Friday, June 27, 2008


Saturday night, as I said in Part 1 (READ LAST WEEK FOR PART 1), was reserved for Shady Maple Smörgåsbord. When you are near the BEST you must go there. Our certificate is still proudly displayed in their showcase - right under their business licenses and permits. I would say that this is a place of distinction. We expected a crowd but there was really no wait at all - though the restaurant was far from empty. This is a very, very large restaurant. Our meal was as good as always. Here, too, prices have taken a small jump and the Saturday dinner price is now $16.89. Shady Maple always adds a small tip and the tax - so the total is $19.26 per person. They are very up front about this and any listing of their prices breaks this down to show you exactly what you are paying. I am not going to describe Shady Maple again, just see January 2008 for the Best Of article. What I will say again is that for what you get the price is more than value. You will be overwhelmed with selections and the four grill stations that are cooking different meats and fish to order. After the meal we spent some time in the very large gift shop on the lower level which is always a very good place to walk off some of your meal before you get back into your car to leave.

Sunday was another decision day and that decision was pretty much made for me by our touring plans. We left the Amish area for the day and headed west to Gettysburg. There is a new National Park visitors center and museum that has just opened and it was something that we wanted to see. We had a great day there - and did a brief tour of the Civil War battlefield and went across the road from the battlefield to General Pickett's Buffets. You can read all about our return dinner at General Pickett's in my article of May 30, 2008. It is a small but good buffet - with the best value of all at $10.95! It is open on Sundays.

We had considered two other choices nearby Gettysburg. One was to return to the Cozy Restaurant - the historic restaurant/buffet that I wrote about in May 2008. The other was to try the second location of the Mountain View Restaurant. The Mountain View that we have enjoyed in further south near the Maryland border, but about twenty miles from Gettysburg there is a second location which is actually almost a next door neighbor to the Cozy Restaurant. Having never been to this location we were eager to try it. Then we realized that it was Sunday. This is another restaurant that is closed on Sunday. That left the Cozy or General Picketts and with the Cozy another twenty mile drive away and back, we opted for the General just across the road with no regrets.

Monday was our last day and we would have dinner before the drive home. From my original plan this was the night for Yoders. And this was Memorial Day. I had checked several ads and the Yoders website to see that they were open on this holiday Monday. There was no mention of holidays - they are always closed on Sundays. From everything that I could see they would be open, but as I passed supermarkets that were closed during the day I started to wonder if this supermarket-based buffet would actually be open on Memorial Day. It's neighbor, Shady Maple, is closed. Yoders is located out of the main "tourist" area of the region and even though it is on the way home, I did not want to get there, find out it was closed, and need to drive back to where there would be a buffet that was open. We sought out one of the tourist advertising newspapers that I have mentioned to find coupons in and got one in a gift shop. I got Yoders phone number and gave them a call... Closed. A recording answered telling me to enjoy my holiday as their employees were enjoying their holiday. Selfish of me, but my thought was how could I enjoy it if you are closed. Now I had a new decision to make.

It was just after 5:00 pm - a bit early for dinner for me, as I usually wait for about 6:30 pm to go for dinner in this area - most, if not all, buffets close at 8:00 pm here. We spent a little time roaming a gift shop that actually was part of another restaurant, and decided that this would be the day to go to Harvest View and see and taste the claimed improvements.

We drove over to Harvest View. It was about 5:30 pm and there were three cars in the parking lot. I wondered if they, too, were closed. There was a sign written on poster board in marker saying "WE ARE OPEN". This restaurant is off the main roads and obviously was going unnoticed on this Monday holiday. Other restaurants that were open were noticeably busy, but most were on main roads. This was one of the reasons that the former owners left this beautiful location to open Family Cupboard on a main tourist route.

I drove around the parking lot wondering if the three cars that were there belonged to the employees or customers. As we circled we discussed if we should go in. NOW, if I came upon one of the better buffets and saw just three cars in the parking lot I would hesitate and probably not go in. A buffet functions on volume and just a few dinners means partially filled trays and at times, food drying out from not being taken. This was not the time to review Harvest View for their big come back review. It would not be fair and I was not going to go in with the deck already stacked against them. We drove away and started to figure out where to go.

There are several "family-style" all you care to eat restaurants in this area. Two of the biggest were definitely open as we had driven past both earlier in the day. I have been to them in the past. It has been a long time since. I have not gone and reviewed them because, frankly, I prefer not to eat a large table of strangers and have to pace my meal on the other diners and the pace that the wait staff determine - which is what happens at these family-style restaurants. They were a possibility, but I really was not enthused by the idea.

