Friday, January 30, 2009

Keeping in Touch with Customers

I have signed up with a number of buffet restaurants to receive offers and coupons. Many of the chain buffets have a place on their websites to do this. What I receive are infrequent coupons by email. The two soup and salad chains - Sweet Tomatoes and SouperFresh send coupons quite frequently. They are always offering two for one deals. Sadly, I am more than five hundred miles away from the nearest location to use the coupons, but I am always happy to see that they are keeping in touch with their customers and making them offers to come and dine.

I also get a very different communication from a buffet restaurant. It is mailed to me just about monthly and it comes from The Family Cupboard Restaurant in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. This is a restaurant that I have written about many times. Look back through the articles and you will find very nice things said about it. What is particularly nice is this little four page newsletter that they mail out to their customers.

There are no coupons printed in it. There are no big sales pitches. What there is are nice things to say about their employees, recipes, cooking tips, household tips, and a thoughtful letter from the restaurant's owner, John Dienner relevant to the month or the season. Rarely do you get to know the owner of a buffet. John writes this letter from the heart. For example, in December his letter was about the meaning of Christmas and how it is a season to reach out and help neighbors and friends. When I first saw the recipes I thought that these were recipes of things served in the restaurant, but no - they are a variety of home-cooked things that are just good to eat. (I would love to see their recipe for Chicken Corn Soup as it is served at the restaurant, but they are not giving that away too easily.)

I always enjoy getting the "Cupboard Courier". It is like getting a letter from a friend. One of the regular articles is about a featured employee - not a special employee of the month who has done something outstanding, but just about one of the employees and how they came to work at the Family Cupboard, what they do there, and how that person is appreciated. These articles are also written by John, the owner, and you get a real feeling that he values the people who are working for him. When you are in the restaurant you get the feeling from the employees that they enjoy working there too.

It is such a simple, homey little newsletter but it is big on warmth and bits of information that have nothing really to do with the restaurant, but things that you might want to share with friends if you were writing to them. It is really an extra step that this restaurant has gone to make their customer feel like part of the family.

The newsletter is professionally printed and mailed - I am sure at an expense that they certainly do not need to spend, but they do. Where you might expect a mailing such as this to hit your over the head to come back and dine there, this one is just a subtle reminder that the restaurant is there when you want to come and visit. I like that. There may be an offer or two in addition, but this is not included every month.

If you would like to see the most recent edition of "The Cupboard Courier" follow this link. If you would like to have it emailed to you regularly, send an email to Kyle at To have it mailed to me I filled out a card at the restaurant, but I am pretty sure if you request it at the Contact Us page on thier website they will send it to you too. The Family Cupboard website may be found at the side of this page.

There used to be a State advertising slogan for Pennsylvania - "You have a friend in Pennsylvania." Getting this newsletter from John at the Family Cupboard I feel that I really do.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Smackies Smokehouse Bar-B-Que - Columbus, Ohio

One of our readers recommends this barbecue restaurant in Columbus, Ohio for their Sunday Buffet. I have been on the lookout for a long time for a barbecue buffet restaurant. On a trip through North Carolina while riding though several towns I saw a few restaurants that we passed with signs that said barbecue buffet. Unfortunately, we could not stop and on some roads you go past so quickly that you don't have time to even note where you are - or even what the name of the restaurant was. I have made internet searches with no success to find those restaurants - wondering sometimes if I did not just dream them. Well, now a kind reader has pointed out Smackies. It is not in North Carolina - not even close. Smackies is in Columbus, Ohio, the same city that Schmidts sausage buffet is located in. I just told my wife that we are going to have to figure out a trip that would include Columbus!

I looked up Smackies and found out a lot about it to share with you all. I need to say this, as I always do, that I have not eaten there, but as I say, one of our readers has and recommends it.

Smackies Smokehouse is a restaurant that specializes in open-pit, southern-style, barbecue. They smoke their meats in a wood smoker over hickory and apple wood. Everything that is served at this restaruant is made from scratch in their kitchen. Six days a week this is just a good barbecue restaurant but on Sundays from Noon to Five, Smackies is a Southern Buffet featuring barbecue and southern dishes.

