Friday, January 01, 2010

THE BEST BUFFET - 2009

As many of you know, this site gives an award each year for best buffet. This year's award took a lot of long thought and careful consideration. Should the award once again be given to the obvious - once again - or should the award go to another restaurant just because none can surpass the obvious? If you read this site last week you saw that a buffet was recognized this year for best "small" buffet - and there is no question that in its class that little restaurant is the best and must be recognized. The buffet that is chosen for "the best buffet" is one that surpasses all of the rest in food, quality, presentation, and value. Restaurants are considered on the consistency over repeated visits, the quality of food, the quantity of food, the quality of service, the quality of cleanliness, the friendliness of staff, and the value received for the money paid for a meal. The restaurant that meets this again and again, and surpasses all of the rest in a setting that is incomparable is obvious to many of you.

The restaurant that is THE BEST BUFFET is once again for 2009 - The Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.

I have been to a lot of buffets. I looked over what impressed me and what I want to return to again and again. I also look at the popularity of the restaurant, and without a doubt Shady Maple Smorgasbord is without a doubt "the one".

I have recently discovered that Shady Maple has a following on the Internet. There are several Facebook fan pages with more than a thousand "friends" for Shady Maple. There are videos on You-Tube about Shady Maple - mostly taken by happy people dining and going there. It seems that everyone in the area knows about Shady Maple and it is as popular with the local people (and the Amish and Mennonites) as it is with the tourists. We were standing at a booth at a farmers market in Lancaster, but not really close to the restaurant and overhead a conversation between two farmers - "Goin' down to the Shady Maple tonight..." Even a very popular and well know "reality" television show family filmed a meal at Shady Maple a few years back. Sometimes it seems like everyone is "goin' down to the Shady Maple" - especially on those nights when the lines at the multiple cashiers go around and out the doors. What is remarkable, considering the overwhelming size of the restaurant and the several dining rooms is the wait that one will find on most nights throughout the years - and it is because those tables are full. But know that the crowd at the buffet servers is never so bad that you can't easily get what you want.

Before I go into a description of the restaurant and the food- which I have written about many times before - let me share with you a little treat. A chance to step inside the restaurant and see for yourself. This video was done for local television advertising. It is just fun to watch! Here is it is (courtesy of You Tube). There are many other videos to be found by people who have had a good time at Shady Maple and we will share those with you in another article.

When you enter Shady Maple you are entering a large, lavishly furnished lobby. The lobby is bigger than some full restaurants. There are several cashiers and you pay before you dine. As I have said, there are often long lines at the cash registers. This year there is a new computerized cash register system that does speed things up a bit. Once you pay you are given a paper to put on your table face up which will show your server that you are still dining and not to clean away the table. Shady Maple was the first buffet that I encountered such a system - the original system used plastic plaques that said "RESERVED". When they moved into this larger building located just behind the original, smaller restaurant they retired the Reserved Plaques and went to the paper instead. Either way the system works here. So - you have paid, you have your receipt and your paper sign and you are sent to another line to be seated. Depending on your party and just how crowded the restaurant is you may wait from two to ten minutes and then a table or booth is found for you. Once you are brought to your table you are asked if you have ever dined at Shady Maple before - and if you have not, you are explained the layout of this very large buffet and where to find its extensive offerings. And then off you go and you are on your own to serve yourself any of the wonderful food and beverages offered.

When you go up to the buffet area from the dining room you are going to see buffet tables put together to extend the length of the restaurant. You enter at the middle and they go in each direction. Walk along each way and you will think that each direction is just a repeat of the food found in the other direction. This is not completely the case - there are many things repeated but there are always items on the servers in one direction that are not found on the buffet servers in the other direction, including the salad bars. If you really want to know what is offered any one night or afternoon, you must look through all the buffet servers. In addition there are four grill areas where carvings and grilled entrees are being prepared. What is on the grill changes by the night. Monday is steak night. Tuesday is seafood night. There is a theme every night. And there are special nights throughout the year.

What foods will you find? There are six soups plus chile every night. There are salad bars (yes, there are two) that not only have the fixings for any green salad that you would like to create, but also a variety of prepared salads that are either local to this area or prepared as they are local to this area. Ever tried Pepper Cabbage or PA Dutch Chow Chow? You will find them here every night. Try Cottage Cheese and Apple Butter - another local favorite. The cottage cheese is on the salad bar - the apple butter is at the back of the Center Grill next to the butter. Take a spoon of cottage cheese and then put a spoon of apple butter on top. Of course, there is potato salad, macaroni salad, and cole slaw and a lot of other things on the salad bar.

