Friday, March 26, 2010

Dilemma in New Jersey

We had a trip planned to mid-New Jersey - basically the area west and a bit north of New York City. There are two buffets in this area that I enjoy very much - Buffet Europa and Makkoli Japanese. I had just recently been to Buffet Europa and despite the strong temptation to go again, I felt that it would be good to find a new buffet to try and share with everyone. On my previous trip - when I went to Buffet Europa - we saw another Japanese Sushi buffet (which I will not name). It looked nice as we passed it on the road and at that time thought that we might try it on the next trip through. One of my readers is close enough to this area to make recommendations and has been in contact with me through this site giving me suggestions for over a year now. I went back to his emails to check his recommendations and found this one on the list. I sent him an email and asked if he had been back there in the year since his first visit. He had not - but he liked it. I highly respect his opinion and I know from other recommendations that he has given that what I will find will be good.

I decided several days before the trip that I would check out as much as I could about this buffet to find recent opinions - a lot of things can change about a buffet in a year. I also wanted to check on what to expect being served since, as regular readers know, my wife is a very picky eater - the only seafood that she will eat is shrimp - and there should be some variety of non-seafood dishes for her as well. All that I could find with exhaustive searches on this restaurant were reviews all over a year old and consistently they were poor reviews. (This is why I am not naming the restaurant.) And each one said, "Skip this place and go to Makkoli." Yet, my email friend told me that the restaurant is good - and I did see his review on line to this effect as well as the recommendation that he gave me. I got a little nervous - it is one thing to eat and not feel so well close to home, but when there is a two hour trip between you and your house on roads without rest-stop restrooms, you have to give where and what you are eating careful c0nsideration. Still his recommendations have been reliable so I searched some more for information. The restaurant does have a website and I went there - turned off the annoying music that it insisted on playing for me and took a look around. Nice photos and what looked to me to be a nice restaurant as it is shown. I looked at the on-line menu. There was a variety of sushi and sashimi- even a bit more extensive than people had described in their poor reviews. The entree list was a bit short - and it was just about all fish - no shrimp listed - and two beef dishes, one of which is prime rib (which to most would be welcomed - but not by my wife). I still was not discouraged. I looked for a price. No prices were listed. There was a way to contact the restaurant manager by email so I clicked on that link and sent the manager an email asking what the dinner prices are and if three is an hibachi grill (which would resolve any selection problems for my wife). Shortly later, my email bounced back to me with a server message from the restaurant stating that they would not accept my email. Hmm. I use a standard email address when I contact restaurants - nothing that should be filtered out. If there was no way to email this restaurant or they were bouncing back emails - perhaps this is a sign.

I went back to some of the results that I had found on searches for this restaurant to see if somewhere I missed a price. I came across another customer review site that I had not come across before and found still more poor reviews of the place. One of them mentioned a price- around $20.00. Again, reviewers said, "Skip this place and go to Makkoli." Was somebody - everybody trying to tell me something?

I still spoke with my wife and told her what we would find on the buffet and asked her what she would eat. She is very good to me and said not to worry about her, she will find something to eat - but I know what she will and will not eat and to pay $20 a person for her not to eat or to eat very little was just not right. So I decided to look for someplace else new in the area.

I started to search restaurants in this area - buffet restaurants to be specific. After I eliminated results for reviews on THIS site and from my readers at other sites quoting or referring to my reviews of the restaurants that I have written about in the area, I came down to a very small handful of Chinese buffets. If I was willing to travel a distance further in the direction away from home there was a really nice looking Italian buffet, but this was just too far in the wrong direction and even an independent pizza buffet - again too far. There was one of the lobster buffets that I have written about but never gone to but the price is just too far above my current means. There was also a really nice looking Japanese buffet that got great reviews, but when I looked at their website found out that they are well over $30 for a meal which is a bit over my budget for a non-special occasion. So I started looking at those few Chinese buffets remaining on the list of possibilities. Each had so-so reviews. I am never sure if bad reviews are the result of someone with a chip on thier shoulder because of something that may have happened when they were at the restaurant that has really nothing to do with the actual quality of the restaurant or the food - or the review is on the level and not biased beyond being unhappy with the meal. When I see several this way from various customers I do take notice. The one most likely candidate had fair reviews and some not so good reviews - and many said - "Skip this place and go to Makkoli."