The buffet menu is extensive and it includes smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, and fried chicken and waffles. What you are not going to find on the buffet are their Memphis dry rub ribs that is the restaurant's signature dish. But the pulled pork is the best selling item on the menu and in this resaurant you will be more than satisfied (from what I can see) with the barbecue offerings on the buffet. The restaurant has several featured barbecue sauces including regular, spicy, Carolina red, Jack Daniels, and whiskey dip. These are certainly offered to make the barbecue selections perfect. As the restaurant points out, this is real barbecue - meat that has been properly smoked in "the pit". This is not what other buffets are serving and saying is barbecue coming out of an oven or off a grill - and that is what this is all about, the pursuit of all you care to eat REAL barbecue where the meat cooks for sixteen hours under the care of one pit-boss and has that smoke ring!

Along with the meats mentioned above, the buffet includes battered fish, fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, fried okra, fried corn nuggets, scalloped potatoes, black-eyed peas, bisquits and sausage gravy, green beans, cornbread, habanero bacon cornbread, and several breakfast entrees that could make this a "brunch" though Noon to Five is late to consider the extent of thie meal "brunch". Those include an omlete station from Noon to Three, Freneh Toast, waffles, and pancakes. There are Southern desserts to complete your meal including banana pudding, sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, and sticky buns.

The website puts the price of the buffet at $11.99. Pretty good! There is menu and take out service. They will also cater events - I am assumming off premises - for up to 2000 people. This is a family owned and operated restauant. There are two videos on the website that show you the people working and eating there and they tell you about how good the food is and what makes it special. This is the enthusiasm that you want to see when you go to any restauant.

Smackies is located at 5730 Cleveland Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. They are open seven days a week. Their hours are Monday to Thursday, 11 am to 9 pm, Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday from 11 to 11, and Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm - BUT REMEMBER the buffet is only on SUNDAYS from NOON TO FIVE. The telephone number is 614-794-1600. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page.

If you have ever been to Smackies for the Buffet please leave a comment and let us know how you liked it.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet is a chain restaurant with five locations - Little Ferry, New Jersey; Morris Plains, New Jersey; East Norriton, Pennsylvania; Natick, Massachusetts; Carle Place, New York; and a location in Sandy Springs, Georgia that is called Nori. I recently went to the Carle Place, NY location.

Sometimes the trip to get to the restaurant is as exciting as the dining experience itself, and this was one of those occassions. The restaurant is extremely easy to find, and actually about seven miles from my house. I pass it all of the time. When we decided to go there we thought nothing of leaveing the house and getting there in about fifteen to twenty minutes. What we had not planned on was the fact that we were going three nights before Christmas and the traffic we would encounter miles away from the mall that is between us and this restaurant. In fact the first night that we headed out, we wound up coming back without ever getting there. The second night - now two nights before Christmas - we tried again, took a back way, and with luck avoided the traffic that again was backing up all of the main roads.

You may be wondering if this buffet is so close, why have I never gone there before? Simply, the price. This is not an inexpensive buffet, though as prices keep increasing at the lower price buffets it is not as much higher as it once was. Going there now was a holiday celebration just for my wife and myself - we share an office with her business and mine, and this was to be the office Christmas party - for two.

Now that I have brought the issue of price up first let me get that out of the way. The dinner price for adults from Monday to Thursday nights is $27.95. Beverages are not included and frankly, we did not order any so I cannot tell you how much they are. From Friday night to Sunday night and Holidays the price is $29.95. Lunch prices are less expensive. Lunch Monday to Friday is $15.95; Saturday, Sundays and Holidays is $19.95. Children's prices are actually good compared to many Asian-style buffets. Children pay by height - 5 ft. and under are Half of adult price, 4 ft. and under are 1/5 of adult price, amd 3 ft. & under are Free. Let me say before I go any further that the buffet meal in this restaurant is worth every penny.

