Friday, April 27, 2007

Still the BEST Dessert Buffet!

A year ago at the end of April, I wrote about a buffet restaurant with two locations in northwestern Maryland and southcentral Pennsylvania. The restaurants are called The Mountain Gate Family Restaurant and one is in Waynesboro, PA and the other is in Thurmont, MD. Basically they are in the same general vicinity but in two different states adjacent. They are family run restaurants with a strong Christian influence. It is a year later and I am in that area again and went back to the Waynesboro location. A year ago I said that this restaurant has the BEST dessert buffet of any buffet restaurant that I have been to and a year later that has not changed.

The buffet dinner has not changed. This time we visited on a Friday night and there were several seafood entrees in addition to carved ham, roast beef, roast pork, barbecue sausages, and fried chicken. There is an abundance of meat offered here along with a good assortment of vegetables, side dishes, and an extensive salad bar. The Friday and Saturday night price is still $11.99 and includes unlimited soft drinks.

The real star here is the dessert section. An entire room sized area is devoted to desserts. In addition, the server offers to bring hard ice cream in many, many flavors (16 to be exact). The ice cream tastes "homemade" and it is, as it comes from a local dairy. They even had a flavor called cotton candy!

On the dessert servers - there are four large tables - you will find five or six fruit pies, several sugar free pies, almost twenty cream and specialty pies, cakes, puddings, jello, fresh fruit, canned fruit, and more. This is extensive and it is all fresh baked and delicious.

If one was in a mind to overdose on sugar and treats this is the place to do it! After the extensive buffet meal there is just so much that you can want, but it is all there for the taking. There are other buffets that have large dessert assortments but no other is like this. It, alone, makes this a restaurant not to be missed. (And in the small out of the way towns that the two restaurants are located in, they are pretty much only known to the locals.)

The service continues to be excellent. The food- all of the food- is great! Even the ice tea is fresh brewed and you can tell the difference by taste.

For more details about this restaurant see my article of April 30, 2006. There is no website but the phone numbers are Waynesboro 717-765-6772 and Thurmont 301-271-4373. Hours for the dinner buffet are 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm (though the restaurants are open later).

Friday, April 20, 2007


On July 28, 2006 I reviewed a chain of buffet restaurants on the recommendation of one of our readers. The chain is called Cactus Willies Steak Buffet and there are locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I reviewed their location in Lancaster, PA and at the time I was not totally pleased. I recently commented in an article that I would try the chain again if I ever had the opportunity and give it another chance.

I just had that opportunity and I revisited the same location. This time I was very pleased, and if you read my first review, this time so was my wife. We went on a Sunday evening at about 7:00 pm. The restaurant was busy but there was no wait to get in. The layout and decor is the same as it was a year ago and I will not go into that again. I will say that the decor is pleasant and still tex-mex. Very nice.

There was a greater variety in food than the last time that we dined here. This night there were three soups - a beef minestrone, French onion, and New England Clam Chowder. We both tried the beef minestrone and it was excellent. It was also very, very hot - and that is a good thing. The soup was savory and thick. It was a bit different than minestrone that I have had in a good way. The French onion looked good too and I was tempted to go have a bowl of that too, but I decided to move ahead to the rest of the buffet.

The salad bar has all that is necessary to create your own Caesar salad (except croƻtons) and there is also a nice variety of salad greens, salad toppings, and dressings (both regular and fat free). One small point at the salad bar - the mushrooms out for the salad were dark and wet (they may have been pickled mushrooms, but if they were not they had turned).

I moved on next to the steak grill. There was no line at the grill. I asked for a steak rare and the cook at the grill checked a steak, showed it to me, and asked if that was how I wanted it. It was and it was very good. This was definitely a great improvement over the last time. This steak is FAR better than Old Country Buffet, better than some that I have had at Golden Corral, not as good as Ryans, BUT it was GOOD. There is a comment card given to everyone at the end of the meal that asks if the steak was "delicious". I wrote in "Very Good". Delicious is too good. But it was good. (Ok I have said that enough now.)

There were several other good entrees on this night - and one unusual, but good one. There was something that they called "Turkey Pot Roast". It looked like American pot roast - small pieces of meat in a savory gravy with potatoes, carrots, and onions. It looked like beef, BUT it was turkey. And the turkey was brown like beef. It was good. My wife and I, both, are not sure how they got the turkey brown, but it worked and we both enjoyed this.