Another possibility was the new Cici's. I do not have any Cici's anywhere near me and when I am around one I am very tempted to go in. This was a strong possibility, but not a new choice to be able to spend time telling you about. The other possibility was a restaurant that we had not been to in 13 years- The Hershey Farm Restaurant. This buffet was the choice. Despite the very high price, it was a chance to bring another buffet to my readers that I have never written about before. You will find my review of this very good meal in my article of June 6, 2008.

So there you have my four days on the road to buffet land. As I started out stating, there are so many choices here. I missed one of my favorites - Yoders. I'll make sure I get there again next time. There is one family-style restaurant that I have heard of but have never been to before that is connected with a meat business and serves what are supposed to be excellent country sausages. I very well may forego my relcutance about family-style dining to give it a try. And yes, I will eventually get back to Harvest View and if there are more than three cars in the parking lot I will go in and let you know how and if it has changed.

If you want to take a buffet vacation then go to Central Pennsylvania. So many choices...

Friday, June 20, 2008


So many choices... I will bet that you are thinking that I am referring to the many food choices found at a buffet. I am actually referring to the number of buffet and all you care to eat restaurants that there are in Central Pennsylvania.

Before I left on a recent trip I mentally planned my meals over the course of the four days. There were many choices to decide upon. Two definites were Shady Maple Smorgasbord (of course) and Yoders. For the two other dinners I had a decision to make and my decision was to decide when I got there. To be prepared I sought out and printed coupons for several of the restaurants thanks to the link that I provided to you in my article a few weeks ago. A few things that I knew was that this was Memorial Day weekend and Shady Maple is closed on Memorial Day - one of the four days in the year that it is closed. Many restaurants in this area are closed on Sundays as it is a population of Amish and Mennonites. Shady Maple would need to be Saturday night. While Friday night was also a possibility there is a larger selection of seafood and my wife does not care for it. I figured Yoders for Monday night - a nice send off to the end of the weekend when I leaving for home. This left Friday night and Sunday night - and Sunday night was limited for the reason that I have stated.

We arrived mid-afternoon, checked into our bargain motel, and headed over to a farmers market that is a great Friday's entertainment (if you like that type of thing - we do). As it came along to dinner time the Friday decision was getting close. It was then that the title of the article first came to my mind. There were so many choices.

I have been asked by the management of the Harvest View Restaurant to return and give them another try. I have reviewed the restaurant under its current management twice in the past two years. Both times things were not good. Recently, my articles came their attention and the kitchen manager contacted this site by email. He seemed to have taken the criticisms that I had as constructive and stated his case that there have been some major changes and if I gave them another try I would come away with a different opinion. I wrote back that I would - but of course, I would not say when and they would not know I had there until I wrote the third review. I had in mind that sometime during this trip I would get there. I looked at their new website and saw the Friday menu - this menu was boasted to me by the manager and it is impressive. It is a Seafood Feast. Again, I will say that seafood and my wife are not a good mix. There were some non-seafood selections on the menu, but Friday would not be the night to go there.

Two good buffets came to mind for Friday night. The Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant or The Family Cupboard Restaurant. Both have been reviewed here in several articles. The one thing about the Bird-in-Hand Restaurant is the price during tourist season. They are known to bump the price a bit in the 0n-season months - and sometimes lower it back down during the off months. This was Memorial Day weekend and even though I had a $2.00 off coupon, The Bird-in-Hand Restaurant could be way out there in price. The Family Cupboard was looking better and better. It is a good restaurant with a consistent menu and lower prices. This was my choice - I should say our choice, because I did ask my wife her opinion.

The Family Cupboard was as good as always and the price was just $12.99 per adult. Soft drinks with refills are $1.50. The whole bill came to $30 with tax. Food choices here are pretty much the same every night. Their rotisserie chicken is very good; their fried chicken is good. There is also beef, ham, meat loaf (or ham loaf), baked fish, fried shrimp and other selections. They no longer have a soft serve ice cream machine. I read about why in a very friendly newsletter that this restaurant sends out. It seems that in the State of Pennsylvania in addition to all of the other restaurant permits that you must have and maintain, you also need a special permit to have a soft serve ice cream machine. The machine was breaking down and the decision was made not to replace it but to get an ice cream freezer chest and fill it with hard ice cream from a local dairy. There are a number of flavors and you scoop it yourself! The Family Cupboard was a good decision. They also offer a club card that you can get at the cashier that will give you $10 off a meal for every $100 that you spend. This is easily earned in just a few trips. One thing to note is that the software that they use to keep track of your spending to earn your $10 is a little odd and you can be half way into the next $100 before it processes and prints out your $10 coupon for you to use. No worry though because you will get it, you just need a little patience.

