Friday, April 24, 2009

Like a Visit with a Friend - Yoders

The snow is finally gone - we hope - and I am able to start traveling again. At this time of the year it is annual trip to Lancaster, PA. Lancaster as you will know if you are a regular reader of this site should be called the Buffet Capital of the US There are more buffet restaurants in Lancaster than any place else that I know of and I am not referring to chain buffets but independently owned buffets. There is a share of the chains as well - OCB, CiCis, but what you will find here are many, many buffets as part of everything from menu restaurants, buffet only restaurants, and buffets connected to supermarkets.

When I am coming to this area I have to decide which buffets I am going to. I wish I had this choice all of the time. One that I make sure is included in every trip is Yoders.

I have written about Yoders before and there are one or two articles that describe the buffet in detail. Search the archives of this site and you will be able to read those articles. This is one buffet that has come very close to being selected Buffet Restaurant of the Year. I will not go into my reasons why it has not YET been selected, but rest assurred it is one of the best.

Yoders is one of the buffets that is connected to a supermarket. This seems to be a buffet phenomenon of this area - as there are several buffets here that are connected to supermarkets. Coming to Yoders for me is like a visit with a friend. You can't wait to get there and you hate to leave.

This trip brought me to Yoders on a Thursday night. I have written about Yoders on Saturday night and on Friday night. Thursday is not one of the theme menu nights. Monday is barbecue. Wednesday is Italian. Friday and, now, Saturday night is Land and Sea. Saturday had been Dutch Treats night in the past - as I described in one of my articles. Sadly, that has now changed to duplicate Friday's seafood offerings.

This particular Thursday we were offered a large variety of dishes both at the buffet servers and at the grill. I always start with soup and the soups on this night were Cream of Potato and Red Clam Chowder. I decided to have the clam chowder and I was delighted with what I choose. I live in an area where every diner serves Manhattan (Red) clam chowder every night on the menu. In some areas the consistent soup on the menu is chili - in New York and on Long Island it is Manhattan clam chowder. So I know clam chowder. It is generally highly seasoned with herbs and has a tang to its thin soup with chunks of potatoes, tomatoes, and lumps of clams. Here at Yoders the clam chowder was pleasantly different. The soup base was a thick tomato soup. In the soup were the usual chunks of tomatoes and small cubes of potatoes With that there was a good quantity of rice and the clams, though probably from a can where finely chopped. The test was mild and good. The soup was not over-seasoned and that clam chowder twang was nicely absent. I enjoyed my cup of soup and gave some serious thought to going back for another cup.

There were many good things to come and I resisted that urge for more soup and went on to the rest of the meal. Over at the grill there were two chefs preparing liver and onions, shrimp stir fry, grilled sweet onion chicken, grilled blue fish, and slicing a loin of roast pork. At the buffet server there was excellent fried chicken - here called "broasted", a process that essentially creates fried chicken that is nicely moist while maintaining a crispy crust. Of course, that is not all! There were small meatballs in a seasoned cream sauce that were called Danish meatballs instead of Swedish meatballs. These were more seasoned than Swedish meatballs that I have had before. There was stuffed cabbage - large rolls of cabbage stuffed with rice with chopped meat in tomato sauce. There were ham balls - meatballs made with ham meat in a sweet sauce. There was broiled haddock. There was broiled chicken. There was turkey in gravy - yes, the turkey was served in the turkey gravy. They also had chicken ala king served next to rice and there was turkey barbecue with rolls next to the serving tray to create your own barbecue sandwich.

Side dishes are just as interesting. One of the things that I have mentioned here before is the baked oatmeal, This is my wife's favorite thing here. She has looked for recipes and has not found one that creates the dry-like oatmeal pudding that is served here. She has only been able to find recipes called baked oatmeal that make solid oatmeal bars. It is much like a grain dish here. This night also offered baked corn pudding - a custard like pudding filled with corn. There was also Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling - a stuffing made with potatoes. Of course, a staple in this area is buttered noodles and they were there as well. Macaroni and cheese is real baked macaroni and cheese. It has a thick crust on top and is nicely mild and gooey inside. Mashed potatoes were nice and creamy and if these came from a mix it is a real good mix. I suspect that these are made from fresh potatoes. Another common vegetable found at buffets here is stewed tomatoes and these were not too sweet as stewed tomatoes can be.

