Friday, May 27, 2011

Yoders - New Holland, PA

I was recently in Pennsylvania. When I am there in the Lancaster area for the day, I find it hard to resist going back to Shady Maple - so that is where I usually wind up. But there is another great buffet nearby and this time, as I had been to Shady Maple on my last three trips, I decided that Yodors was due a visit. I have written about Yoders many times. Yoders is a restaurant/buffet located in a building with Yoders Supermarket. Yes, this is a buffet in (really adjacent to) a supermarket - which in the PA Dutch area is not so unusual. I consider Yoders as one of the best buffets - it is smaller and simpler but the food is good and it is plentiful. And it is geared to local food specialties.

We went on a Tuesday night for dinner. The a number of tables were full but the restaurant was not a busy as we have seen it in the past. Of course, this is early week dinner before the tourist season - though Yoders tends to attract local diners more than tourists due to its location and that tourists would not understand how a restaurant in a supermarket can be so good. We arrived a little later than usual - after 7 pm and they close at 8 pm - so there may have been much more of a crowd earlier. Never the less, the food was fresh on the buffet servers and kept properly so at Yoders I am not concerned when there is not a crowd. It should be noted that Yoders is not a JUST a buffet but also has menu dining. The buffet was $13.99 which is about a dollar more than it had been - but every price seems to be going up everywhere these days. Soft drinks are an additional $1.49 and these are refillable. These prices cannot be compared to chain buffet prices - the food here is a cut above the chains. We also came across a 20% off coupon in a local tourist publication - so we had a great meal at an even better price.

There were two soups on the buffet on this night that we were there. An unusual cheesy vegetable soup - a thick cheese soup with mixed vegetables - and beef vegetable soup were offered. Soups change from visit to visit. I tried the cheesy vegetable. It was interestingly good. This was not a soup I would have on a regular basis - cream and cheese based soups are a cardiologist's sports car in waiting. Once in a while though, it is something to try.

There is a full cold buffet server with a salad bar and prepared salads - local Pennsylvania Dutch prepared salads. The salad bar has the fixings to make a Caesar salad and I assembled one of those. There were several choices of salad greens and a wide variety of toppings including real bacon bits (which seem to be replacing the dried bacon bits at a number of buffets lately). There are a number of things to try on the salad bar that will be just a bit different from what you expect - unless you are from this area and are familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch style cooking. Try the pepper cabbage - a sweet and sour mixture of chopped peppers and cabbage. Even the macaroni salad and the potato salad will be different from what you may be used to - it is all good. On the salad bar you will also find cottage cheese - no big deal, right? But take a spoon of this and then add on top a spoonful of apple butter - a sweet, thin apple puree that is brown in color. This is an old and traditional PA Dutch combination and it is very, very good.

On this night - and I believe on Tuesday nights in general - at the grill area there was Prime Rib. It was sliced to order and a nice large slice was sliced for me by the chef. The meat was moist and not overdone. It had a very nice flavor and I enjoyed it. The problem with Prime Rib at most buffets is that you get so much that you barely want to have much more of anything else. But I managed to fit in several more tastes of entrees.

I know that you have heard of pork barbecue but how about ham barbecue. There was hot pulled chunks of ham in a thick barbecue sauce. It was a bit sweet (for me) but good. Ham balls (or ham loaf - same but sliced) are a local specialty. These are meat balls made with ham (or meat loaf made with ham) and covered in a thick pineapple hot sauce. I prefer it without the sauce but it is good.

On the grill with the prime rib there was also stir-fry shrimp terriaki and a few other items. The grill is always attended by a chef and there are two sides to accommodate lines of guests. On busy nights that I have been at Yoders it is a good thing that there are two serving lines.

There was sliced turkey and sliced ham out on the hot buffet. While the turkey was pre-sliced there was both white and dark meat mixed in - which to me indicates that it is "real" turkey and not a commercial turkey breast.

Broasted chicken is served here instead of fried chicken. I have written an entire article about broasted chicken. It looks like fried chicken but it is moister. It is fried under pressure and while in appearance could be fried chicken it is much better. There was also broiled chicken.

