Friday, September 30, 2005

Asian Buffet - Hicksville, NY

The Asian Buffet is located at 276 Old Country Road in Hicksville, New York. This buffet over the past several years has changed names three times and tried different approaches to bring in business. The owners seem to have remained the same throughout. Business here remains sparse mainly because of the price. This is a Chinese buffet that wants to be one of the large, international style buffets but does not offer any way near the quantity of variety that the big ones offer. The restaurant is large and mostly empty. The price on the weekends was just raised to $15.99 per adult because they have added lobster to the buffet. Monday to Thursday are $13.99 without lobster. For a while they were printing $2 per person off coupons in the newspaper. Business picked up - but the price was lower then. With the raise in prices they have printed coupons again that are good on weekdays. I go when I can get a coupon - otherwise the price is more than I want to spend. The weekday buffet offers less seafood. Soda is unlimited and one dollar. The servers bring the soda to you. You pick up your own plates at the buffet tables. Silver ware and plenty of napkins are at your table. Additional silverware is available including knives.

It is a shame that they do not bring the price more in keeping with what they have to offer because the food is good. This is not one of the cookie cutter buffets - though there is a Chinese buffet in Lancaster, PA that has many of the same items (like exactly the same recipe) on the buffet. Asian Buffet has a nice assortment of dumplings and dim sum. It also has some basic sushi with salmon.

There are three double-sided, short buffet tables at the side of the restaurant along with a small desert area. The rear buffet table has mixed green salad, some toppings and dressing. There are also prepared salads and some cold Oriental vegetable dishes such as kim chee - spiced cabbage. The sushi is on the table, as is a section of iced seafood including shrimp and raw clams. The far side of the table has fresh fruit and puddings.

There is an appetizer table with four soups including a hot and sour soup that is spiced just right to enjoy it and not steam your collar. There are egg rolls, fried cheese wontons, chicken wings, chicken nuggets that are real slices of chicken fried to a crunchy crust, Chinese donuts, spring rolls, fried dumplings, french fries, pizza (one of the better Chinese buffet pizzas!) and other appetizers. At the front of this buffet table are several "American" entrees including baked ham, salmon, baked clams, stuffed shrimp, etc.

The entree table has Peking duck, flounder steamed in ginger sauce, stuffed mushrooms, king crab legs (broken clusters and pieces), teriaki chicken, fried shrimp, shrimp and "crab" in lobster sauce, fried rice, lo mein, spare ribs (that vary from night to night from having too much glaze to being just right), beef with vegetable, seafood in butter sauce, and other Chinese entrees. Also here is the lobster - cut up and tossed in ginger sauce. At the end of this buffet table are several steamers with dumplings and dim sum. Here you find shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, shu mi, lotus rice, honey potato balls, scallion pancake, and fried vegetable dumplings.

There is a small desert corner with the typical assortment of "Little Debbie" cakes and cookies. (There has got to be a Chinese buffet supply warehouse somewhere!) There is a soft serve ice cream machine - it is more ice milk than ice cream - and some toppings.

As I have said, the food here is good. You can make a full meal of appetizers and dumplings - plus there is a nice assortment of entrees. The lobster - what you could get of it - was moist. It was taken as soon as it was put out and was not replaced more than once while we were dining. As this is the big feature that is linked with the price increase, that lobster tray should be full at all times. (There is a sign now as you enter that says "all you can eat lobster" - well, only if you are quick and leave none for anyone else.) Lobster in most Chinese buffets has the same problem. It is put out sparingly and it is descended upon as soon as it hits the steam table by every diner in the house. If you are not one of the first two to get near it, it is gone. The restaurant is open until 10 on weeknights and 11 on Friday to Sunday. Diners were still seating at 9:30 on Friday night and some items were being refilled, but the lobster tray sat with one small shell in it and the pizza never came out but once while we were dining.

The service is quick and dishes are removed right away - sometimes too right away when my wife's soup dish was taken away with the spoon in she just put the spoon down in mid-bowl to take some soda. The server will come and ask if you would like more soda. The manager - probably owner - walks around the dining room. At first you get the impression he is watching over your shoulder to see what you have taken, but in reality, he just seems that he does not know what to do with himself and walks around to be friendly. He does make an effort to come over and chat - and as we have been there a number of times, he makes a point of acknowledging us and making friendly conversation when we come in and while we are dining. It is nice.