I decided that I must take everyone's advice and we were going to go to Makkoli. I have been to Makkoli several times. We both have always enjoyed Makkoli - and despite my great desire to find another buffet to share with you, we were not going to find one in that area.

I will tell you a little about that night at Makkoli. The restaurant is as good as it has been. There was a big crowd for a Friday night, but no waiting to get in. There is a large assortment of sushi and sashimi - including a number of unusual (at least buffet sushi unusual) fish. On the selection of prepared Japanese salads there was a fish that I have only had once before - jelly fish. I do not know if this was raw and marinated in the saled or cooked at all. It was gelatinous and cold so it may have been raw. I had it once many, many years ago in a Chinese buffet where it was deep and crispy fried. I did take a very tiny bit on my plate to try. It was very neutral in flavor and mildly chewy. I was not enjoying the texture or the lack of an identifiable taste so I only ate the one piece.

My wife had no problem finding things that she likes. We both started the meal with a bowl of Udon Noodle Soup - which is just wonderful. I thought all through the meal about going back at the end for another bowl, but as I wrote just recently, I found that if I did that, I would be going for "one udon soup too far" - AGAIN. No, this meal was more than filling and in my zest to try a bit of everything that I like I eventually found myself too full for anything else even to try another sampling of a favorite.

Now, I did have something that IF I wanted to have eaten more at this meal, I should not have had because of the quantity that you are giving. We both went up to the hibachi grill. I asked the chef for steak and vegetables and my wife asked for chicken and vegetables. He took out a whole steak - about a half inch thick and at least seven or eight inches long and four inches wide. This went on the grill all for me. He took out what was the equivalent of a full chicken breast or more and put that on the grill for my wife. She said to me, I hope that is not all for me. It was. With the vegetables added to the grill and then these portions put on plates for us - we each were given a dinner plate full and piled up. As a meal in itself fine. As a complement to all of the rest that we has eaten and were planning on eating, it was really too much. (I have to say, too, that the steak was very tough and not a good choice. It tasted great but was hard to chew. Her chicken was much better.)

All and all we had another great meal at Makkoli. In the year since we were there last the price has not gone up at all. The food is good and the meal is certainly more than one can eat.

It will be some time before we are in this area of New Jersey again - but my first choice - is Buffet Europa. If you are in the mood for Japanese - go to Makkoli.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Our pick for Best Small Buffet for 2009 was Buffet Europa, located in North Brunswick, NJ. (See article) As I have said many times before, this is a buffet experience unlike most others. The food! The Food! THE FOOD!

I had an opportunity to be there again recently. I was very surprised to see that they are in need of customers and support. The restaurant is still wonderful. The food is still excellent. The atmosphere is unlike the chain buffets. The cuisine in European with a leaning toward Polish on Friday nights and a leaning toward Italian on Saturday nights. The owners - who as I have mentioned in my other articles, work the whole place themselves - are trying extremely hard to get customers in the door. They have lowered the weeknight buffet price - Tuesday to Thursday to $8.99! This is unbelievable. This is the FULL buffet from soup to salad to hot entrees and sides to wonderful desserts and it even includes the soft drinks. Why have they done this? It is obvious. They need to increase their business.

They have cut their weeknight - Tuesday to Thursday - hours to close at 7:00 pm. Friday and Saturday nights are still until 9:00 pm. They no longer are opened at all on Mondays. They had been closed for dinner on Mondays - now they are closed. They are still closed on Sundays, but do catering on Sundays in the restaurant. They have also added teen and adult dances on some Friday and Saturday nights after 10:00 pm.

We went in this time on a Friday night. When we entered there was just one other diner in the whole restaurant. We were warmly and personally welcomed by the owner and offered any table we wished. My heart sank a bit as I had hoped to find the place jumping. I have had readers contact me to say that they are going there and have been there - and each has has wonderful things to say about the restaurant. To find really no one in the restaurant at a little after 6:00 pm - dinner time - on a Friday night - I sigh when I think of it. I want so much for this restaurant to succeed because it is THAT GOOD and that different.