Every night there is fried chicken, turkey, sliced pork, beef, etc. Go over to the buffet servers toward the right and you will usually find "Dried Corn" at the rear of of one of the first hot servers. Dried Corn? How can one eat dried corn? It is very easy and wonderful when the dried and crushed corn kernels are stewed until soft and seasoned. Dried corn is sweet and nutty tasting. This is another local food and one that is not often found at in many local restaurants any longer. Carvings are generally beef brisket and local ham. But there are so many, many more things that change every night on the hot buffet tables. Not everything is PA Dutch, but you can hope to find chicken bot boi on some nights which many who read this site have asked where to find. I wish I could say that it is found here regularly, but it is not. When they do have it, it is very good. (What is Chicken Bot Boi? Well it sound like chicken pot pie, right? Some will actually call it that, but it is not the chicken in cream sauce with vegetables inside a pie crust that most will expect when they hear chicken pot pie. It is large doughy dumplings stewed with chicken meat, carrots, celery, and potatoes in a thickened chicken stock - and it is oh, so good!) Want something that you are more accustomed to? You will find it. There are pasta dishes, fish, meat dishes, all of the expected vegetables, fresh mashed potatoes, french fries, and again, I must say so much more. I have had so many different things in the dinners (and lunches) that I have eaten here over the years it is impossible to name them all.

Beverages are scattered all through the buffet areas and there is just about everything that you can think of from Coke and Pepsi to every type of soft drink. There are fresh juices. There are fancy coffees much like you will find at the coffee stores. There are is a row of slushie machines with a variety of flavors. Hot or cold, if it is a soft drink you will probably find some version of it here.

So what about dessert? Hot desserts and cold desserts abound - and again you need to look at each end of the buffet area because you will find some things on one side that are not on the other side. Which is a good thing - because it increases what is offered to you. Cakes, puddings, prepared spooned desserts, soft serve, name brand ice cream, apple dumplings, pies, sugar free pies and puddings are all here. Of course, there will be Shoo Fly Pie - and whipped cream to top it with. There is usually sweet potato pie. This is one restaurant that you have to consciously keep aware that you must save room for dessert and also not risk the possibility of bursting once you get back out to the parking lot.

I have mentioned lunch. Much of the buffet is the same at lunch time as it is at dinner. There may be fewer grills working at lunch. What I have not mentioned - actually ever in my articles about Shady Maple - is breakfast - and yes, there is a breakfast buffet every day from very, very early in the morning at 5 AM to 10 AM, I am not a morning person and never make it out to get to breakfast buffets, but if there was one to go to, this is the one. Eggs are prepared to your order as you watch. Then there are scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche, sausage, ham, scrapple, bacon, pancakes, french toast, mush, puddings, oatmeal, waffles, biscuits, fruit, cereal, baked goods, and more. All the makings of a good farm breakfast that will keep you happy through the rest of the day.

The service at Shady Maple is excellent. The dining room staff is attentive and they make sure your dishes are taken away promptly. You are serving your beverages yourself.

After dinner (or lunch) you need to walk off some of the meal and downstairs there is a gift shop the size of the restaurant. There is a section in the back with local Amish crafts. There is furniture that is locally made. There are toys, jewelry, collectible giftware, candles, sports decor, and even some baked goods to take home with you. You can spend a lot of time just browsing up and down the aisles and may even find a gift for someone too. Hey, treat yourself, while you are at it!

In addition to the restaurant there is also a separate part of this massive building that is a catering hall. They have large rooms for weddings and occasions.

There is no other buffet that is this large. There is no other buffet that offers this much. The prices are quite reasonable and the price that you pay posted at the cashier includes the service charge (tip at 8%). If you take that off the price and compare to other buffets, the prices here are very good. All that I have said and more makes this restaurant hard to top. There are other large buffets. Yet, even the casino buffets are on this scale, offer as much, or have the personal feel that this restaurant has. The owner of this restaurant can often be seen walking around the dining room. You would have to know what he looks like to know that it is him, but he is there. The people that work at this restaurant seem to be happy and that is reflected in how they interact with the customers. You don't get that in a casino buffet- and I use that as comparison because that is what is closest in the presentation here - though at Shady Maple, despite the huge crystal chandeliers there is a homey feel.

With all of this it is easy to see why Shady Maple Buffet is the Best Buffet for 2009 - and has held that distinction for several years.

A certificate declaring this fact is being sent to the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. They have been proudly displaying our certificate awarded to them in 2008 in their lobby. When you go there look for the certificate and tell them that you read all about them here!

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.

3 comments:

SkippyMom said...

You are making me sooo hungry. :)

I didn't know how to Google this or who to ask - so I thought you might know.

We live in/near Wash., DC and our daughter will be attening the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia [Go Quakers!] and I was wondering if this restaurant would be along the route we will be taking to drop off/pick her up from college.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. [Love this review]

Robert A said...

Hi SkippyMom - I have done that trip many times. Take 695 around the west side of Baltimore and then pick up I83 to York, Pa - take that to US30 and then 30 to 222, get off 222 at Ephrata onto Rt. 322 (this is either South or East, not sure how they designate 322 at this point, but if you drive under 222 you are going the wrong way. Take 322 to Rt 23 - make a left and drive to Shady Maple Farm Market supermarket and Goods Store - make a right into the parking lot and drive to the back - and there you will find Shady Maple Smorgasbord! I know this is not as direct as a straight run along 95 and the turnpikes to Philly but it is not a bad trip. When leaving drive along 23 east and it will take you to the turnpike or reverse the route to 222 and that also will take you to the turnpike (maybe a little bit longer but harder to miss it this way).

Enjoy it!

SkippyMom said...

Thank you so much!! What awesome directions. I will definitely let you know when we go and we don't mind a little bit longer especially if there is great food to be had.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer my question. You are too kind. :)