Friday, January 28, 2011

Christmas Buffet at Best Buffet, Huntington, NY

What - I went to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner? What happened? Did the neighbors hated hounds come bursting into our kitchen and eat the turkey for our Christmas dinner? Well, maybe in the movies but we decided this year that we wanted something different - and I also have wanted to go back and try Best Buffet since they reopened several years ago and I was not happy. So this sounds like a big risk for such an important holiday dinner but it was just the two of us and based on some customer reviews that I have read since, we decided to try this.

Best Buffet in Huntington, New York is located where East Buffet was a number of years ago. East was one of the top Chinese buffets on Long Island. A fire put them out of business and the building remained empty for a while until the letters were changed just a bit on the front and East became Best. Everyone had high hopes for Best because we all liked East so much. I am not sure why we would think that a new restaurant with new owners would be anything like the former restaurant, but going there a few years back I had great anticipation. And, in fact, the new restaurant looked exactly the same inside and was serving almost a carbon copy of the menu from when it was East. What did not carry over - at that time - was the quality and the attention to keeping the food hot in the serving trays. My complaint at that time was that almost all of the food was cold - and at a buffet this is not good, or safe.

So, a few years have passed and we are not just trying this on an ordinary week or weekend night - we are going on Christmas! Here is what I figured - if this restaurant cannot put the food out hot and keep it hot for a crowded holiday meal then there really is something wrong.

Let me tell you about our Christmas dinner and you will see how it was as we go along. The dinner menu that is featured on Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day all day is special for the holiday with a number of items not ordinarily on the buffet - but the regular buffet offerings were there as well. For the most part this is not an "American Chinese" restaurant. It features a number of authentic Chinese dishes and for this reason there are many Chinese families eating here. There are dishes that I have never seen anyplace else and there are dishes that I have heard about served in Chinatown - and in China.

Soup is an important part of authentic Chinese meals and here for this special dinner there were eight soups. There were six hot soups and two dessert (cold soups). Aside from the usual wonton and hot and sour soups, there was lobster bisque with large pieces of lobster meat, seafood bisque, a ham and melon soup, a "silky" soup with ginsing, and then the two dessert soups one of which was tapioca soup (both sweet soups). I tried the lobster bisque. It was very good! I also later during the meal tried the ham and melon soup. It was slightly sweet, had a mild taste of ham and melon. The ham was boiled down to shreds and the melon was cooked down to fibers. The taste was familiar and I had winter melon soup in San Francisco many, many years ago - and that may have been the taste that was coming into my memory.

There are a number of grills working making hot meats and appetizers. There is a sushi bar with a variety of sushi. There were fresh clams and oysters being shucked and put out on ice. The buffet has a salad bar with unusual Chinese prepared salads and also greens and toppings to create a mixed salad. This is not your usual salad bar - even for an Asian buffet. There are two long, double-sided buffet servers with hot foods. There was also something that I have never seen before and is featured at dinners at this buffet for the same price Monday to Thursday and for just two dollars extra on weekends. It is called Shabu-Shabu. This is an Oriental hot pot. You select raw vegetables, meats, and fish on which is poured boiling hot broth which cooks what you selected. It was included on this holiday dinner. We looked at the extensive assortment of things to put into your bowl - beyond the vegetables that I could recognize and the meats like chicken and beef, and seafood including shelled raw lobster, there were many things that I did not recognize. There did seem to be raw tripe (stomach) in one of the serving dishes. I was not courageous enough to try this. I likely missed out on something really good, but I was plenty else that is more conventional to choose from so I stuck to the not so exotic. Most of the people taking this were Asian.

One of the things that I saw on the advertisement for this dinner was roast suckling pig. I have never had that but I have seen enough food shows on the Travel Channel to know that this is something not to miss. In case you are concerned that there was a little roast piggy out being carved, have no fear - the pig was cut up in the kitchen and brought out on a platter in thick pieces and put on a hot tray to keep it hot. My first piece was just as I anticipated from what I have seen on TV. The skin was crispy brown with a layer of fat below and a thick layer of pork below that. It was very good. Now, I must tell you that later when I went back for more the hot tray was not doing such a good job in keeping this pig sufficiently hot and it was just warm. (Back to my first review when things were not kept hot? Well, the pig was not hot as it should be and there were just a very few more things - grilled appetizers - that needed to be hotter. Everything else was fine!) Hey, I went back three times for more pig - hot or not - it was good.