Side dishes are local specialties here and they have a terrific macaroni and cheese with a thick crust on top. There is buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, and potato filling - potato filling is stuffing made with potatoes. Along the side there were two types of baked oatmeal. Of course, there are string beans, baked lima beans, carrots, and mixed vegetables. All are good. The baked oatmeal is a favorite here for my wife. If you are looking for "plain" vegetables, it is not hard to find them here - and I say this in a good way. This is all "honest" farm food with a country slant.

There is so much that I am having a hard time remembering it all - and as I have written about this before you will find more possibilities of what you will find on the buffet at Yoders in my other articles. The buffet serving area here is substantial for what looks at first to be a small restaurant.

For dessert there is an assortment of pies and cakes including shoofly pie and shoofly cake - both molasses based. There is fresh fruit cut up, puddings, and prepared desserts. There is also soft serve ice cream which is excellent and is complemented with a full sundae bar. Yoders also owns and operates a dairy and the fresh cream must be what makes this ice cream so good. You will also find some PA Dutch specialties in the dessert area including something called Cracker Pudding. Cracker pudding is a little like bread pudding and a little like rice pudding. It is made with crackers - the usual, boxed saltine-type crackers - and these are cooked with an egg mixture, milk and coconut shreds. This is something that you will not find at many buffets in this area. It is a common Amish dessert. It is excellent. They also make a very good egg custard and there is both tapioca pudding and sugar-free tapioca pudding. (There are just as many carbs in most things labeled "sugar-free" as the sugar originals - no matter where you get them - so do not think that you can eat more of these - you will still gain weight and your blood sugar will be just as effected.) One thing to know about Yoders is that the earlier you go, the more you will find when it comes to cakes and pies, so if dessert is the highlight of your meal, don't get there late. They will still have things out but you will not see the variety that you might see at the earlier dinner hours.

We were there until closing time. One of the servers came to our table toward the end of the evening and asked if we would like any more hot foods. Had we said yes, they would have stopped closing the hot buffet down. As it was we had "eaten ourselves full". See if that would happen at one of the chain buffets. There when it is time to close, they close. Here, they ask your permission.

I always enjoy the meals that I have at Yoders. I really should go back there more often. I highly recommend it. Don't expect anything fancy. The restaurant is all booths and looks just like what it is - a restaurant in a supermarket complex. It is the food and the selection of food that makes Yoders special.

There is a website for Yoders listed at the side of this article. The restaurant is located at Yoder's Supermarket or perhaps, more properly, Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ribs are the New Feature at Golden Corral - and I was THERE

It has been a year and a half since I have been to Golden Corral. I love Golden Corral but there are none local. I recently had an opportunity to go to Golden Corral and to my good fortune I was able to try the new, limited time menu feature - Ribs. The Golden Corral that I visited is the location in Bensalem, Pennsylvania - the same Golden Corral that I had been to in September, 2010. At that time I reported on some problems during my visit. I am happy to say that this visit was just fine!

Golden Corral restaurants have been changing from their system of a table server bringing you plates to go back up to the buffet for more food to putting the plates out in stands in the buffet area as most other buffet restaurants do. This is a big improvement overall for the chain. The pitfall of the old system was that your dining experience was totally dependent upon how good your server was. You could sit and wait for plates with a poor server. Now, that is a thing of the past - and, hopefully, the change will be made at all locations, if it has not already. The change over has been made in Bensalem in the past year and a half and that made a great difference. Your server still brings you refills of your soft drinks, but this is common at buffets. And, on this visit we had a good server who was visible and available.

The price for the adult dinner at Golden Corral is $9.99. They advertise that at Golden Corral you can get a great meal for under $10 and so you can. The soft drink price is $1.99 and is unlimited. This is a bit high but equal with the price of soft drinks at Old Country Buffet. With the meal priced a dollar less, this makes for a better deal. And you could always skip the soda and drink water instead, keeping your dinner check under $10.

I recently wrote about the last limited time feature which was seafood. Shortly after, I received a note from one of our readers that a Golden Corral manager told him that the next feature would be baby back ribs. And so it is!

This limited time feature menu consists of baby back ribs, smoked beef brisket, sweet and spicy BBQ pork ribs, BBQ pork ribs, boneless pork ribs and apple fritters. The first thing that I went for was the baby back ribs. It is not often that I find these on any buffet and they are a favorite.

