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

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