - that you will ever enjoy. This is an experience that grew from simple roots under a shady maple tree as a farm stand years ago. The same owner is still there at the restaurant. Some days and nights he can be seen going through the dining rooms. The buffet menu has grown over the years but in addition to what has been added the same entrees and foods served when this was still a large but smaller buffet in a building that can be seen next door to Goods Department Store on the property and at the opposite end of the parking lot from Shady Maple's supermarket complex which is also quite large.

People seem to know Shady Maple all over the US. We will be hundreds of miles away and overhear conversations of people talking about a meal at Shady Maple. I don't know any other restaurant - much less buffet - that this happens with. I can understand when going through farmers markets in Lancaster and hearing local people discussing having just been there for dinner or planning on going there that night - "Going down to the Shady Maple tonight!", but this also happens so many, many, many miles away. Perhaps, needless to say, Shady Maple is an experience - and for some a destination location, coming to the area for a day or night just to go to this restaurant.

After the impressive lobby, and the often long waits in line (during "season" which can be just about all year except January to early March)  to pay for your meal going in, and then another wait in line to be seated, you can find yourself sitting in one of two massive dining rooms or one of the several private dining rooms along the side of the large dining rooms that are opened to all on crowded nights. At tables (or booths) around you there will be tourists and local people including Amish and Mennonite families. All have come for one thing - and even with the impressive size of the restaurant and the elegant decor, that one thing is the food. The food is excellent. The variety of foods served at one time is overwhelming. The buffet serving area is as long as the restaurant's building - and this is a big building. You enter from the middle past several grill sections, and it goes down in two directions. Some people coming in assume that each direction of foods is the same as what will be found in the other direction, but his is a misconception due to some foods first seen being the same, but the two sides are not the same and what will be down one side will not be down the other and vice versa, increasing the number and variety of foods to choose from. Even the two salad and soup bars which are the first serving areas that you encounter are not the same with only some overlap.

There is a breakfast buffet, a lunch buffet, and a dinner buffet every day and none are the same each day. There are themes with specific foods featured on each weekday  - for example steak is a feature on the grills on Mondays, Seafood is a feature on the buffet and grills on Tuesdays, Prime Rib on Wednesdays, and so on. At different times of the year and on different nights some specialties are served such as Smorgy Cheesesteaks - a variation of the famous Philly Cheesesteaks made the Shady Maple way. On some nights you will find house-made, local style, country sausages. There is just so many things and so much to name, it is impossible. Local Pennsylvania Dutch foods and entrees will vary on different nights - Chicken Bot Bie - a locally famous dish of flat doughy dumpling noodle squares with chicken, carrots, potatoes, and celery in a rich broth sauce, Pork and Sauerkraut (locally a dish served on News Year's Day) and served every day at Shady Maple, Pigs stomach - surprisingly good, just so much! And then, of course, the end section of each side is the dessert area with cakes, pies, prepared desserts and puddings, shoo fly pie, apple dumplings, apple crisp, softserve Turkey Hill ice cream and sundae bar, low sugar and no sugar desserts, again - overwhelming. The only problem is that if you eat all that you see and want, dessert may just push you over the top of eating more than you can eat. But from the look on so many faces, holding their stomachs and smiling as they walk out to the parking lot - it is worth it. (As I have learned over the years - here and at other irresistibly buffets - eat what you like but know when to stop and you will be much happier and enjoy it more - particularly during that walk to the car at the end of the meal.)

So - quality - yes. Value - yes - the meals here are priced including the local tax and a gratuity (tip) of not a large percentage for the servers and staff plus the meal includes all including the beverage - so it may look like the prices are more than some other buffets but all together they are not. Consistency from visit to visit - yes. Clean and well maintained - absolutely yes. Good service staff - yes. Top Buffet - no question.

If someone asks me what buffet should I go to when visiting Lancaster, I tell them Shady Maple - and you know we know other Top Buffets in this area. I tell them Shady Maple for the overwhelming experience. And when I see or hear from them after they have been there, they always thank me. This is a must go to.

Shady Maple is not located in the main tourist area of Lancaster County. It is not on Route 30 or on Route 340. It is off almost out of the county but people still come. Try it.

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. There is lots of parking (free, of course). The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page. Like most other local buffets and restaurants in Lancaster County, Shady Maple is closed on Sundays - and some holidays, but not all. Dinner ends at 8:00 pm and you will not get in past 8 and the dining room will close down at 9 so don't go there late - get there early enough to not rush through the experience.












Friday, March 25, 2016

TOP BUFFET - DUTCH-WAY RESTAURANT, GAP, PA

Dutch-Way Restaurant in Gap, PA has been an absolutely go to on every trip that we are in this area. We have been there on various nights of the week and have never been disappointed. This is one of the buffets that are unique to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that are located in supermarket buildings. The buffet is not in the supermarket but is owned by the supermarket and is in the same building. The decor is very much like most of the family restaurants in Lancaster - pleasantly decorated with tables and booths scattered through two areas of the restaurant. The buffet is offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner Mondays to Saturday.

So what makes Dutch-Way Gap a Top Buffet?

The food is very, very good and the dishes vary from night to night and from visit to visit. There is a featured theme every night that focuses around what is served from the grill/carving station and this carries over to the entrees on the buffet tables. Each time that we have gone, in addition to specific features on the grill and carvings, there has been at least one dish that we have never had before and each has been something good. Food is a mixture of PA Dutch/Amish dishes and continental entrees and side dishes.