I tried a number of different dishes. One that I did not care for but only because it was not to my taste was guinea hen stewed with herbs. I have never had guinea hen before and I did eat some of it. What was excellent were beef short ribs stewed in red wine! Scallops, clams, and fried tofu were good. Bake clams with bacon on top surprised me when I discovered after putting the contents of the clam shell into my mouth (the bottom hidden by the thick pieces of bacon) that the these were not chopped clams like baked clams usually are - these were whole clams. Nice, but I am not a big fan of cooked clams in the shell. The conventional shrimp with lobster sauce here is made the proper way with ground pork in the sauce - all other Chinese buffets leave out the pork.

On the advertisement menu it listed lobster with ginger sauce. There was none - BUT there were large steamed lobster claws mixed in with the crab legs. This was so much better than lobster with ginger sauce! The claws were full of lobster meat and there was plenty of melted butter sauce to dip the lobster in. I went back several times for these - and there was none of the usual wait and fight to get some before they are gone - there were plenty and they kept coming out.

There were several carvings - Peking Duck (yes, from the movie - "Chinese Turkey"), Fillet Mignon, Prime Rib, and Rack of Lamb. Each carved to your order. The duck was crispy without a lot of fat.

There were so many dishes that I cannot remember them all to tell you about. There were salt and pepper fried frog legs, salt and pepper fried dungeness crab, and salt and pepper fried calamari. There were mussel dishes. There were various Chinese meat dishes. There were several types of noodles including a Korean-style noodle which were very thin, a bit gelatinous, and very tasty. There were a number of seafood and fish dishes. Many of the more unusual things were there as part of the special Christmas dinner menu. They do claim to have 220 dinner items on the regular buffet menu.

For dessert there was a large variety of authentic Chinese pastries and puddings. There are desserts here that are not found in any other Chinese buffet - and not in restaurants unless they are located in predominantly Chinese areas.

Price for the Christmas Day dinner was $32.99 per adult and $16.99 per child. They automatically add a 12% service charge to your check. The buffet price does not include drinks. Soft drinks are refillable if you order them. There is a bar - we overheard one table asking for more juice to be added to a cocktail because it was "too strong". That is pretty good! This buffet is not cheap. It never was. Regular weekend adult dinners are $25.99 and are $18.99 on weekdays. This special dinner was also served on Christmas Eve night and is to be repeated on New Year's Eve and also all day New Year's Day. My wife, as we were leaving, pointed this out to me and said, "Let's come back!" That says it all! (For regular readers who have gotten to know my picky eater wife you understand why.)

I will come back to Best Buffet. I may even be here for New Years (though when you are reading this that will have passed). With this wonderful meal, I now recommend Best Buffet. I hope that it holds up equally well on a regular night...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Christmas Eve Buffet at Milleridge Inn, Jericho, NY

Every Christmas Eve my family gets together - my sister and her husband and little girl with my wife and me - and has dinner out. For a good many years the Milleridge Inn was a family tradition and a a number of years back, they began serving a buffet dinner. As time progressed, the special buffet dinner went down hill and a few years back we stopped going there. When it was time to find a restaurant for Christmas Eve 2010, my sister - and I discovered that the restaurants that we were going to either went out of business or were not going to be open on Christmas Eve. With a reluctance I suggested that she find out if the Milleridge Inn was serving the buffet again this year. We knew that they were serving a menu dinner, but that has not been good for a long time. I have actually written about the "special" buffets served at this restaurant before - not positively. I was pretty sure before we went that things had not really improved. So keep reading to find out...

The Milleridge Inn is a "landmark" restaurant on Long Island. It seems that it has been in business forever. It started in the late 18th/early 19th Century as a stagecoach stop and in the 20th Century the mansion became a restaurant. The building has been expanded many times so that the little stagecoach stop has been lost within the many constructions. Years back a little village of gift shops was added in the large parking lot and some time ago a catering building was built at the back of the property. This catering building is where the holiday buffets are held. There are similar buffets for Christmas Eve, Valentine's Day, and Easter.

