Friday, December 28, 2007
The BEST buffet for 2007 is SHADY MAPLE SMORGASBORD located in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
I have written about Shady Maple many times on this site. We have had a number of comments written that have agreed with my praise for this restaurant. This is a well known restaurant in an area with a strong tourist trade. It is as much a favorite with local patrons as it is with tourists.
For the benefit of our readers who may not have read the other articles about this buffet and in keeping with this fine distinction as THE BEST, I will describe and review the restaurant and point out what makes this buffet stand out so far beyond the rest.
Shady Maple Smörgåsbord has been in business for many, many years. The current location is just feet away from its origins as a farm stand and then a restaurant. The smaller (yet quite large) original building was closed several years back and a newly built much, much larger building was opened on the same property. The facility that you dine at now is very elegant. It is far beyond what one would expect to find in the middle of a farming and Amish/Old Order Mennonite community. The restaurant is huge with a very large building, a circular drive and more than ample parking for the large crowds that dine here regularly. Enter through the several front entrance doors and you are greeted with a lobby with crystal chandeliers, a large brick fire place, and elegant furnishings that include sofas and side chairs that you would expect to find in the finest furnished home or fanciest hotel. In front of the dining room, separated from the lobby by a half wall partition, there are several cashiers who easily handle the lines of people coming in. At Shady Maple you pay as you enter and your meal and beverage is all inclusive for the price. Shady Maple removes the question of what should I tip by adding a small gratuity to the price when you pay. You leave the cashier and go to a second line to be seated. You are always seated by a hostess - your choice, table or booth (if available).
The dining rooms are spacious. There is a large dining room with two large sections of booths and a large section between with tables. There are private dining rooms along the rear wall for private parties or they are opened when there is a large crowd. There is a second very large dining room beyond the first that is opened whenever needed and not only can this dining room accommodate many more diners, it is also the area that bus groups are seated in. Yes, people come here by the bus load and the restaurant can accommodate a number of buses along with the other diners and you would never know it. The decor of the dining rooms rivals the fanciest of ballrooms. More huge crystal chandeliers light the rooms. In addition to the buffet dining rooms, there are also banquet facilities completely separate from the buffet. Weddings and special occasions are catered here.
Shady Maple serves buffet breakfast, buffet lunch, and buffet dinner. This is only a buffet (though there is menu breakfast Monday to Friday during certain times of the year). If you would like a cafeteria-style dining experience go down to the lower level where you will find a complete and large cafeteria restaurant at the back of the gift shop. Shady Maple opens at 5:00 AM. It closes at 8:00 pm - though the dining room and buffet servers remain open until 9:00 pm. The restaurant is always closed on Sundays and it is also closed on Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. These last two days are unusual for a restaurant in the middle of a tourist area which attracts many visitors on those two Monday holidays.
I am going to concentrate on dinner. I have also been here for lunch - see my article earlier this month. It is equally as good as dinner. Lunch ends at 3:15 pm and is cheaper than dinner by several dollars. Dinner is the main attraction here and each day has a different feature. These features have remained consistent over time and you can be pretty certain to know what to expect on each night of the week and Saturday. Monday night is Steak Night and on the fry grills are Delmonico steaks and New York strip steaks. All of the prices that I will quote include tax and the charged gratuity. All children's prices for ages 4 to 10 years are half of the adult price. Seniors over 60 get a ten percent discount. If it is your birthday, just prove it, and you will eat for FREE. Monday night's price is $14.29. Tuesday night the feature is assorted seafood. This is the most expensive night of the week at $21.65 but the seafood is plentiful! Wednesday night is prime rib and it is cut to your order - rare, medium, or well. The price on Wednesday night is $17.43. Thursday once was called Family Value Night. Now they have dropped that name but it remains the most inexpensive night of the week at $15.99. The feature Thursdays includes grilled, boneless, chicken breasts and breaded shrimp. The feature on Friday includes fried shrimp, salmon, Cajun catfish, and a selection of grilled meats on the grills. The Friday night price is $16.75. Saturday night brings crab cakes, salmon, Cajun catfish, and a selection of grilled meats. From many visits, I know that you will also find other fish being grilled and smoked sausage. The price on Saturday night is $19.03. Now, remember, I said that all of these prices include the sales tax and tip. Take about $2.00 off each price for the actual price of the dinners.
When you go up to the buffet serving area which runs the length of this huge building at the front of the dining rooms you will find four grill areas, two very long double sided salad bars, and then more very long double sided buffet servers that stretch in two directions with the salad bars at the middle. There are five long, double sided buffet servers times two plus two dessert sections at the ends and around the side walls. Each wall in front of the servers holds beverages. You can look at this as two complete buffet service areas next to each other. Many think at first glance that the two sides each have the same items, but that is not correct. While many items are duplicated and the same, there are just as many different items on each side which multiplies the offerings.
When you look for the featured items you are going to find most of them on the four grills - and those grills are cooking several different items each. When you move on to the hot and cold buffet servers you are going to find much, much more. There are a number of more meats, entrees, many vegetables, real mashed potatoes, four soups, chili, a large assortment of salads, both prepared and greens with every imaginable topping. There are carvings - even at lunch including ham and beef briscuit. As this restaurant is located in the heart of the "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" there are a number of local specialties that will change each night. There is always something for everyone to like. If you do not care for the local dishes move on to the many selections of country and American fare. We have never been disappointed at Shady Maple. Even buffet pizza - always on one at of the grill areas - is great here. (Take a half slice - the slices are huge and thick with cheese.) We have never had any difficulty finding several things to fill up on. This is the one buffet that you have to keep remembering that you must not eat so much that you will not be able to walk out comfortably. It is very easy to over indulge here.
Dessert here is no exception to the bounty of everything else. There is always an assortment of cakes, pies, sugar-free fruit pies (that actually taste really good), puddings, cream dessert concoctions, fruit, jello, apple dumplings, other sugar-free desserts, soft serve ice cream, whipped cream topping for what ever you like, and more.
Beverages are self-serve and there is no soft drink that I can think of that is not here. Both Coke and Pepsi products, Icees, iced tea, hot tea, iced mint tea, iced tea drink with lemonade (real good), orange juice, apple juice, fruit drinks, coffee, flavored coffees, cappuccino, milk and chocolate milk. If I have left something out, it is there - just look for it.
Shady Maple Smörgåsbord was the first buffet that I went to that had a system to reserve your table effectively -this was years ago but a variation still exists. They used to put a plastic plaque on your table that said "reserved". When you were finished you turn that plaque over to the opposite side that said "open". The service staff then knew to clear away the table and prepare it for the next guests. The hostess then knew the table was available to seat at. The plastic plaques were replaced by paper slips that work the same way when they opened this "new" building. You turn the slip over to the back when you leave.
Service is excellent. Dishes are cleared away very quickly by the abundant service staff in the dining rooms. The dining rooms and the serving areas are spotless. Even the restrooms are ultra-fancy and kept very clean. There are little anterooms in both the ladies room and the mens room that are carpeted and furnished with plush chairs and sofas.
In the Spring and Fall there are special nights with some specialty served. I have been there for a buffalo night with buffalo served in many different ways. I have been there for an Angus beef night and I have been there for a Philly Cheese steak night. The Friday before Christmas there is always a special event going on with late night dining and discounts in the gift shop for "last minute" shoppers. A grand staircase in the middle of the lobby takes you down to a gift shop that is the size of the restaurant.
This is a destination buffet. I have traveled here, out of my way, when I am in other areas of Pennsylvania just so that I could dine here. I have routed trips home past this restaurant from other states just to include a meal here. I know that others have as well. This is the one. This is truly the best. You must go to this buffet.
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. 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.
The Art of the Buffet names Shady Maple Smorgasbord as THE BEST BUFFET for 2007. Shady Maple Smorgasbord will be receiving a certificate naming them as the BEST which we hope they will proudly display in their lobby. When you go there look for it and let them know that you read about them here!
Friday, December 21, 2007
This week I will name the Best Asian/Chinese Buffet for 2007 and that is PEKING RESTAURANT located in Williamsburg, Virginia. I have written about this buffet in several articles on this site and because I am awarding this deserving restaurant this significantly important distinction I will go back to the beginning and provide you with a complete description and review of this buffet.
