Friday, July 30, 2010

It is Going to Take a Lot

When I am in southeastern/central Pennsylvania I make a point to get to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for dinner. I have written about this restaurant many times and it has been selected as Best Buffet - anywhere - for several years running by this site. I was recently there again and started wondering what would it take to top this? What would it take for another buffet to be the best?

I have been to many elaborate buffets - some in hotels, some in casinos. I have been to many family buffets. None come close to the size, consistency, quantity, and value as Shady Maple. It is almost embarrassing to find no competition. I have looked. I have tried and tasted. Entering a new buffet there is always hope - will this be the one? So far none have.

It does not matter what season or what night of the six days of the week that it is open, it is always full of people. This is a favorite of both locals and tourists and they line up to get in. We were recently there in the middle of the week - what usually is an off night for restaurants - even in an tourist area. There were lines - though short lines - at Shady Maple and while there really was no wait most of the large dining rooms - and they have several were full of happy diners.

This recent visit the feature of the night was Prime Rib. Full prime ribs being carved to order at several carving stations. If you wanted rare, there was a rare one to be had. If you wanted well done, there was a well one there too, as were medium done too. Who else does this? Most are "here is what we have" - it is rare or it is well done, not both,and usually it is well done.

The same is true when steaks are served. Order it as you like it and it will be cooked for you and shown to you to make sure it is how you want it. A few buffets will do this, but not many.

The number of different items being served at one time on the buffet is unchallenged. As I have pointed out before that many do not walk down to both ends of the buffet servers. In the middle it appears that the each side repeats what is on the other, but that is not true. Even the second salad bar and soup area will have a number of different offerings than on the first. There are different side dishes on each end and different entrees mixed in with some that repeat. Even the two dessert areas have different things assorted in.

I want to see the buffet that tops this one. It will have to be spectacular beyond imagination. It really is going to take a lot to top Shady Maple. If it is out there, I want to know about it.

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, July 23, 2010


On June 4, 2010 I wrote an article here announcing that the wonderful buffet restaurant, Buffet Europa was sold to new owners. I have just been informed by one of our readers that there is now a sign on the front of the restaurant that says: "Coming Soon: Mediterranean and Turkish Restaurant". What was and had been Buffet Europa is now gone.

While this would not usually be deserving of its own article, but rather, perhaps, a comment on one of the other articles about this buffet, this little gem of a buffet was getting a following from our readers - perhaps too few and too late - but a following never the less, and it is important that all know that if they go there now, they are not going to find the buffet there any longer.

The website for Buffet Europa is still running. It has not been updated but when one looks at it it appears that all is open and the same. But this may be that the website was never transferred to the new owners or if it was it has not been maintained. The link to that site has been removed from the side of this page.

I could lament the loss of Buffet Europa but anyone who follows this site already knows how I and many feel. There really should be no surprise to any of us as we all have commented on the sad lack of business that this restaurant received despite how good the buffet was.

The new restaurant that is coming to this location may be very good. It doubt that it will be a buffet, but if it is we would all love to hear about it and please leave a comment below or contact me.

If the original owners ever do open a new "Buffet Europa" I hope that they will contact me through this site and let us know where it is. It will certainly become a priority trip!

So if you were heading to Aaron Road in North Brunswick, New Jersey for a meal at Buffet Europa you will not find it when you get there.

So sad...

Friday, July 16, 2010


I love finding small, non-chain buffets that are not Asian. There are many oriental independent buffets and in areas like Pennsylvania it is also not unusual to find one, but in New York it is very rare. I came across the Ivy Buffet on a trip many months ago. We had planned to dine there on our next trip to that area - and I must say going to this area is very rare for us - but in the past year we have gone three times. Well, on that second trip things just kept going wrong and we never made it to the Ivy Buffet. Just recently we found that we needed to go past this area again, and we knew that on our way back home we would definitely dine at Ivy Buffet.

The Ivy Buffet is located in West Nyack, New York. It is across from Palisades Mall, one of the largest malls in the United States. The mall is a location to see all on its own with a Ferris wheel inside and even a Chinese buffet in the mall itself. The Ivy Buffet is not in the mall or accessed from the malls many parking lots. It is across Route 303 from the mall and you must be on the north bound side of the route to get in which resulted in our passing it and pulling into a business parking lot to turn around as the road is no U turn sign after no U turn sign.

