Friday, July 31, 2009

Back to Dienners - Lancaster, PA

A little less than a year ago I wrote about a nice. little buffet and menu restaurant located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania called Dienners Coutry Restaurant. At the time I raved about this wonderful little restaurant. I had the opportunity to be in this area again on a Friday evening and I knew where I had to go - a trip back to Dienners.

What buffet is well worth a forty-five minute wait? This was is. I went back on the night before the Fourth of July. This areas is hopping with tourists and this restaurant is located on one of the busiest routes through the heart of the tourist area. Yes, there was a crowd to get in - but the crows was not only comprised of tourists but also locals and Old Order Amish and Mennonites as well. Why? As I have said in the past this restaurant is authentic in its cooking of Pennsylvania Ductch food and the older gentlemen and older woman who were cooking in the kitchin and bringing food out to refill the serving trays were both Amish. I need note also that while Dienners is open from Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday as many local restaurants are in this area) the restaurant is only open until 6:00 pm, except on Friday nights when it closes at 8:00 pm.

Six o'clock is a bit early for my dinner. I had not been to Dienners though I have known about it for years because of its early closing hour. With the eight o'clock Friday a new opportunity opened. While the restaurant posts these hours, if you are inside and eatting at closing time no one rushes you out and the buffet tables continue to be refilled.

Now, for the past year I have been thinking about Dienners fried fish. I kept thinking that I had to have this. On the buffet on this Friday night it was there and I was not dissappointed. It was wonderful. I am not sure what make it so special as it is just a small, thick chunks of a white fish battered in a light (not breadcrumb) batter and fried. but to me it is great. I also feel that fried fish is made or broken by the tartar sauce that is available for it and here the tartar sauce, off on the side in a tub to scoop out, has just the right tang, is white in color and not yellow as some are, and is the perfect compliment to the fish. Also available is red cocktail sauce. Needless to say most of my meal was comprised of the fried fish - but, of course, I had to fit in some of the other good entrees and several of the sides. This is one of those buffets that I have to make a consious effort not to overeat. It was difficult.

Over all nothing has changed in the past year including the price Adult dinner is still $10.75. Refill softdrinks are $1.30. The ice tea is great - sweet or unsweet (unsweet i s my preference).

I have got to mention the dessert. In my last article I mentioned the Chocolate Applesauce Cake. This year I tried it. This is a slice your own slice of a full size cake. The cake is chocolate applesauce and you can feel the texture of the applesauce in the cake as you eat it - through the chocolate flavor. On top of the cake is a frosting of soft chocolate cream with a vanilla cream on top of that. These two cream layers are the consistency of whipped cream. It was devine.

As I did before I highly recoonmend Dienners Country Restaurant. There is buffet and menu service and they will allow both to be served at one table. Dienners is located at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). It is next to the big windmill so you cannot miss it. Their phone number is 717-687-9571. There is a website and that is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, July 24, 2009

China Buffet - East Meadow, NY One More Time

In October 2006 and again in June 2007 I wrote about a Chinese buffet restaurant on Long Island in New York called the China Buffet. On my last visit - which was that night in June 2007 - it was not the best of experiences and we have not been back since. The restaurant never gave an impression of confidence that everything was clean - from the dining room to the buffet servers. And there was the overuse of MSG in the food.

We have talked about going back a number of times - as I wrote in the first article they are very close to us. Whenever the discussion would come up we would decide to go someplace else. Recently we decided that we would give it another try - as we are growing tired of the usual Chinese buffet that we have been going to for awhile. On this night, I said let's go there and see. And we did.

I must say right off that my first impression walking through the door and sitting down at the table is that the restaurant is definately cleaner - the dining room at least. The buffet area had some spills on the counters that a diligent restaurant employee would have wiped up right away - no one did. But overall in the two years, they are cleaner than they were - which is a good thing.

The price of the meal is now $11.99 every night for adults and unlimited soda is $1.00. The soda glasses say RC - Royal Crown. This is neither Coke nor Pepsi - not even close. It is fine enough though. The price is one of the lowest for a Chinese buffet in this area for many miles around - if not on the entire Island.

