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.

No comments: