Friday, August 26, 2011

VIrginia City Buffet - Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino, Atlantic City,NJ

I have liked the Virginia City Buffet in Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey for a long time. The last several trips to Atlantic City I wanted to try other buffets and as I went along I have written about them on this site. I still like the Virginia City Buffet the best of all the casino buffets I have tried in Atlantic City. I has been almost three years since I have been there last - perhaps longer and on a recent trip down through New Jersey, I went back again to see if it still holds up.

Every casino in Atlantic City, and there are a number of them, has a buffet. They vary greatly in what they offer. Weekend buffets tend to emphasize seafood and on the weekends the buffets stay open later. The Wild, Wild West Casino is one of the casinos in the Bally's group in Atlantic City. This casino has no hotel. The hotel is at the Bally's casino next door, but this casino has always offered its own buffet. I am sure you can figure out that the theme of this buffet - like the casino - is the cowboy Old West. And while there is a large variety of types of cuisines served at this buffet the emphasis is on meat and potatoes. I will tell you right here, before you read on - if you don't eat meat and potatoes then this is not the buffet for you. I will elaborate why as we go along.

We went to the buffet on a Thursday night. To get to this buffet's entrance you must walk through the casino floor. For many years, no children were able to dine in this buffet because children were not permitted on the casino floor. There has been a change here sometime within the last three years and now children are allowed into this casino accompanied by an adult and you will now find children dining with their parents at the Virginia City Buffet. For families I am sure this is great. Personally, I feel that a casino is not a place for children to be in - and there were children running around in the casino near the buffet entrance not all that well supervised by any adult. The same was true in the buffet, though most were well supervised and under control.

Dinner on weeknights at the Virginia City Buffet is $21.99. On Saturdays they have a seafood feature and the price was higher. Soft drinks are included. Beer and wine is available but is paid by the glass at your table.

When you arrive at the buffet entrance which is on the first floor - the casino floor - there is a rope line to get into a small room where you pay. We waited over an hour on line to get up to the cashier. It always pays to have a casino comp card when you go to a casino buffet because there are often discounts or offers. It costs nothing to get the card in the casino. We had one card with us and while there was no discount on dinner we were given a coupon to gamble $10.00. If my wife had a card we would have received two coupons. More about this at the end. Once we paid we were moved along to another line of people waiting to be taken up the escalator to the second floor where the buffet is located. We waited on that line about ten minutes. They bring groups of people up in spurts to even out the flow of people in the restaurant. This is a good thing because it staggers the crowd and makes it easier for you to get up to the buffet stations with less of a crowd. We were taken up and shown to our table. The dining room is set at one end of the large room and the buffet stations are at the opposite end. Compared to some of the other Atlantic City casino buffets the dining room is on the smaller side. This may account for the long waits to get in.

Once you go to the buffet serving stations you will find that they surround the end of the room with the dessert station in the middle of the room. The first buffet station that you come to on the right is the soup station and there are a variety of soups offered. On this night they had matzo ball soup, sweet and sour cabbage soup, mushroom barley soup, and chicken vegetable soup. The matzo balls are served on the side so you may take chicken soup alone and it has thin noodles in it. Add to this, if you wish, as many or as few matzo balls as you like. It was a good solid broth and the matzo balls were properly light. Pass the soup and you come to breads and rolls. There were biscuits and next to them a hot pot of white biscuit gravy. There were dinner rolls as well.

I have to stop here and talk about the bread because there was something so odd here on this night and it had to do, not with the buffet, but with the people who were dining at the buffet. The bread area had the proper tongs to pick up a roll or biscuit and put it on your plate. There seemed to be a notion to ignore the tongs and just grab rolls with hands - mostly being done, not by children or younger people, but by little old ladies. And some even took rolls with their hands and then put them back into the basket! Really, now! My wife had wanted a roll. She did not take one because of this. Obviously, on this particular night the buffet was overwhelmed with people who have never read our Rules of the Buffet! And again, it was not that the tongs were not plainly and immediately there to use.

Alright, back to the buffet. After the soup and bread area along the same counter you come to the salad bar. Here was a mixed, assorted green lettuce bowl with salad toppings. There was also a similar bowl of mixed, assorted greens that was covered and tossed in some type dressing. At the opposite end of the ice filled server was a bowl of Caesar salad - pre-mixed with the dressing. There was also pasta salad here. Further along there were two large serving trays on ice of peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp were good sized shrimp. With the shrimp you could take cocktail sauce, seafood sauce, lemon, and/or chopped horseradish. The counter ends at the shrimp.

The shrimp was good and the Caesar salad was also good. My wife was not happy that they did not have regular lettuce as she does not care for the mixed, assorted greens. She skipped salad because of that and I know a few others that would as well. She made a point and she was right that there was no sense to have these mixed greens out plain and then again with a dressing, when you could easily add the dressing yourself and then they could have had a bowl of regular lettuce (by regular lettuce she means iceberg or romaine). I agree.

Moving through the serving stations, the next one that you come to is the Italian food station. They had stuffed shells, whole sausages and peppers, meatballs in tomato sauce, a fish of some unknown variety that was small, flat strips that were broiled, and a serving pot of pasta with a tray of tomato sauce next to it. There was also pizza. I tried a sausage and it was real Italian sausage and good. I also tried a stuffed shell - a semi-large macaroni shell stuffed with ricotta cheese and covered in tomato sauce and that was good too. During the meal the sausages were apparently running out, and they mixed what were remaining into the bowl with meatballs. They then replaced the sausage tray with a tray of veal cutlet parmigiana. I tried the veal cutlet. I liked this but I am sure some would not as it was not a peice of veal but rather a breaded, chopped veal patty. This is bery common to use in buffet restaurants and I find that much tastier than regular veal cutlets. It had a nice Italian seasoned taste and was covered in mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. My wife took some of what she thought was and appeared to be plain pasta. When she tasted it she said that it was covered in garlic and oil - so much garlic that it was overwhelming. This surprised me as macaroni like this is usually served plain for you to season and cover with sauce - and the sauce was right there next to the pasta bowl. So my wife skipped the salad, did not eat the pasta, and would not take a roll that others had their hands on. She was not that happy so far. I eat differently than she does and I was doing fine.

The next of the buffet stations is one that varies and I would say that if you come on a Saturday night this is where you will find the seafood. On this Thursday night it was "Deli". On this station there was a cook behind the counter and he was slicing corned beef - a stack of rye bread was next to it to make a sandwich. There were large, steamed or boiled hotdogs. There was a tray with NY style brisket. NY style brisket is very different from BBQ brisket or smoked brisket. It is a stewed meat with vegetables, more solid and sliceable than beef stew. There were also small, cubed fried potatoes. There was also a cold section with macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw. At the side of the meats were mustard, relish, catsup, etc. to top your hotdog. My wife skipped this section entirely. I enjoy hotdogs and I don't often get corned beef. I took one slice of the corned beef to try. It was nicely flavored, though drier than a usual NY deli corned beef which is generally wet when it is sliced. Of course, I took a hotdog - no bun.

Moving around - next there is the Chinese Food station. Here are woks set out as serving trays. There was lo mein noodles, fried rice, General Tso Chicken, shrimp with bean pods, deep fried dumplings, and Spring Rolls. The dumplings eventually ran out and they were replaced with egg rolls.

Now you come to what they call "the Chuck Wagon" and this is where the entrees, grill and side dishes are. The highlight of the charcoal flame grill is steak and they are grilling strip steaks to order. The line up to the steaks can dominate this whole serving area. You may return for steak as often as you like - they no longer limit the steak to one per customer. In the long past the steaks that were served here were sirloin steaks and were excellent. The steak here now is still excellent even though it is a different cut. The steak was juicy and thick. It was cooked perfectly to how I asked for it. I eat rare steak - which means an unaccomplished chef will either hand it to you raw or over the line to medium. Not here. Here rare was correctly red but not raw and not quite pink that is medium rare. I was given a nice sized piece of steak.

There is more than steak here. There was a carver slicing turkey by request. There was fried chicken. There was a tray of BBQ smoked sausage pieces. There was a tray of sweet potato fries. There was mashed potatoes. There was a tray of mixed sauteed mushrooms and onions to top your steak. There were baked potatoes and a potato bar to top your baked potato.

Have you noticed that in all of the stations, other than salad, I have not really mentioned any vegetables? Well, that is because there were not any. Well, there was, on the Chuck Wagon station, a tray of mixed vegetables - the kind that you buy frozen in the supermarket - you know, corn, peas, tiny carrot cubes, and lima beans. This was the one vegetable side dish on the whole buffet. Do you see why now that I say that if you are not a meat and potatoes eater this is not the buffet for you?

If you are a meat and potato eater there is a lot that you will enjoy. I had so much to choose from because I like meat and potatoes that I could have lost my restraint and eaten more than I knew I should eat. Next to hotdogs and steak, I can't resist smoke sausage. It was all here. Now, my poor wife - who would eat vegetables and a small amount of meat was getting by with sliced turkey and cucumber slices from the salad bar. We did not really get our money's worth that night on her meal. I more than got mine.

OK, in the center of the buffet serving area is a large circlular serving counter with desserts. There was a very nice looking chocolate cake. There was cheesecake with a graham cracker bottom, there were cream pies, there were fruit pies, there was bananas foster, there was puddings and a selection of "diet" sugar free deserts. (Please do not believe that "sugar free" means diet - there are just as many carbohydrates in sugar free deserts and sometimes more than there are in regular deserts - plus the sugar substitute often used is a sugar alcohol which is a laxative.) There were two types of ice cream. There was a soft serve machine with vanilla and chocolate and there was hard scooped ice cream that the lady behind the counter will serve you. Near the hard ice cream were sundae toppings including a whipped cream machine. Near the sugar free desserts was a tray of cut up fresh fruit but it was clearly in some type of juice. My wife decided that she would taste this before taking some of the melon that was in the mix and found out that it was in fresh pineapple juice. Fresh pineapple juice is better than what it could have been in, but a number of medications do not mix well with pineapple and that left this out as well for my poor wife who more than struck out on this meal. I took a bit of the soft serve chocolate ice cream. There were small bowls and cones to put it in. The soft ice cream was creamy and custardy. It was very good! Now, wouldn't you know it - I am waiting on line to get some ice cream and the lady ahead of me is an older lady who fills her cone with ice cream. She still stands in front of the machine blocking the way and starts licking and eating down the ice cream on the top of the cone. Don't you know that she stops and lifts her cone to the machine and is about to fill it again - on top of the ice cream that she is eating. I clenched my whole body and if she had pulled that handle I was going to let her have it. She seemed to pause and then she walked away. Perhaps she felt the vibes. Would anyone want to go here just for the desserts? Certainly not. Not at this price and not for the desserts that were offered. These are not the desserts that you were going to get in the "fine" menu restaurants in the other casinos.