Lots to eat! One of the problems when you are with friends that you don't see often is that you overindulge, wanting the visit to keep going. This is easy to do at this buffet. I try not to over do it at buffets, and as I get older, I recognize that I cannot eat as much as I once did in my younger days. It is a conscious effort here not to do that. On this trip I probably did - and I have three more nights of buffet meals to go before we head home.

And then there is dessert. One full double buffet server of puddings and fruits, a counter of cakes, a revolving case full of pies, and a soft-serve ice cream machine - with sundae toppings. By dessert I kept control with a nice piece of marbled sheet cake - likely from the supermarket bakery and a small bowl of egg custard.

Service as always is good and the staff are very friendly. Dirty dishes are taken from the table quickly and drink refills were offered.

This is a local restaurant and you will often find yourself dining next to an Amish family. There is a supermarket in the same building and people come to dine and then go off to shop. As I have written before, there is nothing fancy here - it is all fast food type booths filling the restaurant. In the rear there are dining rooms that will be opened for guests that will not fit in a small booth for four. It is not about the ambiance here but it is all about the food. That is not to say that the dining room is very pleasant and pleasingly decorated. When you visit a friend it is not important how fancy their home is but the time that you spend with your friend.

If you are in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania you need to go to Yoders - along with all of the other great buffets here that I have told you all to try in Lancaster.

There is a website for Yoders listed at the side of this article. The restaurant is located at Yoder's Supermarket or perhaps, more properly, Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chinese Spare Ribs

When I eat at a new Chinese or Asian buffet I look to see how the spare ribs are prepared. Chinese spareribs are one of the comfort foods from a youth of Chinese restaurant meals with the family. In the days when every Chinese restaurant served family-style meals by selecting one from column A and one from column B for two and increasing the number of selections from a column by the number of people that you were ordering for. Spareribs were generally a column A item - which consisted of the "lesser" dishes. Selecting spareribs as a choice resulted in a small order of ribs brought to the table - less than half a rack and perhaps, enough for one or two ribs per person of a family of four. Ordering spareribs instead of one of the entree dishes in column A - perhaps lo mein or chow mein - meant foregoing a greater quantity of food to share. In my family, spareribs were a rare selection. The result at our tables when we had spareribs - and at many surrounding tables that were indulging in this treat - was the knawing and sucking away of every bit of meat on the bones and relishing each morsal. At the time - back in the day - these were the only ribs that we knew in the Northeast USA. Barbecue, as it is known today, was not wide-spread out of the regions that it originated. Barbecuing to us was getting out the round, flat grill on a stand on wheels in the backyard, pouring in the charcoal, soaking it in enough started fluid to cause a huge burst of flame when a match was thrown in and then charing meat on the rails of the grill. In other parts of the country folks were slow smoking meats and creating the barbecue that we know now all over - but not in the Northeast (and probably several other parts of the country).

Chinese spareribs are different from barbecue spareribs. They are not slow cooked but rather cooked quickly under a high heat in a broiler. They are generally cut into individual ribs before serving and the meat on the ribs remains firmly attached to the bones. Barbecue ribs are cooked with a low heat in a smoker for many hours - wet basted or dry rubbed (or a combination of both) with seasonings. The ribs when done right have meat that just falls away from the bones. The flavors and eating experience between Chinese ribs and "real" barbecue ribs are vastly different.

Most Chinese buffets - for some reason - diverted from the traditional ribs that were (and perhaps still are - I have not been to a menu Chinese restaurant for many years) cooked dry and served for you to add your own condiment choice of hot mustard or sweet duck sauce and now want to serve them thickly coated in a syrupy red, overly sweet sauce. They are then placed into a serving pan full of more of this red syrup. To my taste these are too sweet and far from the Chinese ribs that I loved growing up. This recipe for ribs is almost universal at Chinese buffets lately. I had an opportunity once to see how this sauce is created. It comes from a large plastic jug that was labeled red sugar sauce. It has the consistence of thin fruit juice and looks like thin fruit punch. It is simply poured into a wok to thicken into the syrup that then covers the spareribs or pork chunks which when served will be called boneless ribs.