The restaurant is in a building that had been formerly one of the many chain restaurants before - not a buffet chain, but the outside of the building was very familiar looking though I am not certain which of the chains it had been before. There is a large enough parking lot and the building has been well maintained. There is a large sign outside - Ivy Buffet - so that you cannot miss it.

Inside you find a very nice decor. I am sure that whatever this had been before - this buffet has only been here less than a year - came from the former restaurant. There are three dining rooms and a private room for parties also. The first dining room is directly in front of the entrance doors and away from the buffet servers. The other two dining rooms are next to each other - separated by only a short, see over wall and right next to the buffet servers.

Dinner at the Ivy Buffet is $9.99 Monday through Sunday for dinner. Lunch is $5.99 from Monday to Saturday. Unlimited soft drinks are $1.49, served to you by your server and they have Pepsi products. There are children's prices that are split by two age ranges. The price of the meal is well worth it and the food as you will see as you read on is good.

The food at the Ivy Buffet is called "Continental" and I guess that is a good description. It is not Southern or country like many buffets - no fried chicken (at least not on the night that we went there). This is what could be called European (not like Europa Buffet had though) or basic American fare. There are three large double sided buffet servers and one smaller server against the back wall with desserts.

We were told when we came in to pick any table that we liked. It was about 7:30 on a Friday night. The restaurant was almost empty. There were about six tables full. As we were there other groups came in, but the restaurant was never really crowded with many empty tables. As we were dining I kept thinking about a similar situation at Buffet Europa in New Jersey. Though, I have seen reports that Ivy Buffet can get crowded at times - which is a good thing for business.

We gave the server our drink order and we went up to the buffet. We always start with soup and there was one server with chicken rice soup. There was an empty spot next to that for another soup. Almost as soon as we were back at the table with our soup the second soup was brought back out full of seafood chowder. I, of course, finished my chicken rice soup - it was very nice - and went up for a cup of seafood ch0wder. The chowder was a thin, red chowder very similarly seasoned to clam chowder but it was full of chunks of a white fish and shrimp. This soup was good too.

We next headed up to the salad bar. One entire server was a cold server with salads, greens, salad fixings, prepared salads, and also peel and eat shrimp on ice. The shrimp were large. This server also had several fresh fruits to choose from along with chocolate pudding and vanilla pudding. There were also Greek stuffed grape leaves with the salads. When we came in I was certain that I heard a Greek accent from the gentlemen who greeted us and in NY it is common for local restaurants to be owned by Greeks. The fruit included whole fresh peaches, grapes, and watermelon. It is not everyday that you find whole fresh peaches on a buffet. I chose the Caesar salad. It was pre-mixed and nicely full of dressing with seasoned croutons. This salad was very good. One of the best that I have had at buffets.

We moved on to the hot foods next. There was an interesting assortment. There was chicken Marsala, chicken parmigiana, meatloaf, hot wings, spare ribs, fried whole whiting (fish), broiled basa (fish), whole shrimp with the shell and head, meatballs in tomato sauce, Italian sausage and peppers, linguine, chicken in Spanish rice, chili, baked ziti with meat, fried chicken cutlets, pizza, and mixed vegetables and potatoes including whole red potatoes, french fries and mashed potatoes. While this is not an overwhelming number of entrees there certainly were enough to choose from. The food was good. The chicken Marsala - chicken lightly coated and sauteed in wine sauce with mushrooms had a good taste of the wine in the sauce. The chicken parmigiana was cut into half size pieces, each covered in mozzarella cheese with tomato sauce. This was good as well - and with the addition of a little extra tomato sauce on top of the cheese taken from the server of tomato sauce next to the linguine, this made it even better - though it was good on its own. The spare ribs were thick and meaty. They did not have a traditional barbecue sauce on them though they had a light sauce that had been brushed on before they were baked that cooked into the top of the ribs. There was a lot of meat on each rib. I would have preferred them in barbecue sauce but many prefer them plain. These were baked ribs and in the bottom of the server there was some oil that had come from the meat - at first I was concerned that the ribs would be greasy but they were not. They were very tender and tasty but not fall off the bone ribs. Basa is a catfish that comes from Vietnam and is very popular in Europe and was recently introduced to the market here in the US. I did not know this at the time and I do like catfish. The Basa had a mild taste, was less fatty than catfish, and was mildly seasoned when broiled. The surface of the fish was a little tough but the meat of the fish was tender. The sausage and peppers were nice, as were the meatballs. The meat loaf was not covered in ketchup as it is in some restaurants. It was good. The chicken cutlets were brought out later while we were dining and added to the tray that contained french fries. When the pizza was gone - and it did not come back out, the chicken came out in its place. I think that is a fair substitution. I want to make a comment also about the linguine. In many buffets the pasta is kept in water or oil to keep it "fresh". Here the linguine was kept nicely fresh without being soaked in water or oil. It was not dry at all. It was hot and fresh. I am not sure how they do it but it was done well.