Service was fine. If I had not caught her eye we would not have been offered refills on the drinks but our plates were always cleaned away each time that we went up.

I am going to say it again so the meat haters don't come and leave comments about why was there so much meat that I described here. There was predominantly meat here. There were no vegetables. I will emphasize this a last time - If you are not a meat and potatoes eater do not come to this buffet!

If you eat everything, especially meat, then you will enjoy this buffet. I always have and a I still do. I have been to other buffets on the Boardwalk and I still feel that this is better than the others - some of which were terrible as I have written. Some say the buffet at the Borgatta Casino which is off the Boardwalk at the Marina is very good. I have seen mixed reviews about that and it is VERY expensive. I will say that this is the best steak that I have had at any buffet - it has been and it still is.

The Virginia City Buffet is located at the Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There is a website link at the side of this page. For phone numbers you are going to have to do a search for Bally's Casinos and Hotels as they are all connected on one website. I was not able to locate a phone number to list here.

Oh yes, that $10 gambling coupon - I am not much of a gambler. I would love to be but I don't have the money to just risk like that. I played the $10 coupon in a poker machine. I won $9.35 in coins which means I lost 65 cents of the $10. So I walked away with dinner costing us $9.35 less. In case you are wondering why I just did not feed the coupon into the machine and then cash out walking away with the whole ten dollars. Well they figured that one out and all that you could cash out was the money that you won aside from the $10 that you put in. Yes, I tried - and kept playing then until the original ten was gone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Coming Back to Golden Buffet, Centereach, New York

It has been about two years since I last went to the Golden Buffet in the village of Centereach on Long Island in the state of New York. Chinese/Asian buffets on Long Island are becoming scarce. There are just a handful left. This one is a distance from me but we had nothing special to do on a Saturday night, had been shopping during the day near to this buffet and we decided to go back.

When I last wrote about Golden Buffet in 2009, I gave it a mixed review. Read that article if you would like to see how I felt then. That had been my second visit and my first review in 2006 had been better. Things were better on this visit.

One thing that is different (though not really better) is that the price has gone up (haven't they all?). Dinner on the weekend is now $14.99 - that is $2 per adult more. The weeknight dinner price is now $12.99 - a dollar increase. I actually hesitated before walking in at that price. Not that it is particularly high, but I was not sure the dinner here was worth that price from my recollection of my last visit. This price is pretty much ball park for other Chinese buffets on the weekend around here, as long as the meal is good. I decided what the heck and we went in.

As I have described before this restaurant is located inside an indoor strip mall that is mostly vacant of businesses. There is an eye glass store across the way inside from the restaurants doors. There does not seem to be anything else open inside. This is exactly as this has been since I first went to this restaurant in 2006. Business is not good for indoor strip malls out there. The outside of the entire restaurant is visible from the parking lot and you see the sign and the windows for this restaurant outside in the parking lot. The entrance door is just inside the empty mall.

The restaurant is a large, bright, airy room with nice decor. My wife commented on how nice the large, brass chandeliers are. This is a large restaurant and there is a party room at the back that is in a separate room, closed off from the rest of the restaurant by a door. There was a birthday party going on in there on this night. For a Saturday night in the summer the restaurant was crowded - which is always a good thing. I noticed that there were a number of Asian people eating at the restaurant which is a very good sign when it comes to an Chinese/Asian restaurant. I noted this in 2009 as well. While there were plenty of people dining, we were taken to a table immediately when we went in and there was no crowd to fight at the buffet servers.

I will not describe the layout of the buffet again. You can read my earlier articles for that. It remains exactly the same. We gave the server our drink orders - lately we have been having just ice water at some of the buffets that we go to. It saves a little money and we can have soft drinks at home. We went up to the buffet.

As usual for us, we start with soup. My wife took the wonton soup and I made a mix of the hot and sour soup and the egg drop soup. There was also a chicken soup with vegetables. I tend to mix the hot and sour soup with either broth from the wonton soup or egg drop soup as I prefer my hot and sour soup mildly spiced. This one was not overwhelmingly spiced hot and probably would have been fine as it is. It had a nice blend of the correct vegetables mixed in with plenty of tofu and whole petals - I don't really know what these are but they appear to be flower petals and they very well may be - and they are always good. Before I mixed it, the hot and sour soup was a light brown in color rather than the more common deep red/brown. I enjoyed this hot and sour soup more than I have others that I have had recently at other Chinese buffets.

After the soup, my wife went for dumplings - there were two types - a steamed meat dumpling and a steamed "dim sum" cup filled with dense, chopped meat. I took one each of those later and they were both good, and I usually don't care much for the "dim sum" cup style dumpling as they tend to be too intense in flavor. Here this was very nice. I went first for the sushi bar.

And entire wall is filled with a sushi bar. There was a sushi chef there refilling plates of rolls and sushi as their contents were taken. There was a good variety of slices of rolls and four different types of fish on top of rice. At the side there was a tray of soy sauce, a tray of wasabi, and a tray of spicy mayo. I like spicy mayo and have had it served on the side at only one other Chinese buffet. This one was slightly milder than what I have had before, but that was good as it did not overwhelm the fish. On this plate I also took some peel and eat shrimp. They were good size, cold, and fresh. There was a tray of raw clams on the half shell and raw oysters. There was another tray of cold mussels. I went to take some oysters and there were none left when i went up. These were not replaced during the meal while we were there. Hot crab legs were out on the hot server and these went quickly. They were not replaced as quickly as they might have been - but the man at the table behind us made a comment to the server that there were no crab legs and a dish of them was brought out to him at his table.