If this were a buffet that I had never been to before I might have hesitated to go in seeing no one inside. My concern always is if the food is out on the buffet server and no one is taking it, it may be sitting too long. I had no reluctance to go in and sit down here. I knew that with the personal attention that the food here gets it would be fresh and wonderful as always - AND IT WAS! Everything was moist, stirred, and hot.

As we dined other tables filled but there never really were more than three tables occupied the whole time we were there. This is not as it had been on previous visits - and my first visit had been at this same time of the year. Before while the small restaurant was never full, there were a number of tables occupied.

The price on Friday and Saturday nights for the buffet is $15.99. This includes unlimited soft drinks that you take yourself. This is the price that all nights had once been. At this price you are getting excellent value for the quality and taste of the food served. At the new lower price of $8.99 you are practically eating for free. There are fast food restaurants that you cannot eat at for this low a price.

Let me try to entice you with my meal and maybe you will say I have to go there. Now, I know that many of you are no where near the state of New Jersey, but maybe you know someone there or near there that you can call and say - Go right now to Buffet Europa! So, anyway, I started with the seafood bisque - chunks of fresh fish in a pink thin/thick cream broth. Just as I remembered it was very good. My wife had the chicken noodle soup which you might say is no big deal, but this one does not taste like buffet chicken noodle soup or diner chicken noodle soup. It tastes like fine restaurant chicken noodle soup. I know I am repeating myself from other articles about this buffet, but there is a point to be made here about the food. It is not buffet food. It is fine restaurant food.

I followed the soup with a plate of assorted cold vegetables from the salad bar. I am not a lettuce salad eater, but all of the fixings were there for one. I had a bit of Italian vegetable salad - pieces of carrot, cauliflower, red peppers, etc. in white vinegar. I also had some pickles and olives. Just a small bit to taste. I added a dinner roll - because they looked good.

Entrees on this evening were similar to the first night that I had been to this restaurant. There were Polish Perigees - a ravioli-like dumpling of pasta folded around mashed potato and skillet fried with onions. They are served with sour creme on the side. There were sweet cheese blintzes - folds of sweet, thin pancakes (crepes) folded flat around a sweetened cheese mixture and dusted with powdered sugar. There was something different this evening - fried potato pancakes - ground potatoes and onions formed into flat patties and deep fried - served with apple sauce on the side. There was also a different entree added to the selection - fried veal cutlets. This is something that I have not had since I was a child growing up in my Italian-American home.

Other entrees were as they had been - Polish kielbasa in sauerkraut, barbecue ribs, Swedish meatballs, small pieces of fried pollack, stuffed cabbage, Penne ala Vodka, chicken Francais, roasted and sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and I am sure that I am forgetting some other things. All were as I remembered. All were wonderful. Long, long ago, I had a Polish girlfriend - and the kielbasa here reminded me of what her mother made. In addition to this all, there was a roast of beef to carve that was nicely crispy on the outside.

I had to stop eating entrees when I realized that I was getting too full to enjoy dessert. Oh the deserts! This night there was something that I have never seen in any buffet- and rarely is it found in restaurants. They had Sfogliatelle! I had at first been disappointed that I did not see Tiramisu out on the counter, but my wife pointed out to me that the sfogliatelle was there and something really unusual. So what is Sfogliatelle? It is a pastry of crispy layers of thin sweet dough in the shape of a seashell. The dough is such that it breaks apart as you eat it in thin strips - just hard enough to give it a crunch and the need to chew. Inside this seashell of layers of pastry dough is sweetened, baked ricotta cheese mixed with sugar and tiny pieces of candied dried fruits to give a hint of citrus to the taste. This is a pastry that I have, maybe once a year, with family at Christmas dinner. At an Italian bakery this is an expensive pastry - at a minimum $3.00 and often more a piece. Here at Buffet Europa there was a tray full out on the dessert counter, each covered in powdered sugar. The taste was spot on to what it should be! Whether they made them here or brought them in, I don't know, but if they brought them in, they paid quite a bit for them to just have them out as a buffet dessert! In addition, for those who want just the ordinary - but here the ordinary is extraordinary - there was sections of coffee cake, muffins, brownies with chocolate chunks inside, chocolate chip cookies, and cheesecake. Of course, I had to have a piece of the cheesecake! I was happy - Sfogliatelle and cheesecake at a buffet!

We left happy and full. There is not more that you can ask of any restaurant.