The food is consistent in proper preparation, kept at the correct temperatures on the buffet, and in taste when the same dish is served. There are some things that I look to find each time we go on the salad bar and they are there. They make an exceptional chicken salad and it is one of the prepared salads found on their salad bar. It is so good that I have thought to just order the Soup and Salad Bar as I could easily make a meal of their chicken salad. (I have not done that yet, because they I would miss out on the rest of the buffet.) The foods on the buffet are properly maintained and not allowed to dry out and are replenished before the tray is empty. The buffet tables, the buffet area, the dining rooms are consistently clean and well maintained. So are the restrooms - which are located in the lobby of the restaurant.

There is great value here. The price of the buffet is comparable and perhaps even less than the chain buffets. There are children's and senior prices as well. The price is a little higher on the Friday and Saturday as there is Prime Rib at the carving station. Thursday nights are higher as this is the Seafood Buffet. This is a very affordable family restaurant at family prices - and if you have some at your table who do not wish to have the buffet that is no problem at all. There is a full menu here along with the buffet and some at the table may have the buffet and some may order from the menu - please don't give anything from the buffet to someone ordering from the menu (that is this site saying that).

There is quality in what is served here. The meats and vegetables are coming fresh from the food market on site. The baked goods are bakes on premises. Items on the grill are cooked to order.

Service is very good and the best - I mean the BEST - waitress in any restaurant works here. I have written about her before and there is no better. Whenever we are there, we look for her and ask for a table in her section.

Sadly, the last time that we were going to have dinner at Dutch-Way, it was closed for the employee Christmas party. I looked forward to this for a week. We were in the area for business during the day and in the evening we went to the restaurant and got right up to the door to see the sign that said that they were closed for their party. Well, they deserve a party for a job consistently well done! I do wish that they had been open, as we could both taste that dinner as we walked up to that door. Just writing about this buffet I can taste my favorites there! Soon, soon...

This buffet is not in the main tourist area of Lancaster. It is off to the edge of the county and not far from Delaware. You will not find tourists dining here. You will find local families here - Amish, Mennonite, and the English (as the Amish refer to the rest of us). These are the people who shop in the supermarket or just come here for dinner. There is a shed for horse and carriages to be tied up outside in the parking lot.

The Dutch-Way Restaurant is located at the Dutch-Way Farm Market Supermarket at 365 Gap Newport Pike (Route 41), Gap, Pennsylvania 17527. The dinner buffet is served from 4 pm to 8 pm Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. The restaurant is closed on some holidays. This is about two and a half miles south of Route 30. There is a web site and that is linked at the side of this page. The phone number is 610-593-6080.




Friday, March 18, 2016

The Survivors

I have been asked by readers to go back to a weekly format for this site during this crisis at Old Country Buffet, et.al. Since this is a breaking story that seems to have a lot of interest by our readers I will do that while there is anything new to report. I will return on the alternate weeks with our regular articles and when there is something to report about OCB, etc. I will put out an article on that in the week between. This is the first of those articles.  If you are one of the managers or employees who lost their jobs during this massacre in the past two months - or even if they relocated you and are willing to tell your story anonymously, please leave a comment on any of our articles relating to the closings or send us an email through the email link at the side of this page. Without further information or stories we have nothing to write about and report. We are happy to keep this story alive, but we need everyone's help to do so. My anonymous insiders are currently silent. (I would be too if my job was at stake.)

I have a list here of all of the restaurants that have survived so far in the closings of Food Management Partners'  Buffets LLC in the months of February and March 2016. What is most interesting to note is the counts of the restaurant brands that remain. There are 58 Hometown Buffets (45 of these are in California - all in California are Hometown Buffets), 41 Ryan's, 32 Old Country Buffets (the once leader of the chain), and 2 Country Buffets. Fire Mountain is gone completely.If I have added this up correctly there are 133 Survivors.

I am curious about the number of Hometown Buffets. At one time - years ago - I had learned that the Hometown Buffets were franchised - each being owned outside the Buffets, Inc (the corporate name at the time) by franchisees. More recently, I was told that all restaurants in the chain were owned by Buffets, Inc which became Ovation which became Food Management Partners which sub-grouped all into Buffets LLC. So - are these Hometown Buffets franchises - and safe from the whims of FMP or are they just lucky. And why so many in California, particularly that escaped closure?

I also find it interesting that Ryan's - the buffets that Buffets, Inc. purchased to destroy and turn the remainder into OCB clones has survived greater than Old Country Buffet - the flagship chain of the corporation! Since I have seen at least some Ryan's (sadly all gone now) maintained a good part of their former menu and did not change their menus to total OCB, this tells me that Ryan's had it right all along. At one time I saw Ryan's as the best chain buffet in the U.S. - better than Golden Corral and far better than OCB. Perhaps had the Ryan's menu - and grill in the dining room (many OCB's never got one) - been put in every OCB the whole chain would be thriving now rather than dying.

Well - for those who would like to see who survived, here are the buffets by state and town/city. Next to each is a letter - O for Old Country Buffet, R for Ryan's, H for Hometown, and C for Country Buffet.  If there are further closing we will try to update the list when we can.