Barbecue ribs were good. Nicely sauced with barbecue sauce with good meat on the bone. If you have a taste for barbecue these ribs will satisfy that "need".

This restaurant is located in the "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" and a local dish is chicken pot pie, which is not the little pie shell filled with chicken, vegetables, and cream sauce. The dish in this region is pieces of chicken in a broth with dumplings, carrots, and celery. This restaurant serves its own version of this local dish - I am not sure if it is local to this particular location restaurant or if it is chain wide. The chicken pot pie at Cactus Willies is a close approximation of the local favorite. The difference is this dish has pasta squares instead of dumplings. It tasted right and it was satisfying.

There was also grilled chicken on the flame grill. My wife asked if it was marinated or spiced. She was told that it has only chicken broth on it and she said that it was good. It was not spicy and it was appropriately moist. It was not greasy as we experienced a year ago.

On the buffet tables you could also find baked ham (pre-sliced) and fried chicken. The fried chicken was nicely crispy and not greasy. There was a large assortment of potatoes, rice, vegetables, and side dishes. There were plain string beans, creamed spinach, mac and cheese, rice, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, nice French fries, mashed potatoes, kernel corn in butter sauce (much, too much butter sauce), stewed tomatoes, and other sides. Next to the steak grill were good sauteed mushrooms and fried onions. The hot dog server is still at the grill.

There was fried shrimp and broiled salmon. There are signs that say that on Friday nights they now have unlimited steamed shrimp - as well as other shrimp dishes.

There is a taco bar with all of the fixings to make tacos and nachos. There were both moist flour tortillas and crispy corn tortillas. There was also a pasta bar - which is spaghetti, sauce, and meatballs. My wife gave her approval on the spaghetti and meatballs. Near the desserts was good looking pizza.

The dessert bar is long and has everything from puddings and fruit to cakes, cookies, pies, and good soft serve ice cream and sundae bar. The baking is good. My wife tried the bread pudding (an unusual thing for her) and she liked it.

Service is EXCEPTIONAL. The server paid A LOT of ATTENTION to us - and everyone. She cleared away plates immediately and offered drink refills before the glasses were half empty. Excellent service! This was the vocal comment from all of the tables around us - wonderful service from this young lady!

One more minor complaint - as it was getting later and coming near closing time, the men at the grill started to take down the overhead exhaust fan's cover to clean it. They were doing this over the grill's serving area that was still active and serving. It seems to me that this is not something that you want to do when there is still food AND CUSTOMERS around. Anything could have fallen down from that fan vent and into the food unnoticed! We'll just put this to poor judgment on the part of the employees. (I hope.)

So on this revisit to Cactus Willies we could not be more pleased (except for the vent). I am very glad that I decided to give it another try - and if the opportunity presents itself again we will go back. I wish they would expand their locations. It would be great to have one of these on Long Island.

If you see one, try it. Look at the website link at the side of this page and find out where they are. The particular one reviewed is at 101 Roherstown Road in Lancaster, PA (in the Regency Square Shopping Center). You may call them for information at 717-391-7060. They do close earlier than the other chains - 8:30 pm Weeknights and Sundays and 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday. Good steaks, good meal.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Feature at Old Country Buffet

Steak and Ribs is the new special feature at the Old Country Buffet and their affiliated chains. This has replaced the last feature - three kinds of fish. The new feature is - you guessed it! Steak andtwo types of ribs. The feature is offered Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights only.

The steak featured is "new". They are calling it "Rancher's Cut". It is top sirloin, one inch hand cut and marinated. This steak, by the way, is being served Monday through Saturday nights replacing the usual (and usually awful) steak that was served. This steak is an improvement over the previous steak. Maybe. It still is broiled under a broiler and not chargrilled as steak is at the other chains. I have mixed reactions and I will tell you why. The first piece that I took was thick, medium rare, mostly tender, juicy, and very tasty. I was really impressed. This was the best steak that I have ever had AT OLD COUNTRY BUFFET. (Far from the best steak that I ever had - but for OCB it was good.) Later, I went back for another piece. This time, it was more done than it should be and more closely resembled the former OCB steak - but a little thicker. It was no where near as good as the first piece. Still later, I tried again- now we were just about back to typical OCB steak - tough, overdone, and not worth finishing - which I didn't.