The Milleridge Inn is not a buffet restaurant. It is a menu restaurant. The buffets are set up as a catered dinner would be set up for a party or a restaurant. I have said this before and I will say it again - the problem that comes up time after time when a menu restaurant tries to serve a buffet is that the staff are not willing or prepared to do what is necessary to take care of buffet diners and the restaurant is not used to dealing with a buffet set up. Here the problem is 95% the wait staff. In the past here we encountered waiters and waitresses that were upset with working on Christmas Eve and made that very obvious. On this night, the wait staff really wanted nothing to do with the tables that they were responsible for.

There were a lot of people dining at this buffet. We had a 7:30 pm reservation which was not the last of the night. We waited to be seated after arriving for our reserved time. We were a party of five - four adults and a child. We were escorted to a very small table that should have seated no more than two. We made a comment to the gentlemen who seated us that five could not fit at this time properly. He smiled and said, "Yes, this is your table." Then he walked away. OK. We sat down elbow to elbow, two on each side with the child at one end. We got up and went to the serving tables as it was quite clear that this was our table or there would be no table.

The spread of food is set out as it would be for a catered party - times two. There were two set ups that met in the middle, both exactly the same on each side. There was a long ice table with prepared salads and cocktail shrimp (already peeled and very large). There was a bowl of greens in the middle on a small table. My sister identified the greens in the salad as mescaline greens. There were two serving bowls of dressing - one that was Catalina French and the other some dark, oil and vinegar concoction. At the wall near the salad was a table with serving dishes of macaroni and cheese, pasta with a cream tomato sauce, and a single server with chicken fingers and french fries. Along the middle and meeting the other side in the center at a roast turkey breast carving were hot, covered serving dishes with entrees and vegetables. There were also stuffed roast pork and sliced steak carvings.

This poor quality photo taken with my cell phone camera will give you an idea of the setup of the buffet. You are looking at one of the sides with hot dishes. Not really visible to the left end of the table are the carvings.

There was no soup so we started with the prepared salads and cold shrimp. There were a variety of Italian style salads - this is not an Italian restaurant. There was a mixture of sliced salami and mixed olives. There were two pasta salads. There was an artichoke salad - which was tasteless and used more than the artichoke hearts making it pretty much artichoke leaves with nothing to eat. There was a nice tomato and mozzarella cheese salad that consisted of balls of semi-fresh cheese with chunks of fresh tomatoes in an oil and vinegar with chopped parsley dressing. There was a black bean salad and there was a string bean salad. At the end of this row was the cocktail shrimp. These were large shrimp peeled with the tail on - very much like the shrimp that would be served in a restaurant as shrimp cocktail.

We completed that course at varying times - one of the reasons that I do not like going to buffets with a group - they do not like my idea that we all eat together and once a plate is empty are up for more regardless of where the rest of the table is for that course. I know that many readers have said that this is the only way to dine at a buffet in a group - and perhaps that is practical, but it does not make for much of a family meal and certainly does not lend to dinner conversation with people bouncing up and down through the entire meal. As it was, three adults and the child finished together after the one of the adults had gone back up and had already come back and continued eating. When we returned with our salads, the plates from our first course were properly taken off the table. Why would I note such a thing? I never talk really about when plates are taken away - UNLESS - they are not taken away. Well, these were the only plates the entire meal that were taken away. Now, I have noted how small this table was. Barely room for the plates that we were eating from. There was certainly no more room to put soiled plates. But no one - after that first course - ever made an appearance to take away any soiled plates. This was not just our problem as other tables around us had the same situation. It got to the point that we were cleaning our own table between courses to remove the used plates. And what did we do with them? We broke a cardinal rule of buffets and stacked them on a small empty table not too far off from our table - as were others. Oddly, the stacks of plates every so often would disappear from that table. The waiter was aware enough to take the dishes from there - but never came near the dining tables to clear the plates away when necessary. OK - someone is going to say, why didn't you say something. Well, I did. I went over to two waiters who were standing on the side with a used plate in my hand. I put it down in front of them and said to them - "you are not taking the used plates off the tables" - I added, "I have never been anywhere that the soiled plates are left on the tables." I got a surprised look, a shrug, and a "huh?" I made my message known again. One of them followed me over to our table - with several soiled plates waiting to be picked up he took one, left the rest, and was not seen again. See, this is what I mean about restaurant that are not buffets doing buffet meals - and about staff on holidays. I have been to a number of buffets where the plates do not get cleared off the table promptly - mostly in the same chain. Sometimes the meal goes along for a while - but eventually every time before someone came and eventually cleared the table - and then returned to continue to do the same (at some point). This night was really a first.