The atmosphere is "Chinese" restaurant with booths and tables. There is a large fountain in the middle of the dining room. The background music is odd. Instead of the usual Oriental melodies they have been playing show and movie tunes, and tonight there was oldies rock and roll playing with lots of 70's bubble gum music. It is not unpleasant - but not what one would expect. The building many years ago was a well known American restaurant and the layout of the rooms has changed little. For those who miss "Cookies Restaurant" there is a lot of nostalgia just being in the dining room.

There is no website. The phone number is (516) 433-6688.

If you don't mind the price, try this buffet.

Friday, September 23, 2005

China Grand Buffet - Farmingdale, NY

The China Grand Buffet is located in a strip mall shopping center next the Republic Airport in the Airport Plaza shopping center at 201 Airport Plaza Boulevard in Farmingdale, NY. It is just off of Route 110. This is one of the "cookie cutter" Chinese buffets, meaning it looks and has some of the exact same menu items prepared the same way as many other Chinese buffets in the area - and around the country.

This restaurant offers a lot on its buffet tables from lobster and crab legs to a Mongolian-type barbecue - yet in many ways it seems lacking. One reason is that there is rarely anyone cooking at the window that contains the Mongolian barbecue and it always seems like an imposition to get someone out there. This does not seem to change whether you go in early or late in the day. Along with the Mongolian grill, there is a charbroil grill - but again - no cook. In addition, the lobster is put out so sparsely and with long periods in between, that when it does go out, diners descend on the lobster tray and there is rarely enough to go around. When the restaurant is not crowded and you find the lobster still in the tray from an earlier serving, it is often dry and tough from sitting too long. When it is fresh out, it is good.

The restaurant has three dining rooms - this is not a small place, despite it being in a store front. It also has a separate room for private parties. There are four long buffet tables - two of them double-sided. There is a buffet table that contains mixed greens and all of the toppings and dressings for salad. This table also has cocktail shrimp (shell on), raw clams on the half shell, sushi and sashimi, sauces, fresh fruit, jello, and puddings. There is a double sided buffet table with four soups, dumplings, dim sum, a variety of Chinese appetizers, the lobster, sweet and sour chicken, French fries and hot apple pie. There is another double sided buffet table with all of the entrees including Happy Family, the usual General Tso Chicken and Chicken and broccoli, and an assortment of stuffed items - all with the same chicken stuffing including peppers and mushrooms. On this table are also the crab legs (small broken clusters and pieces) and baked salmon. The final buffet table is the desert table and this is filled with small cakes and pastries that are identical to those found in many other Chinese Buffets. I often think of the Little Debbie snack cakes that are sold packaged in supermarkets whenever I see these cakes. They are good for a fast sugar fix, but have little substance. There is a soft serve ice cream machine with chocolate and vanilla with dry toppings. At the window, when there is a cook, there is a variety of raw meats and vegetables to create a Mongolian barbecue on the griddle. There are also spare ribs that sit in a heavy, sweet sauce. They are not to my liking because of the heavy sauce, but there are those who seem to enjoy them - if you can find them, as the hot tray is covered and unmarked. There is also a hot dog server with hot dogs rotating around to cook.

There is certainly no problem in the quantity and variety that is offered. The food tastes good - and we have never gotten sick - that is actually the best recommendation that any restaurant could get. The restaurant is kept clean. The trays - except for the lobster - are filled regularly. The service is usually good - although tonight we never got a soda refill - we could have asked, but it should be offered. Dishes were picked up promptly - sometimes too promptly with the server looking to take a plate that is still being eaten from. The servers just barely speak English and are all young, Chinese women (girls, actually). The servers bring the check too fast - tonight we were still in the middle of our entrees. My wife feels that this is timed. There is no rush for you to leave, but the check should not be plopped down in mid-meal, as if to signal you that it is time to go. One good thing is that there is a supply of napkins on the table in addition to the place setting that is there when you sit down. You get your own plates and there are knives and shell crackers at the buffet table. Most of the tables are booths that would just seat four. There are a few larger, regular tables in the back two dining rooms.

