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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Golden Corral - Hagerstown, Maryland

A new Golden Corral restaurant recently opened in Hagerstown, Maryland. This Golden Corral has several changes that I am not certain will yet be found at all Golden Corrals, but I must say right up front that this was the best Golden Corral I have been to.

The restaurant is located outside the Valley Mall, one of the larger shopping centers in the area. It has opened in the past 12 or less months and many who were there commented on being there for the first time. I went on a Friday night for dinner and the restaurant was very busy.

The first thing that we noticed as we were on the line to pay was there were no trays and no stacks of dishes at the cashier. You still order your drinks and then move along to pay at the cashier. Generally, at this point you would be handed two plates each to start your meal. No plates were given. As we walked through the cashier we noticed large signs over several food stations that we had never seen before at other Golden Corrals - "The Pagoda" and "Chocolate Station" were what caught our attention the most. Other signs - "The Greenhouse", "The Grill, and "The Bread Shop" may have been at others but these seemed like new labeling to both of us as well. The last time that I have been to a Golden Corral was last July and that was at the "Mystery" Golden Corral which had been no different from the last time it had appeared out of the myst - you really have to go back to last summer's posts to know what this is all about. Anyway - some things were different at this new Golden Corral.

As we were escorted to our table we past another major change - plates stacked in a large rack next to the silverware. Golden Corral has always relied upon the server to bring you clean plates to continue your meal past the two plates that you are given at the cashier. In the past articles I have commented that a meal at Golden Corral can only be as good as your server is - because you rely upon your server to bring you clean plates and if you have a server that disappears then your meal comes to a halt. This was never a good thing and more than once at numerous Golden Corrals we would somehow get the server that would disappear. (Actually, this visit to this new Golden Corral was not different but more about that later.) Never the less, with this new plate system - much as every other buffet employs - you get your own plates and no longer have to rely upon your server.

Several weeks ago I wrote an article about Golden Corral's limited time seafood fest special. I was eager to try this special on this visit and I was not dissapppointed.

Golden Corral always has a nice assortment of several soups and their home-style chicken noodle is one of the best. Nice thick, doughy noodles in a semi-thickened chicken broth makes this soup stand out from other buffet chicken noodle soups (Ryans similar chicken noodle often comes close.) There were three other soups including New England clam chowder which is part of the every night seafood feature. I like their chicken noodle and that is what I had.

The salad bar - or should I say "The Greenhouse" is very extensive. There are several types of greens and lettuce. There is a ceasar salad section to create your own ceasar salad. There are cold meats to create an extensive chefs salad and these included large pieces of chicken, strips of ham, pieves of roast beef, and cold, peeled , mini-shrimp. In addition there are cheeses and just about everything that you can think of to add to a salad. There are several prepared salds including a very nice tuna salad and a seafood salad - served from a giant clam shell that was shreds of seafood and very tasty.

The buffet servers are laid out in a long and continuous line with areas behind for refilling and maintaining and it was all kept full and was all well maintained. There was nothing that was not moist and nothing was left to sit too long. This long buffet counter does lead some to feel that it is like a cafeteria and need to stay in line as they move along the counter - upset when someone comes up to the middle to take what they want - without even considering to go wait at the end of the line (which they should not have to do). The other thing that this encourages is to over fill multiple plates at one time. This may all go into its own article on silly ideas at buffets. Anyway - there was a bit of all of that observed here - no fault of the restaurant .

This Golden Corral had a large grill area and a chef that was cooking several steaks at one time each at a different level of cooking. If you wanted rare, it was there for you. If you wanted well done that was there to along with everything in between. The steak here is very good. It is now the best of the chain buffet steaks. It is a good, tasty cut and is cooked on a flame grill. Next to the grill was a griddle and another chef who was griddle frying crab cakes - another of the seafoods on the feature. Next to the crab cakes was broiled salmon. The crab cakes were very good and seemed to indeed be real crabmeat.