At one point my sister got one of the waiters and asked for two things - this was after telling him about the plates - which he still did not come and take. She asked for a glass of ice and one of the loaves of bread that were on other tables but were never brought to our table - perhaps because there was no place to set it down. Again, she got a stare, a "huh?", and a total blank. Eventually, she got the message through and a loaf of bread showed up on the table - on a plate but without a knife to slice it with.

So back to the meal. The hot dishes were chicken Parmesan - not bad, sausage and peppers - much too greasy, eggplant rollatini (i did not try that), string beans and carrots - underdone (to my liking), salmon teriyaki - my brother in law said this was very good, mussels and shrimp in garlic sauce, red potatoes, and fried calamari - which ran out mid meal and were replaced with stuffing (some substitution!). The turkey that was being carved was a "real" turkey breast on the bone roasted with the skin on. There was a very thin turkey gravy for it. The steak was a thick, but narrow length of steak that was being sliced. When I went up for it, it was nicely rare and juicy. When I went back for more, what was left was well done and dry (so I did not take more). I did take, at that point, a slice of the stuffed pork loin. There was a thick gravy for the pork. Condiments including apple sauce were set out along the carving area.

On one side of the duplicated sides there was a hot dog cart serving steamed hot dogs on a bun and along side were very large soft pretzels. This may have been intended for the children along with the chicken fingers and french fries, but adults were getting this too. I took a hot dog (I love hot dogs) - this one was nothing to boast about. My little niece wanted one of the soft pretzels and brought it back to the table filling the plate. She took a few bites and was not happy. Asked why she said it was covered in butter - she did not understand why and evidently never had the buttered pretzels sold by some hot pretzel chains. She is used to NYC street pretzels which are more like the Philadelphia soft pretzels. I asked her how it was - other than the butter. She was very emphatic - "It tastes like NOTHING!" She even spelled out "n o t h i n g". Hmm, if you can't impress a kid with a giant soft pretzel...

Desserts are not on the buffet but were included with the meal. There were three desserts offered - a piece of cheesecake, what they called a little Christmas cake that was actually a cupcake with green frosting, and peppermint ice cream. One dessert was offered to each. They also brought a small serving dish of little pastries to the table. My brother-in-law said that they were very good.

Overall, the food was fine. My picky wife (regular readers know about how she eats) had a hard time finding things. She had planned to make salad and turkey the bulk of her meal but the salad was not to her liking. For the most part there was plenty of it, though as the night went on the carvings were getting down to the barest of remains and there was no intention on what we being brought out. Way back in the past, there were somethings in the cold seafood section that were not there this night - most notably clams and oysters on the half shell. I would just say that they have removed them from the menu, however, as we were first coming in I overheard someone talking about the oysters. Did the raw shell fish run out and was not replaced? If so, that was a big thing to be missed for the cost of this meal.

I cannot tell you how much this meal cost. I was the guest of my sister and her husband and it was not polite to ask. I am going to say that based upon the prices at this restaurant in general and other buffets that I have seen advertised here, the cost was $40.00 per person. I hope the child's price was less. That is a lot. Perhaps not for a holiday dinner, but it really was a lot for what was offered. No beverages were included in the price. And soft drinks were NOT refillable - without full charge.