The Carle Place location is in an outdoor shopping center and takes up a large space right in the middle. The restaurant is at least five store fronts in width and two store lengths plus in depth. Entering the restaurant you come to the reception desk where you are escorted to your table. I understand that it is not unusal to have to wait to get in - especially on a Saturday night and they do take reservations for groups of ten or more. The room decor is Japanese Industrial Modern - a mix of traditional Japanse motifs with an open steel ceiling and stark, industrial panels crossing the ceiling containing room lighting. Three quarters of the depth of the restaurant is filled with tables, some large enough to seat ten or more and others seating as few as four. The aisles are wide and it is not hard to walk through the dining room to the buffet area that fills the rear of the restauant. There is a second dining room that is reserved for parties. On the night that we were there a party was going on that filled the room. The rest of the restaurant was not filled but it was busy which for a mid-week, icy cold winter night is unusual.

The young lady who seated us was very welcoming and very friendly. We were promptly greeted by our server who asked if we had ever dined there before and then proceeded to explain what we would find at the buffet and where we would find it. The buffet area is dominated by a large and long, U-shape cold server. The three sides tended to from the inside by sushi chefs and attendants. One side is Sushi, the front is cold seafoods, and the otehr side is full of Japanese salads and cold noodle dishes. To the right of the U are two cold servers, one with fresh fruits and jello, and the other with small cubes of cakes and little cups of desserts. There is also a soft serve ice cream machine. To the left of the U is a long hot server of entrees and side dishes. Across the rear between the hot server and the U is an Hibachi Grill, a Japanese Noodle Soup station, a desert crepe station, and a chargrill for skewered meats, seafood, and vegetables. Just by looking you get the scope of the amount of food that is available to you.

We generally start with soup and this was no exception. We went up to the Japanese Noodle Soup staion and asked the chef behind the counter for a bowl full. He dips Udon noodles - thick, doughy noodles in boiling water, adds them to a bowl and covers them with broth. He then points to several bowls of items to add into the soup. There was fried shrimp tempura, scallions, two different crunchies (sorry, but I have no idea what they were and did not really understand what he identified them as), and a bowl of mixed spices and seasonings. I had him put it all in except the spices. My wife asked me, "Is there anything there I am not going to be happy about?" - if you have read my articles you know my wife. She is the one that does not like any fish other than shrimp and tends to be very picky about sauces and spices. I told her that she should be fine with it all and though I did not know what the spices were, to avoid the spice. In addition to the soup that was made in front of you there were also two hot soup servers to the side - one with crab soup and the other with miso soup. We both went back to our table with our steaming bowls of soup. All silverware is at the buffet counter - you get your own. On your table you are brought chop sticks and napkins, as well as a large package with a hand towel inside.

Before I tell you about the soup, let me tell you about the people who were dining here. I have always said that you can tell that a restauant with a cultural theme is good if the people of that culture are dining there. This majority of the diners in this restaurant were Asian - and I am pretty certain that the majority of them were Japanese. Everyone around us were well skilled with their chop sticks. I can use them, but I soon gave up and picked up my fork.

Back to the soup - it was wonderful. There was a subtle, sweet undertaste - just slightly there. The noodles were just right. The shrimp tempura soaking in the soup kept a bit of crunch and had a great flavor - as did those little crunchies. The soup was so good that I considered going back for another bowl but looking across the rest of the buffet I knew that I better move on if I wanted to taste as much of it as I could. I did wind up going back toward the end of the meal and getting a half bowl of the crab soup just to see what it is like. This was just a broth. In the server you could see crab legs in the shell that were cooking in the soup along with some oriental vegetables. I spooned a ladle of broth into the bowl and it was full of tiny pieces of soft crab meat floating in it. This soup had a terrific flavor as well.

I headed to the sushi next. One of the problems about writing about a restaurant that has so many unusual dishes is trying to remember what those dishes are called and when there are as many as those offered here it is also hard to keep track of all of them to report when writing. So, I will tell you about what I tried - as best as I can - and I will try to tell you about what more was there. There is Maki - Sushi which are the rolls wrapped in Nori. There is Nigiri - Sushi which is fish on a bed of rice. There is Tekaki - Sushi which are rolled cones of rice fish, and vegetables wrapped in seaweed. I took what I am familiar with and what I thought I would like to try. I must tell you that I took a piece of tuna on rice and when I ate it, it was the freshest piece of raw tuna that I have ever had in any buffet. The flavor was so much like the sea that as I finished it, I said, "Wow!" No other buffet tuna sushi has ever come close. The salmon melts in your mouth. I tried Tuna Tataki and Salmon Tataki - these were slices of fish that appeared to be cooked on the outside and the outside was also covered in black pepper. The inside was raw. These had a subtle flavor - milder than the usual raw salmon and tuna. I especially liked the tuna. I also tried white tuna that was very good. There were different rolls that had chopped fish rolled in rice. Of these I tried the tuna, the shrimp, the salmon, and two spicy rolls. I have had spicy tuna and spicy salmon before. These had the emphasis on spicy - so hot that I could not finish them. On the restauants website all of the different sushi are named - not everyone is served every day or night. As trays of sushi were emptied they were replaced almost instantaneously. There are sushi chefs working constantly behind the sushi server. This is buffet has so much more than sushi but if you like all varieties of sushi you will not be dissappointed here and you can make a meal of it.