The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)) This is an individually owned restaurant and not a chain. The restaurant fills four store fronts in a strip mall with a KMart. The decor is Chinese palace. It is reminiscent of fancy Chinese restaurants that existed many years ago. There are three sections of large rooms separated by room dividers that fit in with the decor and are such that you can see around them and over them across the spacious restaurant. Each room is filled with tables - no booths here. There is a modern accent of large screen televisions set up at the ceiling throughout the restaurant but there are no sports tuned in here - each set is playing a video of Chinese music, acrobats, or travel scenes. There are two videos playing at the same time alternating on the various screens. The sound is turned low so there is no disturbance from the screens and they can be completely ignored or you may delight in the flow of Chinese culture and scenery.
The buffet is served across the entire rear wall of the restaurant from one end to the other. The buffet is divided into three sections and your meal includes it all. At the far left is a long counter section with a sushi chef behind the far most corner, followed by a soup chef, followed by a grill chef. In the middle of the wall are two long double sided buffet servers. The one to the left is full of Chinese entrees, side dishes, and appetizers. The one to the right is the vegetarian bar and contains hot vegetarian selections. At the right of the rear wall is a large, round Mongolian grill with one to two chefs. Around the grill is the salad bar, cold dessert bar, pizza, and all of the meat, vegetables, and sauces for the create your own Mongolian barbecue.
So where should you start your meal? There is a small salad bar and there are your basic selections of greens and toppings. There is soup. Soup is found two ways here. There is soup that has been made and out in servers on the hot entrees buffet server. There you will find egg drop soup and hot and sour soup. The usual choices for Chinese restaurants and buffets. But look around and you will not see wonton soup. For won ton soup and a whole selection of noodle soups you need to go to the counter to the soup chef. He stands beside a large cauldron of soup broth and a selection of noodles from a variety of oriental countries. There is a sign to guide you selection describing what each type of noodle there is. You will find noodles from China, potato noodles from Korea, Vietnamese Pho noodles, Japanese noodles, and wontons. You tell the chef what you would like and he will assemble the ingredients for your soup in a wire basket. He will then take that basket and dunk it into boiling water cooking it all together. He then places the hot contents into a large bowl and adds the soup broth. The soup is served steaming hot and is overflowing with noodles. We have found that it is best to get the soup and let it sit on the table while we enjoy something else to allow the steaming soup to cool off to a temperature easier to enjoy. This is a large bowl of soup and can be a meal in itself - but there is SO much more to enjoy.
The sushi chef is making sushi rolls and placing them out for you to take. The sushi here is beyond the usual piece of salmon or tuna on a bed of sticky rice. There is a nice variety of sushi rolls of fish and rolls of vegetables. The spicy salmon rolls are wonderful. I have come a long way in my taste for sushi since I first reviewed this restaurant in 2005 and I have come to delight in sushi beyond the basic raw salmon and tuna.
Do you like dumplings? There are dumplings and dim sum in steamers next to the soup area. Further along the counter there are also fried dumplings that are actually made on the grill. The dumplings, both steamed and fried, are excellent.
Chinese appetizers are plentiful here. You will find the usual appetizers and then you will find some that are different. They make an onion pancake at the grill. On the vegetarian buffet server there is a folded, seasoned bread. Back at the grill there are fried shrimp balls.
To start your entree course it is hard to decide what to try first. At the grill there is a chef cooking steak and chicken in the Japanese hibachi style. Along the grill there are other grilled meats and fried fish. At the buffet servers there are meat dishes and, as I said, vegetarian dishes. The selection of Chinese dishes is varied and not just the usual chicken and broccoli and beef and peppers that seem to be the staple at many Chinese buffets now. There is even Chow Mein and Egg Foo Yung. There are noodle dishes and there are three types of fried rice to be found - the traditional, a house special fried rice full of strips of meat, and Japanese fried rice cooked on the hibachi grill.
Now suppose you look at all of the hot entrees and you do not see what you like. What will you do? You will make your own. Go over to the large Mongolian Grill and start on the line filling a bowl with raw vegetables of your choice, noodles, and then meats and seafood. You can put beef, pork, shrimp, sea legs, chicken, and lamb into your creation. You then come to tubs of sauces and ladles. Spoon on one of a mixture of sauces both plain or hot and spicy. If you like, put some garlic in. Put as much as you want or leave it out - it is all your creation. At the end of the line when it is your turn you hand this to the chef who places it on top of the domed griddle. He moves around the round grill pushing your food with a large paddle which he uses to mix and make sure that each piece of meat is thoroughly cooked. He may go around twice until your dish is done. When there is a crowd there are two chefs working around the grill. When your dish is done it is placed in a clean bowl and handed to you. You watch the whole process so you get a little entertainment along with a great dish of your design.
If you visit and eat from each station you will probably find it difficult to move after dinner, but there is desert to be found too. There are hot steamed desserts next to the steamed dumplings. These are steamed cakes and sweet buns. There are cold fresh fruits, jello, pudding, and one of the jellos is traditional Chinese almond jello (which I had only had before this in Chinatown in NYC). There is ice cream, of course. A soft serve ice cream machine is in the back corner.
The service a this restaurant is excellent. The dishes were cleared immediately, sodas were refilled regularly, and we did not even ask for a knife - two were brought to us as we brought food to the table that required one. The tables each have a unique dispenser on each one - a clear acrylic holder with full of extra napkins, chopsticks, straws, and sweeteners. Other restaurants should have these!
Dinner price every night at the Peking Restaurant is $10.99. Let me repeat that - $10.99! Unbelievable for the amount and quality of food that you are getting. The lunch price is $6.99 and $7.99 on the weekend. There are children's prices. Soda is $1.25 for unlimited soft drinks. There is a bar and alcohol drinks are available.
This restaurant is located in the middle of a major tourist destination in Southeastern Virginia. Here you will find Colonial Williamsburg - the nation's foremost historic attraction - and Busch Gardens theme park. This restaurant does much more than attract the tourists. This is known and patronized by all of the locals as well. It is not unusual to be dining here and sit next to Colonial Williamsburg employees dressed in colonial clothing or members of the Busch Gardens show casts. We had dinner one night next to the Irish Dance Troupe from Busch Gardens. We have dined here during tourist season and off tourist season. Even on a weeknight the restaurant is busy. It is large enough that it is ever so busy that you will not get in shortly but if you do have a short wait there is a great little gift shop inside next to the entrance with wonderful jade and oriental imports.
The restaurant has a good website and a link may be found at the side of this article.
This is a must go to buffet. There is a lot in this area to see so take a vacation and make sure that this is on your list of where to go!
The Art of the Buffet names the Peking Restaurant as the BEST ASIAN/CHINESE BUFFET for 2007. Another Chinese buffet has got to go far to be any better in 2008. I suspect that this will hold this title next year as well. The Peking Restaurant will be receiving a certificate naming them as the BEST which we hope they will proudly display with other certificates of merit that they have hanging next to their door.
Friday, December 14, 2007
What struck me most on this second visit to the Green Olive is the abundance of seafood - and not just seafood Chinese dishes but SEAFOOD in every which way. If you are looking for a great seafood buffet at an unbelievable price this is the place! You will find everything that you could want here - with one exception, lobster. And for this price who needs the lobster!
You can start your seafood meal here with raw shellfish. There are clams and oysters on the half shell on ice. The oysters were good and they were fresh - they had been opened and refrigerated before they came out as was evidenced by the dry tops, but the oyster meat was moist throughout. There is also cold cocktail shrimp. You can follow this cold selection up with sushi which was being made by a sushi chef behind the long counter that also becomes a flame grill.
Soups included clam chowder along with the selection of Chinese soups. There is a salad bar, of course, which I have already described in my first review of this restaurant (See September 29, 2006).
The hot seafood out on the buffet was overwhelming. There were the usual steamed king crab legs that you will find in many Chinese buffets, but there were also whole, steamed blue crabs - famous in this area from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. These are an art to crack and eat the lumps of meat in the sides of the shell. In this area people like to spice them up with "Old Bay Seasoning" - a commercial product that gives crabs and most seafood a pleasant kick. There were cans of Old Bay at the grill for you to shake on what you'd like. If you would like to be a little courageous you can have the grill cook you large, whole shrimp on a skewer with the heads still on. I am sure to many of our readers around the world this is no big deal, but in the United States folks don't like to see shrimp with the heads on. These shrimp cook fast on the grill and the shell gets nicely charred. The shrimp meat is deliciouses this way but a bit of a struggle to get out of the shell - especially while the little shrimp eyes watch you. There was fried shrimp and fried clams. There was fried fish. There was broiled salmon. There was a whole broiled fish that you cut away from to serve yourself that was great. I am not certain what type of fish it was but I am guessing from the look of the head it was a sea bass. There were fried scallops. There were fried frogs legs. There were steamed clams. There was steam shrimp spiced with Old Bay Seasoning.
