Friday, July 29, 2011

Family Cupboard Restaurant - Lancaster, PA

It has been a couple of years since I was last at the Family Cupboard Restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have enjoyed this restaurant in the two locations that it has occupied and the food, the quality, and the service have remained consistent over many years. Looking back over my articles I find it hard to believe that I have not written about Family Cupboard since 2007. I know that I have eaten there since then. It is time that I tell you all about this buffet - again.

We were recently in Lancaster County for several days. We go there often but when it is a short trip we have dinner at either Shady Maple Smorgasbord or Yoders. When we have more time in the area we go to the other buffets (with a meal at Shady Maple and/or Yoders as well). My wife has commented that Family Cupboard is her favorite.

The people who own and operate Family Cupboard are part of a family of local restauranteurs. Members of this same family operate Dieners and Littiz Family Cupboard Restaurant - both have buffets. In fact all three have very similar offerings on their buffets - the recipes used at all three are the same family recipes. The owners at each are hands on and involved in the day to day operation. This is one reason why Family Cupboard is as good as it is. They also seem to treat their staff well and this Family Cupboard puts out a quarterly newsletter talking about accomplishments of different employees. I always enjoy reading this - both when it was mailed in print and now that it is posted on the internet and emailed. (To get the newsletter just go to their website listed on the side of this page and subscribe to their newsletter.)

The we arrived at the restaurant on a Friday night at about 6:30 pm for dinner and there was a wait. We were told that it might take as long as 45 minutes to get a table. The restaurant closes at 8 but we were told not to be concerned as they would be seating until 8 and the buffet would be kept open as long as necessary. There is a small gift shop on the second floor of this restaurant that looks from the outside like it is a large red barn. We went up to the second floor to look around and wait for our table. To call you to your table you are handed an large beeper with flashing led lights. When your table is ready it will buzz and the lights flash. It will reach you anywhere on their property. The gift shop is not extensive but there is a video playing there about the Amish and while it is playing to entice you to purchase it, the area is set up with a bench and you are welcome to sit and watch. There is also a small children's play area along side. The wait was not as long as we were told. We waited only 25 minutes and our beeper buzzed and the lights flashed and we headed to the hostesses desk to be taken to our table. We commented with a smile that it did not take the 45 minutes that she had said and the hostess told us that she would rather add a few minutes to the wait time than have people expecting a table and waiting longer than was stated. That actually does make sense - though it can result in some leaving to look for another restaurant.

The dining room was not crowded and there were some empty tables but it looked like they were spacing out the seatings so that there would not be a crowd at the buffet servers. There are two dining rooms - the original in the front of the restaurant and a separate room that was the expansion to accommodate large crowds. There were tables filled in both rooms. The buffet is in the center of the front dining room. It consists of a U-shaped single sided hot buffet server with a soup and salad bar server on one side of the U on a room divider and the dessert bar on the other side on a wall.

Price of the buffet has gone up since I was last here. The dinner price for Friday and Saturday nights is $13.79. On Monday to Thursday the dinner costs $12.69. Unlimited soft drinks are an additional $1.69. Children pay $0.89 per foot of height. The restaurant is closed on Sundays - as are most local restaurants in Lancaster County.

We went up first for soup and there were three soups offered. One was my favorite, Chicken Corn Soup, another was New England Clam Chowder, and the third was Ham and Bean Soup. I took a bowl of the Chicken Corn. There are different styles of chicken corn soup. Some are just clear chicken soup with pieces of chicken and corn cooked in. Here the Chicken Corn soup is thick with an added starch that I have not really been able to decide what it is - it may be a fine pasta, but more likely it is a dumpling mixture that is blended into the soup. It is excellent. I also tried a taste of the New England Clam Chowder just to see how it was and it also was very good with nice pieces of clam in a thick white cream soup with potatoes. I am sure that the Ham and Bean was just as good.

After soup I went up to the salad bar. There is chopped lettuce greens and salad dressings, a number of salad toppings and an assortment of prepared salads and salad bar items. There was local potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, applesauce, and apple butter just to name a few things that you will find on the salad bar. There are rolls just across from the salad bar on the hot buffet server. I made myself a salad of lettuce and toppings and added Ranch dressing. I love all of those other prepared salads but there are reasons why I should not indulge along with knowing that we would be out for four days of buffet dinners so I restrained myself.

While there are some variations on what is served on the buffet from night to night and from visit to visit there are generally the same foods that are regularly served. What I now list as finding on the hot buffet server you will likely find there as well - no matter when you go - with a few differences. You will always find cut up rotisserie chicken and they make an excellent rotisserie chicken. There will be fried chicken and there will be sliced ham. There was meatloaf, but on some nights they have ham loaf. There was and usually is cubes of braised beef in beef gravy. There will be real mashed potatoes (never from a mix) and buttered noodles. On Fridays and Saturdays there is fried shrimp and a fish dish - though there has been fish served on other nights that I have been here. The fish this night was a breaded broiled talapia that was very tasty. You will always find Bread Filling - this is the local name for "stuffing". There was a dish that I have not had there before. It was a sausage and black bean stew. I had to try the sausage and black bean stew and it was very good. It consisted of smoked sausage slices stewed with black beans and vegetables. I love smoked sausage. I am not much of a fan of black beans, but I enjoyed this stew very much. There also was a very good macaroni and cheese. To top the entrees and side dishes, there is beef gravy, chicken gravy, and pineapple gravy for the ham. Everything severed on the buffet is pre-sliced or cut and nothing is carved to order.

