Sunday, April 30, 2006

Mountain Gate Family Restaurant - Waynesboro, PA and Thurmont, Maryland

The advertising of this restaurant is “When you think of buffet, think of Mountain Gate". The Mountain Gate Family Restaurant has two locations, one in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and the other in Thurmont, Maryland. I happen to be in Maryland, but dined at the restaurant in Pennsylvania. I dined at the Mountain Gateway in Waynesboro – closer to Hagerstown, Maryland than Thurmont. The restaurant is located on Route 16 east of Rt. I81 at 10530 Buchanan Trail Road in Waynesboro, PA. In Thurmont, Maryland the restaurant is located on Route 15 at 122 Frederick Road. The name of the restaurant comes from rhe “Gateway to the Catoctin Mountains”.

This is a friendly, small family owned restaurant. Let me say immediately, as we drove into the parking lot from the road the first thing that we noticed on the changeable sign in the front of the restaurant = below the name – was a few sayings about praying for our troops and God’s love. Very nice. But understand that this was an introduction to a Christian restaurant – no problem, unless you have concern about the many crosses and little angel statues that decorate the restaurant including a larger cross and a Bible on the fireplace hearth. I have no problem with any of this – I thought that it was very nice. The rooms were all bright and pleasant. Nice d├ęcor. Don’t stop reading – there is a lot of reason to come here. Read on.

That said; let’s get on to the restaurant and the food. In one word, excellent. Good price, good value, good food. We went on a Saturday night. There are buffets every night. The food was a mix of Pennsylvania German and American home cooking. The Saturday night price is $11.95 per adult. The price is the same Friday and Sunday. Weekend hours are until 9. There are also lunch and breakfast buffets. Lunch buffet during the week is $6.50 until 3:30pm. Breakfast buffet is $5.50 weekdays (until 11am) and $6.25, Saturday and Sunday (until Noon). Dinner buffets Monday to Thursday are $8.99. Good prices. There are children’s prices. You can also order from a menu. You pay after you dine. Tips are not included. Service is good. Leave a good tip. Beverages are included and brought to you by your waitress.

There are booths and tables. The room that we were in was the banquet room and the tables were folding tables, a little unusual but more than adequate and comfortable. There were two dining areas with booths and there was another dining room at the opposite side of the restaurant. The buffet was in its own room situated in the center of the restaurant. Your silverware and napkins are on the table. You are seated and asked if you would like a menu or are selecting the buffet. Your waitress comes and takes your soft drink order. You are then on your own to go and get whatever you like.

You may start with a choice of two soups. There was vegetable and a crab vegetable. We tried them both and they were very good. I enjoyed the crab soup – real crab meat and good crab taste. Adjacent to the soup was home baked breads – a wide assortment.

There is a salad bar that fills a wall of the buffet room. There are two types of lettuce. There is every topping that you can think of and there is an assortment of prepared salads. I made a Caesar salad. You could have made any type of salad. You could skip the greens and enjoyed the prepared salads.

In the center of the buffet room is a double sided long buffet of entrees and vegetables. They claim to have seven vegetables. They do - there was string beans and ham (a local dish), corn, beats, peas, mashed potatoes, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, etc. There were several hot entrees here including fried chicken and what they call slippery pot pie which is actually PA Dutch Chicken Bot Bie = fresh dumpling noodles, chicken, carrots, and potatoes in a thick chicken stock sauce. There was also pork and sauerkraut. All in all, \plenty and kept properly hot and moist. There was also a carving station with THREE meats carved to your order - baked ham, turkey, and roast beef. There was beef and turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, and bread stuffing. There were also corn fritters, This was all home style food, simple and well prepared.