It appeared to me that everything was refilled other than the oysters and the delay in the crab legs- and when those did come out they were not snow crab any longer but rock crab claws. It may have just been a busy day for crab legs. One tray that was labeled roast pork was empty and later was replaced with roast beef. That is an equal substitute and fine.

One of the problems on my last visit was that some of the dishes were left to dry out. Nothing here on this night was drying out. Everything was, as I say, "well tended". Most things were gone and replaced so regularly that they could not dry out. While we were there the steamed flounder was replaced twice.

This brings me to the steamed flounder. I wrote about this before and it is worth repeating. This is the best Chinese buffet steamed flounder that I have had. This is a thick fillet of flounder - NO bones. It is steamed and served in a brown, light ginger sauce. The fish is tasty. The sauce is tasty - spoon some from the serving tray on top of what you take. And there are no bones! There also is no fish skin which some may like, but I don't enjoy. I took this on two trips up to the buffet server.

This is nothing to do with this particular Chinese buffet but the dishes need to vary a bit at Chinese buffets. There seem to be the same standards at everyone that I go to - chicken with broccoli, beef with broccoli (or peppers - same sauce), General Tso chicken, crab in cheese sauce, and so on. Yes, those were all here. There was one dish labeled Shrimp with Zucchini which seemed like a pleasant diversion and I took some of that - but while there was shrimp (and some fake crab legs) in a nice, thick sauce with small pieces of red and green peppers and some onion - there was no zucchini. My wife and I were both enticed to try this - and both of us commented that there was no zucchini, but we both agreed that it was good - and different - any way. I also took a shrimp that had a stuffing mounded on top and baked and that was good - and not overly greasy as other similar that I have had at other buffets. I took some lo mein and that was very good as well. My wife tried the fried rice and she said it was good.

In my last article I commented on the egg roll. I tried one here again and it was better. It is still small - the usual Chinese buffet sized egg roll, but it was nicely filled and the shredded vegetables inside had a nice taste. I thought that I was tasting mustard - and I had the thought as I was eating it that it tasted like good egg rolls that I have had in the past. That mustard taste may have been mustard greens shredded into the filling - and it gave this egg roll just the right taste. Now, these are nothing to run right out and try - but they are better than they were in 2009.

Overall the food was very good. I was a bit concerned that there may have been more sugar/sweetener used in some of the dishes than was necessary. Nothing was overly sweet but several things tended toward the sweet side of taste. As it was, it all turned out to be not too sweet.

For our dessert lovers, there was nothing special here. There were two of the usual small Chinese buffet little pieces of cake. One with a sugar icing and another a sliced roll with sugar cream filling. There was a lot of fresh fruit - orange wedges, watermelon (it is the season), cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and pieces of fresh mango. There was red and green jello. There was chocolate pudding. There was marshmallows mixed with fruit salad - salad. There was also a soft serve machine with vanilla ice cream. With your check you get a fortune cookie.

Now. Was everything wonderful? Well, not everything. The service was not up to what it had been on my last two visits. There were a number of women taking care of the tables. When we would get up to get another plate of food, the used plates on our table would not be there when we returned. All good. But no one ever came to our table to ask if we would like more water. My glass was empty and my wife's glass was less than half full. It was water with ice - nothing that costs them anything to bring - but no one was coming to refill the glasses. And they were running around to other tables - such that you could not even get their attention - and refilling soda and drinks at those other tables. So this tells me something - we did not order and pay extra for soft drinks. We were not getting any attention in regard to refilling our glasses. This annoyed me and it was reflected in the tip that I left. As I said at the beginning - we have ordered water at other Chinese/Asian buffets and we have always had servers come and ask to fill the glasses or just take the glasses and fill them. When we were done eating and she came by to take the plate that was in front of me, she asked THEN - would you like more water. By then it was too late. Not to end on a sour note but the dinner cost enough to pay full attention to every table regardless of what extras are ordered.

Would I go back to Golden Buffet? Yes. Do I recommend that you go there if you are in this area? Yes. The food was good. There was plenty to choose from and after my initial hesitation going in about the price, there was value for what you are getting. Try it.

Golden Buffet is located at 1973 Middle Country Road in Centereach, NY. This is in the same shopping center on Route 25 as Walmart so it is not hard to find. There is no website. The phone number is 631-588-5188.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Miller's Smorgasbord, Lancaster, PA

I have written about many of the buffets in Lancaster, PA - perhaps, by now, just about all of them, but I have never written about Miller's Smorgasbord except a quick mention here or there. It is not that I have not been there or that I did like it. As a matter of fact, Millers Smorgasbord was the first buffet restaurant that I ever ate at and that was over fifty years ago. Yes, I said fifty. I was a regular at Millers Smorgasbord for many years. Family would give us gift certificates to dine at Millers. Before I started writing this site and when I was going there regularly, it would be one of the first restaurants that I would recommend to anyone going to Lancaster. So what happened? Sometime around 1996, whenever I would eat at Millers I would get ill. Those with me where fine. My wife was fine. Something there did not agree with me and we stopped going. There are so many other places it was not really a problem to not go. But since I have started writing this site I have been contacted many times by readers asking about Millers. I have explained just what I have explained to you - and I felt that it was not fair to write about the restaurant if I had not been there recently.