We started with the soup - wonton soup in broth. The wontons are served separately in a steamer next to the broth. There was nothing to add to the soup - no chopped scallions as you usually find for wonton soup at Chinese Buffets. The wontons were very light. The broth, however, was so salty that it was inedible. It tasted like sea water had been used to make the soup - maybe even saltier than that. We both ate the wontons and left the broth in our bowls. I was not encouraged from the start of this meal.

There have been some minor changes in the restaurant over the past two years. This buffet had a large, round Mongolian grill in the rear. In its place now is a small fry grill and a small char grill. I am not sure what the char grill is there for as there was nothing to charbroil. On the sign that says grill is a sign that says Sushi Bar. There always had been some sushi on the buffet - previously located next to the soups and it was there with cold peel and eat shrimp. Now there is a larger area on which Sushi can be spread out to serve. There is a small sign listing a number of different sushi rolls - but all that was out was a vegetable sushi, tuna rolls, and California rolls. I had some concern as what should have been a cold surface that they were sitting on was not cold. I took a few pieces to see how they were. Next to this was a tray with a little ice at the bottom and peel and eat shrimp in the tray. Behind that tray were raw clams on the half shell - also sitting on a little ice (though there was more ice under the clams than there was under the shrimp). I took some shrimp, trying to get some nearer the ice. The sushi, as suspected, was just about room temperature. I like to be very careful when it comes to eating raw fish and like to know that it is kept properly chilled to avoid bacteria. I had my concerns here. The same thing with the shrimp. A few shrimp - those that were right on the ice were cold enough; the rest were room temperature.

Most of the appetizers on the hot buffet were as I have described them in the past. I want to say that the entrees were limited and keep thinking what was missing. The problem is that much of what was out was either something sitting in a lot of oil or something that was made hot and spicy. I rarely have a hard time finding something. I walked around the server twice and had nothing on my plate. I decided to head over to the grill and see what I could put together myself from the mini-Mongolian grill. This option is always a good one when you can't find what you like as you can usually create something good.

When I started thinking about how I was going to start this article the phrase that kept coming to mind was "I wish I was a health inspector." A good start for a poor review, but I said to myself be fair and go slow. But here it is.

At the grill area were the meats and vegetables to place on your dish to put together your creation. The meats were chicken, beef, and pork. As I said in 2006, the meats are supposed to be frozen and kept that way until you take them. They were completely defrosted and sitting in their raw juices - as they were back in 2006. As I was there the grill cook sliced a roll of frozen chicken and a roll of frozen beef and added it to the top of the defrosted meats. I took the frozen meats that did not touch what was on the bottom. As I also said in 2006, there is only one serving tongs to take the meats - no individual tongs for each meat tray. So when someone takes raw chicken - which is naturally full of salmonella - and then the tongs are moved to the beef or pork, those meats are contaminated. Not to mention any allergic reaction that might result if you can't eat chicken but can eat beef, thinking the two have not touched. Or if you don't eat pork for religious reasons and the same tongs that served your chicken have also served someone pork. Oh... this is not good on so many levels. Now, moving on to the vegetables. The set up is three trays of items in a row and three rows of items. And there was only one serving tongs per row. So again, one tongs cross-contaminates three items should there be a problem with any one of those items. Now, you say, that all of those items go on your plate and then onto the hot grill all mixed together. Well, maybe, but there is supposed to be one serving piece per tray. Ah, if I could only hand out summonses. They would have gotten several for this and the temperature of the sushi and shrimp.

Did I not eat anything? No, I managed to create a plate at the grill despite the tongs. There were no real grill sauces like you usually find at these things. There was some soy sauce in a tray (at least I think it was soy sauce) and I saw some garlic and hot red peppers. They were mixed in with the cocktail sauce for the shrimp and the condiments so it was hard to figure what really was intended to go on the grill dishes. It was ok. I would have cooked the chicken longer as what I took was really frozen but it was just cooked through.

I added to my plate what the sign said were crabs in ginger sauce. What this was were small parts of snow crab tops, some with a small part of the leg still attached woked in ginger sauce. There was barely any crab meat to pull from these and the sauce on the shell was not as good as expected, so even sucking them for taste did not work.