The highlight of this restaurant was the BEST dessert bar that I have ever seen The desserts were laid out on a large double sided buffet server that filled the side of the room. There were also more desserts filling the side wall. Think of a pie and it was there. There were also four sugar free pies. There was a variety of cakes. There were puddings. There was fruit. To top it all off there were 16 flavors of ice cream from a local dairy. Your waitress brought the ice cream to your table. All is fresh baked. I have been to a lot of buffet restaurants and many, many catering hall banquets; I have never seen as large a dessert offering as this. There were pies and cakes that I have never seen before. Three was Reeses pie. There was egg custard pie. There was pumpkin pie in April. They went on and on. For this reason alone this restaurant is an experience not to be missed. While you can order the soup and salad bar on its own, it does not appear that you can order the dessert bar alone –but the dessert bar is worth the price of the buffet.

Service was excellent. It was personal and consistent. The waitress came by many times to make sure that we had all that we needed. She refilled the drinks without our asking. She cleared the dishes as soon as we were through,

Getting to this restaurant seems like it goes on forever, but it is worth the trip. Once off I81 we drove through the town of Waynesboro and seemed to drive forever – actually it is only about 7 miles from I81 – and along the way we picked up the cheapest gas to be found within a hundred miles - $2.89 at a Sheetz station – almost ten cents less a gallon than other stations. This may not be the place for this information, but it the subject of conversation everywhere you go.

Anyway – if you are in northwestern Maryland or south – very central PA go to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant. I am sure both locations are equally good. There is no website but the phone numbers are Waynesboro 717-765-6772 and Thurmont 301-271-4373. Hours in Thurmont are from 5 am to 10:30 pm, Sunday to Thursday and 5 am – 11 pm, Friday and Saturday. The hours in Waynesboro are 5 am to 10 pm every day.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Week of Buffets

This has been a week of dining at my local buffets. This was a holiday week and we dined out through the week. We started with Easter dinner at Greenfield - the Brazilian all you can eat steak restaurant that I wrote about a few weeks back. I was able to convince my sister out of going to the Milleridge Inn holiday buffet - see my article around Christmas about this experience - and talked her into a restaurant of my choosing, and I chose Greenfield. The Easter dinner there was just as good as dinner has been any other time. The price was the same and the offerings were the same - with a few added seafood dishes in the hot entrees area. We were not rushed in any way and the service was excellent. (No one here seemed annoyed to be working on the holiday.) The restaurant was not crowded - but we ate late for a holiday dinner - not mid- afternoon which is customarily the busy holiday dinner time, but at 5:30 pm. It was fun. It was festive. We did not leave hungry. What more can one ask for?

The week progressed with dinner at the Asian Buffet in Hicksville, NY. This restaurant has been previously reviewed. They have a new "lower" price from Monday to Thursday - $11.99 per adult at dinner. Despite this attempt to make the meal more reasonable, this restaurant is pricing itself out - the restaurant is always empty with just a few tables occupied. The food is good - the price is not for this level of Chinese buffet. They want to be like the big international buffet restaurants but they do not offer anything on the buffet that compares. I am not saying that this is not a good restaurant. They have nice food. It is just too expensive for what it has.

We went to the Old Country Buffet on Wednesday. Nothing special to say about Wednesday except that we saw that the St. Louis Ribs and Steak Special has begun and is offered on Thursday - Saturday. Note the hyphen. That is how the sign is written - so does that mean that this is Thursday, Friday and Saturday - or is this Thursday and Saturday. Not sure. Since Shrimp and Salmon are still the special for Wednesday and Friday, suspect that there are no ribs on Friday. There is steak every night but Sunday.

I could not resist a chance to try the St.Louis Ribs so we went back on Thursday night. The ribs are good. They are similar to the baby back ribs that were featured in last summer's barbecue nights - probably the exactly the same. I am not sure what makes them St. Louis Ribs but they were small - served in pieces of three or four ribs. They just about fell off the bone - which is how they should be. They were not over-sauced. I suspect that this is their summer special this year. (Last year it was barbecue, the year before tex mex.) They were smart and had enough ribs to keep them coming out - they did run out of brisket and ham, but it was late.