Alabama

Foley R

Arizona

Glendale O
Mesa O
Phoenix O

California

Anaheim H
Bakersfield H
Bell H
Burbank H
Canoga Park H
Chula Vista H
Citrus Heights H
Clonis H
Concord H
Corona H
Downey H
Fairfield H
Fresno H
Fresno #2 H
Garden Grove H
Howard H
Hemet H
La Hambra H
Lakewood H
Loma Linda H
Modesto H
Montebello H
Moreno H
National City H
Newark H
Oxnard H
Palmdale H
Palm Desert H
Rancho Cucamonga H
Redding H
Rialto H
Salinas H
San Diego H

San Jose  H
Santa Ana H
Santa Clara H
Santa Maria H
Stockton H
Torrance H
Turlock H
Van Nuys H
Visalia H
Westchester H

Colorado

Colorado Springs C
Denver C

Connecticut

Manchester H

Delaware

Newark O

Florida

Crestview R
Pace R

Georgia

Athaus R
Commerce R
Rome R
Waycross R

Illinois

Chicago O
Effingham R
Mount Vernon R

Indiana

Highland O

Iowa

Cedar Rapids R

Kansas

Shawnee R

Kentucky

Bowling Green R

Louisiana

Lake Charles R
Ruston R

Maine

South Portland H

Maryland



Michigan

Burton O
Jackson O
Kalamazoo O
Saginaw O


Minnesota

Burnsville O


Mississippi

Columbus R
Corinth R
Picayune R

New Jersey

Edison H

New York

Bay Shore O
Buffalo O
Elmira O

North Carolina

Asheville R
Salisbury R
Sylva R

Ohio


Niles H
Sandusky H
Toledo H
Wooster R

Oregon

Beaverton H
Medford H
Portland H
Salem H
Springfield H

Pennsylvania

Hanover R
Harrisburg O

Philadelphia O
Whitehall O
York O

South Carolina

Anderson R
Greenville R

North Augusta R
North Myrtle Beach R
Summerville R

Tennessee


Greenville R
Lebanon R
Madison R
Union City R

Texas

Conroe R
Lake Jackson R
Waxahachie R

Virginia

Woodbridge O

Washington (State)

Bellevue O

Kennewick O
Kennewick #2 O
Puyallup O
Tacoma O
Union Gap O
Vancouver H

West Virginia


Charleston R
Clarksburg R
Princeton R

Wisconsin

Eau Claire O
Greenfield O
Jamesville H



TWO buffets were removed from this list that were closed on May 9, 2016. One more buffet was removed from this list that was closed on May 11, 2016. Eleven more buffets was removed from this list that were closed on June 14, 2016.













Friday, March 11, 2016

Buffets LLC Files AGAIN for Bankruptcy

What is going on in the world of buffets at this very moment is too crazy to not focus on right now despite that we were in the midst of our Top Buffets of 2015 series of articles. For the moment that those articles will be delayed for two weeks more.

What a disaster is happening right now with Old Country Buffet, Ryan's, Fire Mountain, Hometown Buffet and the other buffet restaurants that were once part of Ovation Brands that "merged" (read "taken over") by Food Management Partners less than a year ago in 2015! As we reported in our last article there were Ryan's that were being closed but it did not stop there. We then learned that 80 restaurants throughout the chain with the various "brands" - OCB, Ryan's, etc. were to be closed before opening on Sunday, March 6, 2016. We, at Art of the Buffet, were tipped off before it happened. We were not told which restaurants would close - and since then the media in the areas were restaurants were shut suddenly started reported restaurants that were closed by greeting the employees and managers at the door - not being allowed inside - and told go home you don't have a job anymore. This is how Ovation did it a few years ago - and it is how they have done it now. Our local OCB in Levittown, NY was one of the restaurants shut down. We have learned that the manager of that OCB was told at 10:00 am on Sunday when he arrived at work intending to open the store.  At one restaurant in Memphis, TN the local police were called in to remove the employees from in front of the restaurant - with local news crews watching!

We have learned since Sunday that Ovation Brands has filed for bankruptcy. This is the third bankruptcy that Ovation Brands formerly Buffet's Inc. has filed. This one since their take over by Food Management Partners who have been and are currently controlling everything now - making the  decisions to close the restaurants - and while Ovation Brands is the name on the bankruptcy the decision to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy is coming from Food Management Partners. The names of the companies gets a little confusing at this point. Apparently, Ovations Brands after the merger was renamed Buffets and was made a LLC - Limited Liability Corporation. Buffets. LLC is within Food Management Partners. So Buffets, LLC is what was once Buffets, Inc. and then Ovation Brands. Up until a week ago, the name Ovation Brands appeared on all coupons and such released for OCB, Ryan's, etc.

That 92 restaurants were closed on Sunday and 74 were closed in February. We had heard 80 - there were more. We had heard that 150 would remain open - another source says about 90 are still open. We have no confirmation on that. Another source says that before this rash of closings, there were 243 restaurants in the chain. Less the 166 restaurants just closed (92+74) leaves only 77 restaurants still remaining. Golden Corral must be thrilled as they are in many areas the only player in town now. And sadly, they are many areas were there is no Golden Corral and none for almost 100 plus miles or more.

This is what we know about the bankruptcy (from WHAM, Rochester Ch. 13). The story comes out of San Antonio, Texas. Buffets, LLC says now that its intent is to "restructure by closing certain weaker restaurants and recapitalize its business." Everything in the "stores" (restaurants) will be auctioned off by an online auction company. (We have heard from one of our readers that food in storage at the restaurants was picked up by employees of the nearest other restaurant in the chain and taken to that location. Of course if there was no other near location we can only assume that it was disposed of - my comment - I have no confirmation of this.)  The auctions have ended at this point.

According to WHAM, Rochester, NY at the Greece NY OCB - "A sign on the door stated that the location is "closed for asset inventory" until March 8. Employees were directed to report back for further instruction from 2-4 p.m. on March 8." At the Levittown OCB the sign on the door that we saw on Monday says just "CLOSED. GO TO BAY SHORE" - Bay Shore is another OCB 20 miles further east on Long Island. We went to Bay Shore this week - none of the employees from Levittown were there. We are not sure about management - though the general manager from Levittown was no where to be seen and if they lose him, they have lost someone who given the resources to do so would keep the restaurant full of customers. Continue to tie his hands - and there will be more closings.

