Friday, January 07, 2011


I have been struggling with this decision for most of this past year. I have examined the buffets that I have been to this year and in previous years very carefully. In making an important selection for BEST buffet of the year, I look at the quality of the food, the selection of food, the value of the price and what is received for the money, the cleanliness of the restaurant, the courtesy and quality of the staff - and management - and, perhaps most importantly - though not much more importantly than all the other factors - how much you say "Wow!" in a good way about your total experience at the buffet. Since my good wife accompanies me to all of the buffet meals and restaurants that I review and/or dine at, I run my thoughts by her and get her opinion as well.

With all of that, once again, the Buffet of the Year is Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Now, many of the regular readers here are going to say, "How come I knew that was what he would pick?". And I, myself, have had that running through my mind for the past few months. Why do I pick Shady Maple year after year? Simply, I cannot find any other buffet that gives me - and many of you who have been there - and many others who go there - that certain "Wow!". Believe me I have looked for a buffet restaurant to top it. There was one other that I considered this year, but I feel that an important factor to consider is ownership - a big conglomerate corporation versus a family owned and run business, I have to give more credit to the family owned and operated business - which is what Shady Maple is. And it seems that so many know this is THE buffet to go to.

Before I made up my mind I decided that I had to go back for one more meal just to be certain. So with this as the main intention of the 400 mile round trip, we went again to Shady Maple just a few short weeks ago. This is not the visit that I recently wrote about. This is yet another visit and meal. The afternoon before we went to the restaurant we stopped at a very popular farmer's market in Lancaster County called Green Dragon Market in Ephrata, PA. While I was looking through one of the larger permanent indoor shops at this very large outdoor and indoor market, I listened to a couple talk to a gentlemen at the cash register of this shop. They were talking about where to eat. These were visitors - tourists, I suppose. It is not unusual in this area to find tourists at all times of the year - with the exception of the dead of winter in January and February. They told the store owner the name of another local buffet that they were going to that Friday night - one that I have reviewed on this site and a very good one, too. They said a friend recommended it. The first words out of this local man's mouth then were "He did not recommend that you go to Shady Maple?!?" He said this with a bit of honest surprise - almost shock! They answered - "Oh yes! We are going there tomorrow night!" What is the point of this story. It is one that is repeated over and over again. I have overheard this same conversation in local shops and attractions many, many times. I have heard Old Order Amish say it. I have heard Mennonites say it. And I have heard the "English" say it. (The Amish and the Mennonites are the religous sects that have settled this area of Pennsylvania. The "English" are those who are not Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch- German).)

I have written so many times on this site about Shady Maple. I have told the history of the restaurant and the owners. I have described the extravagant decor of the "new" restaurant building. I have described many meals that have been served here. I will talk about this recently past meal just to emphasize some of the things that make this restaurant stand out. Before I do, I have one regret about Shady Maple and this has to do with the "new" building - which is not so new any longer. Each time I go to Shady Maple now I really miss the "old" building. It is like moving out of a first house and into a nice new, big home - but you still miss that old place. I miss the old Shady Maple that I first went to again and again so many years ago. It was smaller. The lines were out the door and way down the walk to get in. But the restaurant was more rural and homier. It was more in keeping with the locale. The food, service, and everything was and is exactly the same as it is now. We were there the last week before that old building closed and we were there when the new building opened. The building is still there - occupied by a furniture store now. The new building is on the same property - but in the back behind the supermarket that was the original farm stand business owned by the Shady Maple owners/founders. I love going to Shady Maple - then and now. My wife knows how I feel about the "old" building and will say to me - just about each time - "I know - you miss the "old" Shady Maple".

That said, let me tell you (I have said this to you before) that I believe that the "new" building is the largest, regularly open restaurant in the United States - maybe even the world. This is not anything "official" but I cannot think of any restaurant that is larger. I know of one in an amusement park that makes this claim - as the biggest restaurant - but they are not open all year and Shady Maple is larger. It is easily the size of a football field when all of the dining rooms are put together - and then there are the catering rooms that are not seen from the restaurant dining rooms. This place is huge. And they have it divided in such a way that when you are seated in any one dining room that you don't realize how much more there is. You have to be there to appreciate the size - and how well they handle the number of people that they are feeding at any one time. There is never an empty tray. There is always food coming out. And even near closing they are making sure that everyone has enough to eat.

Ok - I have gone on enough. Let me talk about this meal. I always seem to find something new on the buffet each time I come. This last visit, there was an unusual soup - sausage and peppers soup. It was a thick tomato base soup full of sausage, peppers, and Italian herbs and spices. It was mildly spicy and very good. It reminded me a bit, but different from, the Maryland Crab soup that is sometimes served here - and one of my favorites as they serve it. It had a definite Italian taste - as it should and there were large slices of Italian sausage in the soup.