Thursday night was prime for people watching at the OCB. A guy came in with a woman and sat at the table behind us. I could not see who was there as my back was to them, and only the guy was talking. They came in late and asked the server (at OCB this is actually the table cleaner) where he gets the hats. The Hispanic woman could not figure out what he was talking about - neither could I. He then must have pointed to a kid across the room wearing one of the bee masks that the character bee hands out to the children. The bee had been around earlier and was long gone. The server explained this to this guy - who had never been to OCB before. I figured that there must be kids with this guy - but I did not hear any. He wanted to know if he could go to the "box" and get some. The server tried to explain that you get them from the "Bee" and the Bee is gone. The server left them and I heard him explain to the woman - there were no kids - that the hats are to be worn in the restaurant - "You know, it's a fun thing," he explained. They were never at any OCB before. I do not think that they were ever at a buffet restaurant before. He had to stay at the table while the woman went up to get her food. When she came back, then he went up. He kept talking about the buffet as like a cafeteria. He was odd in many ways. My wife had a full view and told me that his underwear - royal blue - were sticking out of his pants - as was his butt crack. Very appetizing for all around. Well, anyway, don't you know that sometime along he got the "hats" (really the bee masks) and made the woman that he was with wear the bee mask. This was the first person over the age of 12 that I have ever seen at an OCB wearing a bee mask. He argued with her through most of the meal for making him come there. At the table next to us I got to hear a very loud lady talk about her diarrhea. How nice!

Tonight we went to the usual Friday night buffet - China Grand Buffet in Farmingdale, NY. It was as usual. There is an article reviewing this restaurant if you look in the archives. Service tonight was poor. The "Lobster Grabbers" were there - but it did not matter because they never put new lobster out while we were there - which is consistently a problem here.

So it has been a week of buffets. Next week I go back to work and it will be dining at home again.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Star Buffet and Grill

In the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country’s Lancaster County is the Star Buffet and Grill - another farm country buffet? No, actually, this buffet is Chinese. The Star Buffet and Grill is located on Route 30 east of Lancaster near the Dutch Wonderland amusement park at 2232 Lincoln Highway East. This is a typical Chinese buffet. The food is good and the atmosphere is pleasant.

The price of dinner is $9.95 for adults, Friday to Sunday and $8.85 Monday to Thursday. There are children’s prices and lunch prices are lower. The price does not include a beverage which is $1.00 with refills. You pay when you have finished your meal.

The selection at this Chinese buffet is pretty much like most other Chinese buffet restaurants with the addition of a Mongolian grill. There are four large, double-sided buffet islands in the center of the restaurant and the grill behind a counter on the back wall. In front of the grill is a serving counter with ingredients.

The first buffet island has dessert items on one side and salads and sushi on the other side. Sushi is salmon rolls. There is a bowl of lettuce with toppings and dressings. There is an assortment of Oriental prepared salads including Korean Kim Chi, a hot peppered cabbage, marinated in vinegar. There are cold, peel and eat shrimp here as well.

There are the usual three Chinese soups – wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour soup. The hot and sour soup was spicy but not so spicy with red pepper seeds that it was not edible – as it can be in some places. The soup is found on the second island along with an assortment of dumplings and hot appetizers. The spring roll was crunchy without the soggy consistency that can happen when they sit in a serving tray too long. Fried dumplings were light and not overdone. There was plenty of dumpling sauce nearby. There were also sweet dumplings, steamed rolls, and shumai. There were also fried cheese wontons. There were very, very crispy fried shrimp - very good! This buffet table also had steamed snow crab legs, not whole clusters, but individual legs but there was plenty to take. (I have spoken of crab legs in other articles - take a few at a time, They are much better hot and will crack open with your fingers releasing the entire leg’s meat with a gentle pull. Once they get cool, they are hard to open, become flexible, and the meat sticks to the inside of the shell.) There were many other hot appetizers to be found.