Per WHAM, Rochester  - " "Buffets, LLC, was acquired by merger in August of 2015. The Chapter 11 filing is prompted by the discovery of liabilities, or alleged liabilities, that we believe were not disclosed in our negotiations," says Peter Donbavand, Vice President for Business Development. "We intend to investigate the propriety of the disclosures, and intend to consult with our counsel regarding any remedies we may have." This was also stated by Mr. Donbavand - "a "precipitous decline in sales" at some restaurants that was unusual."  These were called "weaker restaurants". There was also a law suit that Food Management claims not to have known about in Nebraska where a couple sued an OCB due to salmonella poisoning that led to kidney failure in the man after eating at an OCB in 2010. A Wyoming US District Judge awarded a judgement of $11.37 million after failed to respond to the lawsuit when it was brought in 2014. Now the dates here get a little screwy - Ovation says that this is after they were sold to FMP - we know that sale did not happen until September 2015. Ovation says it was not them that had to respond - even if they were called Buffets, Inc. in 2010, then a name change does not clear a corporation of responsibility for a law suit. Obviously, the judge thought this also - and gave a default judgement of a LOT of money. Law suits are public record. Don't tell me this was not known by FMP when they were buying out Ovation.

I have to respond to Mr. Donbavand's last comment - "precipitous decline in sales"? Why not be up front and say we did everything we could to have our buffets lose customers and make it nearly impossible to run a successful business. When Food Management Partners took over they cut salaries and benefits of employees and managers. They did nothing to improve the menu at any of the restaurants. And they cut back on the number of employees working at any one given time at the buffets so that there was one person carving and also trying to refill buffet trays, two to three employees taking care of all of the tables in the restaurant including have to remove plates when finished, keep the area clean, and then clean the restaurant for closing. How do I know this? I watched it as it was happening at two different OCBs  and a Ryan's - and only one of those survived - for the moment. These buffets were set up to fail by Corporate. I don't buy the story that financial liabilities "we believe" were not disclosed in negotiations. He has got to be kidding us! If this so called large food management corporation went into merger or take over with any company, you know that every page of the financial records were scrutinized before a dollar changed hands.

The story now is we have closed all of these buffets to keep the rest open. I would love to believe that - I see more closings coming and the end of existence of all of the OCB, etc. buffet restaurants.  I, truly, hope not.

My sincere best wishes to all those who lost their jobs at these buffets in the past two months. You all did the best that you could do given the meager resources you had to keep these restaurants running. No notice! I am guessing no compensation package. Just terrible! 

As we have offered in the past - if you - the employees and managers - wish to anonymously tell your story respond to this article by either comment or send us an email. If we get enough emails and responses we will put them together in an article all their own - or if not, we will put the emails here as comments preserving your anonymity.

 











Friday, February 26, 2016

Ovations Brands AKA Food Management Partners Is At It AGAIN!

I am sorry to interrupt our series on the Top Buffets of 2015, but this is just too major to not report on right now. I was recently informed by one of our readers "in the know" that a Fire Mountain Buffet (one of the Ovation Brands/OCB buffets) was recently closed in Chippewa Township, PA. It seemed to me that perhaps this was a random closing until just searching for our favorite Ryan's Buffet in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We looked at the Ryan's locations listings as we wanted to sign up at that location for Ryan's coupons through the "Crave Connection" club. When I searched the locations, no location came up for Fredericksburg. We have been there many times and as recently as August. It was then that I started to realize that Corporate is on the rampage again - and sure enough, I confirmed that the Fredericksburg, VA Ryans was closed.

I started to do a little more digging and not only were these two buffet restaurants closed but 74 buffets including Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Ryan’s, Fire Mountain and Country Buffet restaurants. This was reported on February 4, 2016 so this happened just prior. I was told that the closings were done in typical Ovation Brands fashion - employees and management arrived for work to find the doors locked shut and were told by Corporate representatives that they no longer worked there. Goodbye, farewell, no notice, you are gone! This is exactly what happened in 2008 and then again in 2011 and still again in 2012 when Ovation Brands, then called Buffets, Inc. went across the country closing buffet restaurants. This past August, 2015 Ovation Brands was bought by Food Management Partners and it was speculated as to what they would do with the chain of buffets that they acquired - all of the Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Ryan’s, Fire Mountain and Country Buffet restaurants. Well now we know. 

Quoting from The Free Lance Star - Fredericksburg.com -  “Since that time, we have continued to execute former management’s operating plan to stabilize and enhance the performance of the company,” Peter Donbavand, Ovation Brands’ vice president of business development said in a news release. “However, based on ongoing assessments of individual restaurants, it is necessary to shutter locations for the continued viability of the brands and our employees.”  He goes on to say that they will continue to operate the remaining buffets that they acquired as they are "financially viable".  From the same source he is also quoted as saying, “We know that these decisions are not easy, however, we strongly believe that this direction is best for the long-term health of all brands.”

There is indication that when Food Management Partners took over they cut salaries and benefits of both restaurant managers and employees. These guys came in with a heavy fist.