My wife does not eat sushi, but she was not unhappy at all because as you move around the U you move to many other cold Japanese dishes. In the front, there was Sashimi - several varieties of raw fish without rice. The excellent tuna that I had on rice was here as well, along with salmon, and two other fish. Past the raw fish there were cold, peeled and deveined shrimp. My wife tried these and she said that they were excellent. There is also cold snow crab legs. These were legs and claws and not clusters, but they were large and meaty. Nutcrackers are brought to your table. Move around the U to the other side and you find a long, long row of Japanese cold noodle dishes, Oriental and Japanese prepared salads, and cold vegetables. Do not look for a tradtional salad bar - there isn't one. There was a Japanese chopped salad of lettuce, etc. Again, there were so many unusual salads and noodles that I cannot name or describe them all. I tried a cold peanut noodles and shrimp dish that was long noodles with a sauce and no visible shrimp but the shrimp flavor was in the sauce along with a subtle taste of peanuts. There was some red pepper flakes mixed in here too that gave it a mild zing. I also tried a green thin udon noodle salad in oil that was good too. There were several salads with shitake mushrooms. I tried two - one was a mound of finely shredded vegetable and mushrooms which was good and the other was just the mushrooms with vegetable - also good. There was Tataki Salmon with Cilantro Sauce - that same part cooked/part raw salmon, thinly sliced in the sauce - good. There was a Tataki Beef that I did not try as it did look like raw beef cubes that were marinated. Again, the website menu lists everything that might appear in this section.

I moved on to dumplings and tempura next. My wife was a section ahead of me as she skips the sushi. She went to the Hibachi station as she had the dumplings a dish before. There are four types of dumplings. There are Gyoza dumplings - traditional Japanese dumplings that are triangles of dough filled with chopped meats and seasonings that are pan fried. There were three types of steamed dumplings - the usual pork shumai - chopped pork wrapped in a dough cup, a shrimp dumpling ball - chopped shrimp filling a ball of translucent dough, and crab dumpling - again chopped and filling a dough dumpling. The dumplings were served in steamers. When my wife tasted the Pork Shumai she told me that it was the best one she has ever tasted. I tend to avoid these in Chinese restaurants because they are often over steamed and dense. The ones here were very light and had a delicate taste as well. I really should say that all of the dumplings could have been hotter - they were warm and there was no problem, but I expected hot and not warm.

With the dumplings I added some of the tempuras to my plate. I found two types of shrimp tempura - one that was called shrimp tempura and another that was labeled ebi tempura. Both look alike, but there was a light white sauce on the ebi tempura. I also took a piece of a vegetable tempura that was some type of squash. The tempura was crispy and not greasy. All were good. The vegetable had an interesting texture.

I finished my dumplings and tempura and headed back to the Hibachi Grill as my wife continued to enjoy her Hibachi Chicken. I decided to go with the beef. You go up to the grill and tell the chef what you would like. You have a choice of steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops, and fish. The chef took out a steak and put it on the grill. He asked if I would like to add vegetables and there were mushrooms, onions, and bean sprouts to add to the grill. As the meat cooks he begins to cut it up into small peices along with the vegetables. As it nears completion he added black pepper, soy sauce, and lemon juice. There is also chopped garlic and hot peppers if you would like. He scoops it all into your plate and is ready to cook for the next guest. Next to the Hibachi Grill is a chargrill and another chef is cooking charbroiled shrimp on skewers, vegetables on skewers, and Korean pork chops. I took a shrimp skewer and a vegetable skewer - the pork chops were still on the grill cooking. On my way back to the table I stopped at the hot server and added some noodles with vegetables on my plate. The Hibachi Steak was very good. It was seasoned nicely with no overpowering taste of soy sauce and a light taste of lemon. The noodles were also great. The shrimp on the skewer was good fire grilled shrimp. My wife's Hibachi Chicken was just as good as my Hibachi Steak.

