Saturday, September 10, 2005

Shady Maple Smorgasbord - Lancaster County, PA

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the town of East Earl at 129 Toddy Drive just off of Route 23. As far as I am concerned Shady Maple is the premiere of smorgasbord/buffet restaurants. They claim that they are the largest smorgasbord in Pennsylvania. I would go them one better and say that this may very well be the largest restaurant in the country. I have been to a restaurant that claims to be the largest in the country and this one is definitely bigger. The main floor of this restaurant is about the size of a football field. The smorgasbord tables combined are two hundred feet long. There is a lower floor that contains a gift shop, banquet rooms, and another restaurant that serves “fast food”.

The current location was built a few years ago on property behind the original location. The new building is lavish with chandeliers, a large, fancy, furnished lobby, and the look of a fine hotel. This is very unlike the surrounding farm community and must take the locals and the Amish who dine here along with the steady tourist clientele by surprise the first time they walk in. The original location was smaller – but still a large facility. It had a much more country décor and atmosphere. Personally, I liked that atmosphere much better as it was more in keeping with the locale and unlike what I seek to get away from when I come to this area. I was there the last week that the old location was open and I was here shortly after the new location opened. I come to this restaurant frequently and it is one of my favorites of any restaurant that I have ever been to. Most local people know of this restaurant and you can hear people say that they are “Going up to the Shady Maple tonight.”

The restaurant is privately owned and the owner is often on site and looking over the dining room. There is often a long line to get in to this restaurant with waits up to fifteen minutes. There are several cash registers – you pay as you enter. (A secret that I should not reveal – if there are lines go to the lines on the left; for some reason they are usually shorter.) After you pay you get on another line to be seated. There are so many dining rooms that the wait is not that long. There are both tables and booths. The price varies by night, as do the specials that are served from five grill areas. Tuesday night is the most expensive night at $17.49 per adult for the seafood night. The least expensive night is Thursday at $11.99 with marinated chicken breast featured. Other nights are between those prices. Children up to 10 years are half the adult price. There is a 10% discount for seniors. The restaurant adds 8% to every bill for the tip. You are asked not to tip at the tables. The price for dinner includes everything with unlimited soft drinks, juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, specialty coffees, slushies, etc.

After you pay and are brought to your table by a host, the layout and the specialties are explained to you. You are then off on your own. You get your own drinks and plates are at the smorgasbord tables. Silverware is set at your table but additional silverware is out if required (why put your fork full of mashed potatoes into your cake). The two sided smorgasbord table starts in the middle and goes in two directions. Each direction is supposed to be a duplicate of the other, but check both out. You will often find different entrees, soups, and sides mixed into what is common on both sides.

The table starts with a salad section that has several types of mixed greens, toppings, and dressings. There are also prepared salads – many of which are local area specialties. Try the pepper cabbage; it is like chopped coleslaw but with a different dressing. There is also hot bacon dressing – tastes good but it is probably a cholesterol doctor’s nightmare. Soups are next – there are four soups and chili.

You then come to several lengths of entrée tables. There is turkey, pork, sliced beef, pork and sauerkraut, fried chicken, croquets, fish, and meats that vary. They claim 8 meats plus what is found at the grills. Some of the special meat items have been meat loaf, meat balls, chicken cordon bleu, sausages, ribs, and pork barbecue. They have had nights when many of the beef dishes have been replaced with buffalo. Interesting, if you have not tried it before. The side dishes are mixed in with the meats and entrees. These have included dried corn, potato filling (both local specialties), corn or corn on the cob, barbecue beans, mashed potatoes, French fries, potatoes that are thinly sliced and fried almost to potato chips, carrots, fritters, buttered noodles, a pasta dish, and much more. They say at least 14 vegetables are offered. At the five fry grills are meats depending upon on the feature of the night. Mondays, you will find steaks – served to you whole. Tuesdays there are several varieties of fish, shrimp, and crab legs. Wednesday is prime rib – sliced to your order. Thursday is marinated chicken and pork. Fridays feature fish and meats at the grill that vary. Saturday night is an assortment from the week’s offerings. I have had steak, veal parmagean, Philly cheese steaks, smoked sausage, perogies, ham, prime rib, catfish, flounder, and other meats. Recently they have started serving pizza at one of the grills and they are also carving beef brisket. At the sides of the grills there is an extensive assortment of breads. These include bread that is swirled with fruit. There is gourmet apple bread with sugar frosting on top.