The Ryan's in Fredericksburg, VA was a favorite of ours. It was a must stop when going through that area - on the way south and then again when on the way back north. If I had to say what was the best Ryans we have ever been to it would be the Fredericksburg Ryans. It was a Ryans that maintained many of the featured entrees from the original Ryans menu and while it has to incorporate many of the dishes from OCB after the so-called merge of the chains, it kept serving Ryan's favorites. It had the best grill of any Ryans that we have ever been to - with people at the grill cooking who knew what they were doing. Ask for a steak rare - and if they did not have one they put a steak on and cooked it for you - with an apology that it would take several minutes. And then when it was done the person behind the grill would come out to your table with the steak on a plate and hand it to you. No other Ryans ever came close to that in our experience. We were so disheartened when we learned that it was closed. Table staff were good as well - as was management. We went into Ryans this past August with a Crave Connection email coupon. The cashier looked at the coupon and was confused - as it was offering dinner at a price higher than what they charged. She called over the management and we explained that the coupon came from out of Virginia. Not a problem - he took their current price and discounted it to the same percentage as the coupon would have come to had we used it at home. All with a smile. This specific restaurant will be sorely missed.  If they were not doing well, it can not be due to location - they were located in the middle of a major shopping center, and it cannot be due to competition - there is no OCB for many miles and the only other buffet chain - but not that close - is Golden Corral. As I have witnessed, Corporate seems to push these restaurants to the point that they cannot maintain adequate staffing which ultimately results in poor customer service and satisfaction - plus they push the OCB menu on the other restaurants that is not at all as good as, for example, the original Ryan's menu was.  Heck, they do this with OCBs as well!

Our condolences go out to all of the employees and managers who have lost their jobs. I am so sorry to learn that this has happened to all of you by this corporation once again. We invite any employee or manager who would like to leave a comment about what happened at your location and what went down that day that they showed up to tell you to go home (please be as civil as possible as we will not print anything that is defaming or vulgar - and I know that this is how you are all feeling right now).

Now I am off to find out what other Ryans that we have gone to are now gone too.

Top Buffets of 2015 will continue with the next article.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Top Buffet 2015 - Yoder's Restaurant and Buffet, New Holland, PA.

As was stated in our last article, the Top Buffets for 2015 (there are four of them) are not listed in any particular order. There is no ranking position. All are equal Top Buffets for 2015. With that we start our Top Buffet 2015 articles with Yoder's Restaurant and Buffet in New Holland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

We have written about Yoder's many times over the years. There were some physical changes at Yoders in 2015. A new dining room was designed and installed in the restaurant. In the area that was once rows and rows of booths, the room was turned into a more formal dining room atmosphere. Gone are most of the booths (but new booths not what was there) and scattered around the floor are free standing tables. The walls have been redecorated also with large photographs of the same scene of Yoder's farm in each of the seasons. The dining room has gone from a cafeteria/fast food look to a restaurant dining room. We were very impressed when we first walked in during 2015 to find this change. There does not seem to be any loss in their ability to accommodate as many diners as they always have.

Yoder's is not a big, sprawling restaurant. The buffet is bigger than some and small than others. There is always plenty of foods and a variety. Plus the building can accommodate very large groups for meetings, programs, etc. and often these include dinner at the buffet. Large groups coming in off the street can be accommodated as well in another dining room.  This is a family restaurant and buffet.

The food at Yoder's is good. There is a different theme feature each night and the themes reflect the types of foods on the buffet. While Saturday night's feature has not changed, for some reason we "discovered" it this past year - and Yoder's became our go to buffet on Saturday nights when we are in Lancaster County. Every night is good, but compared to other buffets in Lancaster, Saturday gives the selections we are looking for at just the right price. If for no other night Saturdays makes Yoder's a Top Buffet for 2015. The theme for Saturday is Pennsylvania Dutch but this does not necessarily mean you will find the usual PA Dutch foods found at some of the other Lancaster buffets. You may find some of those but the two featured entrees - among the other entrees are Marinated Steak and BBQ Baby Back Ribs.

Let's talk a little about Saturday nights in Lancaster. There is no one time of the year that would be considered "Tourist Season" in Lancaster. It is more crowded with tourists in the summer months but it can be just as crowded with tourists in the Spring and Fall. During the winter after Christmas, things slow down until the Spring, but you can still walk into a buffet restaurant during that "off time" and find a lot of tourists. Are tourists a bad thing? No, but I would much rather be dining with local people in a local atmosphere without bus groups and the tourists. Yoder's is a local restaurant - and if you have read this site before and read one of our Yoder's articles you already know that it is located inside a supermarket building - which as I have said before - is not uncommon in this area. This is not the type of restaurant/buffet that attracts tourists. It also is not priced for tourists and the price for the buffet at Yoder's - especailly on a Saturday night is quite good.

I like steak. Saturday night, as said, features marinated steak. This steak is served to order and cooked on a char-grill. The marinating gives the steak a nice flavor and more than once I have had this steak exactly how I like it - charred crisp on the outside and still red, juicy and rare on the inside. You are getting a whole steak - not a piece of steak cut off from another. If you happen to miss being at Yoder's on Saturday night, the marinated steak shows up on Monday night too!

There are always some interesting entrees and sides on the buffet at Yoders, and we have some favorites here. It is not often that you find Baked Oatmeal at any buffet - including in this area. This is not a breakfast dish - this is a side dish or a dessert. Here there is generally two types - one plain and one with fruit such as blueberries baked in. The macaroni and cheese is thick and gooey and good with a crumb crust on the top that just makes it right. There is often a combined casserole dish of some type - one was smoked sausage with potatoes in cream sauce. Some have been unusual and tasty.