One of the objects of this trip was to spend a leisurely weekend. We seem to be in this area more on more doing business on trips that before would have just been mini-vacations. There was no business planned and we spent Saturday as it came visiting the sites that we would frequent in our tourist days. When we are eating buffet for dinner we very rarely will have a buffet lunch. That really can become just too much. We went for lunch to The Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant which besides being a buffet is also a good family "off the menu" restaurant. We got to Bird-in-Hand early afternoon and there was a twenty minute wait to get in. We were not having buffet, but I could not help but see the sign with the LUNCH BUFFET price. I almost fell over. The lunch buffet on Saturday is $13.29. This price was not just because it was Memorial Day weekend as it was printed inside the menu too. The buffet here is nice - lunch and dinner - but it is no way a value at $13.29 at lunch. During the week the lunch buffet is $10.29.

I know that there is a reason for higher prices right now. With gasoline prices well over $4.00 a gallon and truck diesel at over $5.00 a gallon, food costs much more to travel to get to the suppliers and then be trucked again to the restaurants. There are flour shortages and rice shortages. Milk prices are up. Everything is going crazy - but some restaurants are still holding to affordable prices. This area of Pennsylvania relies heavily on its tourist industry. The tourists are scrimping to be able to find a week or just a weekend of relief from their year of working hard. They are deterred by the gas prices that they must pay to get to the area - and this area is a driving area with miles of country roads between attractions. Hotel and motel prices are way up this year too. With the restaurants increasing their prices also it will not be long before people say that they cannot afford to take thier family of two or three kids and pay for two days what once was not too long ago a two week vacation. And with that these businesses will not survive.

Ok so enough preaching. I took a look at the dinner buffet price and that is up too at $17.29 and $14.99 during the week. There are coupons on the Internet and in tourist newspapers that are given away free so make sure you find some and save $2 off each meal - which still is too high on Saturday.


Friday, June 13, 2008

What Happened to the Specials?

Over the past several months on my visits to Old Country Buffet it has struck me that there are no specials any more. For several years and more there have been specials that would last for a month or two with a special featured theme. Barbecue was Old Country Buffet's best and would make its appearance for June and extend part way, if not all the way, through the summer. There have been seafood themes -among them the infamous, "Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp", there were Tex-Mex themes, and others. But recently, nothing.

This made we curious to look at the other Big Two - which actually is only a Big One since Ryans follows Old Country Buffet. I looked at Ryans' website anyway and, as I suspected, there was no mention of any specials. I headed on over to the Golden Corral website - and what did I find? "The Captain's Shrimp and Seafood Table". Ahh... Golden Corral comes through with a special theme feature that is available every night for dinner.

The Captain's Shrimp and Seafood Table consists of crab cakes, which they state are "freshly-made", golden fried shrimp, and a variety of seafood entrees that are broiled, baked, or fried. As is common with any themed special, it is available for a limited time.

So why is Old Country Buffet not offering themed specials? Let's speculate. Old Country Buffet is in the midst of a bankruptcy proceeding. They are also trying very hard to bring in customers. Not only am I getting multiple coupon offers from their email mailing list, but I am also getting multiple coupons in the mail. These coupons are offering adult dinners when purchased with one for under $7.00. There are also offers for free children's dinners, discounted lunches, and discounted breakfasts. Are they feeling that discounted price offers will bring in business more than a featured special?

For whatever reason, they are not announcing any special featured meals. That is too bad. I always look forward to the Barbecue theme this time of the year. They do have the best Baby Back Ribs and Kansas City Ribs of any of the chain buffets. They are pretty close to those that I have had a real barbecue restaurants. (Yes, I actually do like some things at OCB.) The only "special" listed on OCB's website is to join them for Father's Day - and when you follow that link they are stating no special menu, just the usual Sunday fare - which means, in my area, no steak. (Don't you think Dad should at least get steak on Father's Day?)

Golden Corral is also offering lunch specials that are different every weekday. Monday is Wild Wings. Tuesday is Italian. Wednesday is Mexican. Thursday is Kabobs. Friday is "Tasty Tenders". They also have no additions to their breakfast buffet. (In an article in the future I am going to write about Breakfast Buffets, a topic that I have only mentioned and never detailed.)