One thing to note is that the soup is served VERY HOT in temperature. This is as it should be for health reasons, but it is too hot to eat without letting it cool down first. The Hot and Sour soup is not only served hot in temperature, but it is also HOT in taste. I think too hot and has a strong pepper taste. It makes me sweat and I do not enjoy it - though I like this type of soup very much. I have even mixed just a touch of this soup into the egg drop soup to get the taste of Hot and Sour soup and it is still too hot in taste.

Just from the offerings alone, this should be one of the premiere Chinese buffets, but it is not. It is just ordinary and average. More attention to management - particularly of the grill window - and it would improve some. As I am sure that the grill is figured into the price, it should be better attended to. One often has the impression that the grill is closed, despite the large sign on the wall over the grill window that says, "Grill included with Buffet".

There are always people dining, usually couples and families. I always look to see how many Asian people are eating at a Chinese restaurant - there are rarely any dining here. We come here often and drive a bit to get here. It is a satisfying meal, but I feel it is missing the mark. Also as a regular customer, you would think that there would be some recognition, by the same host that is there week after week - no, there is no acknowledgement at all.

Prices at Chinese buffets in this area have recently gone up and this restaurant is no exception. The price is $13.49 per adult. There is a children's price. Everyone must pay. (I have seen a few here try to pull the "I am just sitting with them and not eating. No go - you have to pay to eat or sit. (Ahh, One of our rules!)) The soda is an odd price of $1.16 for unlimited refills - that the server must bring you and hopefully, she will. (I have to be fair and say that most times when I have been here I am asked if I "want more drink?".) You pay as you leave, however, I have seen them make groups of teens pay in advance.

At Christmas time they decorate the restaurant with a Christmas tree and have a big raffle on New Years for many big prizes including TV sets, DVD players, etc. You have to be there on the holiday to participate. They hand out bamboo calendars throughout the holiday season.

There are other Chinese buffets around named Grand Buffet. There is a possibility that this is one of a small chain, but there is no indication at the restaurant that there is any other location. There is no website. The hours are Monday to Thursday, 11 to 10:30 (last seating at 9:30); Friday, Saturday and Holidays, 11:00 to 11:30 (last seating at 10:30); and Sundays, 11:30 to 10 (last seating at 9). The phone number is 631-777-8199.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Well, we were at our local Old Country Buffet Sunday night and when we got up from the table for desert, we returned to find our table covered in dirty plates. My wife got to the table before I did and she saw a woman placing a dirty plate on the table and walking away back to her own table. Apparently the whole group had done this. Now, we did not know these people, had done nothing to offend them, and had not any interaction with them the entire night.

Old Country Buffet is one of the buffets that clearly marks your table as occupied with a paper slip that you keep on your table until you leave. The paper was quite visible on our table. We made our indignation noticable - though the folks who had done this did not seem to pay any attention. The girl who was cleaning away dirty dishes saw this and came running over - apologizing because she decided it was her fault because she had not had a chance to get over to that table to clean away the plates - but it was not her fault. This was incredibly rude of these people. If they were annoyed at the girl for not getting to clean their dirty plates away, they could have a) gone directly to the girl or b) gone to the manager.

Is another buffet rule necessary for what is basic courtesy? Do we need to say that Rule #15 is Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table? I had hoped that that one would not have been necessary. Perhaps not. Perhaps it needs only be a New York rule. Born and lived in NY all of my life, I find New Yorkers generally rude when compared to the people that I have met in other states.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Chinese Buffet Restaurants

Chinese buffet restuarants have been around for a while, but there had not been as many as there are today. On Long Island in New York State it seems as if there is a Chinese buffet restaurant in every village - if not more than one. Most new Chinese restaurants that open are Chinese buffets. The interesting thing is that many of these Chinese buffets are carbon copies of each other - and that observation is not limited to just my area. I have visited Chinese buffets 150 miles away from home that are serving the exact same dishes as several of the restaurants at home - prepared in the same way, the exact same deserts, the same special dumplings, etc. It appears as if there is a pre-packaged Chinese buffet set-up or every owner attends a Chinese buffet convention and purchases the same packaged food. Sometimes the decor is exactly the same.