It seems like it would be impossible to eat any more, but I take small portions of most things so that I can taste and enjoy more things. I had to try some of the hot entrees and again there were many unusual things. I tried a crab cake that had thin noodles mixed inside with the crabmeat. One of the best things that I tried was fried codfish that was made in a light crispy batter. It had a wonderful, fresh fish taste and was light and flakey. I tried both beef terriaki and chicken terriacki and both were made with a nice terriaki sauce that was not sweet - very different from the usual that is called terriaki. I tried two things served in shells - one a scallop mixture - very good - and the other a crab shell filled with crabmeat and breadcrumb mixture - good. Japanese Fried Rice was good. There were many other things that I just had no room to try (if I was going to make it to the desserts). Among those were Japanese barbecued chicken, salmon rolls, pork spareribs, Fried Whitefish with Asian sauce, eggplant in a sauce, calamari, oysters rockafeller, and more. There was nothing dissappointing.

Dessert. You must consiously make an effort to remember that there is going to be desserts that you will want and you must pace your eating accordingly. It is easy to get to this point in the meal and realize that you are truly stuffed. BUT - you must have the desserts. The most enticing of the desserts are the crepes made to order. A chef makes crepes on a crepe grill and fills them with your choice of fillings. There is a list at the side with all of the fruit fillings and other fillings. I am certain that you can combine them if you like. This night next to the grill were strawberries, rasberries, pineapple, and apples - all toppings and not fresh fruits. On the list were blueberries but there were none out. I was about to ask and then chocolate caught my eye. Yes, that was the one I was going to try. The chef took the hot crepe and covered it with chocolate sauce and then folded it in half and let it cook a little longer. It was then scooped onto a plate and whipped cream was added on top. Oh my! Yes, I made the right choice. It was wonderful. Have you noticed that I keep describing things as wonderful. I have noticed that too, but that is the word that comes to mind first - and it was...wonderful. I finished that and headed back to see what more there was. There was an assortment of cakes - at first glance they appeared to be the usual "Little Debbie"-style cakes found at all Asian buffets, but they were not. Each was a small square or cube but these were flavors and varieties that you do not usually find. There was a smll cup with Vanilla Flan - nice. A cream puff was filled with real whipped cream and not he usual sugared cream. There were sliced fruit tarts. There was a cup with strawberry yogurt - but this was not supermarket yogurt. There was also an assortment of fresh fruit and melons - watermelon way out of season - along with other melons. There was also soft serve ice cream but not what you might expect. There were two flavors - the usual vanilla and the other green tea ice cream. We both had to try green tea ice cream. It is green. It was very refreshing, not very sweet, but I did not taste the tea. My wife said that she tasted a light tea flavor. It was pleasant and I finished it down to the bottom of the cup.

Everything about the restaurant was good. Everything was clean. The restrooms were clean and very modern. The service was excellent and friendly. Plates were removed from the table immediately. At the buffet servers, everything was labeled and many of the items also had descriptions of what was in them. All of the food was kept fresh in the serving trays. Everything was well tended and staff kept a close eye on the serving dishes to make sure they did not need to be replaced.

There was nothing about this at the restaurant but on their website on their FAQ page they state that they like to limit each table to a maximum of 90 minutes. That is fair and adequate and not surprising with the crowds that this restaurant is known to get. They will make special arrangements beyond this for large parties if you speak with them.

The website also notes that the lunch menu does not include the Hibachi Grill or the Crepes Grill, Crab Legs, Cocktail Shrimp, and "Premium" fish .They do say that there is, however, an equal number of dishes served at lunch and dinner. There is no mention that the weekend dinners are any different from the weeknight dinners.