So, I am keeping my fingers crossed that Barbecue will make an appearance once again sometime this summer at OCB. If I get to a Golden Corral (not likely for a month or so) I will let you know how their Seafood Special stacks up!

Take Dad to a buffet on Sunday for Father's Day!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Hershey Farm Restaurant - Strasburg, Pennsylvania

The Hershey Farm Restaurant has been around for a very long time. It has been through a change in ownership several times in the past, though the current owner who possibly the original owner has been operating the restaurant for more than ten years. I know this because it has been more than ten years since I have eaten at the Hershey Farm Restaurant - 1995 to be exact.

So why was it so long since I have gone back and tried it? The answer all along - and almost even now is the price. This is a very expensive buffet restaurant. Now expensive is relative, but in relation to the other buffets in this area that I have written about, it is expensive.

I was recently in Lancaster County, PA and my plans of which buffet to dine in changed unexpectedly. I found myself in a situation where I had to decide on another buffet - one that was open. This was not a Sunday. Most the the buffets in this region are closed on Sundays. This was a holiday Monday. And to my surprise, many of those buffets were closed for the holiday as well. That is how the idea of going back to Hershey after all of these years came up. Before going over we gave them a call to find out if they were open. They were. We asked what the adult dinner price was and fell over. The regular weekday adult dinner price is $19.95. Let me emphasize that this is the REGULAR WEEKDAY price. It was not a holiday price. If you go there on any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. you are paying $19.95 per person for the dinner buffet. We had a coupon for $2.00 off the adult price. It was this or Cici's so we reluctantly decided to give it a try.

The Hershey Farm Restaurant is actually the Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn. It is part of a rural hotel complex, a garden center, a petting zoo, and gift shops. It is located in the heart of the Amish region of Central/SouthCentral Pennsylvania. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers both menu and buffet dining. You are able to have some at the table order from the menu and others order the buffet.

Before I go on about my dinner there, let me go through the prices more completely. As I said, the adult dinner price on WEEKNIGHTS is $19.95. This changes on Saturday night to $21.95. Friday and Sunday seem to stay at $19.95. With dinner you get the beverage included. Buffet Lunch costs $16.95 per person - with no indication that this changes any day. Children 4 t0 8 pay $7.95 for dinner all days. At lunch these children pay $5.95. Children 9 to 12 pay $9.95 for dinner and $7.95 for lunch. The best deals here are for Senior Citizens - there is no indication on the menu what age determines "senior". Seniors pay $9.95 any time on Sunday, $8.95 any time on Monday, and Tuesday to Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 - $8.95. It should also be noted that this restaurant closes at 8:00 pm every night and is only open until 3:30 pm on Sundays - EXCEPT from Memorial Day through the Summer Sundays are open until 8:00 pm. (Complicated, isn't it?)

So with the money aside, we went into the restaurant at around 6:30 pm on Memorial Day. When you enter there is a large reception desk to the right of the lobby. You are greeted here and taken to your table. There was no wait. There were a number of tables filled. We were given menus and seated. A waitress promptly came over and took our soft drink orders. Pepsi products are served. She asked if we needed time to decide and we indicated that we would be having the buffet. We were given a pleasant, "Help yourself." and we got up.

When you look at the buffet servers you are not going to be overwhelmed as you might expect for a $20 weeknight meal. This is a simple set up with two very long, double-sided buffet servers - one hot and one cold. Along the back wall at the corner is counter full of desserts. We started at the back of the cold server with the soups which were in a small hot section of the server at one end. There were three soups. They had a local favorite - Chicken Corn Soup which was made nicely thick. Another was Vegetable Beef soup which was a thin broth with no sign of beef in it (though it properly tasted of beef). There was also a Cream of Potato soup. I tried the Chicken Corn and my wife tried the vegetable. The soups were both good. The temperature was correct, and the flavor was very good.

We went back to the cold server for salad. I looked around at the servers and kept thinking to myself that this should not be a $20 weeknight meal. The offerings were basic to this type of buffet in the area. BUT, I convinced myself once again to set the price and the value aside and enjoy being there. On the salad bar there are two types of lettuce greens and all of the toppings that you would expect with a nice variety of dressings. Half of the server were prepared salads with local macaroni salad which has an egg base to the dressing, three different meat salads including chicken salad, tuna salad, and ham salad (another local recipe), and the usual cold salads that you would expect. At the end of this cold server, the other end from the soup was a large bowl of iced steamed, spiced shrimp. Spiced shrimp is something that you do not usually find in the area's buffets unless it is Seafood night - no doubt justifying the price here. I tried the meat salads and they were very good. So far everything that I tried was very good.