I believe that offering a Chinese buffet is more economical for a restaurant owner than a menu Chinese restaurant. The quantity prepared is less for the buffet, while the income is the same. When ordering from a menu in a Chinese restaurant, the entree is usually served as a pint to a quart of food. At the buffet the buffet tray usually holds perhaps three times that amount and feeds a number of diners. While diners are picking from a number of entrees on the buffet they are not taking as much as they would have been served if ordering from a menu.

There are many Chinese buffets that are offering a basic selection of appetizers, entrees, and small cake or cookie desserts. One of the big draws on Long Island at Chinese buffets is the addition of king crab legs. Usually put out in broken clusters, rather than the full clusters, many diners just come for the crab.

Beyond the basic Chinese buffet, you will also find Chinese buffets that call themselves, "International" buffets. These offer a variety of cuisines, but primarily they are Chinese. Often you will find a mix of Chinese, Japanese, American, and Italian. Some of these add lobster as a featured dish. Many of these restaurants are at the higher end of the price range.

As we go along, I will review the Chinese buffets that I have dined at. There is already one such review on this site - The Peking Buffet in Virginia. As was presented in that review, that restaurant is one of the more unique Chinese buffets.

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.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Family Cupboard Restaurant and Buffet - Lancaster, PA

The Family Cupboard Restaurant and Buffet is located at 3370 Harvest Drive in the village of Intercourse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is located in the parking lot of the Harvest Drive Motel. It is off the main roads in the middle of the farm fields. You drive past several farms and lots of cows as you travel off Route 340 to get to the restaurant. There is a sign on Route 340 at the turn to the road that leads up to the restaurant. Keep an eye out for that sign. This is a privately run restaurant with two current locations. This location is scheduled to close in December and move to a location more centrally in the flow of tourists who come to this area to see the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. It will move a few miles away to the Amish Barn Restaurant located on Route 340 just before you reach Intercourse, PA traveling east. When the move is made there will be only one location.

This is a small restaurant with both a menu and a buffet. The buffet is reasonably priced at $10.80 per adult on weekdays and Saturday afternoon and $11.75 per adult on Saturday evening. The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm, as do all of the similar restaurants in this area and is closed on Sundays. Soft drinks are $1.25 and are refillable. There is a lunch buffet during the week that is cheaper.

You are seated by a host in one of two dining rooms – one at ground level and one a few steps above. The upper dining room has the buffet tables but you can sit anywhere and have the buffet. As stated, you may order from the menu – often duplicating the offerings on the buffet or order the buffet. As one diner at an adjacent table commented, if you intend to order dessert it is cheaper to order the buffet.

Dishes are located at the buffet table. Silverware is set at the table and drinks are brought to you by your server.

The buffet is small with limited offerings. The feature here is rotisserie chicken and it is always offered on the buffet. In addition there is fried chicken, beef chunks in gravy, and another meat entrée. Some nights that is meat loaf or ham loaf – a local specialty. Tonight it was Pork and Sauerkraut, an Amish dish that is pieces of pork loin in sauerkraut. There is an assortment of sides including mashed potatoes, buttered noodles, bread stuffing, stewed tomatoes, wild rice, corn, string beans, and other vegetables. On Friday nights there is seafood and fried shrimp. Everything is freshly made with local recipes. If you are looking to eat “Pennsylvania Dutch” you will get it authentically here. There are no carved meats.

There are three buffet tables that fill one side of the upper dining room. There is a salad and soup bar with two soups – local favorites. There is mixed greens and toppings and an extensive assortment of prepared salads and cold items including pickled beet eggs. The entrée table is described above. There is a dessert table and a dessert counter. The table has an extensive assortment of puddings and spooned desserts including local specialties such as cracker pudding, tapioca, éclair pudding, egg custard, and more. At the counter is hard ice cream, scooped for you from a selection of flavors. There are also cakes and pies including shoo fly pie. Bread rolls are found at the end of the entrée table and you will also find a local Amish spread that contains peanut butter and molasses. It is very sweet but worth a taste if you have never had it before.