We are both very happy that we went to Minado. I will again say that there was nothing disappointing about the entire meal and all was... wonderful! This will most likely become our new restaurant to go to for special occasions. At the price, at least for me, this is not an every week or even a once a month restaurant. But we have personal celebrations that we like to go to someplace special. This was special on this night and we look forward to the next time that we will have an "excuse" to go and spend more than $70 on dinner with tax and tip.

The hours of the restaurant are to be noted, as they are closed between lunch and dinner. The hours are Monday - Friday: 11:30am - 2:30pm and Saturday - Sunday: 11:30am - 3:00pm for lunch and dinner hours are Monday - Thursday: 6:00pm - 9:30pm, Friday - Saturday: 5:30pm - 10:00pm, and Sunday: 5:00pm - 9:00pm. The last seating is thirty minutes before closing - and you must be aware that the Hibachi Grill and the Crepe Grill also close thirty minutes before closing. If you go at the end of the evening you may not make it to both the Hibachi Grill and the Crepe Grill.

The New York location of Minado is located at 219 Glen Cove Rd, Carle Place, New York. Their telephone number is 516-294-9541. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page.

I definitely recommend that you try Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet. If all of the locations are like the one in Carle Place, NY you will be as happy as we are.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Schmidt's Sausage House - Columbus, Ohio

I am starting the new year with a new discovery. I first learned about this restaurant on the Travel Channel and when I heard them say "Sausage Buffet" my ears perked up and I quickly took note of the location. Now, as I always do, when I have not personally been to a buffet, I let you know right up front. This one I have seen through the magic of cable television and I have researched what I have been able to find about it. I cannot say that I have tasted the food, but I have heard that the food was excellent.

I am always looking for new buffets and I am especially on the look out for buffets that are serving foods and cuisines that are different from the usual chain , "international", or Asian buffets. Sausage! This restaurant has a SAUSAGE BUFFET!

Schmidt's Sausage House in Columbus, Ohio is in the middle of the German area of the city - an area referred to as "German Village", which it turns out is the largest, privately funded restoration project in the United States. The restaurant is an off-shoot of the company's meat business that specializes in German sausages. Schmidt's Packing Company has been in business since 1886 - yes, that is 1886 making sausage. The restaurant is not only a buffet but a buffet is featured as part of the regular the menu that features both German dishes and sausages. The buffet is called "The Autobahn". If you don't know, the Autobahn in Germany is a road with no speed limits - and like the road, the buffet has no limits as well. Items on the buffet have been served here for over 120 years.

From what I could see of the buffet it is served in hot chafing dishes set up in the restaurant. The buffet offers a variety of German sausages made by Schmidt's including bratwurst, knockwurst, and a special sausage only made by Schmidt's called Bahama Mama. The Bahama Mama is a combination of beef and pork and is spiced with a secret blend of spices which are both tasty and quite spicey. There is also a "mild" Bahama Mama offered. Bratwurst is a pork sausage - much like what you would expect a sausage to be. Knockwurst is a beef sausauge and in my experience has been much like a very large and thick frankfurter. The sausages are served on the buffet cut up into chunks. These sausages have won many local awards.

According to their website, other German dishes are served on the buffet as well along with a variety of side dishes. Dessert is not included on the buffet but those ordering the buffet are given a discounted price on desserts from the menu including the restauant's special feature desert - a half pound cream puff. This cream puff is huge and bursting with cream! You can also get the cream puff with chocolate.

I do not know the price of the buffet. The menu lists prices for entrees from between $10 and $15. They do not list the price of the buffet, nor do they list the price of the cream puffs. Just about everything else on their web menu has a price. In addition to soft drinks, alcohol and micro brews are served. What would German sausage be without a mug of beer?

According to their website there is entertainment at Schmidts too. There is German and American music on select nights and the acts change frequently. They advise calling or checking the website to see who will be playing and when.

The building is historic and the restaurant is located in a restored livery stable. As I said, this is all in the heart of an historic restoration. The restaurant is located at German Village, 240 East Kossuth Street, Columbus, Ohio 43216. Their telephone number is 614-444-6808. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.

I am trying to figure out how I can make one of my trips go detour through Columbus, Ohio so that I can try this buffet. It sounds that good! If you have ever been to Schmidts and had the Autobahn Buffet, please leave a comment with this article and let us all know what you think.