On this last trip over several days to Lancaster, I decided that I would go back to Millers and have dinner. I would be careful what I chose to eat and my wife felt that she knew exactly what was causing me problems there and I would take her guidance and see what happens.

Millers has been in business and in this location for 80 years. It has changed considerably over that time and it is not the little one room restaurant with a serving window at the side of a wall that it was when I went there fifty years ago. In the past fifty years it has changed several times. It has expanded and expanded again. It has added shops on its property. Since I was there the last time around 1996, it has changed again inside - and now it not only serves buffet - here called smorgasbord - but it also has added a menu for menu dining and has enabled you to take purchase parts of the buffet if you don't want the whole smorgasbord.

One thing that is significant about Millers and should be noted right off is that this is the only local buffet restaurant that is open on Sundays and it is also open an hour later than the other buffet restaurants in the area. Millers is open until 9 pm. Being open on Sundays makes Millers standout if you are visiting this area on vacation and want to dine at a local restaurant. We went to Millers on this trip on a Sunday night. It was crowded. You can make reservations by calling ahead, but you will still wait, but not as long.

We waited over an hour to be seated. You give your name at the desk in the lobby of the restaurant and you are given a ticket with a number. You will hear your number called over a loudspeaker that you can hear around the property and in the shops. There is a small gift shop in the lobby with a baked goods area. That lobby was packed so we headed over to the quilt shop to wait and look around. The quilt shop closed well before our number was called and we went back to the lobby. The lobby was warm and crowded.

If you want to dine in Lancaster County with the local people and see Amish and Mennonites dining around you in the restaurant, don't go to Millers. Millers attracts the tourists and you will be waiting with and be dining along side tourists. This is not a problem, as pretty much, I am a tourist myself - but sometimes you encounter the stereotypical tourist - a bit rude, a bit pushy, and just what you have come to this rural farm area to get away from - and that is who is at Millers. I eat in a lot of restaurants in tourist areas and I have told you about so many Lancaster restaurants and I have never said this before - because I never had this feeling in any of the others - in the height of tourist season - but it just so much stuck out here. Don't misunderstand - I am not talking about race, nationality, or anything else like that. I am talking about Mr. and Mrs. Tourist and their teenage kids from the city or the suburbs. I am not sure why they annoyed me so waiting to get in - but it was not just one family or couple - it was so overwhelmingly many. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe I am getting old. I was very happy when they called out number and I could get inside to our table and even though everyone outside would be inside eventually, I would be able to tune it all out.

We got inside and the decor and room arrangement had changed considerably since we were there last. You could make out what used to be where and what is gone and what has remained - all not significant to anyone but my wife and myself who have been gone from this place for so long. The room is decorated now in browns and their are large photos on the walls of the restaurant and staff in its former days. It had been much lighter and airier inside in the past. The buffet is a circle of servers around a grill area that also is somewhat in a circle with two distinct sides. When you are seated you are handed a menu. You can order from the menu or part of the buffet or all of the buffet. Not everyone at your table has to order the buffet - but there can be no tasting from your buffet plate if someone orders from the menu. If you order from the buffet, walk around the entire serving area to see what there is being served as it is not the same from side to side, even if there are some items the same on a buffet server. Also of note now is their liquor license and this is the only buffet restaurant now in this area that serves liquor, beer, and wine. Perhaps to the desire of those tourists in the lobby that annoyed me, but my wife was very disappointed that they added this to what should be and always was a family-oriented restaurant/buffet.

Millers had always been the most expensive of the buffets in the past. The price has come down now to $22.99 for the adult dinner buffet. Add to that $2.25 for the beverage (unlimited). The price for the meal is more in keeping with other higher priced buffets in this area but once you add the drinks it is back to being the most expensive buffet in Lancaster. Yet, not as expensive as it once was. The price in the past had passed $25 and went up from there. You can order only the Salad, Soup and Bread Bar and the price for this is $11.99. And as I said, you can order ala carte from the menu. (I just took a look at their website to recheck the prices - and guess what - the dinner price is now listed at $23.99. I paid a dollar less just a few weeks ago - July 4th weekend. In addition, the Soup and Salad bar is now listed at $12.99!) Lunch and dinner are the same prices. The Soup and Salad Bar is $9.95 at lunch. Children pay $9.95 ages 9-12, $6.95 ages 4-8
3 and under eat free. That is a lot for kids.

I will take you through the whole meal. We ordered the full smorgasbord and beverages at that ridiculous price of $2.25 for soft drinks. (I complain about the $1.99 at OCB!) After a walk around the whole buffet serving area we came back to the soup bar which was extensively laid out with hot pots of eight soups. There was a wide variety of soup being served and it makes the soup and salad bar alternative to the full buffet very tempting. There was chicken corn soup, full-bodied beef stew, seafood bisque, sausage and cabbage soup, vegetarian vegetable soup, potato soup, vegetable chili, and ham and bean soup. Of these the chicken corn soup is the most local. In the past they served beef vegetable soup that we have made from their recipe for Thanksgiving family dinners for many years. That was gone - but may appear when you are there as we overheard a waitress saying that the soups do change and twice a year they make snapper turtle soup. I tried the chicken corn and the seafood bisque. The chicken corn was a thin broth version - which is the more traditional, local version. It was OK. The seafood bisque was very good. I was tempted to try other soups but there was a meal ahead of me and I moved on.