There were also prepared seafood dishes. Some of these were Chinese dishes, but many of them were regional seafood dishes. Crab mixed with other shellfish meats in a butter sauce, a spicy dish of crab and stuffing, pasta and seafood dishes, stuffed crab shells, and baked clams were among the many to be found.
This is a seafood lovers delight, but wait, if you don't like seafood (my wife does not) what will you do? In addition to all of the seafood there were as many selections of meats and Chinese dishes. There are also steaks grilled to your order on the chargrill. Everyone is going to be happy at the Green Olive.
Dessert are typical of Chinese buffets. Ice cream here is served hard in "dixie" cups in a freezer case with an assortment of flavors.
Service is good. The entire restaurant is well maintained.
There was one drawback that was very noticeable on this visit that was not on my first visit. There was a smell of cigarette smoke near the buffet servers. I looked around the restaurant to see if there was a smoking section of tables and I did not see one, BUT there is a sit down liqueur bar with full bar stools on the side of the room with the buffet servers and, evidently, they permit smoking at the bar. I am not a smoker, and it has been a long time since I have been around people who smoke. Most places that I go to do not permit smoking so I have become sensitive to the smell when it is around. It surprised me to find this here now, because all of the buffets that I have been to do not allow smoking. To have smoking in the same area as the food tables is not good. Now, it did not flavor the food, as I could tell and it could not be detected in the dining area where our tables were - which was just adjacent to the room with the food tables (and the smoke). It was very noticeable when I was at the food tables nearest the bar. I would wonder why they would allow this - but I guess that bar brings them the business of people who want to sit at a bar and drink. I would not jeopardize my buffet business for that, but this is Virginia and Virginia is the original place that tobacco came from. Unless you are very sensitive to smoke - and it may just be by chance that a smoker is sitting at the bar - don't let this keep you from this great buffet. AS I said, this did not happen the first time we ate there in 2006.
If you want to read more in detail about the Green Olive, read my September 29, 2006 descriptions and review. The Green Olive Buffet and Grill is located on US1. The address is 7405 Richmond Highway in Alexandria, Virginia. The restaurant looks a little like a road house from the outside but do not that put you off from going inside. There is plenty of free parking in their lot surrounding the restaurant. The phone number is 703-765-5899. There is a website which is listed at the side of the page.
Friday, December 07, 2007
I have written here many times about Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is one of the best - wait - not one of the best - THE BEST buffet. I have had dinner there many, many times. I have had lunch there only once before, and that was on a Saturday. Saturday lunch buffets are often set to be the same as Saturday dinner buffet. At Shady Maple the Saturday lunch buffet is just one dollar less than the dinner buffet price - $15.99 instead of $16.99. BUT during the week at Shady Maple, the lunch buffet is just $9.99 and that includes the beverage! This is from $4 to $9 less than the evening dinner buffet prices. So if you are paying that much less you must be getting a lot less - right? Wrong!
Our lunch at Shady Maple was on a Wednesday afternoon. Lunch buffet is served until 3:15 pm. We were seated immediately. The restaurant was far from empty. Many of the diners were seniors. There were also a few tour bus groups seated in a separate dining room. Shady Maple is a very large buffet restaurant - and that is all that it is - buffet. There are two very long buffet servers that spread out to each side of the center of the serving area with four separate grills to the front. At dinner there are two to four grills running with several different items on each. On this Wednesday afternoon there were two grills running.
We went up to the buffet servers to find that both sides were completely full of food - and all of the serving trays had items that would usually be found at dinner. Nothing was missing. This $9.99 lunch buffet was offering us everything that we would find had we been there on Wednesday night for $15.99 with the only exception being found at the grill area. Wednesday night is Prime Rib Night with full Prime Ribs of Beef cut to your order. The Prime Rib is featured on two of the grill areas. On Wednesday afternoon at lunch you are not going to get Prime Rib, however, there was a lot to be found on the two grills. There was beef brisket being carved, there were hot dogs, Angus beef burgers and cheeseburgers, and marinated chicken breasts all being grilled, along with pizza at the grill station.
Now you might say that those grill items sound like lunch menu items, but when you get to the hot servers you will find all of the same hot meats and dishes that are found at dinner. There are four different soups. There is the extensive salad bar and prepared salads on the cold servers. Also found at the salad bar were small, cold shrimp. Meats included fried , really "broasted", chicken - if you can tell the difference from "fried", sliced beef in gravy, turkey, roast pork, bbq ribs, chicken croquettes, and fried shrimp along with a number of others. Then there are the area specialty dishes - pigs stomach (ok, I always had an aversion toward this too until I tried it recently - it is made into a sausage and served in bread stuffing (here called "filling") - it is really good), pork with sauerkraut, and chicken bot pie (pot pie with dumplings and no crust - Wonderful!). Of course, you can't have meat with out great side dishes and there are many, many side dishes of vegetables, potatoes, and noodles to choose from. There were very crispy french fries, au gratin potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, plus dishes with potatoes in them. There are buttered noodles and macaroni and cheese. There were so many different types of vegetables and side dishes that I can't remember them all. There are local specialty side dishes as well including something locally called "Snitz and Knepp" which means in German - Dried Apples and Dumplings - which is simply what this is, a hot dish of dried apples cooked to a preserve-like consistency with large flour dumplings. Sweet and hearty! And remember this is the weekday lunch buffet!
Soft drinks are included in the price of the meal and there are both Coke and Pepsi sodas, three types of ice tea, flavored coffees, icys, coffee, tea, milk, chocolate milk, fruit juices, and fruit drinks. After all of this to eat and drink, would you like dessert?
The dessert areas have both hot and cold desserts, ice cream, cakes, puddings, pies, sugar free pies, and sugar free desserts. There were also several donuts left from the breakfast buffet earlier that morning - and I took a jelly donut at the same time that I took my salad - just to make sure that I had one. (There are lots of things that I don't usually eat - and should not eat. Well, jelly donuts are on that list - but I could not resist!). I have to tell you that this jelly donut was not just filled with a bit of jelly but the entire donut was overflowing with cherry jelly filling that you could eat from the center with a spoon. Oh my!
There is nothing negative to say in any way. Everything is clean. The food is excellent. The service staff are friendly and do their jobs well.
One thing to remember at Shady Maple is to look down both directions of the buffet servers - while there are many items repeated on both sides there are also many items that are only found on one side or the other - increasing your selections!
So, if you can't get to Shady Maple for dinner, try lunch! And if it is your birthday - lunch or dinner - your meal is FREE! (If you go there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on your birthday - all three would be free!) If you can manage to move about after this meal, go downstairs to the huge gift shop for some interesting and fun finds.
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. 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. Shady Maple is always closed on Sundays and it closes for a few holidays including Memorial Day and Labor Day. Closing is 8:00 pm - and the restaurant opens at 5:00 am (this is farm country!).
Friday, November 30, 2007
The prices of some buffets have been going up. I noticed this past summer that many of the buffets that I go to when I am in different areas and states have gotten more expensive. Of course, everything is getting more expensive lately and the dramatic increases in gasoline make transportation cost more and there for all prices to reflect this in stores, restaurants, etc. So much so, in fact, that some of the price quotes in my articles may be too low now.
There has not been much noticeable change at the chain buffets. The chain buffets - particularly the big three - Old Country Buffet (and all of their various different names), Ryans, and Golden Corral are basically the same in price and that price has stayed in the same "around $10" range for awhile, despite a small increase at OCB about two years ago. OCB includes the soda. Ryans and Golden Corral do not - when you add the soda to their prices they pretty much are around $11.50 which is what OCB is ($11.29). The chain buffets have remained affordable by almost anyone who would like to dine out. A buffet meal at these restaurants does not cost much more than a fast food meal does.