I went back around after this to see if there was anything else I might take. I did take some sauteed string beans and added to that some sauteed mushrooms and the beef from the beef and peppers. Gone were the whole fish, shrimp with lobster sauce, and most of the dumplings that I remembered from the visits past. There were tasty pan fried pork dumplings and steamed dim sum which had been sitting too long in the steamer. Crab Rangoon - a triangle of dough filled with crab and cream cheese and deep fried were good - but the filling was sweeter than it should be - but even so it was tasty.

Do I have anything really good to say? Wait, I have not gotten to desert yet. Dessert was a pleasant surprise. There were real restaurant made desserts and not the commercial "Little Debbie"- type cakes that seem to be the staple now in most Asian buffet restaurants. There was a chocolate sheet cake - obviously baked on premises. There was no icing but it was nice moist chocolate cake. There was something else on a tray that was interesting looking and I took one. This was what seemed to be a fried or baked egg custard. It had the shape of a squashed cupcake - but not cake at all but a solid custard. It was exceptionally good - moist with oil on the outside, soft but solid on the inside with the taste of baked custard and just sweet enough to please. This was the best part of the whole meal and I went back for a second one, which was as good as the first.

So - I was hoping for better. I was hoping for a close by Chinese buffet that I would want to go back to. I am going to put this one to the side of my list of buffets I want to go back to and wait maybe another two years to see if it gets any better.

Despite the good dessert, pass this one by - more for the health concerns than for the food (though they really are connected).

The China Buffet is located at 394 Merrick Ave, East Meadow, New York and the phone number is (516) 489-2525.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sex on the Buffet

In Germany prostitution is legal. The brothels across Germany have been suffering in the economic downturn as most other businesses are across the globe. One clever brothel owner decided that the way to men's hearts is through their stomachs.

I have seen many things offered at buffets but I have never seen sex as one of the items on the buffet tables. The Planet Pussy Clubs in Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Wuppertal, Germany have done just that. For one price of 70 Euros until 4 pm and then 100 Euros after 8 pm, one can have all the food one cares to eat, all the drink (alcohol included) ones cares to drink, and all the sex one cares to have. And this is not just for the men - women are free when accompanied by their husbands! If you thought that lobster was a draw at buffets, this one has got to top all of the buffets that we have come across.

This unique buffet has created quite a bit of media attention. The club manager is quoted as saying, "You've got to come up with creative solutions these days. Our offer might sound like it's too good to be true, but it's real. You can eat as much as you want, drink as much as you want and have as much sex as you want."

Now, needless to say, I have not been to either of these "buffets". But this is so different I just had to bring it to our readers attention. The website for the clubs has details of what is included - but all in German, of course. I do not speak German but can recognize some words and other words are in English. In addition to the food, drink, and sex there is entertainment as well that not only includes live sex shows but throws in "premier sport tv" as well. The sex that is all-inclusive, is all inclusive and offers just about anything that you can think of - yes, even in German most of this is easy to figure out. There is also a "wellness oasis" that includes a sauna - and all of this is included in the pay one price offer.

A fourth club located in Berlin just seems to offer all you can eat pizza rather than a whole buffet selection, but everything else is included. Interestingly, the Berlin club is the club identified in several news stories including one in Time Magazine.

If you would like to see this for yourself, and you are not able to drop everything right now and get on a plane to Germany, you can visit the website - WARNING! this is an adult oriented website - at If you are so inclined you can get the addresses of the two clubs there.

Now, back to our usually family oriented articles.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Second Visit to Europa Buffet

In March of this year I wrote an article about a wonderful buffet find in North Brunswick, New Jersey. Since then I have been looking forward to going back again and business happily took us back near enough to travel the extra twenty minutes out of our way to have dinner in this great restaurant. If I can I always like to visit a new buffet find at least twice so that I can report to you all that what I found on my first visit is consistent over time. Europa Buffet did not disappoint the second time around.

I am not going to repeat the layout or details of things that were exactly the same. You can read the first article here and learn all about that. What I will tell you about now are the differences that I found dining there on a different night of the week. My first visit had been on a Friday night which according to the buffet's website is Polish Night. My second visit is on a Saturday night - which is said to be Italian Night. Overall, there were still some Eastern European/Polish dishes included on the buffet on Saturday night - the same as they were on Friday night, but more about that later.