So, as I started, I am always looking at Chinese buffets to see those wonderful, traditional Chinese spareribs of my youth. I have found them at one restaurant - and happily, it is one that is somewhat local to me. If you live on or near Long Island, New York or you are passing close by while traveling and you want to find the BEST Chinese spareribs - traditionally cooked Chinese spareribs then you have to go to the Good Taste Buffet in Commack, New York.

I have written about the good food at the appropraitely named, Good Taste Buffet before. Do a search of the archives of this site to read the articles about the restaurant. I have mentioned the ribs before but I want to sing their praises now. In some Chinese buffets people rush up to the buffet servers when a new tray of crab legs or lobster is brought out. At the Good Taste Buffet there is a rush to the buffet server when a new tray of spare ribs is brought out - and this restaurant does a good job in keeping up with the demand. The ribs come out sizzling, the fat on the top of the rib cooked away to a leave a tasty top layer of slightly charred meat that is more charred at the bottom under the bone. The look, smell, and taste exactly as those ribs of those Chinese restaurants of my youth. The meat is thick over the bone with a wedge of meat at the front. Other than the moisture of the meat they are dry - no sauce. There is plenty of duck sauce or hot mustard at the condiment area to take and dip them in - if you need to make them sweet or spicy hot. They really do not need anything on them. They taste great all on thier own. As diners at the restaurant pick through the largest and best ribs to take from the serving tray what is generally left are the ribs that are well charred and if you don't mind crunching the well-cooked, blackened meat from the bones these are good too.

This restaurant is actually some distance from my home but business on occassion take us to this area and I always try to work out my stops for the day to end near enough to this restaurant for dinner time. Despite all of the other good things served at this buffet, my main reason to go is for these spareribs and most of my meal consists of eating ribs. Once there I am tempted by the other dishes, but when I see those ribs - and see a fresh tray of ribs brought out I have got to have them.

I have considered establishing a special Best Buffet Ribs award to be given from this site - but this restaurant would be the only one to get it. No one makes better Chinese spareribs at a buffet - that I have found so far, and I have tried Chinese buffets up and down the East Coast. I have not really found good real barbecue ribs at a buffet that were really good or compared closely to barbecue from a real barbecue menu restaurant. Long ago, OCB had a summer feature with baby back ribs that were really good - but those are gone and seemingly lost forever. The newest "St. Louis" ribs at OCB are not that good - with no sauce, a just a seasoned pork roast taste and obviously cooked in an oven.

Some people may like ribs covered in thick, gooey, melted, red colored sugar. I just pass those by. Around here, if I get a taste for ribs it is off to Good Taste Buffet.

Good Taste Buffet is located at 200 Jericho Turnpike, Commack, New York and the phone number is 631-543-9583. There is no website.

If you know of another buffet that serves traditional Chinese ribs - as I have described here without the gooey red sauce or coating - please leave a comment and tell us where it is. If you know a buffet that serves good barbecue please leave a comment and tell us about it and where it is too. No matter where they are, share them with us!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ryans' Web Site

It has been a while since I have taken a look at Ryans web site. I went over to see what it has become since the total absorption by Buffets, Inc. For those who do not know - though if you are a regular reader here you certainly do know - that the top buffet chain - Ryans was bought out about two years ago by Buffets, Inc., the owner of Old Country Buffet - a now so top buffet chain. Since then Buffets, Inc. has done everything it can to bring Ryans DOWN to the level of its other restaurants. It would have been logical to think that the opposite would have taken place, but this was truly a move to eliminate competiton. Anyway, I did not intend to write about that again. I started out telling you about the "new" Ryans web site.

To no surprise, Ryans web site is now a duplicate of the Old Country Buffet web site, but in a different color. It is green and pink instead of the OCB blue and green. Click around the pages and you will find exactly the same pages in the same tab locations as on the Old Country Buffet site - with a difference in the corporate information.

The features are all the same now as at OCB - take out buffet, soup and salad only meals, and feature theme nights - BUT the feature theme nights at Ryans are different than those at OCB. And from the photos, much more appetizing. Read my recent articles about the theme nights at OCB. At Ryans the same ideas are put into effect with similar names on different nights, but the offerings look far better (maybe - remember Buffets, Inc is behind it all). On Mondays, just like at OCB , there is now Meat Lovers Monday with roast beef and fried chicken shown. On Tuesdays - different from OCB, there is Southern Fried Fish Tuesdays with very nice looking whole fried fish and shrimp shown. On Wednesdays there is Italiano Wednesdays - the same as Italiano Tuesdays at OCB. Thursdays are the same at Ryans and OCB with BBQ Thursday - but at Ryans what is shown is grilled smoked sausage and pulled pork barbecue. Seafood Fridays are now at Ryans - just as they are at OCB - but at Ryans there are nice looking crab cakes and baked salmon. Family Saturdays at Ryans shows grilled steak and butterfly shrimp - steak is always served at Ryans so I am not sure what the point is with this. Homestyle Sundays shows baked ham and roast turkey- just as there is at OCB.