The next island was Chinese entrees including whole, steamed flounder in ginger sauce. There was broiled salmon. There were good, meaty spare ribs, a variety of Chinese vegetable dishes, a good tofu and vegetables dish that was not spicy, the usual pepper steak and chicken with broccoli, salt and pepper shrimp, stuffed clams, stuffed mushrooms, boneless spare ribs, General Tso’s chicken, steamed clams, baked clams, fried rice, lo mein, and on and on. The restaurant’s brochure lists a variety of 50 items offered on the total buffet.

The last island had more Chinese entrees and also American dishes. There was French fries, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, cheese spinach, crab in cheese, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs rolled in dough, and other entrees. There were very good fried and lightly breaded zucchini slices.

If you had a hard time finding something that you liked on the serving tables you can create what you like at the grill. Here there were raw whole pieces of steak, sliced raw chicken, raw pork, and sliced raw beef. There are a number of raw vegetables and also noodles. You select what you like on a plate, add one of the eight sauces from mild to spicy, and hand the plate to the chef behind the counter. He cooks this on a small, round flat grill – the Mongolian BBQ. After cooking, he plates your creation and hands it to you right there. If you would like just steak you pick your piece and hand it back to cook to order. (A note – rare, medium, well – not much difference in how you get it. Despite this the steak was good and it was tender – no grizzle and no fat.) There is no reason that you cannot find something to enjoy here.

For dessert it was back to the first island where there were the usual Chinese buffet sheet cakes, an assortment of jellos and puddings including a good tapioca. There were jello squares that look creamy and like little cakes. There were fresh fruits, bananas in a strawberry sauce, fruit salad, and cut up melon. There was also a soft serve ice cream machine with creamy – not icy – ice cream.

Beverages are brought to you by your server and she was ready to ask to get you a refill when you needed one. The service is good and dishes were picked up from the table regularly. The silver ware is on your table and a pile of extra napkins are there too. If you want a knife, ask your server and you get one right away. There are shell crackers out for you to take next to the Mongolian counter (next to a microwave that is out toward the public – not sure what that is for, unless you want to make what is already hot, hotter.)

I always say that you can judge a Chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese people eating there and here there were a number of tables with Chinese families appearing to enjoy the food here. This to me is a good sign.

There is plenty of variety to find here. Meat lovers, seafood lovers, and vegetarians will all enjoy this restaurant. There is no website. There are brochures at tourist spots. There may also be coupons in the local tourist publications for discounts. The telephone number is (717) 393- 4866. The hours are Monday to Thursday from 11am to 10:30pm, Friday and Saturday to 11:00 pm and Sunday to 10pm. This is an area where many restaurants close at 8pm and are closed on Sundays. This is a good Sunday night choice if you are looking for all you care to eat. If you are in the area and you are tired of country cooking, then give the Star Buffet and Grill a try.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Greenfields Restaurant

Churrascaria - another type of all you care to eat. This is Brazilian smorgasbord. It means house of barbecue in Portuguese. Green fields Restaurant is located on Route 110 in Farmingdale, New York, on Long Island. This restaurant offers a variety of ways to dine - all included in one price. The highlight of this restaurant is the skewers of meats - many types of meats - that are carried by waiters around the room and brought to your table for you to take what you like. In addition there is a very extensive salad bar and a hot buffet. Filling an entire wall of the restaurant from floor to ceiling is the fire pit barbecue. It appeared that they are burning wood chips and the flames broil the meats on the sword skewers that hang over the fire across the the pit. You can see everything roasting and what is coming off the fire and heading for the tables.

This is not an inexpensive restaurant, but what you get is well worth the dinner price of $24.99. It is the same price seven nights, all week. There is a lower price for lunch and children over 4 are $9.95. For your money you get everything on the buffet tables and the Churrascaria meats that are carried to you. The price does not include any beverage and fancy desserts are extra. There is fruit on the salad bar which makes a fine dessert - if you are so inclined after this filling meal.