The salad bar offered Caesar salad, mixed greens, and spinach leaves. There were a number of the usual salad toppings and dressings including the local hot bacon dressing. There were a number of prepared salads including turkey salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, cottage cheese and apple butter, chow chow (PA Dutch style), beet eggs, cold sliced beets, and seafood salad. Years ago, Millers was known for serving 7 Sweets and 7 Sours - sweet and sour salads and appetizer salads. There is no mention of this any longer but there were remnants of some of these items on the salad bar like the apple butter and the chow chow. Also on the salad bar there were breads and rolls including hard rolls, potato rolls and cinnamon raisin bread with white sugar icing among others. I enjoy Caesar salad and take that whenever a buffet offers it. The one here had way too much dressing on it. Now, more dressing is better than too little dressing but this was way too much and I prefer buffets that let you add the Caesar dressing yourself. Here it is pre-mixed. If you order only the Soup/Salad/Bread Bar, stop here because this is all that you get. The full smorgasbord moves on...

There is another cold and hot buffet server that is considered appetizers. Much on it would be considered to be on a salad bar, but because there is a separately offered salad bar option, these more expensive items have been separated away and this server is found on the other side of the circle. This is where you will find two types of cold peel and eat shrimp - one with Old Bay seasoning and spices and one that is plain. There is also shrimp salad. There are cheeses including cheddar and Swiss. There was also an unusual local specialty that has been called Amish Caviar - though it has nothing to do with caviar except for the appearance. It is simply red pepper jelly on cream cheese. If you see this, try it. On an end there is a hot section that was serving Swedish meatballs and sauteed mushrooms. The meatballs were good as was the seasoned shrimp. The shrimp salad was pretty good as well.

This brings us to the hot foods. These are served on two buffet servers, one on each side of the circle and then also at the grill and serving area at the center of the circle. Let's start with the grill. There was a char grill and when I went past at one point I was certain that I saw what I believed to be steaks or chopped steaks being grilled. When I went up to get something from the grill there were no steaks of any kind. We wondered later if perhaps they were cooking here also for the ala carte menu. At the grill were chicken breasts and ham being grilled. There were also grilled vegetables that included zucchini, red and green peppers, and onions. All of this was cooked on the grill and them moved to serving trays at the side of the grill where you took what you liked. The ham when placed in the serving tray was covered in sweet cider sauce. At the other end of the grill were two carvings - Sirloin of Beef and turkey breast. There was also fried fish. Around to the other side of the circle there were a few serving trays. In one was Turkey Divan. In another was shrimp Alfredo. At the opposite end was the dish that made Millers famous 80 years ago - chicken and waffles. There are different variations of chicken and waffles and in soul food restaurants this is fried chicken served with waffles. In the Lancaster Pennsylvania Dutch Country it is different. Here chicken with waffles is a creamed chicken poured over thick waffles. There was a tray of quartered, large, Belgian waffles and a tray of chicken chunks in cream sauce. You take a waffle and spoon the creamed chicken on top. If you are so inclined you can take just the creamed chicken or just a waffle.

I tried the grilled chicken and it was very dry - too dry. The beef sirloin was just roast beef and was fine. Of everything at the grill I enjoyed the grilled vegetables the best. I went around to the other side of the circle to try what was there. The Turkey Divan was turkey in a mixture of broccoli. I only took a taste but was not impressed. The Shrimp Alfredo was OK. The Chicken and Waffles - as expected was very good.

At the hot buffet servers there was broasted chicken, a local dish called Chicken Bot Boi (sounds like chicken pot pie but very different), Macaroni and Cheese, Broiled Blue Fish, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, another local specialty - Dried Corn, Brown Butter Noodles, boiled cabbage, and baked broccoli casserole. The Chicken Bot Boi was good - this is a stew like dish of chicken in a clear but thick broth with celery, carrots and large square dumpling noodles. Brown Butter Noodles are always good - how can they not be? These are curly flat noodles covered in brown butter. When you keep melting butter in a pot to the point that the butter starts to burn and form brown/black flakes, you have made brown butter. It has a nut like taste. They, of course, are not all that heart-friendly, but most things that are really good never are.

With all that I have told you was there to eat, when I went around the buffet looking for what to take to eat - and not just a spoonful to taste - I was having a hard time finding something that appealed - and I love PA Dutch cooking. I wound up having the Chicken Bot Boi, which is a favorite of mine and I went back for more of the Chicken and Waffles (without the waffle).