I have had a yen for good fried fish with good tartare sauce for awhile. I found the cornmeal breaded fried fish - which were next to the batter dipped fried fish. The breaded fish looked exactly like what I have been craving. I took the fish and headed over to "The Greenhouse" where the tartare sauce was. Some tartare sauces can be oddly seasoned, have too much, onion, or just not a good compliment to the fish they are intended for. This tartare sauce looked right and I scooped some on my plate. I headed back to my table with the odd assortment of steak, crab cake, a bit of mashed potatoes which were fresh and not from a mix, and some fried corn breaded fish with tartare sauce. The fish was just what I was hoping for and the tartare sauce was just right. Sounds like I am making a bit much about the sauce? It really was good.

Rounding out the seafood special was supposed to be fried coconut shrimp. These were a bit of a disappointment as there was no coconut. The shrimp were good as butterflied fried shrimp but we had to go back and look at the sign to verify that these were supposed to be the coconut shrimp.

There was a lot besides seafood. Most of what you would generally expect to find as entrees and side dishes at Golden Corral was there - and in addition, there was "The Pagoda". There inside Golden Corral was an Asian buffet station . Here there was another chef who had another flame grill and he was cooking terriaki chicken thieghs over the flames. He was also cooking Mandarin beef - small strips of beef sauted with mushrooms in a tasty brown sauce, fried rice, General Taos chicken, and sauteed green and wax beans in an overly spicy sauce.

Back along the regular entree and sides sections were two types of pot roast - both beef and pork, rotisserie chicken, fried chicken, three more types of rice, baked sweet potatoes, griddled sliced potatoes with onions and many other things. There were two types of pizza out - both looked moist and nice.

Further along was "The Bread Shop". This was a section in the wall with a number of types of rolls. There was skillet corn bread. There was focaccia.

This Golden Corral - and perhaps all of them now, had one of the best dessert areas at a chain buffet - and perhaps at many of the buffets. There were real caked - n0t little pieces of sheet cakes. There were four hot desserts. This area is called the "Chocolate Station" and keeping with the name there were fresh dipped chocolate strawberries, several chocolate cakes, chocolate fudge, chocolate brownies, various balls of chocolate, and so much more. My picky wife can even get picky about desserts and generally she will look to decide what of anything she will try. Here she told me that she had to decide what of several things she would try. There were many "sugar-free" dessert choices also (which I do not recommend unless you know what they have been sweetened with - often a sugar alcohol is used and sugar alcohols are laxatives - I am not saying any is used here but I do not know what they are using and for that I avoid it).

Way back at the beginning of this article I said that your server can make or break your experience at Golden Corral. Well, that was the case this night. In our section there was a great server who was running around making sure that every dirty plate was removed and every drink remained full. Our server on the other hand seemed to disappear right at the beginning of our meal. Plates were stacking high and our glasses were empty. My good wife went over to the woman who was working so well and asked what happened to our server. Apparently she was leaving early and had not asked anyone to take over her tables - of which there were several. The "good" server said she would take over our table and she was wonderful - definitely the best we have ever had at any Golden Corral.

This Golden Corral was very clean. The restrooms were clean - they had the new superblow hand dryers that actually blow so hard that the skin on your hands is moved by the force - and are dried very quickly. Then on the door was a "sanitary opener", a hook with a diagram showing how you put your harm into the hook and pull the door open without your hand touching the door handle - something that many do not like to do (you might wash your hands but did the person before you and then you both grab the door handle to get out).

There were signs all over the buffet servers that no child 10 and under should be at the buffet server without an adult supervising. At one point an announcement was made saying this also. This is very good. Children should never be sent around the buffet server alone. Not only can they get hurt but they often do not understand not to put their fingers into the food.

If you go to a Golden Corral let us know if you find plates to take yourself or if you find these new stations. If you are in Maryland be sure to try the Golden Corral located at the Valley Mall in Haggerstown.