There are two soups - some unusual. Ham Vegetable soup was particularly good. There is a nice salad bar with several types of lettuce and all of the toppings, plus a good assortment of prepared salads. For bacon lovers, try hot bacon dressing which is always on the salad bar. Desserts are plentiful and are located at several spots - an entire double sided buffet of prepared desserts, a wall of cakes and hot desserts including hot shoo-fly cake, a rotating glass case of pies, a sundae bar with soft serve ice cream and if you go to the opposite side of the room along the wall where the soups are, a hot counter follows along with hot sticky buns, iced cinnamon rolls, the baked oatmeals,

Service is always good. The buffet is open until 8:00 pm but don't get there at the last minute as they do start closing down the buffet at closing time. Yoder's is open from Monday to Saturday with their regular buffets - and unlike most other buffet restaurants in Lancaster, is open on Sundays until 2:00 pm with a Breakfast Buffet Brunch. The restaurant closes on Sundays at 2:00 pm.

As said this is a must go on Saturday nights for us and we have heard from a number of others who feel exactly the same. With that and all of the rest of this buffet meeting this site's criteria for a top buffet, Yoder's is a Top Buffet for 2015!  

Yoders  is located at Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. There is a website posted at the side of this page.






Friday, January 29, 2016

TOP BUFFETS OF 2015

We struggle with the notion of best buffet over top buffets every year. We go to many great buffets - all of which I write about here. We also go to some not so good buffets, and you all hear about those as well. Then it comes to the end of the year and we look at all of the buffets we have been to during that year and try to rank them - and there are some that we had gone back to during the year from years past that consistently come to the top of the list of the best. The problem is deciding which one really is the best. This is not the first time that we came to the conclusion that there are several top buffets that really need to hold a place of honor and that is true this year again. There is no BEST buffet for 2015, but there are four TOP buffets. These are the buffets that are at the top of the list and that have each met the criteria that we set for Best Buffet. And since Lancaster County, PA hosts the most buffets of anywhere, three of this year's buffets are in Lancaster County, PA and one is near home.

The TOP BUFFETS for 2015 named by "Art of the Buffet" are (and in no specific order) - Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA, Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, PA, Yoder's Restaurant at Yoder's Country Farm Market in New Holland, PA and Yummy China Buffet which is calling itself Yummy Super Buffet now in East Meadow, NY which is named as Top Asian Buffet of 2015.

The criteria for Top Buffet - or Best Buffet - are simple but not easy to meet. The buffet must give excellent value. The buffet must serve quality food. The food must be prepared properly and taste very good to excellent. The restaurant must be managed properly. The service must be good. And all of this must be consistent - meal to meal, visit to visit.Then it must be a buffet that comes to mind to go back to whenever possible. There must be something that sets the buffet apart (in a superior way) to all the rest. We have been to many who don't even come close and then there are some very good buffets that are on their way to meeting all of this. While no one criteria is more important than the others - and they all must be met - the idea that this is a buffet that I cannot wait to get back to is very much in focus when we decide on which buffet makes the cut. And I must say that there is one small buffet in PA that is coming up to this.

Over the next two months (four buffets - four articles) we will talk about each of these buffets and what makes them stand out beyond the rest. We will feature each in its own article.

Each buffet that is a Top Buffet of 2015 will receive a certificate declaring that fact. Some buffets display their certificates proudly - and we are thrilled when we see that they do - but there is no requirement to do so. Look to the coming articles to see why these buffets hold this site's special designation for the year 2015!


Friday, January 15, 2016

Time for the Rules... Again!

It is a new year and it is time to drag out the Rules of the Buffet. I so wish that some of the buffets would take this list - you can use it with my compliments as long as you give credit - and put it up in their restaurant where it well be seen when customers are coming in. Not only would it make for a much for enjoyable dining experience for the customers but it would save a lot of effort on the part of the restaurant dealing with what happens when some of these rules are not followed.

Once again - here are "The Rules of Buffet Dining".

RULES OF THE BUFFET

1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4. Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7. For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In the buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

28. Never put the serving utensil, whether it a spoon, fork, or tongs, up to your nose to smell the food that you have taken out of the serving tray.

29. Do not eat while walking with your plate back to your table.

30.
If you take a plate, bowl, cup, or piece of silverware and you decide you don't want it, do not put it back on the stack of clean dishes or back with the clean silverware. Take it back to your table or put it on the side of the stack where it will not be taken as clean.  


Friday, January 01, 2016

Back to Peking Buffet, Williamsburg, VA

A number of years back in 2007 the Peking Buffet was our first "Best Asian Buffet". They still have the certificate framed in their door's entrance way. It is also listed on their website. This was always a buffet that we looked forward to going to whenever we were in this area. Then about four or so years ago, they added some things and made some changes to what was served on the buffet. I am sure many will like what they added - a section of Thai food and also a Sushi Train. Many will also like the changes to some of the dishes on the buffet toward hot and spicy. We don't really like hot and spicy - and most of the Thai food that is on its own buffet section is also spicy - so the appeal for us to come here was reduced a bit. Where we would have come back more than once, it has become a maybe visit once. It is however the only Asian buffet of any significance remaining in this immediate area. Others that we have been to in the past and have written about are now gone.

So - w were there recently and we went back. My experience this time was more positive as I found some entrees on the Vegetarian section of the buffet that are favorites and while I am not a vegetarian, these dishes and a few others made for a very satisfactory meal.

One of the things that has remained here is an extensive selection of soups - and with this there is a noodle section at the grill counter where you select one of several different types of noodles and a soup will be created for you by the chef behind the counter consisting of ingredients of your choosing.  We both had Vietnamese pho noodles with cilantro in broth. It was very good - it always has been.

I have written about the Sushi Train before and you can look up any of my other articles in the past few years about this buffet. Let's just say that if you want to stand and watch unlabeled plates of sushi move past you on a track and "have to" take each single piece with its plate, and try to carry more than two or three back to your table - and you like spicy sushi - you will love this. I don't bother with it any more. It may work in Tokyo where you sit at a counter with this going by in front of you - it does not work in a buffet.