Friday, January 02, 2009


This site has once again chosen the Best Buffet Restaurant of the Year. The buffet that is chosen for this distinct honor is one that surpasses all of the rest in food, quality, presentation, and value. Restaurants are considered on the consistency over repeated visits, the quality of food, the quantity of food, the quality of service, the quality of cleanliness, the friendliness of staff, and the value received for the money paid for a meal. This year I have thought long and hard and consulted with others on the restaurant to select. There have been several that come close, but there is always one that stands out. One word that comes up from those I spoke to is "lavish". Yes, lavish, but so much more of everything to look for in a buffet.

Once again, our best buffet of the year of 2007 is again chosen for 2008 - The Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.

Everyone who I have spoken with agrees that no other buffet in this price range is as large and as lavish as this buffet with a consistency in great food, excellent presentation, and extra fine and friendly service. I sought to find a buffet that is better, but none even come close.

There are a number of articles on this site that describe Shady Maple. What I would like to do here is give you a little history of the restaurant and its owner, before I repeat what I have said before about the layout and the meals.

The roots of the Shady Maple go back to 1962 when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Martin ran a roadside farm stand next to a maple tree in front of their house selling produce. Their daughter married Marvin Weaver, and together, they took over this family business continuing to sell produce. In 1970 they expanded the roadside stand to a small building. Expansion continued over 20 years and the produce stand grew into a grocery store and then a full food market. In 1982, the food market included a cafeteria. Marvin Weaver decided that a smorgasbord restaurant would be an excellent addition to the food market. He was already purchasing the volumes of food and baking bread and pastries for the supermarket that could also be used to supply a restaurant. In 1984 construction began on the original Shady Maple Restaurant building and Shady Maple Smorgasbord opened in 1985. The restaurant seated 300 people and the restaurant filled to overflowing. In four years - 1989 - that building was expanded to seat 500 people. I fondly recall that building - and the ever present long line in that zigzaged through ropes in the lobby and then stretched down a hallway especially built to accommodate the line. You could wait on that line for an hour or more - happily - as you moved along with a goal to a terrific meal at the end. I remember first-timers and tourists complaining about the wait and saying that they hoped it was worth it. Everyone in the know on the line was assure them that it certainly was. I loved the country ambiance of that building. I was there right up to the end at the last week that it was open to move to a new facility on the property behind that started construction in 1999. In September 2000 the new and present building opened. This restaurant seats 1,200 - and there still are lines to get in.

The new facility brings us to the present and what makes Shady Maple stand out from all of the rest of the buffet restauants. It is the largest buffet restauarant perhaps in the world. It is longer than a football field. There are four massive dining areas in addition to smaller dining rooms that can be used either for private parties or the general public. There are also catering dining rooms used for private functions and weddings. Walking into the finely decorated lobby you see huge crystal chandeliers - which carry through into the dining rooms. The lobby has a large fireplace and elegant furniture. This is so very different from any restaruant or buffet in this area that it is entirely unexpected when you enter. The restaurant and the market which is now a super supermarket are now part of a complex and are still owned by Marvin Weaver and his wife, Miriam. Mr. Weaver can often be seen walking around the restaurant - always smiling and greeting his guests.

There are several cashiers in the lobby - each with its own line. (I know a secret about which line to get on for the shortest wait but I don't think that I am going to share it. It has nothing to do with who is working at it or the equipment - as it is no different than any of the other cashiers.) You pay when you enter. Meal prices vary by the night as the menu changes each night of the six day week. Beverages are included in the meal price. Like most other restaurants in this area Shady Maple is not opened on Sundays. The gratuity - actually too small a percentage - is automatically added at the cash register on your bill. You are given a ticket to display on your table to alert the cleaning staff that your table is occupied and you head off either to your table or another line depending on the crowd. The seating lines generally move quickly and when you are seated you are asked if you have ever been there before. If this is your first time, definitely say so because you will be told where everything is that you will not want to miss. You can come to Shady Maple for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner smorgasbord. The restaurant opens at 5:00 am and closes at 8:00 pm. It is one of the few buffets that you can arrive at close to 8 and still be seated and not rushed out (they are probably going to love me for saying that on a night when they would all like to go home).