This visit found the restaurant a bit busier than it had been on that cold Friday night in the early Fall when I went there last. I would have expected more people to be here on a Saturday night though there were consistently seven or more tables full through the time we were dining. Everyone but one table were having the buffet. One table that came in toward the end of our meal was ordering off the menu - but it seemed that the salad bar and the drink area were part of their meal (whether they were paying extra for this I do not know). With the buffet you get everything - buffet and soft drinks for $15.99. No coupons are accepted on Saturday night, but the coupons on the website are good for all other nights. I actually hoped to find more people there - perhaps a sign that people read my first article and started filling this gem. That would be great for the people who own and run this restaurant.

As I said in my first article everything in this restaurant is done by two people - the husband and wife who own the restaurant. A quick glance through the kitchen door revealed another man. So in total this is a three person operation and as I understand it all of the cooking is done by the husband and wife. She also takes care of the cash register, greeting and seating guests, making sure the buffet server is full, and clearing away plates from everyone's tables. She also takes your order should you want to order from the menu.

We started again with soup and there were the same two soups that were served on our first visit - chicken noodle and seafood bisque. They were as good as we remembered them to be. The seafood bisque was full of fish - I would say much of it was salmon but there were other seafood in there as well. I am not a big fan of cooked salmon but this was excellent.

The salad bar was just as it had been with one item that had not been there that Friday night. It was a spagetti pasta salad. It was cold spagetti in an oil based dressing and to me there was a taste of anchovy. There is an Italian dish rarely served in general American Italian restaurants that is spagetti or linguine sauteed with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. This cold pasta salad reminded me very much of the taste of that dish. It was very good.

The entrees and side dishes on the hot buffet featured a variety of food some Italian and, as I already said, some Eastern European. Still there were the great potato and onion perogies served next to a cold serving dish of sour cream to add to your liking. There, again, were chicken francaise, sauteed and grilled vegetables, pork spare ribs in barbecue sauce, penne with vodka sauce, kielbasa and fried white fish. This time the fried white fish was cut and fried in small pieces - not the almost whole fish pieces that were here on our first visit. I know that this buffet has read my first article (they now link us to their site for all to read my review). Perhaps my suggestion in that article that the portions of this fish were served too large resulted in this great change. This time I tried the fried whitefish and it was great.

There was more but I will get to that in a moment. As the last time there is a small carving station and this time there was a roast beef to carve and serve yourself, with au jus gravy in a hot server next to the meat. The last time we were here there was a loin of pork roast at the carving board.

Back to the hot foods - I am going to tell you what was not there on this night that we had the first time and then I will tell you what replaced it. Variety is the spice of life and it is good that the menu on the buffet here is varied. In fact, there were regulars here that as they went around the buffet were vocally noting what was different from other nights - and just as delighted with what they found. Gone was the poached fish, the cheese blintzes, the Swedish meatballs, the mashed potatoes (though a sign on the buffet top glass said mashed potatoes), and the stuffed cabbage. Taking the place of these dishes were spagetti alfredo, sliced roast pork, Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, and rice pilaf. Each of these new found dishes were as good as those that they replaced (though I did miss those wonderful Swedish meatballs that I went on about in my first article). The Italian meatballs were small round meatballs that were about the same size of the Swedish meatballs but they were seasoned differently - Italian - and the tomato sauce that they were in was just right.

I only briefly mentioned the ribs in my first article. I paid a little more attention to them on this night and found them to be nicely meaty without a lot of fat in a pleasant tomato based barbecue sauce. They were fall off the bone tender and good. These are small pieces of ribs served in the sauce. I enjoyed the ribs, but I focused my meal - after tasting everything - more on the European dishes that one does not find at other buffets.

This time I tasted a little of everything - and everything was excellent - as I expected it would be. The problem with eating at a buffet where everything is SO GOOD is that you want to eat more and that was definately happening on this night. I have learned not to stuff myself beyond comfort and I had to hold myself back and not go up for more perogies, which I wanted so much to do. But I am glad that I left a little room because I came upon a dessert that was wonderful.