Friday, May 15, 2009


My last article began a whirlwind of excitement over all you can eat lobster (I guess, I really should say all you "care" to eat lobster). Not so long ago I could have pointed you to a reasonably priced restaurant for unlimited whole (well, half) lobsters but everyone asked, "How can they do it?" and for under $25 per person they could not. That buffet is still around but the lobster is now limited to the usual Asian buffet tray of lobster pieces in ginger. Yet, one of my readers travels almost 600 miles from Virginia to still go there just for the lobster. That is passion! I certainly hope he has other reasons to make the trip.

Back when the Showboat Casino first opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey they offered unlimited whole lobsters on their buffet. This is many years ago - and this was discontinued after about three years. They couldn't afford to do it any longer as well.

While it seems that snow crab may be had in quantity at a reasonable cost to restaurants, lobsters are at a premium. This is why those buffet restaurants that do offer unlimited whole lobster are pricing the buffet at the $5o and over point. Yet, it you crave lobster and want more than the usual twin small lobsters for $30 then $50 does not seem that high. An average size lobster does not offer that much eating - there is meat in the tail, meat in the claws, and then you have to fight the carcass to pick and suck minuscule pieces of meat from the rest of the body. Some love the tamale which is the green slime inside the body - which is actually the lobster's liver. And some like the red roe (eggs) found inside some female lobsters. Many just like dipping anything in melted butter and eating it.

"All right, all ready! Enough with the chit chat - you were going to tell us more places to to for all you can eat lobster!"

Yes, I am. I promised a second location in New Jersey that has a Lobster Buffet. The restaurant that I wrote about in the last article was located in northern New Jersey. This restaurant is located in southern New Jersey in a region known as the Jersey Shore. The restaurant is The Quay Restaurant and Marina and it is located at 280 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright, New Jersey (732 741-7755). Again, I have to say that I have not been to this restaurant and report it to you on the recommendation of one of our readers. If you look up this restaurant do not confuse it with another restaurant in New Jersey in Hoboken (where Frank Sinatra came from) called the Quays with an S.

The Quay Restaurant and Marina - get that last part - marina. It tells you right away that this restaurant is on the water - and you could go there by boat if you are so inclined. This restaurant has a private beach and also will rent you a yacht. Aside from menu and buffet dining (on the specified nights) they do catering and private parties. The restauant has views of the water - though it is not the Atlantic Ocean but the shore of the Shrewsbury River that the restaurant is located on. Never the less, it is not your usual buffet.

The lobster buffet is served at The Quay on Friday and Saturday nights from 5:00 to 9:00 and Sundays from 4;00 to 9:00. The price of the buffet is $46.95 for each adult and children 10 and under are 24.95. The serving is catering style with drapped serving tables filled with hot and cold chafing dishes.

The buffet includes whole steamed lobsters, cold shrimp, fried shrimp, fried calamari, tossed green salad, seafood salad, pasta salad, chaffing dishes with entree selections and side dishes, a carving station, a pasta station with two pastas with sauces, and a selection of homemade desserts. I am told it is all fabulous. And of couse, as I said in part one, if it is lobster that you want then this is what you are there for and the rest does not matter that much - though there is a nice assortment of other than lobster here.

There is a focus on entertainment here, along with the lobster, and there is music accompanying some dinners here, apparently on Saturday nights and holidays. There is a schedule on thier website of who and when.

When I wrote about The Manor Restaurant last week I wrote about the elegance that came across in both the descriptions of diners and what could be seen on the website. I do not get that same ambiance here at The Quays. It appears less formal. There is no mention of a dress code. They do take reservations but there is no indication that reservations are a necessity - as they are at The Manor. This may be a more comfortable restauant for the average buffet goer. At this restaurant, and at The Manor, alcholic beverages and wine are available. One thing that you can be certain of at both restauants is that due to their location the seafood is fresh.

While The Manor restaurant did not detail the offerings on the buffet other than the lobster, I suspect from the photographs of that buffet that there is more offered at The Manor than at The Quay. The price is lower at the Quay by nine dollars, but at this level of commitment in laying out the money for a meal you may want to go for the oppulence in presentation and the additional (we suspect) offerings. Do not get the impression that I am recommending one over the other - I have a received a very high recommendation to go to the Quay - as I did to try the Manor.

