Friday, September 26, 2008

A Nice Little Buffet - Dienners Country Restaurant

On July 4, 2008 I published an article about a buffet in Lancaster County, Pa called Dienners Country Restaurant. In the article I stated that I had dined from the menu in the restaurant but had never tried the buffet. The food is the same so I could easily recommend the buffet. Well, for the record, I was right. I have just had the dinner buffet and it was all that I expected.

Dienners, as you know if you read the article has unusual hours. It is open from Monday to Saturday but closes at 6:00 PM every night except Friday - which recently started to be open until 8:00 PM. I don't dine early enough to go before 6:00 - which means arriving at no later than 4:30 PM because there is always a wait to get in. When I discovered the Friday night "late" hours I decided that when I could I would get there on a Friday and have the dinner buffet. This was it.

We arrived at 6:10 PM and , yes, there was a wait to get in. The wait was short - just ten minutes. This is a Friday in early September - not Labor Day weekend. The restaurant was full. This is a small restaurant - two small dining rooms with one sharing the buffet serving area.

The dinner price on Friday and Saturday nights has gone up fifty cents in the past two months - along with the prices at every buffet that I have been to. This brings the price for an adult dinner to a whopping $10.75! This is incredible for what you get! It is no wonder that this restaurant is always busy. The restaurant attracts not only tourists but many locals including Old Order Amish - this area is the center of a religious, farm community of people who live much as they did in the 1800's - no electricity, no cars, horse transportation, and a specific form of dress. The kitchen staff appear to be all Amish women and this night when I dined there I had a view inside the kitchen and the women doing the cooking were Amish. The serving staff are not Amish, though the young lady at the cashier desk was.

Why am I tell you this? 1) Local color and 2) you know that the recipes and cooking are going to be authentic to this area. One of the things that I said in that first article in July was that the recipes used were going to be the same as those used at another local buffet run by relatives of the owners of this buffet. Many of the items served on the buffet here are the same, but the recipes are not. While the food at the other restaurant is excellent, the food here - the same items - taste a bit more authentic. I have been eating Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) cooking for over 40 years. The recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant but over time many have been seasoned for and made toward the tourist's taste. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you come to Dienners you are going to experience Pennsylvania Dutch cooking as it should be.

The buffet servers are a larger than double-sided single buffets but smaller than full double length buffet servers. There are three of them. Less serving area than the buffet servers at the relatives' restaurant (Family Cupboard) and fewer dishes. The decrease is primarily in the entrees offered, though if you are not comparing you would never know - because there are plenty of choices and plenty of good food to eat.

The middle buffet server is a salad and soup bar. There are two soups - on this night there was chicken corn soup and clam chowder. Chicken corn soup is one of my favorites and I will always choose that before all others. This one was a bit different - it was a cream based soup, usually it is a thin or thick but not cream. The soup was loaded with noodles, kernels of corn and large chunks of chicken. It was good.

The salad bar had the usual assorment of lettuce, salad toppings, and prepared salads. There were sliced tomatoes that were deep red and ripe. This is the season for tomatoes and these were fresh from the farm. I am sure that you will not find such tomatoes at any other time of the year. On the salad bar were local favorites such as Chow Chow - sweet pickled vegetables - and red beat eggs. These are common in restaurants and buffets in this area.
On the two sides of the salad and soup server are an entree and side dish server and a dessert server. The entree buffet server had the main dishes together on one end and then went along with side dishes. The entrees included nicely cooked rotisserie chicken, sliced baked ham, fried chicken, fried shrimp, chunks of fried codfish, a local dish that I have mentioned before - pork with sauerkraut, and large cubes of beef in brown gravy. The shrimp and cod are features of the Friday and Saturday dinner buffet. I very much enjoyed the fried cod. It was moist and lightly fried in a batter. There was a thin tartar sauce for the fish. The rotisserie chicken was very good, as well. It was all good. These were my preferences this night.

The side dishes followed along on the server. There were mashed potatoes made from potatoes and not from flakes, kernal corn, string beans, carrots, broccoli, rice, beets, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, bread filling (what they call stuffing in this area - but actually better with a sweeter taste and more pancake like in consistency) and brown butter noodles. Brown butter noodles is another local dish. It is a cardiologist's nightmare. Take whole butter and put it in a pan over heat. Keep cooking until the butter burns and dark brown pieces form from the burned butter fat. Take all of the mixture of burned butter fat and clarified butter and pour it over cooked noodles so that the noodles soak up all of the butter and are now colored light brown with dark brown spots. The noodles are freshly made, narrow egg noodles and soak up the butter and all of the flavor well. This was one of the dishes that you could tell was made by the Amish and was deeper in flavor than others that I have had in the past several years at other restaurants. At the end of this buffet server were chicken and beef gravy - two of each. Mixed into the middle of the gravy serving trays was a small tray of the stewed tomatoes. If you did not look at the gravies you would not have noticed the stewed tomatoes. That would be unfortunate because they were good. If you are a bread eater there were very good rolls - both white flour and whole wheat.

There is a nice assortment of desserts and they fill an entire buffet server, a refrigerator case, and a soft ice cream machine and sundae bar. There were puddings, tapioca, egg custard, carrot cake, and and something quite different - a chocolate applesauce cake, along with other desserts including hot chocolate fudge dessert and a hot fruit cobbler. In the refrigerator case were an assortment of pies - fruit, custard, shoo fly, and cream. There were two sugarfree fruit pies. The baking (at least the pies) seem to come from one of the local bakeries - one that is quite well known in this area and has been featured on food and travel television shows. I could not resist the blueberry pie and it was wonderful. I had a hard time deciding between that and a blueberry covered slice of angel food cake with whipped cream on top. If I was not feeling already full I could have had both - but I let reason prevale. I did try some of the egg custard before the pie - good- and after the pie, after tasing a spoon of the soft serve ice cream that my wife took, I had to go and get a small serving for myself. There is only vanilla ice cream but it was creamy and good. Not the icy soft serve that many buffets offer. There was chocolate and caramel syrups and other ice cream toppings. My wife took a piece of the chocolate applesauce cake and I tried a spoon of that too. This was very different. It tasted like a chocolate fruit cake. It very much reminded me in taste of fruit cake but not as dense in texture, but then under the fruit cake flavor was chocolate.

This buffet does what the best of buffets do and what all buffets should do - they put a card on your table that shows that the table is occupied and you are still eating. While you are dining you keep the card face up. When you are leaving you turn the card over and it says "We're Finished". With this there are no server errors of thinking that you have left while you are away from the table and up at the buffet server - and clearing your table away of everything. This has happened too often at other buffets. I love it when buffets have this system in place - it makes for a much more relaxing evening.

Service was excellent. The server came regularly when we emptied a plate and took it away. Drink refills were offered, refilled, and offered again. The restaurant is very clean. The rest rooms were very clean.

I said in July that this is a great restaurant. I will say it again - this is a great restaurant. You could even order from a menu and they will allow some at the table to buffet while others menu -which many restaurants will not do.

I very much recommend Dienners Country Restaurant. If you are an early diner go any night (never on a Sunday). If you eat later like me then make sure to get here on a Friday.

Dienner's Family Restaurant is located at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). Their phone number is 717-687-9571. There is a website and that is listed at the side of this page.

1 comment:

susan said...

Your review is right on target. This place is real home cooking and it is excellent. I heartily recommend the breakfast buffet. In an area bursting with buffets, Dienners is still my favorite.