We went up to the dessert corner and in addition to the variety of pastries and cakes that were here on our first visit there was a tray this night of what definately was Tiramisu. Perhaps the cake I saw and thought was this on our first visit was another cake. This was it. I have never had Tiramisu before. Now I know what all of the fuss is about. It was equisite! It is a yellow cream - very creamy and light with two thin layers of yellow cake inside the cream - and on top a baked, dark brown crust. Often in Italian desserts there is a taste of cheese or liquour. There was none here - which is good. This was just so light and creamy. I stopped myself from getting a second piece because I knew, despite how light it was, it would put me over the top of how much I could eat.

The service, as it was on the first visit, was exceptional. The restaurant is spotless. Every dish is cleared away quickly. As tables are emptied they are washed and sanitized and set for the next guests. The buffet is well tended. Nothing goes empty for any longer than it takes to carry out a new tray of hot food to refill it. And all of this done by these same two people - and mostly by the very nice lady who is so well handling the whole dining room on her own!

There seemed to be several regulars dining here this evening. I am happy that there is a small following. I want to see this buffet get more business. These people deserve it for their efforts! I said this in my first article about Europa Buffet - this buffet is looking more and more to becoming our Best Buffet Restauant of 2009. Watch this site in early January 2010 to find out!

Again, as I recommended in March- you must go to Europa Buffet. I highly recommend it. This is worth a trip. The food - all of the food - is way beyond what you will get in most other buffets. Some say "home cooking" - this is really and truly European home cooking. Everything is fresh. Everything is as you would expect in what are considered "fine dining restaurants". This is so much more than a cut above the usual mass-cooked buffet food that is served at so many other buffets.

Buffet Europa is located at 1000 Arron Road, North Brunswick, New Jersey 08902. Their telephone number is 732-940-1122. They do have a website and the link is listed at the side of this page. Remember that they close at 9:00 pm and they are not opened on Sundays (unless you want to book the whole restaurant for a party).

Friday, July 03, 2009

Another Old Country Buffet - What a difference!

About twenty or more miles from me is another Old Country Buffet. We have been to this other location only once years ago, because it always seemed silly to make the trip when there is an OCB just a short way from our home. We have often talked about just going out there and finding out if the problems that we often find with Old Country Buffet is because of the particular one that we frequent or that which is general to all Old Country Buffets. Now, we have been to other Old Country Buffets in several other states over the years - but not since I have been writing this site. These other OCBs seemed in memory to be so much better than our local restaurant. On a recent holiday, we decided to make the trip east and find out what the other Old Country Buffet here is like.

The location that we visited is in Bay Shore, New York on Long Island. The restaurant is attached to a large, indoor shopping mall. The entrance to the restaurant is outside the mall. When we arrived for dinner there was a carnival going on just outside the restaurant in the parking lot. This really has nothing to do with the restaurant but I was interested to see how the crowds from the carnival plus the holiday shoppers from the mall would effect the operation, etc. of the restaurant. Going inside, the entrance and the layout of the restaurant was a bit different from the OCB that I usually go to. While this reataurant is slightly smaller in size, it appears much more open and bright. At the cash register the young lady took our money and asked if we had any coupons to redeem. No one ever asked me if I had coupons at the other OCB. We went into the dining room which was quite busy.

It was immediately obvious that this restaurant is much, much cleaner over all than the OCB in Levittown, NY. Remember that this is dinner on a holiday night. There are a number of people dining here this night as there had been all day. The floors were CLEAN. The open tables were all cleared and clean. Wow!

We started with soup and had the usual chicken noodle soup - and guess what? There were noodles in the chicken noodle soup. Why is that a surprise? Because in our usual OCB there is chicken noodle soup without noodles on a regular basis. The soup also was not salty. Generally, the chicken noodle soup that is served at that other OCB is so salty that it is barely palitable.

We went on to the salad bar and found that here it is spread across one whole double buffet server and half of another. There were several lettuce choices., prepared Ceasar salad that actually had dressing on it, and several items that we have not seen on that other OCB's salad bar.

When we returned to our table with our salads, the soup bowls were gone. How different! This remained throughout our meal. No dishes stacking up on the tables here!