The great differences are occurring in the privately owned and family run buffet restaurants. These are the ones that do not have a regional or national corporation or franchise behind them allowing purchasing in larger quantities of groceries and supplies. At these, prices are going up and have gone up. One of my favorite buffet restaurants - and possibly the best buffet is Shady Maple Smörgåsbord in East Earl,
Another restaurant that I have written about is the Bird In Hand Family Restaurant. The price here was $13.99 weekdays and $14.99 Friday and Saturdays when I first wrote about this restaurant in August 2005. This past summer the price every night went up to $16.99. The meal here is nice, but it is not $16.99 nice. As a result, we did not go there and went to another buffet restaurant this summer. A few weeks ago in October we went in for lunch from the menu and saw that the price was lowered during the week to $14.99 but remained $16.99 on Friday and Saturday nights. Still too high. We again did not have buffet there for dinner. This restaurant does often have discount coupons for $2.00 off in local tourist oriented circulars. With the coupon on a weeknight this is not bad - on a weekend the price is still high at $14.99 (as we were using coupons here before when the prices were lower). I like the restaurant, but I need to keep to a budget, especially when there are other lower priced alternatives that are good.
My greatest surprise was very recently when I took my five year old niece to a Long Island Chinese buffet - China Buffet City in North Babylon, NY. The adult price was just as it always has been on a Friday night - $13.99 - which seems to be the going rate for most Friday night Chinese buffets on
Restaurant prices in general have been going up. Long gone are the diner and family restaurant meals that gave a complete dinner for under $10.00. Now you will pay almost $20.00. One of the larger chain restaurants - The Cheesecake Factory - popular near many malls around the country have platters ranging from $15 to $25. These prices make the some of the buffet prices fantastic - given what you are getting for your money. Yet, the buffet restaurants have always tended toward the lower price range of restaurant dining (with the exception of some of those fancy hotel buffets that can set you back $75 to $100 per person). Hopefully the chain buffets will not go up in price or at least will not increase greatly. I have found that a lot of seniors eat at the chain buffet restaurants almost daily – often at lunch – to avoid the need to cook at home and to be able to have a filling meal out with people around them. When the OCB prices went up about two years ago, these were the people who complained the most and the loudest.
So, if you visit a buffet that you read about here or even one that you have been to before, be prepared for higher prices. If you know of buffets in your area that have increased their prices, please let us know in our comments section.
Friday, November 23, 2007
I have no new rules at the moment. So many don't follow these - and most are common sense and courtesy that they should not even need stating and most should know without ever reading them. But alas! Think about your last trip to a buffet and realize how many of these rules were ignored - hopefully, not by you - but by those dining around you.
Well, here are all the rules to date!
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 th 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.
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.
There they are! Everyone is based on actual events. It is sad to even have to list some of these - but these are not isolated events. They happen over and over again.
Feel free to print them out and hand them around the next time you are in a buffet. If you are a buffet owner or manager - post them!
Friday, November 16, 2007
This time I went on a Saturday night and I was even more delighted than how much I was delighted on my first visit. Let me just refresh your memory about Yoders. Yoders Restaurant and Buffet is in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the place in Pennsylvania where the Amish people live. There is a huge tourist industry here centered around the Amish and the Pennsylvania German culture (yes, Dutch is actually Deutsch which is German). There are many restaurants here centered around tourism and they feature dishes that are typical of this area. Yoders is more of a local restaurant for local dining out. One thing that sets it apart is that it is located inside of a supermarket. Its location is little outside of the center of the tourist area. In Yoders you primarily find locals eating - it is a place for families, couples, and seniors. I well described the layout of the restaurant and the buffet in my article of October 5th and I if you have not read that yet, please do. I am not going to tell you all about that again.What I want to talk about is what was different on Saturday night and that is what the buffet menu features.
Saturday night's buffet feature is called Dutch Grill. It is a selection of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties along side some of the regular offerings. "Dutch Grill" is not all grill items, but a wide assortment of food.
Dinner price applies all day on Saturday from 11 am to closing at 8 pm and is $13.99 per adult. Unlimited soft drinks are $1.49. One thing to know when you go inside, but not yet into the restaurant - there are windows looking into the restaurant from the hallway. You cannot see much more from these windows but the dining room and from this vantage point what you see looks like a menu restaurant (which it also is). You cannot see the buffet area. While we were waiting on a very brief and short line to get in through the doors, some people ahead of us were concerned that they did not think that there was a buffet inside. They asked me and I told them that absolutely, there is - you just cannot see it from here. So yes, there is a buffet at Yoders. You will see it in all of its glory as soon as you get into the dining room.
As always, we started with soup and there are two soups on the buffet. Saturday night had krab bisque and beef vegetable. Beef vegetable soup is a local staple in restaurants and at Yoders it is very good. I am always drawn to soups called "bisque" and despite the name "krab" which means fake crabmeat, I had to have it. This soup was excellent. It was both creamy and sharp -which is characteristic of bisque soups. There were pieces of the "mock" crabmeat shredded into the soup and they were tasty. There is a texture difference between real crabmeat and krab meat. Krab is softer and less stringy than real crab. It worked well in this soup.
The salad bar is no different than I described in my first article, but there is an additon to the appetizer selections in a cold server that is located in front of the grill area. Here there were cold peel and eat shrimp and pieces of cold krab legs. Now, pay attention - that is krab legs and not crab legs. No shell, not real crab, as you just learned. There were seafood condiments there as well.
One of the best entree features on Saturday night is sausage. Large, thick German sausage grilled on the grill in big loops and then cut to generous serving sizes. This was what I had heard about and this is what I went for first. Along with the sausage on the grill were pirogies. These are pockets of pasta dough filled with mashed and seasoned potatoes. They were also grilling salmon and a shrimp stir fry dish. They were also carving roast beef. The sausage was wonderful! It is pork sausage seasoned just right.
Entrees on Saturday night on the buffet included fried "broasted" chicken, baked chicken, stuffed chicken breast, roast beef in gravy, creamed chicken with rice, shrimp creole, fried shrimp, fried fish, baked fish, ham balls (an Amish dish), rigatoni with scallop sauce, and several other meat dishes. The creamed chicken was good. The rigatoni with scallop sauce was interestingly good. The fried chicken - which is cooked by broasting and not frying - is very good. I must say that the sausage was so good that I went back for more of that and concentrated my meal around it.
Side dishes were equally good. We went looking for the baked oatmeal again -which my wife can't stop talking about - in fact, she went looking for the recipe and nothing that she can find resembles the baked oatmeal dish that we enjoyed at Yoders. There was no baked oatmeal but in its place was a similar looking dish called baked French toast. It had the same texture as the baked oatmeal, certainly had an oatmeal base, but was seasoned differently. It was just as good as the baked oatmeal was. Another local favorite was on the buffet - noodles in browned butter. These are egg noodles that have a sauce of butter that has been burnt and then strained. The butter is brown and it gives the noodles a nut-like, toasty taste. The basics were there as well - macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, French fries, vegetables, rice, local potato filling, and others.
There are many selections here and there is something for every taste. It is not heard to fill your plate several times with different things that you will like. In some buffets, there are a few things that you like and sometimes it is hard to find what you would like - and what you would like more of. Here THAT is not a problem!
Deserts are plentiful and basically the same as I wrote about. On this trip we are into pumpkin pie season and there was large wedges of pumpkin pie in the pie server. The pumpkin pie was sweet and creamy.
We had been to several buffets this trip and my wife and I agreed that this was the best meal that we had all trip. We had been to some of our regular stops - all good. This meal though stood out as the best in selection and the most satisfying. Yoders is coming to close to becoming my favorite buffet in Pennsylvania. It is running second to what I have considered (and still do) the best buffet anywhere - which happens to be located just down the road from Yoders. I am not going to name that buffet here because I do not want to take any attention away from this wonderful restaurant.
Service again was excellent. The servers are prompt to clear away dishes and refill your drinks. This is so important at a buffet and Yoders will not disappoint. Everyone is very friendly.
The restaurant is open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. There is a small website that is linked at the side of this page, though the website gives a much more limited description of the buffets than they actually are. The restaurant is located at Yoder's Supermarket or perhaps, more properly, Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. On this trip I did see a coupon for $2 off dinner per person at Yoders but it was only good Monday to Thursdays. This was found in one of the tourist papers - and as this is considered "off season" in the area many restaurants are offering discounts with coupons.