So which am I going to? If I were inclined to go to a lobster buffet I would want to try them both. My regular readers know that I am married to a non-seafood eating wife. She will eat shrimp. She will not eat lobster. This poses a conflict in my sense of value and my budget to spend $50 + each (don't forget the additional tax and tip making dinner for two easily over $120.00) when I will be the only one eating the lobster which is why the buffet is costing twice what other very good and just as fancy seafood buffets cost (Capt. George's Seafood Buffet - several locations in Virginia). Don't get me wrong - if she ate lobster we would go - once, for the experience. I have had all you care to eat whole lobster - way back at the Showboat and at that local Asain buffet. I like lobster. Do I like it so much that I would pay whatever it takes to get it? I am not anywhere near the income level to know. Do I only eat cheap? No, I think those who read this all the way back to the start of the site know that I have reported on a good share of restaurants that cost more than the usual. But I do always look at value. Is there value at the lobster buffets - for those who would order lobster off a menu at similar prices the answer is absolutely yes. For those who could take the lobster or leave it - or don't care for lobster - then the answer is no.

You can find a link to The Quay Restaurant and Marina at the side of this page.

So there you have it. If you crave lobster and are willing to travel whatever miles it will take to get you to either end of the State of New Jersey, you now have TWO treats awaiting you!

Friday, May 08, 2009


Lobster buffet - two words that can bring jubilation and can turn perfectly nice people into... well, I am not quite sure how to describe what they become. There are two types of buffet restaurants where you will find lobster - high end Asian buffet restaurants and very high end, fancy restaurants that offer a "seafood" buffet on certain nights - generally these are hotels or catering halls that supplement their wedding and party business with restaurant service. The Asian buffets that generally serve lobster are usually serving lobster sections cut up in ginger sauce. And in every one that I have been to the lobster tray is brought out, quickly emptied by those nice people that I mentioned in the first sentence who push and shove their way to that serving tray and empty as many of the edible pieces onto their plates as they can, leaving mostly shell to remain for anyone behind them - and then the restaurant waits a half hour or longer to bring out more. People go wild over this food. Mention that lobster is offered at a buffet and you will always have someone quickly ask where?

There is an old joke that whoever ate the first lobster must have been incredibly hungry. After all this sea creature looks more like an insect than any other. Lobster did not always have the popularity that it basks in now. In New England America in the 18th Century prisoners complained and almost rioted because they were fed lobster just about every day. I know a few people today who would not mind serving time in that prison. Lobster is expensive. Lobster off a menu can set you back a considerable amount of money so all you can eat lobster - well, that is like finding gold for the taking.

And I am sure that I got your quick attention by the title of this article. Where is the lobster? Aren't you going to tell us?!?!? All I can eat lobster - I have to know! Well ok - yes I have two restaurants that will serve you all the whole lobsters that you can eat, along with a variety of other seafood and they do not seem (from what I have been told) to be stingy about getting them out on the server when needed. Both restaurants are located in the state of New Jersey - at just about opposite ends of the state from each other. I have not been to either one and I must tell you that what I will tell you about them is second hand information to me. I cannot say that the food is wonderful - but I have had readers tell me that it is.

The first of these lobster buffets is The Manor Restaurant located at111 Prospect Avenue, West Orange, New Jersey (973-731-2360). The main business of this restaurant is carering and it is a major location for weddings, Sweet 16 parties, etc. in this area. This buffet was recommended by a reader and I was also told about it by a relative who was to go there with friends who recommend it. I have also read several customer reviews of the buffet and ther restaurant. The first thing we need to establish before the drooling begins is the price. As I said lobster is not cheap - and any buffet that includes lobster is not going to be inexpensive. Wednesday and Thursday the lobster buffet is $45.95 per person for adults and $19.95 for children from ages 4 to 12. On Saturday and Friday the price is $55.95 per adult and $24.95 per child. These prices may increase on holidays. When you arrive you will find a valet to park your car.

