Friday, October 21, 2016

Return to Epic Buffet, Hollywood Casino, Grantville, PA

In August 2015 we reported on our visit to the Epic Buffet in the Hollywood Casino which is in Grantville, PA just outside of Hershey. This is a casino and racetrack with table games, slot machines and the racetrack. The casino is off limits to children - naturally - but the buffet is inside the casino and there is no way to the buffet but walking through the casino - so if you are planning to visit with children or anyone under 21, don't make the trip. I had mixed feelings about our dinner there a year ago - this visit I was happier.

We went on a Wednesday night in August and there was racing scheduled that night - not that this impacts on the buffet, but the dining room we were seating in had a television on the wall that showed the races that were in progress on the track. Perhaps this needs repeating as I have said this with other casinos that we have gone to for the buffet - we are not gamblers - we go to dine at the buffet and don't bet. We did enjoy watching the horse races last year and we were looking forward to that again after dinner - and while we don't generally like a television on in any restaurant while we are eating, watching the races that we would have otherwise missed was nice. The price for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday nights is $14.99. The buffet is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Dinner on Friday nights now includes Crab Legs in addition to the Saturday night features of Prime Rib and Seafood. The two nights are priced accordingly with the Friday night dinner now at $32.99 and the Saturday night dinner now $26.99. The Sunday night dinner buffet is $16.99.  Hours are important to take note of - Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday the buffet closes at 8:00 pm. The Saturday and Friday night buffets close at 9:00 pm.  The Wednesday and Thursday price of $14.99 includes beverages - and this is a very good price for a buffet these days. I have paid that much on weekends - PLUS paid for soda - at two Golden Corrals on their weekend "special" at Golden Corrals that have a weekday price of $13.99.

I will not go through all of the dishes on the buffet on this Wednesday night - there was quiet a selection from seafood entrees - both broiled and fried, to Asian, to Continental, to Italian which included "gourmet" type pizzas. The carving was Roast Turkey Breast and this was very good. There was also ham. There was not a great deal of difference from the weekend buffet that we had here a year ago for a lot more money. There was no Prime Rib but I was not impressed with then. Some of the "appetizer" style dishes that were there last year were not there on this Wednesday, so I would say that those go along with the weekend diner. There was no peel and eat shrimp. The salad bar on this trip was very basic - make a salad with a limited number of toppings and not much in the way of prepared salads. The "grape" tomatoes on the salad bar were dried out and not edible. Those were the only thing on the buffet that night that I took objection to.  There are several small pizza's out cut into slices. For some reason there is a need to make pizzas with a very thin crust and this is supposed to make them "gourmet" - this is my description, they were not calling their pizzas that. They were tasty little slices and if you like a cracker like crust you will love these. I am not complaining - we had a good and satisfying dinner

Desserts are just as I had described last year. They are in small portions but that is a plus as you can try several or take more than one of the one you want. There is also fruit and two hot desserts.

It was a fluke that we were in this area on a Wednesday night. I am glad that we were because I am not sure I would have been as happy paying $32.99 had be been there on a Friday night. Will we go back again? Yes. Would I even try it on a Friday night again if that is how our itinerary takes us to this area next year - likely, but I will think twice.

The Epic Buffet at the Hollywood Casino is located at the Penn National Race Course at 777 Hollywood Blvd, Grantville, PA 17028. There is plenty of free parking. The phone number is 717-469-2211. There is a website for the casino and buffet and that is linked at the side of this page. Take note of the hours and days open as noted above. Also - your GPS may not take you to the entrance of the complex. For some reason our GPS sent us to the entrance to the stables on the opposite side of the grounds.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Is Sweet Tomatoes Going the Way of OCB?

Sweet Tomatoes, also know in some areas as Souplantation, is a chain of salad and soup buffets in several parts of the US from California to the East Coast. On Tuesday evening, October 4, 2016 and Wednesday morning, October 5, 2016, the corporation closed all of the Sweet Tomatoes restaurants in the state of Illinois.

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corporation, the owner of Sweet Tomatoes, filed for bankruptcy on Monday. The corporation confirmed that the restaurants in Schaumburg, St. Charles, Waukegan, Lombard, Aurora and Glenview, Illinois are closed for business. The company reports that they plan to restructure, close more restaurants, and put the corporation up for sale. What will remain - for the moment - are approximately 100 restaurants with the Souplantation name that are located in the western US. The corporate headquarters are in San Diego, California. Sales are reported to have dropped by 5.2 million dollars in the last year.