So again, I say, that I cannot wait to get back to Yoders. If you want to try something good, go there.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Buffets connected to supermarkets are becoming a common find in
Now, finding this restaurant was bit of a challenge – first because I set out to get to it without the address and thought by the town name – Lititz, it would be located in or at least around the town district of Lititz. It is not. With the address and location finally pinpointed thanks to our laptop computer GPS system – conveniently carried in the car for jus these occasions – we discovered that this restaurant is located near the town of
As I have said this is another buffet restaurant that is part of a supermarket. There is a separate entrance from the large parking lot to the restaurant and there is a larger supermarket entrance to the left. There is an adjoining door inside between the two. From the name I expected to find a dairy. There are restaurants in this area connected to dairies and they feature VERY FRESH dairy products and ice cream on their menu. This is not one of them – at least, if it is it is not evident. The location features in its brochures and on its website that this a supermarket, a restaurant and buffet, and a country gift shoppe. (Love that extra pe on the end of shop – makes it sound special!)
Walk inside the entrance to the restaurant and you will see a counter with counter service on the right and a dining room on the left. You wait to be seated near the cashier and you are brought to your table. You are handed a menu because this is more than a buffet. There is also menu dining as well. You can mix the orders at your table – some having buffet and some ordering from the menu – but if anyone not ordering the buffet eats something from the buffet they will be charged for an additional buffet dinner.
Once you enter the dining room you will see that this is actually a very small restaurant. There are thirteen booths on one side of the room and maybe fifteen to twenty tables in the center. There are two private dining rooms for parties in another room at the far side. The buffet servers are located at the rear of the dining room and are separated from the dining area.
We were seated at the back corner of the front of the restaurant in a booth. This was not a good thing because it took quite some time for a server to come to the table to take our order. Several servers came by and never looked in our direction. Eventually – but it was a while, a young man came over and apologized for the delay and took our simple order – two buffets and two soft drinks. He did apologize but the room was far from crowded. We dined at this restaurant on a Thursday night in the Fall and entered about . We were not really late coming in and others came in at the same time. We were told to help ourselves to the buffet and away we went.
The restaurant is opened from to , Monday to Saturday. It is closed on Sundays, as are many local restaurants in this area. Let’s take note here that when they say they close at they really mean that – they don’t just stop seating at , they are closing. At we were asked if we were going to get any more hot food because the hot food section was about to close and be taken away. As we were about to get dessert that was not a problem – and, actually, the only reason for it being that late in the course of our meal was because we waited for the server to come to take our order when we arrived.
The price of the buffet for dinner from Monday to Thursday nights is $10.95. Soft drinks are $1.75 per order and they are refillable as long as they are fountain drinks and not bottled soft drinks which are also available. Friday nights and all day Saturday the buffet is $11.95. The prices are not bad, especially with the rising prices of buffets in this area (another article for the future). There is a lunch buffet also on weekdays and that is $8.95 from Monday to Thursday and $9.95 for Friday lunch. There is a Friday and Saturday Breakfast Buffet from 7 am to – I do not know the price. We could not find any listing for children’s prices, but seniors get a 10% discount. We observed a mother and her three year old child ordering dinner and the waiter told her that if the child shared her buffet there would be no charge – that is very nice. She was about to order from the menu for the child and it was kind of him to stop her as what she was ordering was on the buffet for the little girl. There must be children’s prices and if I can find them I will post them when I do in a comment to this article.
This is a buffet that primarily is catering to local people rather than tourists and is located in a non-tourist oriented area of this very tourist oriented county. It may be more crowed on a Saturday or during the summer, but mid-week in very early November it was active but not very busy. One thing that was obvious from the other diners is that while this is an all you can eat buffet, most dinner are up once or twice and that is it. Of course, my wife and I are well experienced buffet diners and we were up far more times that anyone else – now, don’t get me wrong – NO ONE SAID ANYTHING – THERE WAS NO PROBLEM, but the locals here – many seniors were happy after a plate or two.
The buffet server area had two double sided buffets with salad bar items in the middle. There as a wall buffet on the back wall with the hot foods and on the front partition of the buffet area were the desserts.
We started with soup and there were two choices – beef vegetable and chicken corn chowder. Our start was a bit of a disappointment as both soups were bland. They were not what I would expect of these particular soups which are common in this region. I added some salt to the chicken corn chowder – I hardly ever add salt to anything – and that helped it a bit. My wife who likes very plain things comment to me after the first taste that the beef vegetable soup was bland – and for her to say something like that is highly unusual. She restrained herself from adding any salt and just ate it as it was. I wondered if this was an indication of how the rest of the meal would be – and in part, I was right in my concern.
We followed the soup with the salad bar – or perhaps I should say bars. One had tossed greens and salad toppings and dressings. The other had prepared salads. Here is where the relationship with the supermarket was evident. Many of the prepared salads were those that you find at the local supermarkets in this area. All were good and there was a very large assortment to choose from.
The hot food selections change each day and the restaurants website has a buffet menu that details what you will find each night and afternoon (which are different). The advertising says there are 80 different items on the whole buffet and I would say that is correct - if not an undercount. We were at the restaurant on a Thursday night – as I have said – and the hot foods included baked chicken, tilapia, Salisbury steak, ham balls (meat balls made with chopped ham), pork and sauerkraut – a local dish, stuffed cabbage, corned beef and cabbage, chicken pot pie – another local dish and not the chicken pie that you think, turkey, fried shrimp, and smoked sausage. Other nights you might find meat loaf, pot roast, BBQ chicken, shrimp and rice, and creamed chicken. On Fridays there is fried chicken, baked ham, fried shrimp, chicken pot pie, meat loaf, tilapia, cod, meat loaf, shrimp and rice, and chili macaroni bake. Saturdays bring a variety of the dishes found during the week. There are more hot choices on Friday and Saturday nights which justify the extra dollar for dinner.
There were a number of side dishes including mashed red potatoes that were real mashed potatoes with lumps of potato and the skins mixed in. There is mac and cheese, stewed tomatoes, a variety of vegetables, and potato filling – stuffing made with potatoes.
So how were the hot dishes? The honest answer is mixed. Many were very good. And some, like the soup, were bland. Nothing was bad – just not properly seasoned or perhaps water logged. Any of the meats that were in liquid were bland. The corned beef and cabbage had no taste – neither the corned beef nor the cabbage. The pork and sauerkraut – a dish I have had many, many times in this area lacked the vinegar taste of the sauerkraut. Highly unusual for this particular dish. It is the bite of the sauerkraut that makes this dish of shredded pork mixed into sauerkraut. After those I did not bother to try the turkey that was also in liquid in the serving tray. My wife did, however, and says that it was good. The smoked sausage was baked and despite being a little overdone was very good. The Salisbury steak was very good. The ham balls were very good. The tilapia was tasty but dry. The chicken pot pie was a bit thick but good. The vegetables were good. The stewed tomatoes served sweet in this area were right on and very good. The mac and cheese was good. There were little broiled and seasoned potatoes and they were properly seasoned and good. The mashed potatoes were very good.
In some of my articles I have spoken about buffets needing tending – having a server come out and stir the serving trays and moistening the entrees if they start to get dry in the pan. This hot buffet was on the edge of needing tending. That is not to say that things were not refilled. Late into the night the Salisbury steak tray was refilled to the top. No tray was ever empty and nothing was ever missing on the hot buffet or salad bar.
I speculated that with the majority of diners here seniors, perhaps, the some of the dishes that should have been saltier were prepared with less or no salt to accommodate that clientele, but that did not hold through all of the dishes. Some of the dishes were seasoned just as they should be and some had all the salt that they needed. It is possible that these meats in liquid were in that liquid too long or water was added to them through their time in the server. That would account for the taste – or lack of it. But that would not account for the bland soups, especially the chicken corn chowder that had a cream base.
The dessert bar had many more cake choices when we first started dining but there was a lot of choices in the prepared desserts and puddings. The desserts come from the supermarket bakery and I would also say from the supermarket cold counter where puddings and prepared desserts are sold by the pound. There were several local puddings one of which was cracker pudding, a sweet local favorite that is like rice pudding made with crackers instead of rice. There was rice pudding as well, along with tapioca, two types of bread pudding – one with no sugar added. There were several other sweet puddings. On the cake counter was apple pie and cherry pie – that was what was left ten minutes before closing. Had we realized the time earlier we might have taken a piece of cake in advance. There was also hot blueberry cobbler which was very good. With dessert you are also entitled on the buffet to one dip of hand-dipped ice cream. I kept wondering if this would be fresh made ice cream form the dairy that I still hoped was somewhere to be found on the property. The server brings the ice cream of your choice and it is one scoop as described. There were a variety of flavors. I like chocolate basic ice cream and that is what I ordered, hoping there was still room in my stomach because I was full. This is hard ice cream and not the usual buffet soft serve. The ice cream was good but not, should I say, farm fresh. It was packed ice cream and reminiscent to the hard ice cream that one often gets in a non-buffet Chinese restaurant. If this was farm fresh, then I have had better from ice cream stands from dairies. For ice cream in general it was good. Dessert was good over all.