There was a small dessert assortment that included chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, chocolate brownies, butter cookies, European style chocolate chip cookies, apple strudel cake, soft serve ice cream and cones with toppings, and all of the fresh fruits and puddings that I mentioned above that were on the salad bar. A woman at a nearby table commented on how good the ice cream was. It did look good - creamy and not icy.

I must point out that food was continually brought out and added to the buffet to replace anything that was even beginning to run out through out the time that we were there and there were not that many tables full of diners. A good effort was made to make sure that nothing was empty and that everything was hot and fresh.

The meal was way beyond what one would expect to get in a buffet for $9.99. The food was better than some chain buffets and I must say was far superior to the buffet meal that I had a few weeks ago that I wrote about at the Mohegan Sun Casino high price buffet.

My only regret is that I am far from this buffet and it is in a location that I am not likely to return to very often. The trip back home took 90 minutes with several large tolls included. But I was there anyway and this was one of the high points of the day!

The food is good and the value is excellent. The location for anyone in this area is easy to get to. It is actually less than 30 minutes from New York City and it is also not far from the New Jersey state border (actually very near).

I recommend the Ivy Buffet. For those of you who had been to Buffet Europa before it was sold, do not expect to find a buffet on that same level, but judged on its own merits, Ivy Buffet is a find.

The Ivy Buffet is located at 78 North Route 303 in West Nyack, New York 10994. The phone number is 845-348-1110. There is an email address but no website. The email address is

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Manager Can Make or Break a Buffet

As in any business, the manager - the man in charge at any particular moment - is a very important factor in the success or failure of a buffet restaurant. Through the years I have observed many good managers and a number of not so good managers. While it is the line staff that the public sees the most. It is the manager who oversees and directs that staff and that manager has to be visible for most of the time that the public is in the restaurant.

One of the best things that a manager can do is walk around the buffet and the dining room with wide open eyes. Are all the tables being attended to? Are there any dirty plates being left on tables? Are the floors clean? At the buffet tables are all of the trays full or near full? Does the kitchen know that any tray is about to empty? Are there serving pieces in all of the trays? And it can go on and on. If a manager has trained his/her staff well, that manager's job is much easier.

I realize that it is because of the economy but many buffets lately are understaffed. A dining room that should have a minimum of three table staff have one. A buffet area that should have several staff including a carver at the carving station or within a few steps has two or maybe three staff total - with the carver doing several other jobs other than carving. While we can blame the economy, this lack of service to the dining public is going to directly result in that restaurant losing customers and losing more money to its eventual demise.

