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.

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