The two dishes that I found on the Vegetarian section were vegetable chow mein and vegetable moo shu.  I wish other Asian buffets would add these two simple dishes. I like chow mein. I like moo shu. I admit that to the chow mein I added chicken from the chicken and broccoli tray as I walked back to our table. I also went to the Mongolian grill - they still have the large round domed grill that was very popular at many Asian buffets a number of years ago - and have now been replaced by small hibachi grills.  At his grill, it is the usual choose your meats and vegetables - then pour over that sauces - and hand this to one of two chefs who move your selections around the circumference of the big grill with sticks until it is cooked. The sauces are spicy or sweet. I put none on mine and added soy sauce when I got back to the table and this made me happy.

While we were eating a family of four came in. The couple had a toddler age boy and girl. They decided that they were ordering from the menu - which you can do here if you don't want the buffet. They ordered sushi rolls for themselves and fried rice and lo mein for the kids. What came were two huge platters of fried rice and lo mein. Enough in each platter to feed four hungry adults. All of this was on the buffet (except perhaps the specific sushi rolls that they ordered). The kids each ate about five spoonfuls of the fried rice and noodles. The parents did not take any. All of this was still on the table when they left. It was not that they did not like it - they seemed very happy while they were eating, but it was way too much. They must have paid more for this than if they had ordered the buffet - for the size of these platters and what the sushi ordered this way costs, they had to have. They should have just ordered the buffet. Even the waitresses who cleared the table after they left were amazed at how much food was left untouched.

There is a lot to eat here if you like what you find and if you can eat what is here. Everything is tasty. The food is good. Service is good. The price is also very reasonable at $12.99 for dinner. I am hoping that when I have an opportunity to go back, they will have the chow mein and moo shu again - not spicy.

If you are in this area and want to have all you care to eat Asian, try it. I am certain that anyone who does not mind hot and spicy Asian foods will find much, much more than those of us who would like to eat it but just can't - but still we found enough to eat to end the meal full.

The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)). The phone number is (757) 229 - 2288. There is a website and that is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What is Going On at Old Country Buffet?

I have to wonder what has been going on at Old Country Buffet. We have been going fairly regularly to a local Old Country Buffet, one I recommended as improving not very long ago in Levittown, New York. Things there have been going down hill - again. The management has not changed. What is being served has changed. How the food is being maintained and put out on the buffet has changed drastically. I rarely get ill after eating at any of the many buffets that we have been to over the year. In the span of several weeks after a meal here, that is exactly what happened - and too soon after the meal for it to have been anything else. This I blame on how the food is being maintained once out on the buffet - and goes from soup to soft serve ice cream.

What I can attribute to this particular location is how the food is being put out and maintained on the buffet and I will get to that shortly> What I am not sure about is who is deciding on the choices of the entrees being served on the buffet - which now change very little from night to night and are greatly lacking. This I believe is coming from the new corporate entity that bought out Ovation Brands and has taken over ownership and stewardship of the Old Country Buffet restaurants. I know from discrete conversations with OCB restaurant managers that they are told by the company what items to serve on any one particular night - and it was implied that these are consistent throughout the chain. I have to wonder if  "new corporate" is going out of their way to make the restaurants fail.

What is happening with the food items chosen? For months now there has been no turkey carving at OCB. This has been a standard carving since the restaurants opened. I understand that there is a turkey "shortage" in the US due to bird flu - but this has not seemed to have effected any other buffet chain or buffet restaurant that we have been to for many months right to today. There is turkey at Golden Corral. There has been turkey at all of the Lancaster buffets. There has been turkey at casino buffets. The only place that seems to have had a need to remove turkey from their offerings is Old Country Buffet. Thanksgiving dinner at OCB was not advertised until a few days before Thanksgiving - no posters in the restaurants at all up to the night before - just a single email saying that there would be Thanksgiving dinner served and there would be turkey. They found turkeys to server for Thanksgiving - but that was it - just Thanksgiving. On some nights the turkey carving has been replaced with pork roast but on some of those same nights the main meat served at the buffet in all of the entrees except the roast beef and some chicken has been pork. I like pork, but how many pork dishes need to be on a buffet in the same night. The idea of eating at a buffet is having a variety. There is little variety now. Rarely do we find meatloaf. Certainly there is no shortage of meatloaf.

So what is there? Roast beef, baked chicken, fried chicken, some type of ribs - either baby back ribs (which had been an advertised feature for a time) or sweet sauce soaked riblets, ham, fried fish sticks or baked fish, sometimes spaghetti and then one or two things that are supposed to vary but often don't such as small burgers in mushroom sauce, pot roast, unlabeled chunks of possibly chicken in a mystery sauce, pulled pork without bbq sauce, sausage patties in a thick and sweet orange sauce, and chicken pot pies cooked and served in small ramekin dishes. And often if you come in more than once in a week you will find exactly the same thing that was there the night that you had been there just before.

Before the corporate buyout. in an anonymous conversation that I had with a then corporate representative of Ovation Brands, the move was to return the items to the menu that many had loved over the years at OCB in an effort to bring back customers who had stopped coming because what was good on OCB's buffet was no longer being served. Well, that never seemed to happen - and it has just gotten worse now that they are "under new ownership". 