All of the buffet servers were properly labeled on the glass at the top –every item was correctly labeled. This is great and there was no guessing what you were taking or eating. All buffets need to follow that and frequently now few do or if they do have labels that actually match what they are above. This buffet told you exactly what you were taking. Wonderful!
As is said in this locale, I ate myself full. I should have stopped at the second plate of entrees, but I didn’t and went back for more sausage – and I took too much because I like sausage, some more mashed potatoes, and a little more chicken pot pie (more properly called chicken bot bie in this area). I broke my own rule and ate more than I should have to leave feeling comfortable. So most of had to be good, right?
After the initial wait for our server, the service was good. I had to ask for a soft drink refill toward the end of the dinner, but it was brought right away. My empty glass should have been noticed and I should have been asked right away if I wanted more to drink. Ok. The dishes were cleaned from the table regularly. There was another server who was around the room taking used dishes off the tables and she did a fine job of it. Everyone was very friendly.
The decor was country and nice. There was a large electric train on a track hanging from the ceiling in a part of the dining room and that was running. The room was well maintained and very clean. It reminded my wife of the look and atmosphere of restaurants in the area a number of years ago before the restaurants started adding glitz to impress the tourists. The décor was not in any way dated but had that comfortable feeling – which is good and what you want.
The whole restaurant was clean. The buffet area was well cleaned and there were no spills anywhere. The restrooms were clean. The restroom were located off to the side of the entrance doors and though they had good signage more than one of us had to ask where they were – I guess that it is good that they are not that obvious.
The address for Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet is 2900 Oregon Pike (Route 272) in
If you have been to Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, please leave us a comment about your dining experience there!
Friday, November 02, 2007
Makino Chaya is a small chain of buffet restaurants in Hawaii. There are several locations. It was started by a Japanese restaurateur and the menu - from what I have been able to learn - is focused around Japanese specialties - and of course, what every buffet should have - lobster and crab legs. I say buffet, but the Makino Chaya restaurants offer a very different concept in buffet dining - menus. What!?! Menus at a buffet! That is not a buffet, you say! Well, yes, here it is because when you go to the Makino Chaya you are dining at an all you care to eat menu restaurant. The menu here is a picture menu and you point to what you want on that menu and it is brought to you made to your order - and then you point some more and it is brought to you - and you point again... Well, you get it. This is really something! There are more than one hundred different dishes on the menu for you to select. This is a "sit-down" buffet.
They do impose a rule here - "Ok", you say, "Now the catch!" Well, it is not really a catch it is a small but understandable rule. You may only order two dishes from the menu for yourself at one time -and then you must eat everything from those dishes before you can order another two. That is reasonable. They talk about "rounds" here -a round is a serving of plates. Finish the first round before moving on to the next.
A buffet like this cannot be inexpensive, but the dinner price is not that out of line. The prices that I have been able to find may be slightly out of date but the price I have is $21.98 per person on weekdays and one dollar higher on weekends. Soft drinks are $2.50 and are refillable. Now, while this is not in the OCB, Ryans, Golden Corral range of price, but it is within the range of many of the "nicer" restaurant buffets that I have reviewed. The lunch price is $10.95. I have seen other prices mentioned but all were within two dollars of all of the prices that I have listed. Some locations seem to be open until 11 pm.
There is a typical buffet table set up as a salad bar and a fried bar to start your meal. Here are salads, prepared specialty salads, and also sushi, and things like crab legs, steamed scallops and clams, chicken wings and other dishes. This is all there to lure you in but this is not the place at this restaurant to fill up. The menu and its unlimited possibilities awaits.
The emphasis is seafood but there are meat choices on the menu as well. As I have said there is lobster that is served both steamed and grilled. There is steak cooked Japanese-style. There are grilled fish dishes. There are Japanese pot dishes of noodles and fish, shell fish, or beef. The size of the portions vary from large platters of food to small samplings. But, what does it matter as long as you eat it you can get more! Yet, you must choose wisely because you could fill up on just one or two selections - which is fine, unless you are one that wants to try a bit of everything. There is one thing for certain here - you must like Japanese food! While you are not limited to the exotic and will be able to find things close enough to foods that you like, the menu served is Japanese.
If you want dessert, you have to clean your plates. Dessert is considered another "round". For dessert there are three types of cheesecake (not all Japanese, after all). There is also a green tea cake and a Japanese ice cream dessert.
Customers seem to vary in their comments about this chain based upon location. Some locations get raves and others get more reserved applause. All locations seem to be quite busy with long waits to get in at prime times. These restaurants appeal to tourists and some of the negative comments that I found about the restaurants were based on the idea that these were tourist oriented restaurants. So what! Many of the criticisms that I have read would be paid no mind by a regular buffet goer. We tend to be used to "food cooked in volume". We expect a "cafeteria atmosphere". At this price level, we too might expect better, but I do not think that I would be disappointed. Don't think that customers do not like these restaurants. There are rave comments with five star ratings more than there are criticisms. There were not criticisms that when you are ready for more there is not someone there to make sure you get it - this could be a problem if the staff is not right there. There have been some non-buffet chains that have offered all you can eat dishes and the problem is always that when you are ready and want more the wait staff is no place to be found.
The concept is very intriguing to me - I would love to try one of these restaurants. This unique set up does take away one thing that I most like about buffets, however, and that is my ability to take a little of what I would like to taste and have a sampling dinner that satisfies me at the same time. Here if you are brought the platter to you and need to finish it all there is not going to be a lot of tasting.
There is no website that I can find. I am not going to list addresses because I am not aware of all of the locations. There is a recently opened location in Honolulu.
I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Makino Chaya. If you have please leave a comment and tell us some specifics!
Friday, October 26, 2007
I have never been to Savannah and I will tell you about this buffet by first making clear that I have not eaten there or experienced it. I have found out quite a lot about it and will share that with you.
Fairmont Buffet and Bakery is owned and operated by a husband and wife who have brought Southern home cooking to their buffet. They are "known" for their southern fried chicken which is claimed to be the "best in town" and every meal that they serve has fried chicken. Prices at the buffet are very reasonable and include beverages. Weekday dinners are $8.25 and Saturdays and Sundays are just one dollar more. There are lunch buffets during weekdays until 3:00 pm (from 11:00 am) and these are just 7.50. There are discounted senior prices and children under ten are $5.50 and under four are just sixty cents. These prices - which include soft drinks - are great! None of the chains are this inexpensive for a similar meal. The restaurant closes each night at 8:30 pm.
The buffet is described as having six buffet stations and serves over 70 items at each meal.The menu varies from night to night, but fried chicken and baked chicken are always served - except for Sundays when another chicken dish replaces the baked chicken. The restaurant prepares and cooks all food on premises from fresh ingredients and no preservatives which means that this should be real home cooking. Homemade yeast rolls are made and baked every day.
There are two soups every day - which change each day. There is also a salad and fruit bar. Entrees and fresh vegetables are varied each day and change from lunch to dinner. Remember that with each dinner is fried chicken and every day but Sunday thre is baked chicken. At dinner on Mondays you will find smothered liver, pot roast, and low country creole. On Tuesdays at dinner you get baked fish, country fried steak (a favorite of mine, but not of my doctor's), and hot wings. On Wednesday's dinner there is Brown Rice with Beef, Veal Parmesan, and Salisbury Steak. Thursday - Beef Stroganoff, Pork Chops, and Pot Roast. Fridays bring barbecued ribs, fried shrimp and hushpuppies, and clam strips. The Saturday dinner brings back the fried shrimp and hushpuppies, and clam ctrips, the country fried steak, and adds barbecued pork. Sunday all day is a more elaborate menu with Meat Loaf, Fried Chicken, Roast Beef, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Dressing, and Crab Meat Au Gratin. Everything on these menus are classic southern dishes and it sounds like here they are made right!
Of course, there are many vegetable choices, real whipped potatoes, rice, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and more. No southern meal would be complete with out a variety of wonderful desserts and at the Fairmont Buffet and BAKERY there is an 18 foot long serving counter full of freshly baked and prepared desserts.