You can start with soup. There were two soups offered the night that we went. There was Black Bean and Chicken Vegetable. The vegetable soup was loaded with large pieces of chicken, but light on vegetables. The salad bar is extensive with many unusual prepared vegetable salads, many of which are Brazilian in origin. There was also Greek salad, Caesar salad, and a variety of greens and leaf spinach to make your own salad with many toppings and the usual dressings. There is also sliced ham and salami on the salad bar. There is cold, peel and eat shrimp. There is fresh fruit. You can make a meal of the salad bar, but do not fill up here. There is lots more to come.

The hot buffet area has hot chafing servers filled with potatoes, vegetables,and entrees. At past visits the entrees included many exotic meats such as ostrich, kangaroo, buffalo, and the like. The menu has recently changed and the theme of the hot entrees is now Texas BBQ. At our visit there was pulled pork barbecue that was as good as any I have had in the South. There was beef bricked, but it was served with horseradish sauce and not like barbecue smoked brisket. It was tasty but not what I expected when I saw the sign that read brisket. It was more like New York style pot roast. There was also a chicken dish and pene pasta with shrimp in a light tomato sauce. There is a bread basket out in the middle. Again, do not fill up here because the main attraction is to come.

Go to the buffet area and take potatoes and vegetables. If you do not care for the hot vegetables, there is cold corn and cold string beans on the salad bar. Take your plate back to the table. Now the fun starts. On your table you will find a little salt shaker like jar with a red cap on the top and a green cap on the bottom. Turn that over so that the green is on the top and the waiters will start coming to your table with the meats. The meats are fire cooked on long sword-like skewers and the whole sword is carried to your table - sometimes two at a time. Your server will tell you what the meat is and if you would like some he cuts you off a piece or slides a whole piece on to your plate. We were offered Italian sausage, chunks of white meat turkey wrapped in bacon, chicken with a Brazilian spiced taste, steak, top sirloin, beef loin, pork spareribs (with a good BBQ sauce cooked on - again part of the new Texas BBQ theme), duck, lamb, chunks of meaty beef ribs. As long as the green cap is up the meats keep coming. Turn it over to red and the waiter does not stop at your table. Ready for more - turn it back over to green. Feel like more salad or hot buffet - go back up and get some more.

The meat is not cooked to order but it is juicy and not dried out. The taste is excellent. The outside is charred crispy and the inside is just right on the medium side. I like rare beef but I enjoy the meat here done medium.

All of the wait staff are Brazilian (or at least appear to be) and the atmosphere with the meats traveling around the room is festive. There is Brazilian music piped in with a great beat. The decor is Brazil. There are a variety of animal heads on the walls - wild boar, deer, etc.

In the past there were more exotic meats and there was roast suckling pig. There was no pig on this night. We went on a Tuesday night (special birthday dinner - Happy Birthday to ME!) and there were not many diners, though there were tables filled through out the evening. The room was most full as we were leaving at 8:30. I had thought it best to get there early on a weeknight figuring that it would be slow and empty and that it was more likely to not be empty early. I was wrong. On the weekends the restaurant is crowded - though we have never had to wait long for a table on a Saturday night. We asked about Easter Sunday dinner and were advised to make reservations. The price is the same for the holiday - dinner is served all day on Sundays - no lunch prices.

There is a chain of these restaurants (Greenfields) - two in California, one in Queens, NY, one in Rockville, Maryland, and one in Boston. The interesting thing is that this one is not listed on the website as part of the chain - but the name is the same, the style is the same, and the menu is the same. Perhaps this once was a part of the chain and is not any more - but the name is the same. There is a website for the chain (do a search) but I am not listing the website on the side of the blog as it does not represent this particular recurrent. If anyone who reads this has been to one of the locations of the chain, please make a comment about the restaurant and your experience. I can recommend this particular restaurant - and the style of eating in general- but I have not been to any of the locations on the website. If you are able to visit this restaurant in Farmingdale, NY - Go for it! If you are a MEAT EATER you will not be disappointed! If you come across any restaurant labeled Churrascaria, it should be just like this. Try it!