Our source is the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago information source. 
We have also learned that the Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in Forth Worth, Texas, as well as the Irving, Texas location were closed at the same time. The two locations in Jacksonville, Florida were closed.

Nation's Restaurant News also has reported the story and has confirmed with Garden Fresh that locations will close nationwide. The restaurant chain website is still active and still shows locations in Florida and in North Carolina as still in operation. The other states with locations shown are all in the West and and up and down the coast.

I have only been to a Sweet Tomatoes once and that was in Cary, North Carolina. We liked it very much and have always hoped that they would open restaurants further up the East Coast. That hope is now gone.  We are on the restaurant chain's email list and a discount coupon email came this past week.

If any of our readers know of other Sweet Tomatoes or Souplantation closings please contact us with the email link and let us know so that we can inform our readers.  Thank you!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Shady Maple - Lancaster, PA

We don't go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord as often as we used to. Not because it is not as good as it was, but because our trips to that area have been in the middle of tourist season. I cannot fault a buffet for the people who dine there, but when the tourists descend on Shady Maple, it can be overwhelming. And the problem is so many who have not been there before who are there are overwhelmed.

We went on a Monday night in August. We arrived for dinner and found a busy parking lot, but not as much of a line as one might expect when going to Shady Maple. Once past the cashiers, there were the usual two lines to be seated. The one nearest the cash registers leads to the front area of dining booths. We prefer to sit at a table with chairs so we always head to the side. It has been awhile since I have seen the side dining rooms being used but they were busy. The center dining room was full but we were found a table near the front which is what we prefer. But even on line I was surrounded by first timers.  Once at the table we were even more surrounded and once inside the area of the buffet serving tables there was a mass of people who could not get the idea of just not standing in the middle of the aisles, but walking along the serving tables to find what they would like to eat. And these are not kids - these are adults in all age ranges.  I always tell people that Shady Maple is an experience and perhaps this is part of the experience.

There is a lot to eat at Shady Maple - they now say that they have over 200 feet of serving tables which is certainly true but it seems like more. I am not sure if they are including the space around the three grill areas. I understand that this can be overwhelming. What I realized on this visit is that some of the PA Dutch dishes that were on the buffet as standards in the past were not there and this was disappointing. I am there to eat Amish or PA Dutch. The rest is nice too but not what I come to Lancaster for.  We also found that where there had been two sections of four different soups in each of those sections, now had less soups and  their space was now trays of hot wings. I am sure that they are gearing their selections to the types of people who are coming - and in the summer perhaps they feel that this is what their customers are looking for - which I am not looking for. My picky eater wife (remember her?) has been disappointed in the past few visits because she does not like change and some of the dishes that she would go for have been changed. She notes the sliced beef is now chunks of beef in brown gravy, sliced ham that was not topped now has a thick pineapple sauce poured over it, and the slices of turkey breast she insists is now a different turkey.

And then there are the other dinners who are very obviously not locals and who just stop and stare, the ones who stand at the buffet trays and eat what they have put on their plates, and the ones who pile their plates so high that what is under the pile is no longer recognizable. There were two businessmen sitting at the table next to us - from their conversation they had never been there before. It appeared that they were up to the point of their meal for dessert and then one came back with a steak and a plate of food, along with a plate of cake covered in ice cream. I so much wanted to lean over toward their table and say to him, "You do know that you can go back and get more and you don't have to bring it all at the same time?" I just sat quietly and watched. Perhaps steak and ice cream is a good combination. This is not the first time I have seen someone eat the two together at a buffet. They also had to make a big show of handing the woman who was assigned to their table to take their dishes away a large tip. They were upset that the ticket that goes on your table to show it is occupied says "No Tipping". This is not to be unfair to their employees - the tip is included when you pay for your meal going into the buffet. It is shown on your receipt as the tip. I know that as I get older I am getting less and less tolerant of things going on around me - but this type of thing has kept me away from Shady Maple.

Now I am not saying that you should not go. Absolutely go to Shady Maple - but if you can avoid the summer months you will have a more relaxing experience. It is still a top buffet - one of our Top Buffets in 2015 and has been consistently on the Best and Top list for years. The food is very good. The service is very good. The value and quality is still there. There really is no other buffet like it - and I guess that gets around. During the summer I go more to where the locals go with fewer tourists. We went on this occasion because I was missing dining at Shady Maple - and I knew what to expect there on an August night.

