Friday, March 12, 2010

At Shady Maple for the Celebration!

Two weeks ago I wrote about Shady Maple Smorgasbord in Pennsylvania announcing festivities in celebration of their 25 years in business. The celebrations end tomorrow, March 13, 2010. I had the great pleasure to be there this past Wednesday night.

I made the trip to Pennsylvania - four hours drive each way - over 300 miles in all with about $30 in tolls and a full tank of gas just to go to dinner at Shady Maple for its 25th Anniversary celebration. It was a one day trip - there and back in the same day.

We arrived in Lancaster County early afternoon and went to see some of our usual haunts before heading to East Earl for dinner at about 6:30. Before we went to the restauant we stopped at the Shady Maple supermarket - no not to eat, but to see if they had some things that we don't find at home. The supermarket has just had a new addition built on to one side which has just opened. It includes a new entrance to the market as well as a very large cafeteria-style restaurant. There had been a smaller version of this restaurant in the market before. We were there on moving day - the construction is that new. They were moving from the smaller cafeteria into the new larger one. On the wall we could see a menu board and in front of the cafeteria counter we could see a buffet server. They will be offering a soup and salad bar. My wife made the comment that they could wind up taking business away from themselves at the Smorgasbord. I don't think so, but for a quick place for lunch and an all you care to eat light meal, this looked good. Well, we found what we were looking for inside the market, including a surprise in the bakery department - a funny cake - a pie/cake that is particular to one area in Pennsylvania much further north to where Shady Maple is. But it was a very welcome surprise because I love this pie/cake. I call it a pie/cake because I am not sure how else to describe it. Funny cake is a cake batter swirled with chocolate and baked in a pie shell. It is incredibly good. Of course, we bought one and I wondered if it will ever appear for dessert at the Smorgasbord.

We headed over to the restaurant and got in just after 6:30. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot. Many more than one would expect to find on a Wednesday night in early March - too soon for the tourist trade and a mid-week night during a work week. I expected a line when we got inside the lobby but there was one of the several registers clear - the others had people at them paying and we walked right in. Now, in the announcement for the anniversary they talked about hourly drawings and that each paid meal would be given one entry blank to enter the contest. The entry blanks were just out in the lobby on a table next to the box they were to be put in. Anyone could have put as many entries as they wished into the box - but you did have to be present at the hours of the drawing if your entry was picked. All of the entries will be placed into a grand prize drawing with many prizes on Saturday night - March 13th. It is not necessary to be present to win one of those prizes. Behind the cash registers against the divider wall that separates the booths from the lobby was a long table full of prizes for the hourly drawings. There were regular and hooded sweatshirts with Shady Maple on the front. There were stuffed animals, toys and an assortment of Coors Beer glasses and the like. I hoped for one of the sweatshirts. We were there for both the 7 and the 8 o'clock drawings - we did not win. That is ok - it was not the prizes that I had come for.

The restaurant was crowded. There were open tables and booths and we were seated right away. There were balloons all around. In the lobby there was a large mylar blow up 25 on a wall. The number of people inside were there for the celebration.

In the middle of the dining room was a chocolate fountain bar set up. Two chocolate fountains were flowing with hot liquid chocolate - one dark chocolate and one milk. There was fruit - pineapple and strawberries - to dip. There were marshmallows, oreos, pretzel sticks, and ... cannoli's to dip into the chocolate. There was also a freezer ice cream case with a number of flavors of Turkey Hill ice cream - a locally made and well known brand that is probably sold at your own supermarket. Next to the ice cream was a hot tray with waffles for the ice cream. But I have gotten way ahead to dessert - let's back way up to the rest of this wonderful anniversary celebration meal.

There were certain feature foods that were announced that would be available each night of the celebration in addition to that nights usual features. Since I was there on Wednesday night the regular feature is prime rib and that was there. Also served from the grills were anniversary Smorgie Cheese-steaks, anniversary Delmonico steaks, anniversary carved honey ham, and more.

There were four different soups being served - two different soups were there - one that I have seen rarely at Shady Maple and another I had not seen before anywhere. The unusual one was stuffed pepper soup and it looked like it was just that, a tomato soup with all of the ingredients of stuffed peppers in it. I decided on the other - Maryland Red Crab Soup. This was wonderful! It was a thick tomato based vegetable soup with shredded crab. What made it so thick was the quantity of crab that was stuffed into this soup. This was real crab - not the sea legs that are often labeled crab or put into crab dishes. The soup was spiced with Maryland crab seasoning which gives a mildly hot spice taste. The spice was not overpowering but just right. I very much enjoyed my cup of soup.

After a small selection of prepared salads from the salad bar - small only because we were leaving lots of room for the meal and not for salad - I headed right for the Smorgie Cheese-steaks. Mounds of steaks cooked and were being chopped on the grill. Large strips of yellow cheese were being sliced and laid on top. Chopped onions were mixed in as well. As the cheese melted, it was chopped into the meat to result in a blend of goodness. The chef was also the server and when asked for a cheese-steak he would scoop a mound of the meat and cheese onto a long deli roll. The sandwich filled my plate. I looked down and wondered if I should add more to that plate or wait. Heck, this was a night I was not wanting to wait for anything. So I went down the buffet servers - both sides to see what treats I would find.

