Friday, December 09, 2011

Hershey Farm Restaurant, Strasburg, Pennsylvania

I have not been to the Hershey Farm Restaurant, another buffet in Lancaster County, in over three years. I wrote then about why I had not been there on that occasion since 1995, and the reason is has been the same since then - the price - and the price now is even higher than it had been then. I am not going to repeat what I had written before - though a great deal has changed, but if you would like to read that article this is the link.

We were on a trip to Lancaster County and before we went I found a coupon for $3 off the price of the buffet at this restaurant. I thought that even though it would still be expensive, we would try this buffet again, as three years ago it was not bad. I was also intrigued by the description of the buffet that said that it included soft pretzels. I really like soft pretzels and because of diet restrictions I do not have them often. Somehow, the idea of those pretzels were drawing me to come back to Hershey Farm restaurant's Grand Smorgasbord - which is what they call their buffet. I also thought that I should just go and buy a pretzel and save a lot of money.

We went on a weeknight in early November. The days and hours of this restaurant vary by the season and starting in November they are closed Mondays. We went on a Tuesday. A large sign at the entrance of the driveway announces what the daily special is on the buffet - and it said Steak Gyro. OK - not exactly what I would have expected in this area, but we would see.

We went in and there is a lobby with a large reception desk. From there you are escorted to your table. This is both a buffet and menu restaurant. The price of the buffet is Monday to Friday, dinner is $22.99. On Saturdays it is $25.99. This buffet is open on Sundays and the price then is $22.99. There are children's prices and these apply every day. For ages 4 to 8, the price is $7.99; 9 to 12 year olds, the price is $9.99. The children's prices includes beverages. Adults pay an additional $1.99 for beverages with refills. I told you this is expensive. If only it was worth the money - if only it was worth half the money...

Right away entering the dining room we could see that there were major changes since we were there just three years ago. Gone are the buffet servers. In their place there are free standing counters, each with several built in chaffing dishes with large dome lids on hinges - which proved to be near impossible to open and close easily. At the side of the room was a grill and near the entrance was a dessert area. In the back was a small salad bar, a soup area, and in a corner was a table with peel and eat spiced cold shrimp.

We waited some time for a server to come over to us and take our order - there were no more than ten tables in the two dining rooms with people at them and in our room there were three servers handling four tables. Finally, a server came and took our beverage orders and invited us up to the buffet - or should I say, Grand Smorgasbord.

We went up for soup. There was chicken corn soup, beef vegetable, chili, and cream of potato. The chicken corn soup tasted correct, but was thin when it looked like it should have been thick. The beef vegetable was excessively salty and the vegetables were just small pieces and these were over cooked. There were chunks of beef, but it was so salty that it really did not matter.

We followed soup with the salad bar and this is a very small and basic salad bar. There was mixed greens, toppings, and a several dressings. There were few prepared salads. The lettuce was wilting and browning in the serving bowl. We also noticed - after taking salad that there were many little flies around the salad serving tubs - some were crawling with these flies. This put an end to eating any more salad - and this was a problem as my wife tends to take vegetables from the salad bar at buffets to eat instead of the prepared, hot vegetables served. I don't know if the flies followed us back to our table - which was some distance from the salad bar, but when we got back to the table there were more of these little flies buzzing around us. I started to realize why the open buffet servers were now replaced by covered serving dishes.

One of the "features" were "gourmet breads". We looked for these and found nothing more than commercial white bread, commercial raisin bread, and commercial honey wheat bread, and white dinner rolls - all cheap bread as found in a supermarket. There was an assortment of spreads for the breads. I had to wonder where the "gourmet breads" were. A woman at another table asked - those were them! Next to the bread was a waffle maker and you could make your own waffles. There were plastic cups of batter sitting next to the waffle maker. I wondered if these don't need to be kept on ice or refrigerated, rather than just sit out - especially with the flies.

The entrees that were out included Swedish meatballs, ham balls, Italian sausage and peppers, sliced ham, chicken pot pie (bot boi), pot roast, meatloaf, fried chicken, honey bbq chicken, baked fish, chicken nuggets, pork and sauerkraut, krab and pasta in cheese sauce. On the grill there was chicken parmigiano that could be served with pasta and also in alfredo sauce, steak gyro (just like the sign said), steak on a stick, grill chicken with a variety of sauces of your choice, and carved loin of pork. Side dishes included mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, buttered noodles, a baked potato bar, french fries, corn, broccoli, winter mix, filling, candied sweet potatoes, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, cheesy potatoes, and corn nuggets.

I took a sampling of sausage, a Swedish meatball, some of the chicken pot pie, and I found the pretzals on the dessert bar - salty, soft pretzel sticks and cinnamon pretzel sticks. I took one of the salty soft pretzel sticks, it was small. The sausage was good. The meatball was not as good as are served at Ikea Home Store's restaurant for $2.99. The chicken pot pie was disappointing with thin noodles and and and over thick sauce - it had been sitting too long without stirring and some of the noodles were turning brown and hard. The pretzel, however, was very good.

I also tried the chicken parmigiano. The grill chef took a chicken breast and split it in half, and then put it on the fry grill with a lot of grease and a iron weight on top. Eventually, he covered it with tomato sauce and put cheese on top, covered this with a metal dome on the grill to melt the cheese. This was the most unusual chicken parm that I have ever had - and not really good.

I later decided to try the "steak on a stick". I went to the grill and the same chef seemed surprised that I wanted this. He took four chunks of steak from a refrigerator and got out a stick and skewered them. I expected that he would cook this on the chargrill that was next to the fry grill, but no, it went on the fry grill, again with the iron weight on top. He told me that it would take six minutes to cook. Six minutes is a long time to cook steak - even if you like it well done and especially on a fry grill. I waited several minutes. He never asked how I would like it done. There were very few people left by now in the restaurant so there was no distraction, It was just him and me at the grill. He went to turn it over in about three minutes and I said that I would like it medium rare. "Oh," he said, "then you can have it now." The steak was on the edge of over done. It was also tasteless.