When the Beaupre's opened the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery they wanted to feature a scatter buffet service that was not featured at that time at other buffet restaurants in the area. When they opened two buffet chains in the town remodeled to compete with the Fairmont Buffet! They were a leader in this design at the time - many buffets now follow this system. (I must note here and I am not contradicting any claim by the Fairmont but Buffet, Inc - OCB - claims to have invented the scatter buffet.) The Fairmont has been in business for thirteen years! (Miller's Smorgasbord in Lancaster, Pa has had a scatter buffet setup for at least 25 years.)
The restaurant is very community minded and features a community day each month during which they donate ten percent of their sales to a chosen charity of the month. The Fairmont has won several awards including one in 2005 from the National Restaurant Association.
The restaurant has a website which is listed on the side of this page. There are nice photos of the buffet and the dining room. The address is 65 West Fairmont Avenue in Savannah, Georgia. Their phone number is 912-920-4020.
If you have ever been to the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery please place a comment with this article and tell us about it! It really sounds good - and perhaps on one of my trips south I will eventually get to Savannah. If I do I am definately going to the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery!
Know of a buffet that I have not talked about yet - use the email address on the side of this page and let me know about it.
Friday, October 19, 2007
When I go to a buffet I seek out what steak they may have. Some like buffets for the crab legs. I like to try the steak. A good steak needs a flame, chargrill. Steak cooked on a flat grill - frying the steak - is no match for a steak that has been charred on an open flame. To my taste, the best steak is charred black on the outside, but inside it is red and juicy - not raw but red before it turns to pink. Some like their steak medium some like it burned through to the center. It is all a matter of taste, but to get to that taste takes some skill on the part of the chef. So what buffet has the best steak.
Looking at a single location buffet, the steak at the buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City,New Jersey is the best. The steak there is cooked to order on a chargrill with flames shooting high - right there behind the serving counter. The raw steaks are taken from a butchers case facing the diners and placed on the grill as you get up to the counter to give your order. The steaks are cooked just right and rival any steak in the best steak houses. This buffet limits each diner to one steak by a ticket given to you when you pay to enter, but you are given a whole steak.
But, unless you are in, near, or travel to Atlantic City, you want to know which of the chain buffets located across most of the US serves the best steak. Steak is popular at buffets. Old Country Buffet added steak to their buffet just a few years ago and they still do not serve it every night - no steak on Sundays at OCB. Unfortunately, as I am sure you have read here before, the steak at Old Country Buffet is terrible. They are not cooked to order and you get whatever has come out from the kitchen off the broiler and sits until it is well done. To be fair, some OCB's are getting grills but I have not been to one that has this and they seem to be few and far between. In looking at which buffet chain serves the best steak, I am not going to include Old Country Buffet. The two large chains that we will look at are Ryans and Golden Corral.
A year ago I would have told you Ryan's but I am not so sure any longer. This summer I dined at several Ryans and several Golden Corrals across the US Southeast. I had a chance to compare sometimes night to night. In fact the idea for this article came to me at that time. I will say that for the most part each chain is pretty consistent from location to location on the taste and quality of the steak. I cannot say this about the cooking of the steak, but we will get into that more later in this article.
Before parent company of Buffets, Inc. (the owners and operators of Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, etc) bought Ryans about a year and a half ago, the steak at Ryans was the best. It had the best taste, was tender, and had (and still has) the best cooking. Since the buy out, the meat has changed. Rancher's Select Choice steak was introduced to Ryans at the same time that it was put into Old Country Buffet. This steak is often tough and is seasoned. I still go into Ryans expecting those great steaks of a year ago - they pretty much look the same, they are cooked the same, but biting into a piece I remember immediately that this is not the same steak. It has a bite to it- the seasoning- a little bit spicy and peppery. Tender? Sometimes, but not consistently now. The method that it is cooked does remain the best.
At Ryans there is a flame grill apart from the rest of the buffet servers. There is a window above the serving counter with just enough space to give your cooking preference and pass a plate through. Adjacent to the flame grill is a fry grill - sometimes used to keep the steaks hot. The steaks are cooked on the flame. The chef usually has several large steaks that have been cooked from rare to well and when you tell him/her how you would like the steak, he/she will cut into a steak and show it to you. You decide if it is cooked the way you like it or it needs to be cooked more - or another rarer piece needs to be found. The system works fairly well and there are not long lines to get the orders filled. I have had a few experiences where there were no rare or medium rare steaks and the cook has offered to cook one special for me - even coming to find me when it was ready. These have been the best of the Ryans steaks that I have had. Some cooks really understand the difference between rare and raw, rare and medium, medium rare and well done. Some do not. It is hard in any of the chain buffets to find a properly cooked rare steak - rare usually is interpreted as raw and is barely cooked outside, much less inside. To get rare, I now ask for medium rare - usually I get what I expect as properly cooked rare. At Ryans you are served a piece of steak - usually about an eighth to a quarter of the whole steak.
At Golden Corral there is a flame grill, smaller than at Ryans, set into the center of the main buffet server. There is also a fry grill next to the chargrill. There is a cook again behind a glass window. Here there are large, thick steaks cooked on the flame grill - usually. I have seen Golden Corral cooks close down the flame grill early in the evening and then cook the steaks on the fry grill. This is one of the problems at Golden Corral. Some need better management supervision of the grill area and some Golden Corral grill chefs want to "rule the roost" despite customer needs with a what you see is what you get attitude - if you ask for something I will say no. In fact with a better system for grilling their steaks and with grill chefs who were more motivated to please the customers, Golden Corral would have the best steaks of any buffet chain - hands down! The flavor and the cut of the meat is very good. The meat is tender and juicy. The "steak house" ad campaign that Golden Corral ran translated well to practice and the steaks are like those in a steak house. BUT - and this is a BIG BUT - the cooking and chefs need a lot of improvement. I want to say they are hit and miss, but the grill cooks have tended to be more miss than hit. I can remember really good ones in North Carolina and Virginia - not just this past trip but over the years. But I seem to remember a number of bad ones too. Here are some things I recall. A diner comes up and asks for medium rare. He is told there are none, come back in ten minutes. Ten minutes later he comes back and is told the same thing again. At two locations the chargrill was closed down at 7 pm - the restaurant is open for another three hours. The steaks were then fried on the fry grill. Not right! Another - I asked for medium rare. The cook cut a piece off that was more than well done and put it on my plate. I said, no, medium rare. He looked at the steak and said, medium rare and passed it over to me. (I was not going to argue - I was going to write about it instead!) Anyway, you get a piece of the large thick steak at Golden Corral - it is thick enough so that even a small piece is as much as larger pieces elsewhere.
So who has the best steaks -Ryans or Golden Corral?
Is the steak good at Ryans? It is very good - despite the spice. The cooking method and grill chefs, for the most part, are excellent.
Is the steak good at Golden Corral? It is excellent. The cooking grill chefs, however, are so inconsistent that it drops the experience from excellent to very good.
Do the steak wars end in a draw? (How disappointing that would be after reading all the way to here!) No, there is a winner (for the moment) and it is Golden Corral. The meat tastes better. When there is a good chef who serves you what you want, this thick steak is properly charred and crispy on the outside while still red/pink and juicy on the inside. It has been good that it has brought out a verbal, "hmmmm!"
This is how I have experienced these steaks and tasted them. If you disagree let us know what you think by leaving a comment. But if you do, you have to state clearly why - if you like something or dislike something be specific as to why.
One more thing -
Just after I wrote this article I went to OCB. I was passing up the steak and then I saw it - a piece (pre-cooked, pre-cut, and sitting under the heat lamp on the cutting board - of course) that looked like the "perfect" piece of steak. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was red-pink on the inside, it was crispy charred on the outside (not sure how they did it because there is no grill), and there were red clear juices sitting on the top. I took it. I brought it to my table and showed my wife. I said that I could not believe it - it looks like the perfect steak. How did it get here? Ahh, I put my fork in and started to cut a piece to eat and my plate moved back and forth with my knife. Still not cutting, I almost pulled the plate off the table as I tried to cut through the tough meat and side grizzle. Finally, I ripped as I forced the knife through. I put the piece into my mouth and then... tasteless. The rest was just as hard to cut, tough, and not really worth the effort. So - Golden Corral and Ryans has nothing to worry about from OCB steak!