My wife likes this restaurant a lot. I like it but there are others that I like better. The food is good – not exceptional, but definitely good. The service here is exceptional and the servers are very pleasant. Dishes are cleared quickly and drink refills are offered when you glass nears the bottom. The servers make the atmosphere here very welcoming. Here is a little story – about two years ago my wife and I were dining here. There were just a few tables full as it was near closing. Our server gave the check to another table of diners and then came over to us. I asked for our check and she said that dinner tonight was on her. We had never met this young lady before nor had she been our server prior to that evening. I was a bit taken back – especially being a suspicious New Yorker. I asked why. She simply said that she wanted to do a kindness to someone and she picked us. I insisted no – another NY trait. She insisted yes saying something about it pleasing the Lord. There was an implication that the restaurant had directed her to do this but I was never sure if this was something that the restaurant had her do or if she actually paid for our meal. I tipped her exceptionally well, thanked her profusely, and we left. This was so incredibly nice. It never happened to us before anywhere. It has never happened again. I left that night with such a good feeling – very unlike anything that I had ever felt before. It made me feel like doing something nice for someone else – paying it forward so to speak. Enough said.

The view from the upper dining room is incredible looking out over Amish farms and mountains in the distance. One night, sky balloons were being inflated in a nearby field and it made for quite a dinner show. The restaurant is well maintained and very clean. It is frequented by locals, Amish and tourists. There is a place in the parking lot for horse and buggies to be tied up.

The Amish Barn, the restaurant that this restaurant will be moving to in a few months is currently owned by this restaurant is being run by them. I am hoping that when the move is made that restaurant will improve in atmosphere and service. Most of the people from this restaurant will be moving over there. My wife and I tried it in July in anticipation of the move. The food was exactly the same though there were fewer deserts, The service was amateurish and did not make a good impression – in fact during one trip to the buffet table the bus boy came and cleaned off the table and re-set it – I suppose assuming that we had left despite that we had only had soup. The atmosphere there was not nearly as nice. I very much am hoping that all of this will change when the move is made.

There is a frequent diner’s card that is free. For every $100 that you spend over time you get a $10 gift card for the restaurant. In the lobby of the restaurant there is a small gift shop.

The restaurant has no website. The telephone number is 717-768-4510. I f you are going and it is December 2005, call first to see if the move has been made. I believe it is planned for the 1st of January. Don’t expect lavish, This is a plain restaurant with plain, good food – remember this is the home of the Plain People.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

General Pickett's Buffets - Gettysburg, PA

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania you will find General Pickett’s Buffets. It is located at 571 Steinwehr Avenue just diagonally across from the main entrance to the Gettysburg National Park entrance. Now, the buffet is not owned by General Pickett. It is named for the Confederate General who led Pickett’s Charge across the field that is just opposite the restaurant. This is a privately owned restaurant and it is in the lower level of a theatre that features Civil War performances and a gift shop. There is parking in the rear of the building and the entrance to the restaurant is also at the rear. The restaurant is called Buffets but this is the only location. I presume that the plural refers to the three buffet tables or the different lunch and dinner buffets.

As you enter the restaurant the front lobby walls are covered in photographs of the filming of the feature motion picture, Gettysburg. These and other photographs that decorate the restaurant have been taken by one of the servers who works here. A few years ago the restaurant played the movie soundtrack as their background music and the two cd’s seemed to repeat over and over. I liked it but I am sure someone not familiar with the movie or who is not as much of a Civil War buff must have thought it excessive. I would guess that eventually it must have driven the employees crazy. They no longer play the soundtrack but there is quiet music playing as you dine. The restaurant is small as is the buffet. It is a favorite of locals, tourists who wander in as they finish touring the battlefield, and by reenactors who come following the Civil War living history events that happen often in the area.

You are seated at your table by a host and a server comes to take your drink orders. Soft drinks are extra but are unlimited. There is also beer and wine. The dinner buffet costs $9.95 per adult. Drinks are $0.80. There is a lunch buffet for $5.95 with different selections.