A local dish of this area is one that a number of readers have written me about and asked me what buffet to find it at. This is one of them but it is not a dish that is always served at Shady Maple. I am talking about Chicken Bot Bie- pronounced like chicken pot pie, but very different. Chicken Bot Bie is a thin chicken stew full of shreds of chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery, and large, flat, thick dumpling noodles. It is an Amish dish and it is very, very good. There on the buffet server was Chicken Bot Bie. I had to take a small amount - what would fit next to my large cheese-steak. I was careful not to take the liquid so that I would not soak the bread of my sandwich. On the way back to the table I passed Dried Corn on the server, another local Amish dish (found most nights at Shady Maple) which is dried corn kernals that is soaked and cooked with a bit of brown sugar - it is sweet and nutty in taste. Why not - I took some of that too - on the other side of the plate. So I returned to my table with my Smorgie Cheese-steak down the middle of the plate and Chicken Bot Bie on one side and Dried Corn on the other. As I looked down at my plate I realized that there was no way that I could eat all the bread on this sandwich and then go back and have any of the other things that I so much wanted to have this night. I did something that I might otherwise say is a buffet no-no, but there had really been no way to ask for the sandwich with just half a roll. I took the top half of the roll off and set it aside. Now, I was facing something that I could enjoy and still leave room for more of something else. The cheese-steak, as always at Shady Maple, was great. The Chicken Bot Bie was equally good as was the Dried Corn.

When that plate was finished I went back to see what would be next. I like Shady Maple's steaks and my next choice was the grilled Delmonico steaks. The only thing that could make these steaks better would be a flame grill. They are grilled on a flat grill. The chef at the grill keeps an assortment of steaks at different doneness ready. Order you steak the way you like it - and if you want it way he does not have ready he will put one on or cook one longer for you. There are sauteed mushrooms and sauteed onions to add on top. I took my just off the grill. I added some buttered noodles to the plate and went back to the table to enjoy.

There was so much out to choose from. From Prime Rib to pizza. At two grills they were slicing prime rib by knife off the rib round. There was a paper sign over the counter that said that the prime rib would be sliced thin - meaning about a half inch thick, because it tastes better that way. You were invited to come back for another slice or more, but not to ask for a thicker slice, because you will enjoy it more this way. Interesting. I did not take the prime rib - if I had two stomachs I would have. What was good was that each server had two prime ribs to slice from - one well done and one that was pink/red inside.

I wish that I could eat as much as I had when I was younger. I mostly eat in samples at a buffet so that I can try a little of everything - and that can add up. This night I decided that I was going to go for more Chicken Bot-Bie as it is something that I do not get often and it is something that I have really liked for a long time. I put a quantity on my plate and then walking past the fried chicken I could not resist taking a small piece. They make good fried chicken by a special process that I will write a future article about. There were a lot of other good things that I did not try because there just was not enough room for me to eat that much more. I did not take the sweet and sour meatballs - good when I have had them here before, fried cod, broiled talapia, pulled pork, pork and kraut, sliced turkey, ham, the special honey carved ham, roast pork, carved beef brisket, special roast beef, and on and on.

Now, there was something that had been out earlier but was replaced with something else, that I was sorry that I missed. I knew it had been there because the sign was still on the server over where the tray had been. It was another local Amish dish called Snitz and Knepp. Snitz are dried apple slices. Knepp are dumplings. This is a dish made with both stewed together. It is slightly sweet and tart from the apples and the small doughy dumplings are mixed together with the apples that plump back up from stewing. This is rarely found at the buffets. When it is there it is a must try. Yes, I would have made room for some of that. But I was more than satisfied and happy, none the less.

Dessert. Did I go right then to the chocolate fountains? Actually, no. I am not a big fan of hot liquid chocolate to dip things into. It is fine but I went to see what was there on the dessert bar. I decided on two Amish desserts. A slice of shoo fly pie with whipped cream - molasses on top of the pie shell with cake crumbs baked on top. Sweet and rich. Not something I have on a regular basis but something that I have enjoyed in this region for many years. The second dessert I shared with my wife - and really at this point was just for a taste. There were whoopie pies sliced in half. A whoopie pie is two small rounds of chocolate cake with cream sandwiched in-between. These are fun to eat and taste real good. I split the half with my wife - I really could not have eaten the whole half as much as I would have liked to.

I have to take a moment and tell you about the people at the table next to us. They were two older couples. When we first arrived they were just starting on dessert. The two men talked about their dissatisfaction with politics and the two ladies talked about friends and realatives who were either sick or dying - or both. I know what the conversations were because they were loud enough to join in with - I didn't. But the conversation was fine and they were really not disturbing us at all. But I saw something that I have not seen before at a buffet. After dessert they sat and talked - again fine. I heard one of the men say that they were waiting for the next hourly drawing - at 8. Fine still. The drawing came and went and they continued to stay and talk. Still fine. One said that they had been their so long they could eat again. Hmmm. Just a joke. But a while later one of the men got up and went toward the buffet servers. He came back with a plate full of salad. Not just a bit but a heaping plate full. He sat there and ate it all as they continued to talk. I have never seen that before. After a meal as complete and filling as what was there, how he could put down another full plate of salad, I am not really sure - and he was not a large man. Slim, in fact.

I ought to mention the table on the other side of us. A family with three little girls that must have been triplets. My wife commented to me that they looked like clones - each an exact match of the other. Cute. They were also covered in liquid chocolate! They knew what was good!

So there you have it. Twenty five years of Shady Maple celebrated for a full week. Great food and lot's of fun! I have written this article so that I may post it while there is still time - if but one day for anyone near enough to get to Shady Maple to go and enjoy this celebration. Saturday night at 8 will be the grand drawings. You just read how good the food is. And if you can't make it now, then go whenever you can because you will find the best variety of buffet you will find anywhere. That is why this buffet is our BEST AWARD winner for years in a row. When you go take a look on the column nearest the cash register on the end where the bakery table is. You will see our Award Certificate proudly displayed there!

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.

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