Have I enticed you? These people are trying hard to do that! They need your business. I don't know how else that I can say that this restaurant must continue because it sets a new and higher standard for buffets - family friendly and affordable buffets - with food that does not originate in some chain restaurant warehouse with directions to cook it exactly this way and serve so that it will be the same at any of the chain's locations.

I was delighted to see our Best Buffet Certificate professionally matted and framed on hung prominently on the wall to the right of the cashier's desk! It looked like they were proud to receive this award and they certainly went out of their way to display it! When you go in, mention it, and tell them that you heard about them right here!

So, go to Buffet Europa! If you are nearby, keep going back! I wish I could but I am more than 90 miles and $20 in tolls away. If I was nearby I would be a regular.

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. Please take note of their new hours listed above in this article.

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.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Mrs. Rowe's Country Buffet

Several years back I found a restaurant in the Shenandoah Mountain/Blue Ridge Mountains called Mrs. Rowe's. I had been searching for places to eat on a trip that was taking through the Shenandoah heading south and came upon a book that talked all about Road Food - places to stop when you are "on the road". There was a site from the two authors that highlighted some of their favorites and there was described Mrs. Rowe's. I knew right away that this was a must visit on this trip. This was not a buffet restaurant - I knew that up front. It was described as having some of the best Southern country cooking and the must have was the pan fried chicken. We stopped there and this chicken was everything that was said about it and I still feel that it was the best fried chicken that I had ever had. A few years later we were passing through the city of Staunton, Virginia (pronounced by the locals as STAN Ton) again, and again, I went back to Mrs. Rowe's and it was still as I remembered it.

A few months ago I was poking around for buffets and I could not believe what I came across - Mrs. Rowe's Country Buffet! The original restaurant is still where it always was, but the buffet is in the town of Mt. Crawford, Virginia. I have not been to the buffet, but I know Mrs. Rowe's cooking and the food has got to be as good as it is at the original restaurant.

Mrs. Rowe's Country Buffet serves lunch seven days a week with Sunday serving dinner all day and they serve dinner from Tuesdays to Sundays. Note that they are closed for diner on Mondays. On many days of the week the dinner menu and the lunch menu are similar with some additions at dinner. Lunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm and dinner starts at 3 until 8:00 pm. They are open for many holidays.

The cooking is Southern country with many dishes that some from other parts of the country will not have heard of. Fried chicken and spoon bread is served on the buffet every day. Spoon bread - a southern comfort food - is like a corn bread pudding. It is baked in a crock (or pan) until the mixture is moist and the consistency of a thick, semi-solid pudding that is spooned out onto your plate and you eat it with a fork. It is difficult to describe because there really is nothing like it that I can compare it to. It is sweet and smooth when you eat it - and it is best eaten while it is hot or at least warm. Some days on the buffet there are baked apples. Other days there is fried cabbage. Of course, macaroni and cheese is a staple each day at lunch and dinner. On Wednesday's there are chicken livers (don't let that keep you away - there are other things too). Fridays and Saturdays the menu focuses on seafood at dinner and items such as shrimp scampi, steamed shrimp, salmon cakes, blue crabs, clam strips, fried oysters, and catfish may be found. Sunday - as I said dinner is served all day - has added a steamship round of beef. On Friday and Saturday dinner crab legs are available which means there is an added charge for crab legs and I am sure they are not all you care to eat.

For dessert you will find homemade pies. The baking at Mrs. Rowe's was exceptional when I had it.

This is an area full of natural wonders - caverns, beautiful mountain drives and the Skyline Drive (a parkway that takes you across the top of the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains with spots to stop and park where bears will come right up to your car - no, not zoo bears, but wild bears so do not get out of your car and never feed them - unless you want them to try to come into your car with you or climb up on the hood or the roof). There is much to see and do here and it is a direct run south along the border between Virginia and West Virginia. Mrs. Rowe's may not be a natural wonder but it is a wonder to enjoy. I am definitely planning a trip to be sure to try Mrs. Rowe's Country Buffet. When I do I will tell you all first hand about it. If anyone has been there, please do comment.

Mrs. Rowe's Country Buffet is located at 6187 South Valley Pike, Mount Crawford, Virginia. Their phone number is (540) 433-0993. There is a website and that site is linked at the side of this page.