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.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Grilling a Steak - An Article for the Buffet Grill Chefs

This is an article that will be appreciated by our buffet goer readers and is written for the information of all those buffet cooks that are cooking/grilling steak.  I like steak. I wish that I could afford to go to a great steak house and pay what they want for a "great" steak but somehow I know that it will not be cooked much better than the steaks that I get at buffets for a small fraction of the price. When a buffet has steak on the grill I will try it. More often than not I am disappointed and my disappointment lies in how it was cooked even when it is cooked to order. I suppose that those of you who like their steaks well done are never disappointed. I like my steak rare. I don't mind a steak medium rare. The problem is a steak at many of the buffets will go from raw straight to well done.

Now, the grill chef will often cut the steak when you order it a certain way and look at it and then decide for himself or even show it to you - from a distance so that you cannot really see what he/she is showing you and then plump it down upon your plate. Back at your table you look down at what is going to be a great steak and cut into it and if you ordered that steak rare, you will find totally raw meat inside or a well done steak. A problem contributing to this is that most steaks cooked in buffets are a thickness of 1/4" or less. The one buffet where the steak is a thick steak (which also can contribute to its doneness) is Golden Corral.

Here is what I have experienced lately - in some buffets that are excellent in other ways. I ask for a steak (where you can ask) "rare" and the steak goes down on the grill - whether a flat iron grill or a flame grill -  and sits for half a minute on each side - no iron plate on top - and what you have is a grey outside and totally raw meat inside.  That is how you get it. So the next time you ask for a steak "rare but not raw", and the steak goes down on the grill and after a minute or less, an iron weight goes down on the steak. With a quarter inch thick steak that iron weight is going to multiply the heat going into that steak and turn it to medium well within two minutes - and they leave it there cooking. That steak will be well done by the time it goes onto your plate (or by the time that you get your plate to the table as the heat in the meat keeps cooking it). Where I consistently get steaks with actually raw meat inside, I will try asking for "medium rare" with hopes that raw then goes to actual rare - but no, medium rare translates to medium or well done - the rare part not heard of ignored.

At Golden Corral they also have this problem - even though the steak is an inch thick or more. Rare means raw or rare means grey on the inside. On a few occasions, I actually got a properly cooked rare steak at a Golden Corral. I should add that I pretty consistently got a properly cooked rare steak at one particular Ryan's in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Now Closed) where the grill chefs knew exactly hot to cook a rare steak and got it perfect almost every time. That Ryan's - even though about 500 miles away is very much missed! 

I like my steak crispy - even flame burnt (on a flame grill) - on the outside and red in the center. That is what a rare steak is supposed to be.

Let's look at what the designations are supposed to be - and I actually saw these on a menu once (not at a buffet but also not at a steak house) on how to order your steak.

RARE - cool, red and soft on the inside, crisped on the outside. NOT RAW!

MEDIUM RARE - warm, red, and a little firmer on the inside, crisped on the outside.

MEDIUM - pink on the inside with firm meat and crisped on the outside.

MEDIUM WELL - hot and slightly pink in the very center and crispy on the outside.

WELL - grey/brown completely on the inside and very firm meat with a very crispy outside.

INCINERATED - not a professional term and good steak restaurants will refuse to serve steak this way but it is burnt throughout with a charcoal exterior. (If you are in a charcoal crunchy mood and the steak has a decent amount of fat on it, this is not bad. As I found out when given one like this when it was supposed to be "medium rare" - rather crunchy - but not something you want to eat much of.)

Chefs - if you are working in the position of grill chef, if you are not cooking steaks like these when someone asks for one of these designations, you should not be in that job. Either you don't care or you don't know what you are doing. Unfortunately, sometimes I am sure it is because you just don't care. I know that you want to throw steaks on the grill, cook them through, and stake them up on the side of the grill where they may or may not stay hot and just serve them off from there. At grills where you are to be cooking to order - as some of these buffets state to their customers - then you need to be able to put a steak on when asked for and cook it to properly rare, medium rare or medium. Beyond that is where your pile of steaks fall. I and others are willing to wait. I will stand on the side and not rush you. I just don't want you to forget that my steak is being cooked and requires some of your attention until it is ready to put on my plate. I don't want to be made to feel that my order is not as important as anyone's. I paid the same price coming in.