The first buffet table has three different soups, chili, nachos, mixed green salad and toppings, prepared salads, fresh melon, canned fruit, puddings, and jello. There is also a basket of hot corn bread. To the side of that table are two breads and a serving bowl of peanut butter.

The hot entrée and sides table features two specialties of the restaurant – barbecue pork ribs in a good sauce and fried catfish chunks. There are two carved meats – roast beef and ham. There is baked pollock, baked chicken, spicy seafood creole, rice, potatoes, pasta, corn, baked beans, string beans, summer squash mix, carrots, sauerkraut, and other items.

The desert bar offers pies and a large assortment of layer cakes including German chocolate cake, apple walnut crumb cake, and others. There is no ice cream.

The buffet includes all you care to eat of all that is offered. The food is very good. The ribs are some of the best that I have had at a buffet restaurant. Everything is “homemade”. Trays are regularly refilled. Service is very good and the server was very pleasant with conversation. Our server was the photographer and in addition to that talent he knows a lot about the battlefield, answering questions from the diners. Used dishes were removed quickly and fresh drinks kept coming. If you want to switch to coffee at dessert, you may. The restaurant is well maintained and clean.

While dining a couple at a table near us seemed to only have the salad bar and we heard the server offer them the dessert table for only a dollar more. There is no indication that the salad bar alone is offered as an option, but if you are just interested in salad, ask.

There are a number of restaurants in this small town, but other than the usual fast food places, this is by far the most reasonable. There is also a free frequent diner’s card that gives a 10% discount when you come again and gives you a free eleventh meal. Not bad! You get it from the cashier as you pay your check and leave. Whenever I am in Gettysburg, I have dinner here. My wife who is a picky eater is happy too. When reenactors are in town you will see Union and Confederate soldiers sitting side by side enjoying a good meal. If you are in Gettysburg – or nearby – you must try General Pickett’s Buffets.

The lunch buffet is served from 11:30 am to 3:15 pm Mondays through Saturdays – not on Sundays. Dinner is served from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm, Monday to Saturday, and 11:30 am to 7:00 pm on Sundays. There is no website. Their phone number is 717-334-7580.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Golden Corral - Second Time Around

I went to another Golden Corral - this one in Williamsburg, Virginia (one that I have been to before). This Golden Corral was somewhat different than the one that I wrote about in North Carolina. Here there were fewer choices and several of the buffet areas were missing. There was no taco bar. There was no stirfry grill. Many of the barbecue dishes were missing. A lot of the meat dishes were missing. The salad bar was much abbreviated. This all goes to show that there will be differences in this chain from restaurant to restaurant.

In the two other chains that I have written about - Old Country Buffet and Ryan's - one restaurant is pretty much the same as the next. This can especially be said for OCB. I have been to some Ryan's that were smaller than others but the offerings were the same.

The food was still good. In fact the steak here was very good and an effort was made to cook it to order. It was better than the steak that I had in North Carolina. The service was good as well and this server brought a stack of four dishes over to the table at a time and kept them coming along with the drink refills.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Captain George's Seafood Restaurant

Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant is a small chain of restaurants in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The restaurant that I frequent is their location in Williamsburg, Virginia. There are four more restaurants in Virginia Beach, VA, Hampton, VA, Pungo, VA and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This is a fancy seafood restaurant with a complete menu and… the mother of all seafood buffets. This is the seafood buffet that all other seafood buffets should be judged by.

The Williamsburg restaurant is large with a separate dining room for smokers, a separate room with the “haunted” dinner theater attraction, and a large main dining room. The décor is that of a harbor front. One wall is a lighted façade of old shops and harbor side buildings. Another wall is an ocean view mural. In the main dining room is a three-masted schooner that is ONE of the buffet tables and it is almost the width of the restaurant on a diagonal. Another smaller schooner is adjacent with another buffet table and then two more tables are at the side. Scattered through the room are floor to ceiling supports that resemble the deck supports in the hold of a ship. This is the quintessential seafood restaurant.