The baby backs were served next to the grill by the chef at the grill. The ribs were cut into sections of about four ribs each. They were lightly coated in barbecue sauce and next to the serving tray within reach were two types of barbecue sauce to add on, if you wanted your ribs wetter. Back at my table the ribs were cooked just right - once you cut a rib from the section, the meat pulled right off the bone clean. To me this is the best indication that the ribs are good, besides taste. The taste did not disappoint. The baby back ribs were good!

I took some of the brisket next. Again, this is next to the grill and served by the grill chef who slices off piece at your request. The outside of the brisket had a thick dark "bark". The meat was a bit fatty, but that is expected with brisket and the meat was nicely moist. Again, the barbecue sauces were right there to add on, if you wanted to. I enjoyed the brisket - but I must admit, that I enjoyed the baby backs more. Perhaps this is because, again, I don't get to eat baby back ribs often and brisket does appear at times at other buffets. This is nothing against these wonderful items at Golden Corral.

Something that I found on the side of the buffet were kitchen-made potato chips. I have had these at festivals and fairs, but I have not seen them at a buffet. I had to try one of these thin slices of potato, deep fried. What is the big deal about potato chips? Nothing - unless they are fresh made. They are much better than what you pour out of a chip bag. I don't know if this is an item that you will find at all Golden Corral buffets but if you see them, try them.

One of the things that I like a lot at Golden Corral is their flame grilled steak that is served to your request for how done it is cooked. I like steak rare, but not raw. I asked for a rare steak and without hesitation the grill chef picked one off the grill and cut a piece off for me. The steak was nicely rare inside with a good, crisp crust on the outside. The steak served at Golden Corral is a good inch thick. It has a good flavor and I consider it to be the best of the buffet chain steaks. Since Ryans became a subsidiary of Buffets, Inc and now serves the same steak as Old Country Buffet, the steak at Golden Corral has moved up to the top of the buffet chain steaks. The steak was so good that I had to go back for another piece.

I enjoyed my meal at Golden Corral but my wife had a hard time finding things to eat. One of her observations at Golden Corral is that there is very little that is served that is "plain". The meats and the vegetables are served in some type of sauce or are seasoned. Where there are carvings and such at buffets like OCB, at Golden Corral the grill and steak pretty much take that place on the menu. My picky eater wife does not like sauced ribs or brisket and she is not much of a steak eater - so her meal pretty much consisted of roasted/rotisserie chicken. She circled the buffet several times each time she went up for something to find something that she would eat. On the salad bar there is grilled chicken strips for the Caesar salad and she wound up taking some of that when she no longer wanted more of the rotisserie chicken. Looking around the buffet I had to agree with her. While, for someone (like me) who will eat a broad variety of foods - sauced, seasoned or whatever, for someone looking for something "plain" it was not an easy selection. So she was not happy - and I understand why - but I had a great meal.

So, I had a good meal. The new BBQ ribs feature is great - and I hope that they keep it around for a while! And I must add that my experience this time at the Bensalem Golden Corral was very nice. If you are in the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania, this is a meal worth going to.

If you are near any Golden Corral in the very near future go for the ribs! Don't wait because, Golden Corral changes their features over time - but at least they have features - the other buffet chains no longer do.

The Golden Corral in Bensalem, Pennsylvania (one of the most eastern Golden Corrals in the Northeast that there is) is located at 1465 Street Road in Bensalem, PA 19020 and their phone number is (215) 245-5301. There is a link at the side of this page to the Golden Corral chain.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Birthday Buffet

It was my birthday and I had to decide where I would have my "free" birthday buffet. There were several choices. I try when I am able to spend my birthday in Lancaster County, PA and of course, with that being the buffet capital there were some great buffets to choose from and a tough choice. I could have gone to The Family Cupboard, Yoders, or Shady Maple, to name a few. Each offers a free buffet meal on your birthday. Nothing against Family Cupboard but my choice narrowed down to Yoders or Shady Maple - and somehow, I just cannot resist Shady Maple even though I had been there less than a month before.

Getting your free birthday dinner at Shady Maple is easy. All you need to do is go up to the cash register and prove it is your birthday. It must be that exact day - unless your birthday falls on a Sunday, in which case you get your free buffet on the Monday right after. You don't have to belong to any clubs or get any coupons (the same holds true for Yoders and Family Cupboard). Shady Maple has a registration service that will remind you that your birthday buffet is waiting for you on your birthday - they send you an email. I don't need to be reminded that it is my birthday. But it is a nice gesture on their part.