When you are ready to start eating you go up to the smorgasbord which consists of four grill stations and a long - the length of the restaurant (remember football field) double sided serving bars. You enter from the middle and it appears that if you go in either direction you will find the same things - but this is not the case. There will be many things repeated on both sides from the middle - but there are many different things on each side as well. Always take a walk down each side to see what there is - and keep in mind that these are also double-sided servers. When you leave make an effort to know where your table exactly is - there are many, many similar tables here and it is not uncommon to sit down and then realize that it is not your table - oops!

What are you going to find to eat? What can you think of? You will probably find it or a variation of it. There is every possible way to create a salad. There are many prepared salads. There are six soups and beef chili. What is on the grills depends upon the night of the week. What is on the serving bars changes from day to day. Some of the basics stay day to day - fried chicken, turkey, sliced pork, beef, etc. There are plenty of vegetables. There are often pasta dishes. There are always local specialties of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Each of the four grills is cooking up several things and each different from the other grills - on some nights popular items are found on more than one grill to avoid lines. Steaks on Monday nights are great and very tasty. Seafood is found grilling on Saturday, Friday and Tuesday nights - though Tuesday is the official "seafood night". One of my favorites is Philly Cheesesteaks - these are a treat here, but not served regularly but if you are there when they are on the grill try one - try one with sauce - it was a surprise to me for find the option for tomato sauce on one of these state favorites, but it was good! Do you feel like pizza? There is usually a huge and thick pizza at the side of the middle grill station. One slice is really too much - with everything else you are going to want eat.

You get your own beverages here and there is a very large variety including ice slushies in several flavors. There are specialty coffees, cappuchino, etc. There are sodas from both Coke and Pepsi. There are juices including orange juice. There are Ice Tea, iced mint tea and an iced tea cooler (mix of tea and lemonade - so good!), hot teas, regular coffeee, milk, and just about anything that you can think of as long it is a soft drink.

Dessert? There are plenty of choices and you are going to want more than one. There are cakes, pies, puddings, cookies, pastries, excellent soft serve ice cream, and sugar-free pies that are actually good and contain no sugar alchols (bad for you) or artifical sweetners. This is one restaurant that you have to keep reminding yourself to save some room for dessert.

The service is excellent. Your dishes are cleared promptly and as long as you keep that ticket prominently out on your table your server is not going to clear it away completely and make it ready for the next guest. Scattered along the sides of the dining room are trays of silverware and if you need extra you can easily get it. If you want extra napkins they are next to the beverage area. You are only relying on the dining room staff to clear away your dishes. You are on your own for everything else, but when staff come to your table it is with a smile. Rest rooms are clean and with a fancily decorated anteroom outside the actual facilities room. There are also "family restrooms" large enough for a family to go in together and they are private.

On the lower level of the restaurant is a large gift shop the size of the restaurant. This shop has gift items from furniture to toys to fancy glass decor. You will find both the inexpensive and the high end. I am not talking souveniers of the area, but actual gifts.

As I have said before, this is a destination restaurant. People travel from all over just to come to this buffet. I will often reroute a trip so that I can include Shady Maple. There is a popular television reality show about an adorable family with twins and sextuplets called Jon and Kate Plus Eight. They live close to this area and on one of their first season shows they come to dine at Shady Maple Smorgasbord with the whole family - eight very young children and the parents (and friends). With all of the buffet restauarants in this area, it is Shady Maple that they chose to go to. It seems like everyone in this area knows it. More than once I have been at a Farmers Market and hear someone say, "We are going down to the Shady Maple tonight." At Shady Maple you will find locals, tourists, and Old Order Amish who have arrived in horse and buggy and parked it in special stalls in the parking lot for horses.

I think that you can now see why I could not find anyplace that tops this restaurant for our restaurant of the year. So congratulations to Shady Maple - Best Buffet Restaurant for 2008!

A certificate declaring this fact is being sent to the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. They have been proudly displaying our certificate awarded to them in 2007 in their lobby. When you go there look for the certificate and tell them that you read all about them here!

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.

*History details - Amish Country News, Vol. 19 - Issue 5, September 2008 pg. 4-5