Now the cuts of meat that are being used is another story all together and even in some of my favorite buffets that serve steak, I have had too many steaks that one cannot chew. I am also certain that you are slicing beef that should be a roast and cooking it as steak - which it is not.  I assume that is a question of economics - and you are not getting even decent cuts of meat. But we will leave that for mention about those buffets in their own articles.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Another Old Country Buffet Set to Close - And Maybe More...

We had a big shock tonight when we arrived at the last remaining Old Country Buffet in downstate New York (there are two others in upstate NY) when we saw a sign on the door that said "New Hours" and then listed breakfast and lunch hours and then said - "No longer doing Dinner hours".  This was computer printed - not from Corporate but from the location. There was a handwritten sign under this that said no dinner after August 8. What? Huh? This was a Sunday night. Inside the restaurant was buzzing with customers. We were there just three nights ago - there were no signs - it was business as usual.

I tried to find out.  "What is going on with no more dinner?" Employees were not talking. I don't know was the response. "I don't know anything." Well, we were able to find out. The restaurant is set to close permanently on September 12, 2016. The employees have been told. Some will lose their jobs now as there is no need for those who worked during dinner. Some of these employees have been working here for 18 years. Everyone will be fired in September. Of course, the problem when it has been announced to employees - which is should and needs to be - that they will soon be losing their jobs, they go off to find new jobs. The dinner cook has quit - and no one wants that job. They have tried and cannot hire anyone. Of course! So as you are reading this the dinner has been discontinued since Monday, August 8. The employees were told the reason is "the economy". What a crock! Golden Corral is booming. The Asian buffets in this area do very well - especailly from Fridays to Sundays. It is easy to blame the economy but we, who have been following what seems to be an intentional dissolution of this company by its new owners since they obtained it less than a year ago. They have been setting these restaurants up to fail all along! It is not the economy. The company has been in bankruptcy three times - though tonight we learned four times. Each due to mismanagement at the corporate level. This company was bought out less than a year ago and claims that they learned after the sale that the company that they bought was in a lawsuit over food poisoning. No corporation buys or takes over another corporation without full investigation by their law team of any and all litigation past and present.

Now - here is some speculation and I have no source for this - it is just a possible scenario for what is happening. There is a Federal Labor Law that says that when a company is going to close (not a location but the whole company) employees must be given X number of days notice that they will be losing their jobs. That X is 50 or 60. (Not sure which.) It is not like whatever name corporate is calling itself now - and I have heard three names for this company used interchangeably - has in its history walked in on the morning that they are closing a restaurant and hang a sign on the door. No notice. A big surprise to all who work there including management.  Now we have an Old Country Buffet that has been given notice of a close date - September 12. The employees have been notified. Could this indicate that all remaining restaurants will be closed on or about that date? I don't know - but it sounds very plausible. How sad!

We are very upset. The employees are VERY upset! You can see it in their faces. Regulars were going up to employees that they have come to know well and were saying goodbye to them. We dine there sometimes twice a week. This was THE ONLY non-Asian buffet for maybe a hundred miles. Maybe more. We have spent several Thanksgiving dinners here - a nice place to go when it is just the two of you and you have people all around you enjoying the holiday along with you. Now that is to be no more. I remember my first meal in an Old Country Buffet so long ago - it was in an OCB in Fredericksburg, VA - gone for some time now - perhaps because of a nearby Ryans - though it was gone before the merger. This was very likely my last meal in an Old Country Buffet - simply because there won't be one to have a meal in. Another loss.

I am going to ask you, Readers, to contact us if you know anything about other OCBs, Ryan's, or Hometown Buffets that have been given notice of closing. Perhaps you are an employee, a manager, or a customer. Let's get this out there. No names will be used in any reports that you share with us. Contact us - not by comment - but by email to

We also welcome reactions of employees at all levels whose lives are being turned upside down by this company. Use the same email link above. We understand how upset you are but if you leave a comment please do not use any profanity - or we can't approve the comment to go to the article. If you use the email we can put a few *** instead of what is really what you want to say and post all of these comments in an article.