Above all the worst part of this dinner was the service. We were clearing off our own plates! I turned to my little, 8 year old niece who was astounded at this too and I asked her, "Do you know what it means when the waiter does not take the dirty dishes off the table for the whole meal?" Then I answered when she said "what" - "No tip!" Her father chimed in - "That's right!" I always tip at a buffet provided the server actually does something - and at most buffets that means taking away the dirty plates promptly and refilling the beverages. I don't know if my brother-in-law left a tip or not - but had I been paying - I would not have. Gratuities should not be expected unless they are earned - in even the smallest way.

So! What will happen next Christmas Eve if other restaurants do not open for a holiday dinner? I don't know. Would I recommend to you to come to the Milleridge Inn for any buffet meal for any of the holidays on which they offer it - absolutely not! And I am really sorry to have to say that. I had hoped that in the several years since we had done this last that perhaps things had changed - attitudes had changed. No, sadly, they have not. I must say that I had a better Thanksgiving meal with a friendlier atmosphere and nicer employees at OCB than I had a Christmas Eve dinner at the Milleridge Inn buffet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet, Carle Place, NY and Other Locations

It was time for our annual Office Christmas Party for Two once again and as we have for the past two years, the local Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet was at the top of the list. This year I was a little hesitant about going back - not because the restaurant is not wonderful - IT IS - but because with my recent diet restrictions I was not sure that I would enjoy this buffet as much if I could not indulge in many of my favorites. Silly me! While I am writing this, a good two hours since we finished this great meal I am still feeling stuffed. I had no problem at all at Minado finding things to fill my plate over and over again.

As those of you who are regular readers know, I have eaten in a lot of buffet restaurants. I have eaten in many really great buffet restaurants. The meals that I have had a Minado - and all together there have only been three including this one - are the ones that I have perhaps enjoyed the most. The reason for this is that they are the most unusual meals that I have eaten at buffets. The fact that I can only really afford to eat here once a year for a special occasion may also lend to that enjoyment. Of course, the excellence of the food adds to it too. Let's face it - most buffets - no matter how good - are basically serving the same types of things. Foods that have become "American" foods - even at specialized buffets such as Italian and Chinese. At least for me, the foods found are not "that" unusual. But at Minado, the food is Japanese, and judging by the numbers of Japanese or Asian people that fill this restaurant's tables, the food must be pretty close to authentic.

The first thing to be aware of is that Minado is expensive. Monday to Thursday dinner is $28.99. Weekends the dinner is $30.95. This price has gone up one dollar since two years ago when I first came. The weekend dinner actually went down one dollar. Lunch is less and $16.95 and $20.95 and I know several people who go for lunch and tell me that the meal is just the same. We save this restaurant for this "special" party for two. When I started working at home, sharing a home business office with my wife several years back she suggested that just because I no longer worked in a corporate environment did not mean that I could not enjoy a "company Christmas party" every year. We would go and have our own Office Christmas Party at someplace special. Three years ago we decided upon Minado and now it has become part of this tradition. So we splurge. Now I know that many of you can well afford this meal and do not see these prices as expensive - but I also know that many of my readers would. (If I still worked for the corporation, I might think this expensive either - but when each dollar earned is hard earned this is on the higher end of a meal price.) This is also the type of meal that you want to keep special.

So what is so special about Minado. It is the food and the variety of it. Of course, it is Japanese. There is an abundance of sushi and raw fish. There are Japanese prepared cold dishes and salads. There is a large assortment of Japanese hot entrees. There is a soup station including made to order udon noodle soup. There is an hibachi grill. There are hot appetizers off a chargrill. There is cold seafood including cold crab legs (there are also hot crab legs). There is a dessert bar. And there is a hot crepe station. And with all of this - there is a lot of it.

I eat things here that I do not eat anyplace else - that are not served anywhere else that I go. On this night I had the raw beef again - thin slices of raw beef marinated. Surprisingly it is very good - well, I like my steak rare anyway. The raw fish here is exceptionally fresh. The best raw tuna that I have ever had I have had here - and each time that I have come.

There are sushi chefs working behind the buffet server constantly making sushi and replacing the platters that are on ice as they empty. Interestingly - and I am not sure how to see this - the sushi chefs seem to be the only actually Japanese chefs that are out at the servers preparing food. Those at the grills and the soup station are Hispanic. Never the less, they are Hispanics who have been well taught to cook Japanese. Regardless, no matter who is cooking here, the food is great and as I say, there are a lot of Japanese people eating here.

