Friday, March 17, 2006

Family Style Dining

Family style restaurants are a different type of all you care to eat restaurant. These are restaurants that seat their guests together at large tables and waiters bring large platters of food to the table. The platters are passed around and shared by all at the table. It is supposed to be like eating at home with your family - it tends to be more like eating at a rooming house (as they are depicted in the movies).

These restaurants usually serve in courses. They will bring out an appettizing course. There might be bowls of prepared salads, breads, etc. These are passed around and plates are filled (usually a mistake - Everyone always takes bread. They want you to fill up on the bread so that you will not take the real food that is still to come.). After everyone has finished with this first course, platters of meats, side dishes, and vegetables are brought out. This is the heart of the meal and as each platter is emptied, it is taken away and refilled.

Following the entrees, the platters are cleared from the table - when everyone is done - and desserts are brought out in the same manner. Bowls of puddings, pies, slices of cake are brought to the table and passed around.

Beverages are served by the waiters and depending on the restaurant this may be soda and soft drinks brought by the glass or ice tea and lemonade brought by the glass and refilled by the pitcher. Usually coffee and tea is brought for the dessert course.

The nature of this type of serving usually results in plates being filled to the brim. The idea that there will be more on the platter later on does not occur to people and the grab it all as it comes around. Also people tend to be shy when sitting with strangers and if a platter ends up at the opposite end of the table, people don't always like to ask to have it passed down - interupting everyone who is eating in between. When sitting with strangers people tend to be more conservative in how much they take - and when everyone else has finished and you feel like you want to take some more, you will hold up the serving of the next course for everyone. So at a family style restaurant social and peer pressure come into play. There is the opportunity to eat all that you care to eat - but there are going to be factors that may prevent that from actually happening. For me, the idea is not to eat all that you can 0r even care to - I am more interested in having the variety that a buffet or a family style restaurant offers. In that, a family style restaurant can be very satisfying. One thing to keep in mind that is that you are eating at the pace of the table - not your own pace. There is no opportunity here to sit and linger over your meal. Also, in many of the restaurants the rooms are noisy with conversations. It is not a place to go with the family or friends to sit and talk. You do get to meet people from all over. This is not a place for the shy.

I have encountered two cuisines that have been served family style. One is Italian and the other is Country (Pennsylvania Dutch or Southern). Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has several of these restaurants. One of the oldest is called - The Family Style Restaurant located on Rt. 340. This is one of the originals - however, it was purchased by another restaurant a number of years ago and is now owned by Millers Smorgasbord Restaurant. They rebuilt the restaurant and the complex of gift shops that have always surrounded it. Here the style of cooking is Pennsylvania Dutch.

Another Pennsylvania Dutch family style restaurant is the Good 'N Plenty Restaurant on Rt. 896 in the village of Smoketown in Lancaster, PA between Rt 30 and Rt 340. This was always one of the better family style restaurants in the area. The restaurant was remodeled several years ago and it is a large complex of dining rooms. Tables hold 20 or more people. What was always amazing here was the spped and precision in clearing and cleaning a table for the next group to come in. The entrees usually include fried chicken, sliced beef, sometimes fish, sometimes sausage. The food here is good.

So, for a different experience in dining, try a family style restaurant.

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