On to the entrees. Many of the dishes served were local Amish, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch, specialties. We counted more than ten meat entrees offered. There were ham balls - meatballs made from chopped ham. These were good and not too sweet. Some restaurants serve these deep in a pineapple sauce that over sweetens the dish. These were not too sweet at all and good. There was a dish called Chicken Bot Boi. I have written about this dish before. It is pronounced like Chicken Pot Pie and sometimes mistaken for it - but it is quite different. This is cut up (off the bone) chicken stewed in a thick broth with carrots, celery, and large, flat, noodle-like dumplings. This one was good and just as it should be. There was also Pork and Sauerkraut - shredded pork cooked in sauerkraut. This one was not too vinegary. I had just before had this dish at another buffet - General Picketts which I wrote about last week. That one was a sweeten version. This one was good but not as good as that unusual one at the other restaurant. Of course, there were more standard entrees as well. There was sliced beef, fried chicken, honey barbecued chicken, baked fillet of flounder, and meatloaf. There were two pre-carved carvings - roast turkey and ham. On Saturday night (for the extra cost) they take away the turkey and carve Prime Rib. There were a number of vegetables and side dishes. The kernal corn and the green beans were not swimming in butter as they sometimes are served at buffets - not swimming in butter is a good thing. There were fresh mashed redskin potatoes and there was candied sweet potatoes with a thick layer of marshmallow baked on top. There was a common dish served in a local style - Browned Butter Noodles. These are homemade noodles that are covered in Browned Butter - the butter is put in a pan and burned which separates the liquid butter but also leaves behind brown bits of burned fat. The noodles are mixed into all of this - not for the heart healthy aware, but the taste is great! There was also filling, the Amish version of stuffing, but this filling had a great flavor like pancakes. Overall, there was a very nice variety - and a great choice between standard foods and the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking that many people visit this area to try.

The fried chicken was very good. The turkey, even though it had been carved in advance, was moist. There was nothing that was not good.

We made sure that we could still fit in dessert and went to look. There were a few desserts that were labeled as restaurant favorites. One was Hershey Chocolate Cake. Now, I guess that it is time to point out the this Hershey is NOT the Hershey of the candy company. There may be some distant relation with the founder, but the Hershey Farm Restaurant is not owned by the candy company or in any way affiliated with it. The candy company (and town) is about fifty miles away further west. So back to the chocolate cake - excellent! All of the baked goods are home baked at the restaurant's bakery. Another of the features are Whoopie Pies. So, what is it? It is two rounds of chocolate cake sized to hold in your hand with a layer of cream in the middle. On the dessert counter these were made in a miniature version about an inch or two in diameter. I have had this dessert many times. These were as they should be. There were many other pies and cakes including pumpkin pie at the end of May. There was also two choices of real cheese cake - one plain and one with cherries. Over in the cold server there was also puddings, jello, and cut fruit. There were two sugar free desserts - a fruit pie and bread pudding.

When we returned to our table with our desserts the waitress hurried over and asked if we would like some ice cream with our desserts. So even though you do not see an ice cream machine or freezer out in the buffet area, ice cream is included and it will be brought to you.

The staff are very good and the buffet servers are VERY, VERY WELL tended and maintained. Staff were constantly checking that trays were filled and stirring everything so that it would not dry out. It is rare to see this much attention paid to the buffet. Nothing ever went empty and as something was getting low more was brought out and added properly to the bottom. Every item was nicely labeled. There was no guessing what anything was. Our server kept taking away our finished plates and refilling our soft drinks.

Everything that we ate was good. We very much enjoyed the meal. If only the price was not so high this could easily become one of my regular stops - but sadly, I cannot afford to make it so with the prices where they are. These are hard times and prices everywhere are higher. Other buffet prices have increased, but this is still high. As I said earlier, this is not a buffet that will knock your socks off when you walk in and look around - no chefs in high hats at serving or carving stations, no gourmet dishes - you know what I am saying. The food is very good - the value, well...

I very much recommend Hershey Farm Restaurant buffet to anyone who can afford it. Make sure that you find one of the $2 coupons that are good for up to 8 at your table. They are on the Internet and they are in free local tourist newspapers that can be found at almost every hotel lobby and gift shop.

The Hershey Farm Restaurant is located on Route 896 just south of Route 30, passed the Rockvale Outlet Center. Follow the signs for the Sight and Sound Theater. There is an 800 number - 800-827-8635. They have a website which is linked at the side of this page.