Each platter or serving tray that is out is clearly labeled to what it is and what the ingredients in the dish are. This is excellent- especially with so many unfamiliar foods. Knowing what is in the dish makes taking something that you have never seen before or heard of much easier and with confidence that it will not be something that you will not care for. And you know to avoid things that for whatever reason you cannot eat.

Last year I commented that the food was spicier than the year before. I did not find that this year. Things that were supposed to be spicy were, but many things were just right to my palate.

At most buffets - including this one - I take a little of whatever I take to taste and if I want to get more of the same I do or continue taking different things on return trips up to the buffet tables. At this meal I took a little and went back for something different. As it turns out - I am stuffed. I must confess that there were a few things that I went back and took a little more of - the raw tuna, the raw tuna seared on the outside, the raw beef, and smoked salmon.

I waited toward the end of the meal to go to the Hibachi grill. Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese restaurants where the chef cooks at your table and grills meats and vegetable while tossing knives up in the air. This grill is just like that - without the knife tossing. You have a choice of beef, shrimp, or chicken (or all three or any combination) and you are asked if you would also like vegetables - onion, zucchini, and mushrooms. The meat is put on the grill to begin to cook. The vegetables are put on the grill alongside. The onion is a large, whole slice of onion. The chef turns the meat - I had beef (I always have beef) which was a good size steak - and as it cooks he begins to cut it into strips with one of those same ultra sharp and pointed knives that I have seen tossed and juggled in those other Japanese restaurants. The vegetables are cut up on the grill as well. All of this is seasoned and then a bit of soy sauce and a quantity of butter is put on top of the food. The food is tossed on the grill for the seasonings and the butter to mix thoroughly through. You are then asked for your plate and it is all scooped up from the grill and placed on your plate. You get it all and it overfills your plate. This alone would make a dinner meal in regular Japanese restaurants perhaps with some fried rice and/or noodles on the side - and for a price equivalent to this whole buffet meal. Here it is just another of your selections as you go through the buffet taking what you like. And, of course, you can go back to the Hibachi and start all over again. This is what filled me up. This entire plate of steak and vegetables was a lot to eat. It would have even been a lot had it been shared by two. I must say that I did not stop with the plate of Hibachi steak. Perhaps I should have, but I went back for some more sushi and raw fish - oh, and a half bowl of miso soup (just to taste it - nice). Yes, I broke one of the rules - and I ate too much. I knew it before that last plate and I went up for more anyway. When I walked out of the restaurant after the meal, I gave a groan - I ate too much!

There is a nice dessert bar with a variety of little cakes though these are better than the little cakes that are usually found at Asian buffets. There are also fresh fruits and jello. There is a soft serve machine with both vanilla ice cream and green tea ice cream. The green tea ice cream is much in demand here and everyone seems to have a large bowl full. Even though we both should not have eaten any - we each had a very small cup full. It is very refreshing.

For others like myself and my wife who eat a low carb diet due to Diabetes, there was no problem selecting things to eat. We did perhaps eat a bit more carbs than usual but after the meal our blood glucose test numbers were within proper range (my wife's better than mine). There was no problem getting the same raw fish with out rice that is used in the sushi rolls. I took several rolls and fish on rice and left over the rice and nothing was said about it. Some of the marinades may have sugar in them - some are sweeter than others but there was nothing that was not manageable. Anyone should have no problem finding something they will enjoy here - this is called a seafood buffet and the only seafood my wife will eat is shrimp - and she had no problem selecting things and she only had a little shrimp.

Service here is excellent. The server was continually walking up and down the aisle taking care of his tables, removing dishes, and asking if there was anything needed.

If you would like to read my two past reviews of this buffet - with more detail on the dishes that you will typically find - they do change from time to time - but are selected from a master menu- the start with this article. That article will have a link to the prior year's article which has the most detail in it.

Minado has five locations. One in New York (this one), one in Massachusetts, two in New Jersey, and one in Pennsylvania. They also run restaurants under the name Nori. The buffet that I have written about is located at 219 Glen Cove Rd, Carle Place, New York. Their telephone number is 516-294-9541. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page. Hours may always vary from location to location so check on the website before you go. On the website you will find details for all of the locations.