Friday, October 12, 2007
Now, Mixed Grill on a menu usually means sausage, kidneys, and lamb. Here at Old Country Buffet there is nothing like that - perhaps, we should breath a sigh of relief! The new feature offers three new dishes and the same bad steak that Old Country Buffet has been serving for almost a year or more. The three new dishes are Grilled Pork and Applewood Bacon, BBQ Bacon Cheddar Chicken, and Rotisserie Chicken. While not mentioned on the sign touting this new feature, there is also are also grilled mixed vegetables called "Montreal Grilled Vegetables" for some unknown reason.
You may be surprised that I am going to rave over something that Old Country Buffet is serving but the Grilled Pork was excellent. It consisted of large strip chunks of pork that were char-grilled to a burnt, crusty exterior but were moist in the middle. The Applewood bacon was almost an afterthought. It is mixed into the serving tray, and perhaps gives the pork some flavor, but the bacon was tough and the pork was great without it. Each piece that I took was blackened, but there were some less done pieces in the serving tray. These may not have been as good, because, in my taste opinion, the charred outside lent to the good taste.
For me this and the "Montreal" grilled vegetables were the highlights of this feature. The vegetables were a mix of zucchini squash, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes grilled and served in a nice light "sauce" (which may have been nothing more than the juices of the vegetables).
The rest of the mixed grill features were just ok - if that. The BBQ Bacon Cheddar Chicken was just a boneless chicken breast with cheese melted over it and bacon added on top. There was no bbq taste or sauce. It had a mild spice taste and you are not missing anything if you pass it by. The Rotisserie Chicken has not come anywhere near a rotisserie. This is just baked chicken - a little charred on the outside with dry seasoning on the outside. It was not very good. There has been better baked chicken at OCB.
I really don't need to say anything about the steak - you have heard it from me before. This is the same "Rancher's Choice" steak that OCB over cooks, is tough, and not worth eating.
This feature at OCB is offered Monday through Saturday nights - six days a week. I am sure that at Ryan's which is owned by OCB's parent company the feature is the same as at OCB as it has been for months now. At Ryans the feature is usually offered seven nights a week. Also at Ryans I am sure that the steak is MUCH better.
There was a time when the featured items were served in addition to the regular buffet entrees for that particular menu night. Lately, the feature is replacing some of the better things that would be on the buffet if there was no feature.
The best thing about Mixed Grill Favorites is that Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp is gone. The next best thing is the grilled pork. If you go to Old Country Buffet during this feature, try the grilled pork!
Friday, October 05, 2007
This is a restaurant that offers both buffet and menu dining. The buffet is quite extensive and as we learned the Friday evening that we dined there the buffet is very good! When you enter through the door to the restaurant from the entrance hallway you walk past the cashier and are seated by a hostess. There are only booths in this restaurant. The room is large, but not enormous. The front three quarters of the room is the dining room and the rear of the room are where the buffet servers are located. There are five double-sided buffet servers, two single servers along the two side walls and the back wall is filled with a grill area. Every buffet server has a large, clear sign on top indicating what you will find there. At the very rear of the room was a door to a private dining room for parties. There are also banquet facilities available here.
The adult price of the dinner buffet is $11.99. Soft drinks are $1.49 and are refillable. There is a children's price. There is a higher price on Saturdays and two additional entrees are served on Saturdays. There are also lunch buffets and breakfast buffets. Each night's dinner is themed. Friday is Land and Sea (seafood and London Broil) and Saturday's the theme is Dutch Grill which offers baked sausage and other local Pennsylvania Dutch dishes.
There is a buffet server with two soups and bread. A buffet server with a salad bar is next to that. There are two buffet servers with hot food. There are two buffet servers with desserts. The soups offered this night were clam chowder (Friday) and vegetable pasta. We both tried the vegetable pasta soup and it was good. It was thick with vegetables and small shell macaroni. There was a nice assortment of bread and rolls on this server also.
The salad bar had three different greens and a large variety of salad toppings and dressings. There were a number of prepared salads - many prepared as the local Pennsylvania Dutch prepare them. One prepared salad popular here is called Pepper Cabbage. It is a finely chopped mixture of cabbage and green peppers with a sweet vinegar dressing. In some areas of the country this is called Chow Chow. In the PA Dutch area Chow Chow is a mixed vegetables in a sweet pickled dressing. This was on the salad bar also. Another local delicacy is apple butter on top of cottage cheese. These were on the salad bar also. Apple butter is a deep brown cooked down apple sauce - more tart than apple sauce but also nicely sweet. This area is known for mixing sweet and sour. At one time Seven Sweets and Seven Sours were spoken of in restaurants in this area - no one mentions this much any more but you surely can enjoy them from the salad bar at Yoders.
Entrees and vegetables have grown over the years to far more than the fried chicken that I saw when I looked in years back. The fried - rather "broasted" chicken was there, but there was so much more, They are known in this restaurant for their chicken, so I will speak about that first. Broasting is a combination of broiling and roasting in a special oven but the result is fried chicken (though supposedly healthier). The chicken was crispy and good. Large meaty pieces were in the server - mostly white meat. Some pieces were stuck together and I wound up with two pieces when I thought that I was taking one. It was ok because it was good. There were several local entrees on this buffet server along with the chicken. It is common in this area at buffets to serve roast beef sliced into thick slices and put into brown gravy on the server. This was on the server. There was ham loaf - meat loaf made with chopped ham and served with a pineapple sweet sauce on top. Later during the meal the ham loaf was gone and was replaced with ham balls - the same thing but made into meat balls rather than a loaf. We liked the ham balls better than the ham loaf but we are not certain why. There was also baked chicken.
The next buffet server was filled with seafood. There was fried fish, large fried shrimp, fried clams, baked fish, mussels, hot shrimp in a spicy red sauce, scalloped oysters, and more. There was seafood au gratin.
On the grill they were cooking and slicing London broil steak. There was also grilled salmon, stir fry shrimp, and corn fritters made on a griddle. The London broil was cooked on a flame grill. The London Broil was just fair - it had little taste and was tough. The first piece I had was well done and the next was rare - it did not make any difference. Actually, the well done piece because of the charred outside was better than the rare piece. This was the only disappointment. In front of the grill was a small server with cold shrimp and all of the usual seafood condiments.
There was a great assortment of vegetables and side dishes including some local specialties and some not usually found. One of the most unusual was baked oatmeal. This was terrific. It was mildly sweet. They also had potato filling. Filling is what they call "stuffing" in this area. This was made with riced potatoes and was excellent. There was also dried corn - a corn dish made like fresh corn with dried corn kernels. It is sweet and toasty in taste. There was fresh stewed tomatoes that was not made sweet as it is usually served - very good. There were hush puppies - fried corn meal balls. There was a sweet cooked apple dish. There was macaroni and cheese, noodles in butter sauce, and the corn fritters. The corn fritters were made like pancakes and were sized like pancakes as well. They had a soft inside that was full of corn. Of course, there were mashed potatoes, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, rice, carrots, and many standard vegetables.
If you still have room there were quite a few desserts. There was chocolate cake with white icing and there was chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. There were fruit pies and fruit crumb desserts. There was shoo fly pie - the locally originated pie with molasses and crumbs on top. There were sugar free pies. There was a full buffet server of puddings and fruit desserts. There was two types of tapioca pudding. There was a local pudding called cracker pudding - a pudding like rice pudding that uses saltine crackers - very good! And if you want more this is a soft serve machine and a sundae topping bar.
I think that you can tell that I enjoyed this meal. The server brings you your drink refills and clears the plates away and ours was great (as were the others that I could see). All of the staff were friendly. The restaurant was extremely clean. Restrooms were located outside the restaurant a little further down the hallway and were well maintained and clean.
At the grill you are given generous portions - more than you may want. This is a great restaurant and I am sorry that it took me so long to finally give it a try. I am looking forward to the next time that I eat there.
The restaurant is open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. There is a small website that is linked at the side of this page, though the website gives a much more limited description of the buffets than they actually are. The restaurant is located at Yoders Supermarket, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. I have never seen discount coupons for Yoders as there are for some of the buffet restaurants in this area as found in the free tourist papers. There are pamphlets for the restaurant with a much better description than the website offers.
If you would like the experience of eating in a buffet that is located in a supermarket - or you would like to eat in a really great buffet - please do go to Yoders Restaurant and Buffet. (Do not confuse this with Yoders Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida - I do not believe there is any connection, though that is also an Amish food buffet.) This restaurant is in Pennsylvania in Lancaster County where the Amish and Mennonites live.
Since eating at Yoders, I keep thinking about going back - so it really must have been good!