Friday, May 29, 2009

Mountain Gate Family Restaurant - Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

I first reviewed The Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in April 2006 and I wrote about a special highlight of this buffet again in 2007. Two years later I went back to both enjoy this small treasure and to see if it has maintained all that I remember.

There are two locations of this restaurant - one in Thurmont which is actually right at the foot of the mountain that Camp David, the President's retreat home in Pennsylvania - and the other in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania which is just north of the Maryland border in south central Pennsylvania. I would love to get to the Thurmont location to see how that matches up but I must wait until I get close to that area. This restaurant that I am reviewing is the Waynesboro restaurant.

If you do a Google search for this restaurant besides my reviews you are going to find some positive and some negative reviews - the reviews are left for both locations so there is no way to tell if this is the location they are commenting on. I must say that I do disagree with negative reviews that have been left on other sites. One of the most consistent things mentioned - for and against - is the decor and I commented on it myself in my first review. This is a Christian restaurant - not in any way that you are treated but in how the restaurant is decorated. No one is preaching while you dine. If you have a problem with a Cross on the wall in the dining room - and this is in each of the two dining rooms - then don't come here. It does not bother me. It seems to bother some people.

This restaurant is basically in the middle of nowhere. It is off the main north/south route 81 about eight miles to the east. You travel on a nice road that runs through large towns and small towns, past fast food, farms, homes, and shopping centers. It seems like you are driving forever and then you come upon the restaurant. Mountains loom in the front of you as you reach the restaurant.

Since my first visit in 2006 the price has gone up to $12.99 on a Saturday night and it seems that the hours have been shortened to close at 9 instead of 10 as the restaurant dining rooms were starting to be cleaned at 9 and but the doors were all still open so they may have just been preparing for a limited seating area in one of the two dining rooms which had dinners in them while we were there. Some people who have written about this restaurant on other sites call it expensive. The $12.99 included unlimited soft drinks - Pepsi products and excellent fresh brewed ice tea. The chain buffets are just as much. Few if any of the independent buffets are that low on a Saturday night. I cannot agree with anyone calling the Mountain Gate expensive.

The buffet serving area takes up half a room but is actually small in comparison to many buffets. THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT THERE IS NOT ENOUGH OFFERED TO EAT. There is plenty. The food here - though the restaurant is a distance from the main Pennsylvania Dutch region is Pennsylvania Dutch and this is not tourist Pennsylvania Dutch but food as it had been at the Lancaster restaurants many years back before that area became as commercialized as it is now.

The room layout has not changed in the past two years so I refer you to my article of April 30, 2006 to read about that. I will describe the food again as there were some interesting variations there on this night. There is an extensive salad bar - it fills a whole wall - and it has everything that you would want to create a salad and it has a nice variety of prepared salads - many local to this area such as cucumbers in milk sauce and a delicious ham salad. There were two soups - Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Corn Soup and Crab Soup. The Chicken Corn soup was full of corn, shredded chicken, and small dumplings that are called rivels in this region. The crab soup had a good crab taste and was full of vegetables, barley, shreds of crab visible in the soup, and it was seasoned with Maryland Old Bay seasoning. This is the homemade original of what one of the new Campbell's Choice soups is trying to be but the canned version is over spiced and burns the mouth with its seasoning. This restaurant's crab soup had a nicely, mild taste of Old Bay. (In Maryland when you order crabs Old Bay is poured in quantities over the crustaceans to bury them.) I tried both soups offered here this night and was very pleased with each.

There are three meats being carved at a heated carving station. There was turkey, ham, and roast beef. At 8:00 when there were no longer many people left in the restaurant the last slice of ham was sliced from what was out. When I came back for more food a new half a ham was out and ready to be sliced. Everything was continually refilled as needed. There were a number of other meats, side dishes, and vegetables on the hot buffet server. There was very good fried chicken. There was a dish of chicken and mushrooms in a sauce. There was a crab and mixed seafood dish in a tomato base. There was Pork and Sauerkraut - a PA Dutch special dish that is shredded pork cooked in sauerkraut. This dish is often very vinegar based in taste. Here it was milder and much more of delight to enjoy. Another PA Dutch dish that is not uncommon at buffets in this area is called Chicken Bot Bie - chickens cooked in a thick broth with dumplings, potatoes, and carrots. This was on the buffet at Mountain Gate the first time that I had dined there. This night there was a variation made with small shreds of beef. I had never seen this ever before. It was good and very different.

Side dishes were plentiful. There was a nice assortment of vegetables including kernel corn, peas, beats, and green beans with ham. Green beans with ham is another of the "old-style" PA Dutch dishes - not often found any more at restaurants. Green string beans are cooked with chunks of ham until the fat of the ham flavors the beans. It is served with the chunks of ham and I really enjoyed this here - not having had it for a long time. There were small fried apple fritters served with powdered sugar on top. There was macaroni and cheese with a cheese crust and orange and white cheese so thick that it pulled as you scooped a serving from the tray. This was one of the best that I have had. There was homemade mashed potatoes and candied yams. There was stuffing but this was unlike what you would generally find at PA Dutch restaurants. It was more traditional bread cube stuffing than it was PA Dutch Filling - which is more of a stuffing pudding of either bread or potatoes. The stuffing was fine but not as special as the rest of the dishes.

Every thing was tasty - everything was good. This is basic, well-prepared farm food seasoned for local tastes.

Now, I have written about the dessert here twice before. This is the buffet with the BEST dessert bar of any restaurant that I have ever encountered. All home baked and fresh made. What do they have you ask? Everything! Every pie you can imagine, cakes, fruit, puddings, prepared desserts - all there out for the taking and taking - plus this restaurant is known for its ice cream and there are many many flavors. Your waitress will offer you ice cream when you are ready for dessert and list off the flavors from the top of her head. I tried something that I have not had before - it may be common to some - lemon pudding. It was very refreshing and this had been an uncommonly hot day with record breaking heat. It was nicer than the center of lemon meringue pie (which you could also have had in the assortment of pies). There were fruit pies, cream pies, local PA Dutch pies, Reese's pie, red velvet cake, coconut cake, and on and on. The dessert bar is worth the price of the dinner.

Service was excellent. My ice tea glass was continually full. Dishes were cleared away regularly. The restaurant is very clean (despite what someone wrote on one of those review sites). It was perfectly clean on each of my three visits since 2006! Restrooms are well maintained and towards the end of the night were still spotless. All of the staff were very friendly.

This is another of the hidden treasures of buffets that I have been coming across. This is not one that many will get to because of its remote location but if you are driving across Pennsylvania or are driving through the north/south center of Maryland on I81 this is a place to try.

The restaurant is located on Route 16 east of Rt. I81 at 10530 Buchanan Trail Road in Waynesboro, PA. There is no website. The phone number is 717-765-6772.

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