We are so sorry that employees and managers are being treated this way. You are (were) the backbone of the company and you deserve a lot more respect!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Premium Weekends at Golden Corral

Early in 2016 Golden Corral instituted a new "promotional feature" - an increase in price to $13.99 on dinner from Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday all day. This promo actually ended and prices went back to usual but then recently it was brought back.  For the additional cost you get "Prime Rib", teriyaki steak, and fried butterfly shrimp. If you happen to unfortunately be in a Golden Corral that already has a $13.99 dinner price all of the time, your special promotional price is $14.99. On top of these prices you pay for your soft drink at well over $2.00. So your "affordable" buffet dinner with soft drink becomes over $16.50 or $17.50 each.  Add sales tax and tip and you are paying a lot for a dinner for two or more. Does this seem like a feature to promote? It does not to me.

I have been to Golden Corral's twice on a weekend night for this promo and just my luck both were the already $13.99 priced Golden Corrals. I wish that I could say that the addition of Prime Rib makes this "premium" price worth while, but I have to report that what they are presenting as "Prime Rib" is far from it. My first premium meal was at a Golden Corral that has been marginal in my past experiences there and I thought that perhaps it was just at that particular Golden Corral. The Prime Rib there was 90% fat with barely any edible meat on the slice and in between the fat was grizzle. This is not Prime Rib - a poor cut of roast beef perhaps, but not Prime Rib. 

The second Golden Corral that I went to on a weekend night was in a different state. I was hopeful that this experience with the Premium weekend price dinner would be better - it was a better Golden Corral in general and one I had dined in before. I cringed when I paid over $35 at the register for two. I looked at the Prime Rib at the counter and was uncertain if I was even going to try it again. I started with a steak - and steak at many Golden Corrals is done well (depending on who is cooking at the grill). The steak was good. I was going back for another when I decided that I would try the Prime Rib at this Golden Corral. The carver sliced off a thin slice - not much thicker than a slice of roast beef - and put it on my plate. No fat- good sign. When I sat down and went to cut off a piece to eat, it was hard cutting with the steak knife that had no problem shortly before with the thick cut of steak that I just had. I put it in my mouth and I could not chew it. Tough is too mild a term for this meat. I made an attempt but again, it could not be chewed. I tried cutting into another part of the slice - no better. I was able to get a few bits of meat that could be chewed and go down. IT was not tasty and overall again, this was not Prime Rib.

At this Golden Corral I get to try the teriyaki steak.  It was pretty much the regular Golden Corral steak pre-grilled and put out on the buffet server. This particular piece was red rare - just like I like my steak - but others passed it by as not cooked enough. The teriyaki sauce was not overly sweet and the steak was good. Did the teriyaki sauce and not being cooked to order as the regular steaks are justify an additional dollar for the meal?  Of course not.

My wife did have the fried butterfly shrimp - as she was going to try to get our money's worth out of her dinner - and she said that they were OK but no better or different from the fried shrimp served frequently at Old Country Buffet - at the regular dinner price. She was annoyed that several of the usual dishes that she often eats when we are at a Golden Corral were not being served as their place on the buffet now had the Prime Rib, the teriyaki steak, and the fried shrimp.

Overall - Premium Weekends at Golden Corral - big FAIL! As my readers should know by now that I very much like Golden Corral. I look forward to dining at a Golden Corral when I am somewhere near one. They have had some odd promotional features in the past - this one is one of the worst - and that is accentuated by the increase in price for something that is not what it is presented to be. So - Golden Corral, go back to regular price weekends - forget the not quite Prime Rib - move on to a real promotional feature at regular price or just stick with your regular menu as it is really good on its own.

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


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.

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


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


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, 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.


Foley R


Glendale O
Mesa O
Phoenix O


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 Springs C
Denver C


Manchester H


Newark O


Crestview R
Pace R


Athaus R
Commerce R
Rome R
Waycross R


Chicago O
Effingham R
Mount Vernon R


Highland O


Cedar Rapids R


Shawnee R


Bowling Green R


Lake Charles R
Ruston R


South Portland H



Burton O
Jackson O
Kalamazoo O
Saginaw O


Burnsville O


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


Niles H
Sandusky H
Toledo H
Wooster R


Beaverton H
Medford H
Portland H
Salem H
Springfield H


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


Greenville R
Lebanon R
Madison R
Union City R


Conroe R
Lake Jackson R
Waxahachie R


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


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 - -  “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.