I always loved Ryans. I am not near enough to any to keep check on how OCBed they are becoming but I am told that they are more and more being transformed that way and not for the better. The description of the merge on both web sites would lead you to believe that this was a wonderful joining of the two chains with each maintaining its identity and each welcoming the other chain in joining its family. I rather have a picture of the Borg from Star Trek notoriety - "Resistance is Futile!" as each of the Ryans is absorbed into the "collective". How sad! In the next several months I will get to a Ryans and be able to tell you more.

I know many Ryans employees and managers follow this site and you are - as always - welcome to let us know what has been happening. Of course, everyone is welcome to comment.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Royal Fork Buffet - Mount Vernon, Washington

I am always searching for buffet restaurants and I often find ones that chances are I will never get to because of their location - but not everyone who reads this site is on the East Coast of the United States and some of my readers have asked about buffets in other parts of the country. Whenever I find one I want to pass it along. Despite the historic association of the name of the location of this buffet, it is not in Virginia, but in the State of Washington, completely across the country.

Now, as always, when I have not been to a buffet myself, I let you know right up front that I have no personal experience with this restaurant. I have never been to the Royal Fork Buffet and it is probably unlikely that I will get to the State of Washington. But this is our West Coast readers and this one does look interesting.

The Royal Fork Buffet is located in Mount Vernon, Washington in the Skagit Valley. The buffet has been in business for 17 years. This restaurant appears to be a part of a chain of Roayl Fork Buffet restaurants with other locations that I have found elsewhere in Washington, North Dakota, Idaho, Alaska, and Alberta, Canada. As this restauant's web site makes no mention of other restaurants I cannot verify this, nor can I find details on these other locations - other than addresses on a variety of restaurant listings. Generally a chain, especially one with a number of locations across several states and crossing into Canada has its own web site for the chain - I cannot find anything like that for Royal Fork. Only this particular Royal Fork Buffet has its own web site.

I can not tell you about the prices but the restaurant is open seven days a week. They serve lunch from Monday to Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. Dinner from Monday to Thursdays is to 8:00 pm and on Friday and Saturday to 8:30 pm. On Sundays dinner is served from 11:30 am to 8:00 pm - and on Sundays there is a breakfast buffet from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. There are special prices for children and seniors - and on their web site there is a coupon for money off dinner or breakfast for adults.

The restaurant has eight food lines. The menu changes daily with different offerings at lunch and dinner. There are some good things on the menu on various nights including bbq spare ribs, Swedish meatballs, chicken and dumplings, fish and chips, sausage and peppers, Polish sausage and suerkraut, country fried steak, meatloaf, poached whitefish, fajitas, shrimp scampi, and baked salmon. Also scattered through the days are the usual roast beef, fried chicken, spagetti, roast chicken, baked ham, etc. There is a complete salad bar, an assortment of vegetables and desserts to go with the meal. There is also a different soup every day.

There is also something on the menu each day that sets this buffet apart from all of the rest. Breakfast on Saturdays and all day dinner on Sundays include Belgium Waffles. These are very large and thick waffles topped with your choice of fruits, whipped cream, and other toppings. At these meals there is a Belgium Waffle Bar for you to top your waffles. When I first looked at the menu for this restaurant I thought that the waffles were included at every meal - which would have been a real treat, but they are there for dinner on Sunday. That makes Sunday dinner dessert a real treat!

The restaurant is located at 2300 Freeway Drive, Mount Vernon, Washington 98273. The phone number is (360)424-4044. There is a web site and a link may be found at the side of this page. The web site details the menu for each day for each meal.

If you have ever been to the Royal Forks Buffet in Mount Vernon, Washington please leave a comment and share your experience with all of us. If you know about other Royal Forks Buffet restaurants, please let us know about those too!