At one end of the dining room, near the entrance, is a half circle counter around an open serving area. On this counter are the desserts. In the open area in the center are people to serve hot pies and scoop ice cream. The selection of desserts looked a lot more impressive from a distance than it did when you got up close and saw that much of what was there was duplicated around the counter. There was Shoo Fly Pie, Peanut Butter Cream Pie, cheesecakes with different fruit toppings, Chocolate Pecan Pie, "Gourmet Apple Pie", and Oatmeal Pie. If you wanted your Shoo Fly Pie, Gourmet Apple Pie or Chocolate Pecan Pie warm, one of the people behind the counter would put it in the microwave for you. Around the counter there were server trays with tapioca pudding, ambrosia, cookies, honey dew melon, watermelon, and fudge brownies. There was also Cool Whip to put on your pie or dessert. Yes, it was labeled "Cool Whip" - it was not whipped cream. There were some sugar free desserts also - sugar free jello, sugar free chocolate pudding, and sugar free peach pie. (Now it was this sugar free peach pie that my wife feels is what started making me ill when I ate here those last several times back in 1996. This was before we knew about sugar alcohols used as a sugar substitute in desserts and the laxative effect that they have on your digestive system. It is likely that she was right because that was exactly the effect that eating here had on me way back then and I do remember eating that sugar free peach pie.) The restaurant is known for its baking. The desserts looked good. I am sure that the pies - the regular ones and not the sugar free - are very good. Chocolate pecan pie is gooey and chewy with chocolate and nuts. Shoo Fly Pie is molasses and crumbs in a pie shell. "Gourmet Apple Pie" is full of large chunks of apples and raisins. Pies like these deserve to be covered in better than Cool Whip and I was surprised that this is what they were serving. Skip the Cool Whip and have them scoop some ice cream on top.

The service on this night - despite the crowds - was good. Our dishes were cleaned off the table each time that we went up for another plate and our drinks were refilled without our asking.

Over all, some of the food was very good, but much of it was just OK. I have had better - even of some of the same dishes - at other local buffets that I have written about. What I felt most of all was that there was nothing special here and certainly nothing that justified the high price of the meal. Remember, there are many buffets in Lancaster County and for a lot less money and a little less money you can have a great all you care to eat meal at many of them. In fact, and this is going far for me to say, I have had some better meals at chain buffets for a great deal less money. Is there any thing wrong at Millers with the food? Absolutely not! Is there value for what you are paying? No.

I must say that after the meal I felt fine. I did not have any of the problems that I had after eating here as I had fifteen years ago. Perhaps it was that sugar free peach pie back then.

Would I go back? If I went back, I would not have the full smorgasbord and I would have the Soup, Salad, and Bread Bar. This is overpriced as well - as much as a full buffet meal at some of the other buffets but the selections of soups and the salads would have made a satisfying meal. The beef stew alone would have made a meal. If you combine that with salad and some of the meat salad and seafood salad - with the bread, you have a good meal and it is all you care to eat. Is that worth what appears now to be $12.99 - well, not really. If you ask my wife if she would go back, she will say, "no". She felt that there was not enough to take that justified the price - and remember, for those who read this site regularly, my wife is a very picky eater and she was basically eating the turkey and some of the vegetables and finding little else that she wanted or that she should eat.

Millers often runs coupons on its website and we found coupons for $3 off each meal. The meal was still then $19.99 which made it a little more reasonable, but the soft drink brought it back up over $22. If you are going to go, make sure you get a coupon.

Do I recommend Millers Smorgasbord to you? I would like to, but I am going to say that if you go, your meal will be fine. But you could have done better at one of the many great buffets in Lancaster. If it is a Sunday night and you don't mind spending the money, then go, but you could also go to CiCis for all you care to eat pizza for $5 just down the road, or try Cactus Willies at the other end of the county - or one of the Asian buffets - all open on a Sunday night.

Millers Smorgasbord is located at 2811 Lincoln Highway East (Route 30), Ronks PA 17572. The phone number is 717-687-6621. There is a website and it is linked at the side of this page.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant, Lancaster, PA

Continuing on our several days in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania we returned to a restaurant that we have not been to in several years. My last article was in 2006 but this 2005 restaurant review is much more on target with the whole experience. I have eaten here since then. One of the reasons that we have not eaten here more often was an increase in price that brought this buffet higher than other local buffets. That is not the case any longer. The price is now very much in line with other local buffet meals. While we may not have had buffet meals here we regularly had gone back for lunch from their menu. This is a buffet or menu restaurant they have no problem with mixing the two at the same table. Since it has been so long since I have reviewed Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant I will review it as if it were a new experience.

We went this time on Saturday night of Fourth of July weekend and we were very surprised that the restaurant was not crowded. We waited less than five minutes to be seated. I had anticipated - from past Saturday or Friday night visits that we would be waiting much, much longer.

This is a large restaurant with two large dining rooms - the second opened only when necessary. There are also catering facilities on the lower level. The buffet takes up the side of the rear of the main dining room. There is a round soup bar and a single double sided cold salad bar. There is a small round buffet server with an assortment of cheese cubes and also rolls and breads. The hot buffet server consists of two single sided serving areas connected on one end with a carving station. Both sides of these serving areas duplicates the other in what is served. At the back wall is a large dessert bar. Also along the back wall with a short divider is a children's buffet - kid's only and it has its own price.

The price for an adult buffet dinner Monday to Saturday is the same $17.99. The beverage is included in the price which makes this price more reasonable than it seems. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. The Children's Buffet is $0.75 per year of age. It is possible to order the soup and salad bar as an AYCE (all you can eat) meal alone for $8.99. It is less if you order it with something from the menu. You may also order the Dessert Bar alone (AYCE) for just $4.99. So if all you want is sweet, you can go for it all for just $4.99. Look in the free local tourist newspaper handouts - you will find them in the lobby of this restaurant - for ads with coupons for money off your dinner.

As usual, we went up for soup first. Here you will find what I consider to be the best Chicken Corn Soup. It is a thickened soup with a load of chicken meat, corn, and hard boiled eggs. It is delicious. I am not sure what it is thickened with, but it has a grain texture. There were two other soups - Tomato Florentine and Beef Vegetable. All of the soups are good here.