I highly recommend this buffet. If you want, save it for a special occasion as we do.

Friday, January 07, 2011


I have been struggling with this decision for most of this past year. I have examined the buffets that I have been to this year and in previous years very carefully. In making an important selection for BEST buffet of the year, I look at the quality of the food, the selection of food, the value of the price and what is received for the money, the cleanliness of the restaurant, the courtesy and quality of the staff - and management - and, perhaps most importantly - though not much more importantly than all the other factors - how much you say "Wow!" in a good way about your total experience at the buffet. Since my good wife accompanies me to all of the buffet meals and restaurants that I review and/or dine at, I run my thoughts by her and get her opinion as well.

With all of that, once again, the Buffet of the Year is Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Now, many of the regular readers here are going to say, "How come I knew that was what he would pick?". And I, myself, have had that running through my mind for the past few months. Why do I pick Shady Maple year after year? Simply, I cannot find any other buffet that gives me - and many of you who have been there - and many others who go there - that certain "Wow!". Believe me I have looked for a buffet restaurant to top it. There was one other that I considered this year, but I feel that an important factor to consider is ownership - a big conglomerate corporation versus a family owned and run business, I have to give more credit to the family owned and operated business - which is what Shady Maple is. And it seems that so many know this is THE buffet to go to.

Before I made up my mind I decided that I had to go back for one more meal just to be certain. So with this as the main intention of the 400 mile round trip, we went again to Shady Maple just a few short weeks ago. This is not the visit that I recently wrote about. This is yet another visit and meal. The afternoon before we went to the restaurant we stopped at a very popular farmer's market in Lancaster County called Green Dragon Market in Ephrata, PA. While I was looking through one of the larger permanent indoor shops at this very large outdoor and indoor market, I listened to a couple talk to a gentlemen at the cash register of this shop. They were talking about where to eat. These were visitors - tourists, I suppose. It is not unusual in this area to find tourists at all times of the year - with the exception of the dead of winter in January and February. They told the store owner the name of another local buffet that they were going to that Friday night - one that I have reviewed on this site and a very good one, too. They said a friend recommended it. The first words out of this local man's mouth then were "He did not recommend that you go to Shady Maple?!?" He said this with a bit of honest surprise - almost shock! They answered - "Oh yes! We are going there tomorrow night!" What is the point of this story. It is one that is repeated over and over again. I have overheard this same conversation in local shops and attractions many, many times. I have heard Old Order Amish say it. I have heard Mennonites say it. And I have heard the "English" say it. (The Amish and the Mennonites are the religous sects that have settled this area of Pennsylvania. The "English" are those who are not Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch- German).)

I have written so many times on this site about Shady Maple. I have told the history of the restaurant and the owners. I have described the extravagant decor of the "new" restaurant building. I have described many meals that have been served here. I will talk about this recently past meal just to emphasize some of the things that make this restaurant stand out. Before I do, I have one regret about Shady Maple and this has to do with the "new" building - which is not so new any longer. Each time I go to Shady Maple now I really miss the "old" building. It is like moving out of a first house and into a nice new, big home - but you still miss that old place. I miss the old Shady Maple that I first went to again and again so many years ago. It was smaller. The lines were out the door and way down the walk to get in. But the restaurant was more rural and homier. It was more in keeping with the locale. The food, service, and everything was and is exactly the same as it is now. We were there the last week before that old building closed and we were there when the new building opened. The building is still there - occupied by a furniture store now. The new building is on the same property - but in the back behind the supermarket that was the original farm stand business owned by the Shady Maple owners/founders. I love going to Shady Maple - then and now. My wife knows how I feel about the "old" building and will say to me - just about each time - "I know - you miss the "old" Shady Maple".