There was a variety of fresh vegetables served and some of these may change from night to night. There was string beans, carrots, corn, Brussels sprouts, hot beets, and stewed tomatoes.

As always when I am at a buffet and I am going to write about it, I taste a little of this and that and I took a taste of what attracted me. I always enjoy the rotisserie chicken at this buffet and I took more of that and covered it with chicken gravy. This chicken is moist and tender.

You will not find the overwhelming assortment of food that you may at the larger buffets but you will not be hungry at this buffet and you will find something that you like. The food is local - meaning - you are eating Amish and Mennonite recipes and this is one of the reasons to come to Lancaster County. The smaller buffets are more local than the larger buffets.

There is a nice selection of local desserts here and they are located on a dessert bar along the wall. A few years back when I was here last they did not have an ice cream machine because soft serve machines are licensed and taxed, apparently, in this area. They do have one now. There is a soft serve machine with very good ice cream and a selection of sundae toppings. For the more adventurous dessert eaters there is six foot high rotating pie and cake server that had on this night Peanut Butter Cream Pie (this is a local staple and you will find it at several restaurants), Shoo Fly Pie (molasses and crumb pie), Coconut Cream Pie, Raspberry pie, and Carmel Apple Pie. Many buffets in this area serve local-style prepared desserts. These are puddings or cake/pudding in a tray that you scoop out into a bowl. You will always find Bread pudding and Egg Custard here. There was Chocolate Eclair pudding. There was also diet chocolate pudding and diet jello. The fresh fruit that was out was cut up and in syrup. The desserts are good here and you are actually getting all you care to eat of desserts that you would willingly pay individually for. Unlike some of the buffets that I write about - these desserts are worth saving room for.

The service that we had was excellent. We did not have to wait to have our drinks refilled and our dishes were taken away each time we went back up for more food. As I said the employees here seem to be treated like family and they show that in their work attitude.

This is a restaurant that you can order the buffet or order from the menu. There does not seem to be a problem with different people at one table doing both. Just do not take anything from anyone's plate who is having the buffet if you are ordering from the menu - or you will be charged also for a buffet meal - AND this is he way is SHOULD be!

If you come to the Family Cupboard restaurant expect to see both local people and tourists dining here. You will also see Old Order Amish and Mennonites eating here. There is a place for horse and carriages to park in the rear parking lot. Again, this is what you come to Lancaster County for.

Family Cupboard has a frequent diners card and it is free. For every ten meals you get a $10 credit to use on a meal. We have not been there in a few years. We knew that the last time that we had been there we would be entitled to a $10 credit. I was not sure if they would say that it had been too long - or if they even had the cards any longer. I showed the card to the cashier as I was paying and she took it, entered it into the computer register and verified my credit and ten dollars came off our bill. Nice! If you are going to visit this area more than once, ask for a card. It is worth it!

I absolutely recommend that you try Family Cubboard Restaurant and Buffet. It is located on Route 340 between Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse. (Yes, those are names of REAL towns!) There is a link at the side of the articles to the restaurant's website. The address is 3029 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505 and the phone is (717) 768-4510.


Mona said...

Seems like a great value price-wise for all that you get, compared to the Long Island, NY restaurants where a side of french fries is $3.95 extra and a dessert (I'm talking a single slice of pie) is $5.00! Anyone who lives near these kinds of places should be glad. Wonderful article.

Allysia said...

How about the sodas in chain menu restaurants that are now commonly $2.99? Even with refills, that is crazy, especially with kids. We went to Applebee's recently with my nieces and over $20 of our bill was for soda alone. Then you add tax and tip to the $20. It really makes you want to stay home and not go out.

Writer said...

The top price for sodas at most buffet restaurants is $1.99 - and that is for unlimited refills and usually you can switch to coffee or tea with dessert at no additional charge.

Ralph said...

$1.99 is not so bad, but $2.99 is too much. My sister in law was in food service for 22 years and always said that beverages, even soft drinks, were a big profit item. Watered-down soda for $2.99 is nuts. If you have a big group, do the math.
Thanks for a nice piece about that buffet.

(m) said...

Thank you for your wonderful reviews of Lancaster's many yummy buffets. I grew up in Lancaster and have cherished memories at each of these restaurants. I served at The Family Cupboard for ten years (at the two latest locations) and you are right about John creating a 'family' atmosphere with his employees. Many of my good friends are from TFC, and my husband even had a chance to serve there for a year. I'm sad to see that John is selling it (though I think he may have recently sold it!). I will be an avid reader of your blog, now. Keep up the good work!

I have a blog as well, and have mentioned my times at TFC alot!