The ribs are the other stars of this feature. There are two new types of ribs - honey barbecue rib tips and what they are calling just "barbecue spareribs". The honey ribs were small bits of ribs - more bone than meat. They were sweet, but not much else. They were not worth a second try after the first tasting portion. The barbecue spareribs had potential but the ribs are too big - large bones and the meat that has fallen off of the bones more resembles pork roast than ribs. These ribs were better tasting than the honey rib tips, but not what I had hoped for.

Last summer, OCB included Kansas City ribs in their summer barbecue feature. The year before they had baby back ribs. Those both were GOOD ribs. They had good taste and and the meat properly fell off of the bones as you ate them. I was hoping for those ribs again when I saw this new feature. Unfortunately, the new ribs are not even close.

There were other dishes featured with the steak and ribs. There was pulled pork. This needed a good sauce - which it did not have on it. A new sauce was on the condiments bar called Carolina Barbecue Sauce. I have had a variety of barbecue sauces in North Carolina - none of them were like this, so why Carolina, I am not sure. This sauce is honey mustard based. It was ok. The taste kind of grows on you. There was no regular barbecue sauce out - which would have been much better. There was also barbecue beef which, like the pulled pork, is shredded beef in a barbecue glaze. This was ok, but too chewy. There was also barbecue sausage which has always been good at Old County Buffet. I am not sure that the sausage is part of the new feature or it is part of the new Thursday night line up of entrees. I am not sure how it relates but there were also "Italian" meatballs (part of the new feature?) which, as the night went on, were gone and replaced with plain rice (typical OCB replacement - entree with a nothing side dish!). Topping off the new offerings was "honey" corn bread - which looked just like the regular corn bread served with some honey on top. Oh yes, there were also chocolate cupcakes on the dessert bar - which did look good!

So was I impressed with the new feature - not really. I was hopeful because the "summer" barbecue feature has been really good in years past. Perhaps this is not the summer feature but a Spring pre-barbecue season feature. Time will tell. (Probably not.) As I have written, the three fish feature was pretty good. This one is not as good. And despite claims that the regular entrees are still served along with the feature, there was a lack of anything that was not barbecue or beef. My wife who does not really like barbecue and does not eat much beef wound up eating only chicken fajitas from the taco bar. To be fair, they were carving roast beef and ham.

As an aside, a typical OCB occurrence - as we entered the dining room there were three tables with their chairs proped up against the tables. We figured that they were reserving these for a large group coming in. As the night went on several more adjacent tables were set the same way, but no group ever came. Apparently, the person cleaning the tables decided that since these tables were now clean, they were not going to be used again for the night - this was two hours before closing! Management was aware, because we heard staff talking critically about this - but, of course, no one did anything to put these tables back into service.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cici's Advertising

Recently there have been a number of Cici's Pizza Buffet radio commercials on a metro NY radio station. There are no Cici's restaurants for at least 4oo miles - and this station does not carry that far south.

I find it interesting that this large company would spend money on local advertising in a market that they are not in. What does this mean? Could it mean that they are coming to the metro NY area some time soon and want to make the public aware of the name in advance? Could it mean that they are trolling for franchisees and are hoping that someone who wants to open a Cici's Pizza Buffet in the metro NY area? Or are they hoping for travel business - Look there is a Cici's over there - I heard about them on the radi0.

I have never been to a Cici's. I am really intrigued and wrote an article here in October 2006. I first learned about them then on a television commercial - but cable and satellite television makes sense for advertising as it covers a very broad and national market. You cover as many places with your restaurants as without. But local radio in a market that you are not in?

Cici's is the cheapest chain buffet that I know of. All the pizza, salad, pasta, soda, and dessert you care to eat for $4.49. That sounds great to me. Of course, with my cholesterol, fat, and carb restrictions I am not sure what I would eat there - other than salad - and that is not what I would want there with all of those other good things right there for the taking. There is a Cici's in Hagerstown, Maryland - where I will be in late April. My wife suggested that we find it for lunch when we are there - but I am still not sure how we would be able to do it and not get into trouble with the doctor. It may be worth it to just chuck the worry out the door and go for the whole thing.

So Cici's advertising has me hooked. If that was what they were after, they got me. But how many other crazy food nuts are there that will seek out this place 400 miles away - especially with the increasing price of gasoline (but do not get me started on gas prices).

There is a link to Cici's website at the side of the page. Check them out and see if they are in your area. They even provide a convenient and highlighted spot on the top of their homepage to put your zipcode and find one near you. With all of this local advertising I eagerly ran there and put my zipcode in - no luck.