That said, let me tell you (I have said this to you before) that I believe that the "new" building is the largest, regularly open restaurant in the United States - maybe even the world. This is not anything "official" but I cannot think of any restaurant that is larger. I know of one in an amusement park that makes this claim - as the biggest restaurant - but they are not open all year and Shady Maple is larger. It is easily the size of a football field when all of the dining rooms are put together - and then there are the catering rooms that are not seen from the restaurant dining rooms. This place is huge. And they have it divided in such a way that when you are seated in any one dining room that you don't realize how much more there is. You have to be there to appreciate the size - and how well they handle the number of people that they are feeding at any one time. There is never an empty tray. There is always food coming out. And even near closing they are making sure that everyone has enough to eat.

Ok - I have gone on enough. Let me talk about this meal. I always seem to find something new on the buffet each time I come. This last visit, there was an unusual soup - sausage and peppers soup. It was a thick tomato base soup full of sausage, peppers, and Italian herbs and spices. It was mildly spicy and very good. It reminded me a bit, but different from, the Maryland Crab soup that is sometimes served here - and one of my favorites as they serve it. It had a definite Italian taste - as it should and there were large slices of Italian sausage in the soup.

Fall and late Fall are the time of year in this area for sausage. This is hog butchering time. There were two kinds of sausage on the buffet. One was served from the grill and the other served from the buffet server. On the grill - and found fairly regularly - at least at this particular time of year was Shady Maple's "own" sausage. This is a mildly seasoned, country sausage. It was very good. On the buffet server was Polish sausage. This was a sausage link with a small bit of spice - but not too much. This was very good as well. Tasty!

Chicken and Waffles are known to different cuisines, but in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country this is not the fried chicken over a waffle that is served in soul food restaurants. Here this pieces of chicken off the bone stewed in a cream sauce with carrots and celery. This is then poured over a thick, golden waffle. The cream soaks into the waffle and takes up all of the flavors of the stew. I have had this at Shady Maple before, but this is not something that is regularly found. It was there on this last visit. Wonderful!

One of the big favorites at Shady Maple is called "Smorgie" Cheese Steaks. I have written about these before and they are often served on Friday and Saturday nights. This is Shady Maple's own variation of Philly Cheesesteaks - and people in these parts really know their cheesesteaks - and they line up for these! They are made and served off the grill. Thin sliced steak beef is grilled and then chopped on the grill with the edge of a spatula and then thick cheese is put on top of the beef on the grill to felt on and into the meat. They make this with and without onions - your choice. And there is tomato sauce on the side to put on top at your request. They serve this on a large "hoagie" roll (depends on where you are from - hoagie, hero, submarine, torpedo - all the same roll). I surprised the gentleman behind the counter and asked for it with no roll - no problem - I just handed him my plate and he spatulaed it on. (With all of the great things to eat here - why fill up on a roll? The cheesesteak is just as good and then you have more room to keep on eating.) As I say and say, I have been here many times. Every time I go and there are Smorgie Cheesesteaks - I go "Wow!".

I will tell you about one more thing that I had at this meal. Ribs. When they have them, Shady Maple serves ribs from a buffet server hot tray. There are pieces of racks - about four meaty ribs to a piece served in a light, tomato base, barbecue sauce. I suppose these are considered "spare" ribs as they are very meaty ribs. I am sure that these are not cooked in a smoker but rather some form of oven, but the mark of a great rib is that meat just falls off the bone - and these ribs do just that. They are great! The meat is tender, moist, and juicy. The sauce is not overpowering and not too sweet. The outside of the ribs have a very slight char but not that it makes the outside tough or chewy. Wonderful ribs.

Put it all together - yards and yards of buffet buffet servers in a row, four grills each with four or more offerings, the cheesesteaks, the Pennsylvania Dutch local specialties, grilled to order steaks on some nights, the ribs, and I have not even mentioned the desserts - all together combined with great service, friendly staff, and a management that is present on the floor to make sure all is absolutely right - and nothing else comes close. This is why I cannot find another buffet to top this one. This is why this is the Best Buffet - year after year.

Visit their website, look at their own Facebook page and then look at the Facebook fan pages started by people who love this place, look at the You-Tube videos made by both Shady Maple and its fans - you will the understand. Heck go to this buffet! I know people besides myself that make this trip a destination. And lately I have been driving 400 miles round trip - there and back in one day.

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. (Put the name in your GPS and it will know it.) The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. They are closed on Sundays and certain holidays. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.