The lobster buffet at the Manor is only served on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays for dinner only. There are lunch buffets during the week and a Sunday brunch buffet but there is NO LOBSTER at lunch or on the brunch. A very important thing to know is that there is a dress code at this restaurant and men must wear jackets at dinner. At lunch they require "business casual". From this you know that this is no OCB that you are going to. This is a fine restaurant offering a very special buffet and they expect a certain clientele.

The buffet is served from silver chafing dishes and an ice sculpture surrounds the cold seafood that looks to be the centerpiece of the the serving area. Tables full of chafing dishes surround this with a variety of hot and cold foods. Everyone uses the same word when describing this buffet and that word is abundance. There is a great deal of food elegantly served here. Those who have had the lobster rave about it. Raw shellfish - oysters, clams share a cold server with cold lobster and from the descriptions (though not the photos on the website) there is a hot lobster served as well. But anyone coming to this buffet is there for the main attraction and that is lobster. This is why you would pay five times to twice the amount you would spend at other buffets to eat here. If lobster is what you crave this is a place to travel to.

The only negative review that I read about the Manor referred to menu dining and this person was very unhappy with what they were served (not lobster). This may or may not have anything to do with the buffet - but to be aware that out of ten reviews and recommendation that I have for this restaurant there was one unhappy customer.

You must know this - the buffet requires a reservation - always. The buffet starts Wednesday to Friday at 6:00 pm and on Saturday at 5:00 pm. You can call for reservations or you can use a service that the restaurant provides on their website on which you put in the date and time you wish to make your reservation and the site goes off to find an available table or tell you when an available table will be. I tried this just to see what would happen if I wanted a reservation for the next Saturday night and it came back quickly with a table available a half hour before the time I asked for and a half hour after. Not bad on short notice.

I mentioned at the beginning that a relative was to go to The Manor with several friends. Let me say that this is a relative who can easily afford The Manor and I assume so are the friends. They never did go. When I asked why I was told that it was too expensive. Just a sign of the times. The website for The Manor Restaurant is linked at the side of this page.

To be continued...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Happy Birthday to You!

Celebrating your birthday at a buffet is a treat in itself, but to have your birthday buffet for free is a party and a present. Recently, it was my birthday - I will not say which one. I am on the email lists (in one of my identities) of several of the buffet chains and buffet restaurants. A couple of weeks before the big day, emails started to arrive with birthday offers of free meals.

I was able to use three of these offers. There were several to choose from. Some are offered just on the date of your birthday, but others are offered for your birthday month or a couple of weeks around your birthday. Here are the offers that I received:

Old Country Buffet - Free Meal with one meal purchased, good for two weeks.

Ponderosa - $5 off adult meal and beverage, good for two weeks

Shady Maple Smorgasbord (Lancaster, PA) - Free Meal with the purchase of another meal, good only on your birthday

Yoders Restaurant (Lancaster, PA) - Free Meal with the purchase of another meal, good only on your birthday

Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes - Free neal with one meal and beverages purchased, good for two weeks

The Family Cupboard (Lancaster, PA) - Free Meal - no other purchase required, good once during your birthday month

I had the opportunity to be in Pennsylvania during my birthday so I had a nice selection of any of these but Souplantation which is only located as far north on the East Coast as North Carolina. I actually started my birthday buffets before I left New York. On the evening before our trip we went to OCB to use my birthday offer. This was the least of all of the meals that I enjoyed celebrating my birthday. It was a Wednesday night - TexMex Night - which would have been fine had there actually been anything that was supposed to be on the menu out. As is typical of my local OCB, most of the entrees were out and never came out the entire time that we were there. We asked for the chicken fajitas. We were told they were coming out - an hour later the tray was still empty, the serving spoon in the same position it had been when we first entered. I suppose many wonder why we bother with this restaurant. Simply, the answer is that it is the only buffet game in town for a hundred or more miles. Well, I knew that there were more birthday buffets to come over the next several days.