The mashed potatoes were overly salty. The stewed tomatoes were more like chunky tomato sauce,than stewed tomatoes. The buttered noodles were drowning in butter. The rice pilaf was just white rice with beans and not real rice pilaf. The sliced ham was more like chunks of ham. The pork and sauerkraut was overdone.

I looked at the fried chicken and it was so overcooked that I did not take any. The honey bbq chicken was also way overdone and sitting far too long. The meatloaf was fair but had too much tomato sauce on top.

This was not a meal of quality. The food was not really good. Nothing that we had was something that we would recommend to anyone. And the buffet trays were not tended properly. Things dried out, overcooked, and some was just unappetizing. And all this for $22.99! I have had far better meals at Old Country Buffet.

Desserts followed along with the rest. There were the pretzels, a few pies, a couple of pieces of cake, jello- both regular and diet, something called java bean pudding - it looked like coffee in a cup, diet chocolate pudding, little whoppie pies (small chocolate soft cookie sandwiches with cream in the middle), cookies, small chocolate cupcakes, something called candy corn dessert, a sundae bar, and slices of cheesecake that looked wet around the sides. There was also a chocolate fountain with tiny pretzels which were far too small to sanitarily go into a chocolate fountain, marshmallows, chunks of pineapple, and tiny animal crackers. Even though it was up on a high counter, I saw several small children trying to dip a treat with their fingers in the chocolate. I tried a small whoppie pie and that was disappointing. It was not worth the calories or carbs.

Service was fair. Dishes stacked up on the table more than once - and again, this server had two tables to take care of. He did offer refills on the beverages.

At about 7:45 pm with several tables still with people eating, the chef starting cleaning behind the grill counter. I have seen this done in other buffets - getting a start on closing, but he was actually closing down with nothing being left on the side if anyone wanted anything else. Now, this buffet like most in this area closes at 8:00 pm but at most of the others, this means that they stop seating at 8:00 pm, and actually keep the buffet going for about another hour. Here as 8:00 approached, the staff came out to start shutting down. At almost all other buffets that I have been to, when a serving section is about to be closed down or food is going to be taken away for the night to close, someone comes to the table and says, "We are about to take away the hot foods (or dessert area), would you like anything else from there before we do?" No one came and said a word that the buffet was being shut down, including the dessert area - while there were still people actively eating. The laugh to all of this was a woman did walk around from table to table and I expected her to say something about the foods being taken down, but instead, she wanted to let us know that she was about to close the gift shop and were we planning on coming into the gift shop after our meal - and if we were she would remain open! So they were eager for us to shop in the gift store, but not finish the dinner that we all were all already paying for. No. It was time to go and the restaurant staff were taking away the food whether people were still eating or not, and not saying anything about it.

Many years ago, we would come to this restaurant for a very nice lunch - before it ever had a buffet. For some reason, they have never been successful with their attempts at buffets. Three years ago was the high point. No longer.

I do not recommend this buffet. There are so many really good buffets to go to in this area. Forget about this one!

The Hershey Farm Restaurant is located on Route 896 just south of Route 30, past the Rockvale Outlet Center. Follow the signs for the Sight and Sound Theater. There is an 800 number - 800-827-8635. They have a website which is linked at the side of this page.


Art said...

Wow. That's pretty bad. You'd think for that price they'd at least have some seafood, but it would probably be lousy, anyway. :)

I have a question. How do you remember everything? Do you take notes when you go to a buffet? Do you take photographs? Or do you just have a really good memory?

We are going to Egg Harbor Township, NJ on Sunday and staying overnight. I already looked at the buffets in that area. There are two Chinese buffets with not so great reviews, and a Golden Corral. I am hoping for a meal at GC.

Then, at the end of the month, we are going to Lancaster for 2 nights. We will definitely hit Shady Maple again, plus there is a decent Chinese buffet that is also inexpensive.

Writer said...

Often I rely upon memory- and I will try to write the article that same night. When we are traveling this is not always possible, so I take notes and then get an outline down as soon as I can.

I believe that the Egg Harbor area GC is new or recently opened- though I may be wrong. One recently opened in NJ.

There are articles on this site about two Chinese buffets in Lancaster that are still open - Star Buffet and Grill and Ming Gourmet Buffet - look back in 2006. It has been that long since I have gone for Chinese in Lancaster - it is a way to have a buffet on Sunday nights in this area when most of the local PA Dutch buffets are closed.

Writer said...

Oh, Art - LOVE the photo!

ML said...

We stopped going to this overpriced "grand buffet" years ago, I see nothing has changed and you hit everything on the head

Anonymous said...

We love The Hershey Farm Restaurant. It's a big pricey, but it's a once-a-year kind of visit for us when we visit Lancaster County and stay in our favorite Lancaster B&B, The Strasburg Inn.

Anonymous said...

Ive been there a few times. Ive loved it every time. More selection than shady maple

Anonymous said...

Art: you should ask peopke that live in this area for good places. Don't rely on one persons pov

Writer said...

I rely upon my point of experience combined with my wife's who is always at the buffets I review dining with me. When a buffet meal is poor I tell it like it is. And Hershey Farm Restaurant twice in my experience has not been good - though admittedly worse the second time. My readers have come to understand my honesty in telling them what to good to and what to avoid. I am pretty certain that the two comments above this are from the same person and I am suspicious of the comment that there was more selection than at Shady Maple. Hershey Farm's selection is not an 1/8 of the selection at Shady Maple and perhaps not of several other area buffets also.