Dinner here is not inexpensive. The buffet costs $25.99 per adult and unlimited soft drinks are $1.99. A maitre-de escorts you to your table. Tables are set with fine napkins and silverware. A menu is offered or the buffet. Your server comes to your table, introduces herself and takes your drink order. There is a bar and cocktails are available as are wine and beer. You order and then go off to the buffet. The server will bring your drinks, make sure there is a full drink always there, and clear your plates. Plates are located at the bottom of the schooner buffet table and you take them as you need them.

The start of the buffet is a small salad bar with greens, toppings, and prepared salads. You will find REAL crab salad here – large chunks of crabmeat (not sealegs) in a mayonnaise based sauce. The buffet moves along to two soups. One is white clam chowder that is thick and full of clams. The other is she-crab soup, a specialty of the restaurant. This is a thick, cream based soup full of crabmeat with a pleasantly, sharp taste. The buffet moves along to several broiled fish choices – on this night there were catfish in a cream sauce, salmon, and mahi mahi. As you continue you find pork barbecue, prime rib (pre-sliced), manicotti, potatoes, vegetables, gumbo, rice, a variety of fried seafood including shrimp, calms, scallops, and pollock. There are hushpuppies, rolls, corn on the cob, and then you come to the area seafood specialties – seafood Norfolk (Norfolk Special), deviled crab, Crab Imperial, crab cakes, stuffed clams, clams casino, baked clams and more.

On the next schooner are the highlights of the buffet. You first find large, steamed king crab clusters. These are large, hot, and full of meat. They are not sitting in water and are not soggy as they often are at some buffets. Next there are steamed hard blue crabs, steamed crayfish, steamed clams, mussels, Oysters Rockefeller, and hot, spiced, steamed shrimp. You will find non-seasoned shrimp cocktail on the salad bar. Of course, there is lots of hot butter sauce, cocktail sauce, and tartar sauce. Nut crackers are at your table to break the shells, along with several extra large, fancy paper napkins, and wetwipes. Take an extra plate to put the shells in as you eat.

Next there is a small round buffet around one of the ceiling supports with several cakes, Greek pastries, tarts, and cookies. This is followed by another buffet table with puddings, hot cobblers, and fruit. The deserts are exactly the same as those found at the Country Harvest Buffet Restaurant located a few miles away – see the article on that restaurant for my comments. The desserts are a feature here,

All of the food is excellent. There is every seafood that you can imagine with one exception – there is no lobster on the buffet. There is lobster on the menu. You will not miss it as there is everything else. Crab is king here and there is plenty of it in every form that you can think of along with every other type of seafood. This is a seafood feast.

Service is excellent. The server continually comes to the table to clear your plates, ask if there is anything that you need, and to keep bringing more beverages. Each time you get a new glass full of ice and drink with a new straw. At dessert you are invited to switch to coffee or hot tea if you wish.

This restaurant is frequented by both locals and tourists. At home 600 miles away, I have mentioned this restaurant and it is known. Even Santa Claus eats at this restaurant. Several years back in early December my wife and I visited this restaurant and there, a few tables away from us, enjoying crab claws was an elderly gentleman with a large white beard along with a lady with white hair in a bun. The gentleman was dressed in a plaid, flannel shirt and work pants. The lady was wearing a plaid skirt. They had their dinner and left without fanfare – but it was them, Santa and Mrs. Claus – there was no mistaking it!

One of the recent additions to this restaurant has been the haunted dinner theater – a theatrical production in a dining room separated from the main part of the restaurant. It is a spooky murder mystery and always has a crowd of both adults and kids. With the show you get the full buffet and come into the main dining room to pick up your meal and return to the fun.

Dinner starts serving at 4:00 in the summer and 4:30 in the winter. There is no lunch – on Sunday the dinner menu and buffet starts at Noon. The restaurant closes at 10:30 from Monday to Saturday in the summer and at 10:00 in the winter. Saturdays in the summer they open at 3:30. In the winter they close at 9:30 on Sundays. They state that the buffet menu may change with the season. I have been here both in the summer and the winter and do not recall much difference, if any.

In Williamsburg, the restaurant is located at 5363 Richmond Road. There is a website and it is linked at the side of the page. If you like seafood, do not miss Captain George’s. Even if you do not like seafood, there is something here for you. It is definitely an experience not to be missed by people who love buffets.