The salad bar has lettuce greens and also spinach greens to create a salad with a variety of toppings and an assortment of dressings. There is also pre-mixed Caesar Salad. There is a large variety of local prepared salads including some that are specific to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. There is PA Dutch Chow-Chow which is a sweetened mix of pickles, beans, string beans, yellow beans, carrots, and cauliflower. There is cottage cheese which the locals mix with Apple Butter - try it! There is Amish style macaroni salad and Amish style potato salad. There was also chicken salad. Across from the salad bar there is a small bar with several cheeses including Monterrey, Pepper Jack, and Swiss. This is where you will find the Apple Butter and also rolls and breads.

I had the Caesar Salad and it was good. There was a sufficient amount of dressing on Romaine lettuce. Croutons can be added from the salad bar.

The salad bar is more extensive at dinner than it is at lunch. There is a meat salad on the salad bar at dinner which is not there at lunch. I know this because I have considered in the past having the salad bar for lunch but have looked to see if there is a meat salad - and there has not been. At dinner at various times at dinner there has been chicken salad, ham salad, and tuna salad. Combined with soup and a role to create a meat salad sandwich this can be better than ordering soup and a sandwich from the menu. But they must have figured that out and there is no meat salad on the salad bar at lunch.

The main course offerings start at one end of the buffet with two carvings. This night there was pork loin and roast beef. I did try the pork loin which was a bit dry. It is covered on the outside with pepper and that also flavors the pork. The hot dishes are assorted along the way with side dishes and main dishes. There was baked lima beans (baked beans in sauce made with lima beans), regular lima beans, real mashed potatoes, Baked Corn (which is a corn pudding), Pork and Kraut (chopped pork cooked with sauerkraut- a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish traditionally served on New Years Day), BBQ Ribs, BBQ chicken, fried chicken, roast turkey, carrots, winter mix vegetables, Ham Balls in Pineapple Sauce (ham meatballs - another local dish), baked haddock with a bread crumb coating, shrimp Alfredo, corn, buttered noodles, Bread Filling (stuffing), and gravies including beef, turkey, and au jus.

The ribs are good but slightly sweet in their sauce. The ham balls are always good. In the past at this restaurant I have particularly loved the turkey served on the buffet. It is not carved but already cut up and served in its own juices from a buffet tray. In the past it has had a flavor unlike other turkey that I have had including the best sliced Thanksgiving turkey. I was looking forward to this turkey - and it was there - but it did not have the same flavor. There was NOTHING wrong with it - it just tasted like turkey. I looked closely to see if perhaps it was not the mixture of white and dark meat that it had been in the past - but it did seem to be a mix of white and dark meat. I do not know why it was different - and I think that the only one who would know it was any different from any other roast turkey is me. You will not know any differently - but I missed that "former" turkey.

There is a lot to eat here. Try the Pork and Kraut. It is very good. Be sure to spoon up as much shredded pork as sauerkraut onto your plate and eat the two together. As I said, this is a very traditional dish and is served as several of the local buffets. I want to make note of the baked haddock. It was very good. I am not sure if this is regularly served or other fish are served on other nights. The menu here does vary night to night - though the price remains the same. There are other carvings and other dishes will be served on the buffet. I know that the BBQ ribs are not served every night.

If you have children they will love the Children's Buffet. It is kid height and it is serving kid food - hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fries, and the like. Yes, these are all of the things that you wish your kid would not eat but let's face it - vacation is not the time to wage that battle. Let you kid enjoy what he/she likes and do not try to convince them that they will love Pork and Kraut - they won't. In the past this was not priced on its own and there was just a kid's price for the whole buffet. In the past many times I was tempted to go over and enjoy the kid's food too!

The dessert assortment here is extensive and the baking is from a local bakery that sells its cakes and pies in various farm markets along with its own bake shop. The baked goods are placed out on shelves and replenished from behind the open counter. Different things may be put out at different times across the course of the night - so if you see something as you pass by that you particularly want to have, take it and hold it on your table until you are ready for dessert. This is not to say that it will not be there but it may not and something will have taken its place. When I went up to the dessert bar there was Boston Cream Pie, a variety of fruit pies, Baked Oatmeal Pie (I had not seen that before), Shoo Fly Pie, Chocolate Cake, Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting, White Cake with Chocolate Frosting, Angel Food Cake, Hot Apple Cobbler, Hot Cherry Cobbler, cookies, an assortment of pudding desserts, and there was "no sugar" chocolate pudding, and diet jello. There is a Frostee machine with two soda flavors. There is also a soft serve ice cream machine and sundae toppings. The baking here is good. The desserts here are good. As I said, they come from a local bakery. They are not made on premises, but they are good. They are worth saving room for. And you can come and order the Dessert Bar all on its own!

Our service was excellent. The staff are very friendly.

This is a restaurant where you may see local people eating along with the tourists and we have often seen Old Order Amish and Mennonites dining here. The food is good and cooking is authentic Pennsylvania Dutch. The owners of this restaurant also own a number of motels. The family (The Smuckers - no, I don't think they are the same as the jelly) is directly involved with the day to day operation of this restaurant.

I recommend Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant. Like all other local buffets in this area they close at 8:00 pm. This restaurant seemed to be shutting down the buffet just past that and was not seating anyone close to that time. They do come and ask if you are finished with the hot foods before they close that area.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant is located at 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. The phone number is 1-800-665-8780. There is a website located at the side of this page.