Another important part of the manager's job is to anticipate the needs of the kitchen and the buffet for the day. I know of a buffet that never does this - holidays and significant days that will certainly bring out more patrons to the restaurant are treated as any other day and always results in shortages as the day moves into the dinner period and onto closing. Days like the last day of school, local school vacations, and, of course, holidays bring out an increase in dining out - and a family friendly buffet is always a choice of many with kids. Many of the large chain buffets will do increased advertising, run promotions, and let everyone knot that they want you there for holiday dinner. But recent visits to buffets on two family holidays were a major disappointment. Most, if not all businesses (and the chain buffets are certainly included in this) can go back into their records for that holiday the year before and see how much business was done, how many meals were served. This was easily done before there were computers so with the massive data at a businesses disposal now, this is certainly easy to do. Combined with the dining trend for the current year it is pretty straight forward to accurately predict how much food will need to be on hand, how many staff will be needed, and how to keep every customer who comes in that day feeling that they got what they came for. At one buffet that I have been to, sadly, if this were only the case. They never seem to know that the kids are home from school on a particular day and the dining room is more than full. On holidays things run out at a level that no anticipation or thought had gone into the preparation for the day. Here is an example of what took place at a buffet on a Sunday holiday in June. Long lines kept even early dinner diners from getting a table before hours later than usual - no problem here as if there are a lot of customers there are going to be lines and that cannot be helped. But once inside, these dinners who were out with their families for a holiday meal (one by the way that was well promoted by the buffet) found empty trays, carvings gone, a wait for dishes, cups, and glasses, and many of this not replenished at all. Had this manager (or team of managers) anticipated the needs for this holiday - based on previous holidays this should not have happened. Here is a conversation that was overheard between the manager of the buffet and a "concerned" customer. >>Customer - There are no coffee cups. Manager - There are supposed to be some out there. Customer - Obviously, but there are not. Manager - Oh.. Customer - Could you have some brought out. Manager - Ummm... I will have someone bring some out. << Then this manager walked into his office. It took twenty minutes before coffee cups were brought out. By then I am guessing this customer had given up. What should have this manager done? His immediate response should have been, "I will make sure that some are brought out right away. Thank you for alerting me." And then - just to show this customer that the concern presented was not being ignored, walk obviously over to the kitchen so that the customer could see that the manager was going to get this done. I have seen good managers in similar situations ask where the person is sitting and tell them they will bring whatever they are asking for right out to them - and do. That night continued on to have no more carved meat at an early enough time that there were still people at the cashier being let in, salad bowls empty for the entire night we were there, along with a number of entrees and side dishes empty. At one point earlier, for the lack of being able to find the carver, people were taking the carving knife and cutting their own meat with several just taking what should have been carved down but taking the piece. No wonder there was no more meat later on. Overheard from that same manager - who at this point was sitting at an empty table with an employee rather than tending to what was needed - "We are out of it all. No cake, no cookies, no nothing..." Yet people were still being let in. Why is this bad? Because everyone who pays the price for the meal is entitled to the full offerings of the day. There is no discount or even explanation given to say we are out of many items - be are glad to have you but expect that things will not be there when you come in.

I have seen managers at other buffets when things get to this point not let any more people in. I have seen managers who when a customer brings a concern will turn around and hand that customer either a money off coupon for the next visit or even a coupon for a free meal. While that customer may have still felt disappointed, they walked away knowing that the manager tried his/her best.

There are many managers who keep a close eye on their buffet. I have seen some taking temperature readings at the hot servers making sure that everything is properly kept hot. I have seen managers bring out a whole plate to a customer of an item that was empty on the buffet - just for that customer - while the tray was refilled for all. I have been greeted at my table - along with the guests at the other tables - by the owner of a buffet. He has sharp eyes on his entire operation and this is not a small restaurant and is often visible in the dining room along with his more than competent managers.

So, it is plain to see that a good manager will have a successful restaurant because he/she knows what the customers expect - good and plentiful food and quality service. Here is to all of the good managers out there!

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Phantom Returns

Two years ago I wrote an article called The Mystery of the Golden Corral. It was about a Golden Corral Restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania that seems to come and go. One day there it is and then suddenly, poof. Since writing that article - POOF! It was gone! In the area a few times since I would drive by and there would be the empty building - restaurant sign gone. Closed.

Now, a reader just recently wrote to me and guess what - It's Baaack! Yes, out of the mists, the phantom restaurant has returned. Same location and same Golden Corral. This is really incredible. One can only imagine what happens with the owning of this franchise location.

This Golden Corral, I am told, has been redone inside to the "new" style - get your own plates design. This is a good thing because the only thing not great about Golden Corral is having to wait until your busy server comes around with more plates.

I have also been told that the food is good. It was when I was there last but that was BEFORE the disappearance AGAIN. So there is no telling if the cooks and staff disappear with the restaurant to another dimension and then reappear in mass when the restaurant fades back into existence. If you go now you can get the Ribs feature that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, it just occurred to me, what if you are inside eating when the restaurant starts to fade away again - off into the netherworld of buffet restaurants... Nah, probably can't happen. Or can it?

The phantom Golden Corral is located at 1147 Quentin Road in Lebanon. PA. Or is it???