Ready for dessert? There are two desert tables, one with cakes, pies, and cold dish desserts. The other has hot dish desserts such as apple dumplings and fruit cobblers. To the side are more cakes and a soft serve ice cream machine with a sundae bar with every topping that you can think of including pretzels. There are also a number of sugar free deserts offered including fruit pies that are sweetened with nothing more than fruit juice – no artificial sweetener. The sugar free pies are on a dark plate and are very good. The blueberry pie is great when they have it. There are fancy coffee machines around the beverage area including cappuccino.

The food is very, very good. Food is prepared properly, however, if you are very conscious of your fat intake, be aware that on the grills they often put a large quantity of butter (or whatever it may happen to be) down on the grill to fry on. I have never asked but I would not be surprised if they would clean a section of the grill off for you to cook something without it. They are so accommodating and nice about everything else, I am sure that they would do this. The barbecue pork ribs that I had fell off the bone and the sauce was just tangy enough. Steaks include Delmonico and New York Strip. They are cooked to your liking and you are served the whole steak. They are served with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and onion rings – your choice of any or all. There is really something for everyone. You can eat “Pennsylvania Dutch”, country, or just American. A vegetarian can be easily pleased, as can someone on a diet.

The service is good with dishes cleaned off the table regularly. You are given a paper slip to put on the table to signal the server that the table is occupied and not to clear it away for another customer. This works most of the time. I suspect that a number of diners do not pay attention to this and leave the paper face up after they exit. On a very rare occasion the server slips and clears a table still in use. In the old restaurant they had a plastic plaque that said reserved that you placed face up when you were dining and turned face down (stating open) when you left. I believe that this system was better as people were more conscious of the sign on the table when they first sat down. The restaurant is exceptionally clean. Even the restrooms – men’s and women’s are lavish with an ante-room that is furnished nicer than many living rooms. There is also a family restroom.

This is one of those restaurants at which you really have to make an effort not to eat until you feel bloated – it is very easy to eat too much here. I have, too often, walked out to my car feeling like I would burst. I am the one who wrote down the rules of buffets and I wind up breaking some of them here. I came back to the table with two plates – one with pizza on it. My wife said to me – “didn’t I read on the Internet about some rule of taking only one plate at a time?” Yup, but there was not enough room on the plate for what is almost a full slice of pizzeria pizza – so I put it on its own plate.

In addition to the dinner smorgasbord there are lunch and breakfast smorgasbords. The lunch smorgasbord features most of the offerings of the dinner with the exception of the grills. The price is $9.29 per adult, Monday through Friday until 3:15 pm. The breakfast smorgasbord features eggs prepared to order, quiche, breakfast meats, scrapple, pancakes, waffles, omelets, French toast, mush, pudding, breads, baked goods, fruit, and much more. The price for breakfast is $7.29 Monday to Friday and $8.29 on Saturdays and holidays. Breakfast is served from 5:00 am (this is farm country, after all) to 10:00 am. Dinner is served until 8:00 pm. The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm but diners may remain until 9:00. Food trays are refilled through the night. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. It is also closed on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The gift shop is open until 9:00 pm and recently expanded. The restaurant has a website that is linked at the side of this page.

There is a special promotion that gives you a free meal on your birthday when you are there with at least one other diner. They even have a way to register at the restaurant or on their website so that you will get a reminder to come on your birthday for your free meal. All you need to do is prove that it is your birthday at the cashier; registration is unnecessary.

There are banquet facilities that seat 1000 people. There are special banquet packages. The banquet is not part of the buffet; however, there are private rooms off the main dining rooms that will accommodate private parties or meetings that include the smorgasbord.

If there was only one buffet restaurant that could exist this would have to be the one. This is the top. It would take a great deal to do better and I have yet to find any that does.


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windyfrog said...

"Going to Shady Maple tonight" and I couldn' t remember what time they serve dinner till. (We live an hour away.) You are 100% on target with your description, great job. We moved from the DC area to PA and this is one of the great culinary finds that came with the move.