My next free birthday buffet was at Family Cupboard in Lancaster, PA. I have written about Family Cupboard several times and have noted the homey feel and attitude of this restaurant and buffet which features country and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. They send a postcard that is good for one free meal during your birthday month. The nicest part of this offer is that for a single there is no need to bring someone with you to receive your free meal. The food was as good as always. The rotisserie chicken is exceptionally tasty and good. The fried chicken is equally good. There was meatloaf, ham balls, broiled cod, ham, and beef in gravy as well. This was so much better than the birthday buffet that I had at OCB. And I had another birthday meal to come - on my actual birthday!

So with the year's best buffet on the list of birthday meal choices, is it any wonder that I spent my actual birthday having a free birthday buffet meal at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, PA. It was a Saturday and the restaurant was crowded. It is really too early for the tourist trade, but this restaurant gets a crowd all year. There were long lines at the cashiers and once paid, there were long lines to wait for a table. The lines moved along fairly well and soon it was our turn to be seated. I most enjoy the main dining room here and I like sitting at a table rather than a booth - this is all just my preference as it really makes no difference. Things just seemed to be going well for me this evening as it was difficult to find a vacant table (as opposed to a booth) and several hostesses were searching for them for several guests. I never said a word that I really, really wanted to be at a table in the main dining room. The young lady who was searching for a table was obviously new, but she persevered even asking two other hostesses for help in the course of the search. It was not too long before she found one, cleaned it herself, and signaled to us across the room to come. This was just the beginning of good things to come.

I should tell you what you get at Shady Maple with your free birthday meal. When your guest pays at the cashier and you identify that it is your birthday you are handed a stack of coupons. These coupons include free cakes at the Farm Market, a 25% discount at the buffet gift shop, a 20% discount at Family Farm Quilts - a separate section located in the buffet gift shop featuring locally made gifts and quilts from the Amish, and a 20% discount at Good's Store - a small department store located adjacent to Shady Maple. All of that is the most that any buffet gives as part of its birthday offer.

So back to my free birthday meal. If I had called ahead and said have my favorites on the buffet, its my birthday, I could not have done any better at this meal. The first thing that caught my eye were the Philly Cheesesteaks. These show up every so often and are a must try if they are there when you go to Shady Maple. Here they are called Smorgy Cheese teaks. Shady Maple is about 60 miles from Philadelphia so people know cheesesteaks here. Now, I am sure that these are not exactly what one might get at one of the big two masters of cheesesteak - Pat's or Ginos, the rival cheesesteak stands in the heart of Philadelphia, but people line up at Shady Maple for their cheesesteaks. For the uninitiated, a cheesesteak is thinly sliced steak cooked on a fry grill with or without onions, covered in cheese, and served on a soft, long roll. At Shady Maple that is how they are served as well with the addition of tomato sauce on request. When the experienced order a cheesesteak they order it "WIT" or "WITOWT" - with onions or without onions - and you can hear this as you stand in line for your cheesesteak at Shady Maple. I had never had tomato sauce on a cheesesteak until Shady Maple and it makes an interesting taste addition to the sandwich. Needless to say I had a cheesesteak - and would have had a second later on in the meal if I was not already stuffed.

Grilled steak is another of my Shady Maple favorites, but these are served on Monday nights so I had no expectation of finding them at this Saturday birthday buffet meal. I never would have anticipated fillet mignon, but that is exactly what I found. Thin fillets grilling to order at one of the grill stations. Ordered and served to me just as I requested. Perfect!

It was all great and truly a birthday celebration meal! And it was free.

At Shady Maple as well as at Yoders you do not need a special coupon or email to redeem to get your free birthday buffet. All you need is to show proof that it is your birthday - and must do this on your actual birthday. Since Shady Maple is closed on Sundays, if your birthday is on a Sunday or any day that they are closed they will honor your birthday on the very next day that they are open.

To make sure that you can get a free buffet meal for your birthday, you need to sign up on the buffet restaurants' email lists. It is worth the few emails that you will get that do not contain offers - but most do. Not only will you get buffet meals for your birthday but you will get buffet coupons throughout the year.

Go celebrate your buffet at a buffet, too - for free!