So we went to Shady Maple for my birthday dinner. All in all I traveled eight hours round trip and about 450 miles round trip to do so, but I enjoyed the day in this beautiful part of the country and would have come even if there was not a free meal waiting.

You get more than a meal on your birthday at Shady Maple. They hand you a stack of coupons too. The coupons are good in local stores including their gift shop and a small department store next door named Good's Store. Good's Store is a very nice place to shop and you can often find things there that you don't see in the larger stores. So in addition to your great free meal, you get a little birthday present in discounts.

The meal was as good as always. They had Maryland Crab Soup which I have written about before and I think is one of the best soups that Shady Maple serves. This is a thick tomato based soup full of shredded real crab meat and vegetables. The soup has a great flavor and just a little spice from the Maryland crab seasoning in the soup. When I go to Shady Maple I always look for this soup and there it was on my birthday!

My birthday fell this year on a Monday and it just so happens that Monday's are my favorite meal day at Shady Maple because steak is the feature of the night. On three grills they were preparing Delmonico steaks, New York Strip steaks, and chopped steaks. They make the steak to your order - you want rare, medium, or well done just ask for it. If it is not ready that way they will make one for you. To top your steak there are trays out of sauteed onions and also sauteed mushrooms. OF course, on the buffet there are a myriad of things to go along with your steak and I found onion rings to add on top.

There was not just steak - of course - on the buffet and on the grill there was so much more. On the grill they were also grilling smoked pork chops. On the buffet I found the most flavorful turkey sausages. I eat turkey almost every night (heart healthy, you know) in many forms at home. We often have turkey sausages, but what we get where we live are Italian seasoned turkey sausages. Here at Shady Maple the turkey sausages were German style. They were very good. There was also Salisbury steak which was a very thick beef patty, seasoned inside, with a thick white mushroom gravy on top.

I have written so many times about the great food at this wonderful buffet that I am not going to repeat most of it here. What is important to know is that if it is your birthday, it is all for you FREE!

While I am writing about birthday buffets, I should note a change at Old Country Buffet which now includes Ryan's for your birthday buffet. OCB no longer offers a free buffet on your birthday - something that many, many are complaining about on OCB's Facebook page. No, they now only give you three dollars off a meal - one meal - with which you must purchase another adult meal and beverages. It is nice to get three dollars off - but really - this is a lot less than some of their feature coupons throughout the year. For this three dollar discount, you must be registered in their email club. Not a bad idea to be the email club if you like eating at OCB, but between you and me - you get MORE coupons more often if you "like" their Facebook page. Anyway - if you show up at OCB or Ryan's on your birthday you better have a coupon and don't expect a free meal.

If you want to go to Shady Maple for your birthday here is where they are. 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.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Dishes are Not TO GO

This is one of the more bizarre things that I have observed at buffets and it has happened several times in the past few months at different buffets. People are taking the dishes out the door.

I want to make a new buffet rule out of this but it is so absurd that it would be just to weird to include. People are actually taking plates of food with them when they leave in the plates. Now, this is wrong on two counts:

1. You are not supposed to take food out when you leave.
2. The plates are supposed to remain in the restaurant.

I am not talking about foam or disposable plates. I am talking about china dishes - plates and bowls. I have also seen drinking glasses go out the door. It is so bizarre. The first time that I saw this someone had a plate full of ice cream. They took it to their table from the dessert bar, put on their coat, and with their family walked out the door to leave while holding the plate and eating the ice cream - oh yes, the silverware has accompanied the dishes too. This is a new twist on "take out".

Another time I watched a full glass of soda travel out the door openly in someone's hand. And the topper was a plate of food - out the door. What are people thinking? Never would it occur to any rational person that the china plates and bowls, drinking glasses, and silverware are meant to be taken out of the restaurant. Are people so acclimated to fast food that they think that like the paper wrapper around the cheeseburger from McDonald's, the dinnerware at the buffet is there to go out too? There is no reasonable explanation.

And this results in higher prices for the rest of us. The restaurant expects a certain amount of breakage but for the dinnerware to be carried out the door?

This is a strange world - and it is getting stranger every day!