Fall and late Fall are the time of year in this area for sausage. This is hog butchering time. There were two kinds of sausage on the buffet. One was served from the grill and the other served from the buffet server. On the grill - and found fairly regularly - at least at this particular time of year was Shady Maple's "own" sausage. This is a mildly seasoned, country sausage. It was very good. On the buffet server was Polish sausage. This was a sausage link with a small bit of spice - but not too much. This was very good as well. Tasty!

Chicken and Waffles are known to different cuisines, but in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country this is not the fried chicken over a waffle that is served in soul food restaurants. Here this pieces of chicken off the bone stewed in a cream sauce with carrots and celery. This is then poured over a thick, golden waffle. The cream soaks into the waffle and takes up all of the flavors of the stew. I have had this at Shady Maple before, but this is not something that is regularly found. It was there on this last visit. Wonderful!

One of the big favorites at Shady Maple is called "Smorgie" Cheese Steaks. I have written about these before and they are often served on Friday and Saturday nights. This is Shady Maple's own variation of Philly Cheesesteaks - and people in these parts really know their cheesesteaks - and they line up for these! They are made and served off the grill. Thin sliced steak beef is grilled and then chopped on the grill with the edge of a spatula and then thick cheese is put on top of the beef on the grill to felt on and into the meat. They make this with and without onions - your choice. And there is tomato sauce on the side to put on top at your request. They serve this on a large "hoagie" roll (depends on where you are from - hoagie, hero, submarine, torpedo - all the same roll). I surprised the gentleman behind the counter and asked for it with no roll - no problem - I just handed him my plate and he spatulaed it on. (With all of the great things to eat here - why fill up on a roll? The cheesesteak is just as good and then you have more room to keep on eating.) As I say and say, I have been here many times. Every time I go and there are Smorgie Cheesesteaks - I go "Wow!".

I will tell you about one more thing that I had at this meal. Ribs. When they have them, Shady Maple serves ribs from a buffet server hot tray. There are pieces of racks - about four meaty ribs to a piece served in a light, tomato base, barbecue sauce. I suppose these are considered "spare" ribs as they are very meaty ribs. I am sure that these are not cooked in a smoker but rather some form of oven, but the mark of a great rib is that meat just falls off the bone - and these ribs do just that. They are great! The meat is tender, moist, and juicy. The sauce is not overpowering and not too sweet. The outside of the ribs have a very slight char but not that it makes the outside tough or chewy. Wonderful ribs.

Put it all together - yards and yards of buffet buffet servers in a row, four grills each with four or more offerings, the cheesesteaks, the Pennsylvania Dutch local specialties, grilled to order steaks on some nights, the ribs, and I have not even mentioned the desserts - all together combined with great service, friendly staff, and a management that is present on the floor to make sure all is absolutely right - and nothing else comes close. This is why I cannot find another buffet to top this one. This is why this is the Best Buffet - year after year.

Visit their website, look at their own Facebook page and then look at the Facebook fan pages started by people who love this place, look at the You-Tube videos made by both Shady Maple and its fans - you will the understand. Heck go to this buffet! I know people besides myself that make this trip a destination. And lately I have been driving 400 miles round trip - there and back in one day.

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. (Put the name in your GPS and it will know it.) The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. They are closed on Sundays and certain holidays. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.


mario said...

I can't disagree, its a hike from Long Island, but at the end of the day we're all "It was worth the trip"

Anonymous said...

Reluctantly I have to agree, I keep thinking there has to be a buffet better than Shady Maple. We keep trying new ones that are good, but yet we always keep going back to Shandy Maple. I especially love breakfast, and we have been there on some mornings when it was quiet, with very few people and no lines. At that time most of the people are workers, and farmers, most dressed in their work clothes. We get up early, many times at 3:30 am so getting there before 6:30 am is not a problem, but they some times don't have all the pastry and things out early in the morning. Shady Maple has some booths for big people and that makes me feel much more comfortable.

I often say the day will come when The Shady Maple will be outlawed, just too many foods that some say are not good for you, but are great to eat.

Stan L. said...

Shady Maple is great. It causes huge problems with our blood sugar values and cholestrol, but it is still worth it for those special occasions, I agree. My niece, who is "big-boned," reports that she can gain seven pounds with one big meal there, but she also agrees that it is worth it. I tend to overindulge to the point of stomach pain, difficulty driving, etc, but we still do and will go back. They are right on top of the servers and run a great place. I have vomited in the parking lot, but, yes, I will go back. I wish that there was something like it closer to where we live in Caldwell, NJ, but there is not. That was a great article, Shady Maple deserves the honor.

Robert A said...

Stan L. - we have to be very careful about our blood sugar values and with a great deal of restraint we have been able to keep that in control at Shady Maple. It does mean passing up those wonderful desserts and also watching our meal choices but there is still so much to enjoy!

As to cholesterol - well, there is not much getting around that - especailly if you have to watch blood sugar and limit carbs.


mauricodefilidelfia said...

What are the four most dangerous words in the English language?

---- All you can eat!!!!

Writer said...

Which is why we say on this site -

All You Care to Eat - and why the subtitle to this site is

All You Can Eat is NOT A CHALLENGE!