Now, lets look at what is going on at the local restaurant. Regardless of the night now, from busy weekend dinner to slow but not empty weeknight, food is coming out way overcooked and allowed to sit and dry out. Tonight's meal was the ultimate. There is not much that can be done wrong with macaroni and cheese, tonight and other nights, the mac and cheese has been completely dried out on top. Get any of the top layer in what you spoon onto your plate and that is hard, rubbery, and not possible to chew. The sting beans were dried out. The ham was overdone and its meat darkened where it should have been pink. The tray of spaghetti was a tray of hard, dried out, crinkled spaghetti sitting in oil. The small tomatoes on the salad bar were mushy and their peels wrinkling and dry. The small burgers in what was once mushroom sauce were little pucks of meat with dried gravy over the surface. The tray of baked fish was dried out. The pizza had come out over done and burnt and only dried out more under the heat lamp. The topper was the piece of chocolate cake that I took for dessert was stale. There was no sign of a manager and no one working came around to stir a tray or remove a tray of food that just should not have been kept out to be served.

On other nights we have found pulled pork sitting in a tray deep with grease, pot roast that had been served that was either seasoned oddly or was just not right, fried chicken that was so overcooked that the outer crust was too hard to bite through to the point of risking breaking a tooth. The chicken noodle soup has been so salty on some nights that it was inedible. There have been nights that the soft serve ice cream has tasted sour - of course with one taste it was not eaten.

This meal costs $14.00 at local OCBs. In this area the only other buffets are Asian buffets but compared in price to the popular ones here, OCB is higher or the same price but those Asian buffets are giving a far better meal that is prepared and maintained correctly. If I compare what is being served with any of the Lancaster buffets - some of which are lower in price - there is no comparison to the quality food that is being served and well maintained on the buffet at those other buffets. Compare OCB to Golden Corral - oh how I wish there was a Golden Corral that did not involve a lot of money in tolls and gasoline to get to - Golden Corral is the far better buffet. There is something wrong here and it needs attention. Is there supervision from the new corporation? I have to wonder.  As I say, the problem is on two both ends -the local restaurant that has to cook and maintain what they put on the buffet properly, and the new owners who are directing the choices of the foods being served. Both are lacking terribly right now. Perhaps it is just here locally - perhaps it is chain wide. I don't know. I do know that this is no way to continue to stay in business - but perhaps that is exactly what the new owners want.

This troubled us so much tonight that I pushed another article scheduled for publication tonight to a future date and I have delayed writing the article I had intended to write next. I had so much hope for this particular OCB as the manager had been turning things around. As the downward turn has coincided with the corporate change I have to conclude that the two are connected. And I thought I was finished writing poor reviews of Old Country Buffets. Ah well. I am better off eating home that going to OCB - and despite good cooking at home - I really like going out to a buffet for dinner.










Friday, December 04, 2015

Two VIsits to a Favorite Golden Corral

We were in Virginia in the Williamsburg area and as the number of buffets there are decreasing we went to one of our favorite Golden Corrals twice in the 9 nights that were were there. I am not talking about the Golden Corral in Williamsburg - that one is one has been terrible when we have been there in the past. I am talking about the Golden Corral in Newport News, Virginia.

This Golden Corral seems to be fairly new (though it has been there for at least four years as we first went there about four years ago. It is located in a large shopping center complex with plenty of parking and right off a main road (Route 143) which is off of Route 64, a limited access highway.

So why do we like this Golden Corral. It is clean. The food is well presented and properly cooked. The employees are attentive. The price is the Golden Corral advertised price of $11.99. There is plenty of room inside the restaurant.   These are things that should be a given at any Golden Corral - or any restaurant or buffet, for that matter, but that is not always the case. Both meals here was relaxed and without drama. This is exactly how you want to spend any meal.

So - when we went they were still featuring the breakfast for dinner promotion and even this was done better than the other Golden Corrals that we had been too during this feature. The breakfast items featured were all there - which they were not at any of the others. Nothing was dried out -nothing was over done.

What can make or break a Golden Corral is your server - as at many Golden Corral's the server sitll must bring your drink refills. A poor server results in stacks of dirty plates and no refills on your drinks. Not so, on both recent nights here. One night the server even was beyond expectations - paying close attention to our table and there with a refill before we had finished the drink that we had - and there at dessert to ask if we wished to switch to coffee.

When I go to Golden Corral I am going for the steak primarily - and what can make or break a Golden Corral in this department is a grill chef that does not know rare from well done and at the same time rare from raw. Each night I had steaks cooked exactly as I like them - char-crunchy on the outside and red, but cooked on the inside. The steak is mildly seasoned and tasty. You are given a steak and not a piece of a steak cut off. This grill chef knew what he was doing - and I hope that he is an example of what is always found here - it was on these two visits that were a number of days apart.

Golden Corral's generally offer the same basic things at all of their buffets, but there are some variations - and these variations seem to be things that all should have all of the time, but some omit or change for other items. One thing that this Golden Corral has is a whole roasted turkey that is carved off for you when you go up for a piece. This is so much better than turkey breast - and the turkey was moist and did not disappoint a turkey lover. We have seen whole roasted turkeys at other Golden Corrals but we have also been to several without it.

We have been to some other really good Golden Corrals as well but these were found by chance when we were on the road and needed to find someplace to stop for dinner. Unfortunately, we can only guess now where they were and it is unlikely, even if we knew which they were - that we would be in that location again. Funny, as looking back at my Golden Corral articles none of these are specifically written about. Possibly because back when we would have gone to these, I was writing articles right after the meal - and after driving all day and getting into a hotel late at night, I would not have been in much of a condition to start sitting down to write. We both can recall two - have a general notion of where they might have been. Ah, well. Anyway -

This one is good. If you are in this area, try it. We told a friend about this one and they liked it too. If you are in Williamsburg, VA - skip the Golden Corral there and make the twenty or so minute drive to this one.  It is located at 305 Chatham Dr, Newport News, VA 23602. There is a general link to all Golden Corrals at the side of this page.