Moving on to the entrees would be the real test. Would empty trays be refilled? Would main items be replaced with rolls? Would it be possible to communicate with the staff? Let me start with the communication question. The staff who operate the buffet tables and the carving station at that other OCB do not speak English. They all seem very nice and pleasant, but there is no way to communicate with them - they have no idea what you are asking or what you need. (Let's just say that I make a hopefull assumption that this is not intentional to ignor anyone's request.) Here at the Bay Shore OCB everyone clearly spoke and understood English.

Were empty trays refilled? Absolutely. And they were refilled with what they started out to be. Sausages ran out and in a few minutes new sausages came out. Chicken terriaki ran out - and it too was brought back out in a proper time frame. Everything went just as is expected.

There was a special holiday "picnic" addition to the menu - hot dogs and cheeseburgers. They were out on a half hot/half cold table next to the condiments which were nicely spread out, clean all around, and easy to reach. I have had hotdogs at the other OCB when they have been served at lunch. They were not as good as these.

Overall, the food was good. I had hoped that this OCB had an open grill area on the buffet floor. It did not. I have been told that at OCB's that do steak is grilled to order. Here they have the same set up as the OCB that we usually go to - a hot tray at the carving area where the person who carves takes the steaks out one at a time and cuts pieces off as people come up and ask for steak. The problem with this - as I have said before - is that the steak continues to cook in that hot tray and in a short time all steaks inside become well done. Unfortunately, here it was no different. What was different was that I was given - both times that I asked for steak - a small whole steak - and not the two inch square that I have gotten before. Yes, it was over done. If you like well done steak you would be very happy. The second time that I went up for steak there was no one at the carving station. I decided to stand there and see what would happen. At that other OCB you could stand there for an hour and never be noticed by staff. After a moment or two the manager walked passed and saw that I was standing there. He did not come over or say anything to me - he really should have acknowledge me to say that he could get the person who should be there. He did go right into the kitchen seeming to be looking for that person. A few minutes later he game out - saw I was still there and still no employee and went back into the kitchen again. This happened four times. The gentleman who should have been at the carving station did come back and served me a steak. Now, if I were the manager, after the second time I would have come over myself and start serving the customers. I did not wait forever - so as it was, it was, it was considerably better.

Other points about the food here. The pizza was brought out moist and with the cheese nicely melted. This was not the overcooked pizza that I am used to seeing and need to add tomato sauce to in order to make it moist enough to eat. My wife likes the chicken terriaki that is part of new additions that have appeared recently. The pieces were nice, large pieces of chicken and not the small bits that are served at that other OCB. Actually, these were much more like the pieces served in the same dish at the Ryans that we visited recently.

The restaurant went up twenty points in my esteem when I witnessed the following. At the top of the stack of clean dishes there was a dish covered in salad dressing. The dishes are stacked face down and this was across the exposed bottom of the plate. A customer came past and went right over to one of the young ladies tending the buffet area. The woman told her that there was a dirty plate on the stack. The employee stopped what she was doing, said, "oh, yes!", went to the stack of plates and immediately removed the dirty plate and took it away. Of course, you would say! Well, at that other OCB I have witnessed similar and when told of a problem the employees have starred at the customer and walked in the other direction. That dirty plate would have remained there all night.

Dinner at this Old Country Buffet was very enjoyable. We had a very nice dinner and a very nice time. I must say that all of my negative experiences at Old Country Buffet are truly the cause of the one OCB that I live near. How sad that this one really bad "apple" in the chain has to be near me. How sad that it is allowed to continue this way at all! When I wrote that the Levittown, NY OCB is the worst OCB in the country I was right on the button!

If you are on Long Island in New York and you want to go to Old Country Buffet, forget Levittown and make the trip east to the Bay Shore Old Country Buffet. It is located at 1701 Sunrise Highway, Bay Shore, NY 11706. The phone number is (631) 969-3943. One thing to know - this OCB has shorter hours than many. It closes on Monday to Thursday and Sunday at 8:30 pm instead of 9:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. For the summer these hours are extended from 8:30 to 9:00 and from 9:00 to 10:00 respectively. Perhaps the times coincide with the mall hours, but since there is no entrance from inside the mall, this should not make a difference.

Anyway, when I want to go to Old Country Buffet and I have the time and the gas to make the drive, this is the OCB that I am going to!