Friday, July 29, 2011

Family Cupboard Restaurant - Lancaster, PA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

OCB has a Feature!

Old Country Buffet rarely has featured menus any longer. They used to have them a lot but that stopped several years ago. They have just started a feature - "Shrimp - Five Ways!" Oh yes, I supposed to compete with Golden Corral's Pan Seared Seafood feature, OCB had brought back their worst feature selection - "shrimp, shrimp, shrimp".

I like shrimp. I eat a lot of shrimp. But what is the big deal about a feature that puts the usual buffet shrimp out and call it a feature. This feature offers popcorn shrimp, butterfly shrimp, shrimp scampi over pasta, and two new shrimp dishes coconut shrimp and buffalo shrimp. OCB has no mention of this feature on their website or their Facebook page, but there was a big sign at the restaurant and they did send out an email about it.

The popcorn shrimp, the shrimp scampi, and the butterfly shrimp are regularly on the OCB buffet. The buffalo shrimp is just like the regularly served buffalo chicken poppers which is a buffalo wings bread coating this time on fried shrimp. If you like spicy then you will like this. If you like fried shrimp then you will like the butterfly shrimp. The popcorn shrimp is mostly breading. The coconut shrimp was interesting but it just was a coconut flavored batter on fried shrimp. There were no bits of coconut. It tasted like eating fried shrimp with a coconut cookie at the same time. All of the featured shrimp is fried with the exception of the scampi which is in a heavy butter (or butter-like) sauce with garlic.

In the past OCB had great features. The best would come out each summer and be around for July and August. It was a barbecue feature and it had real good, fall off the bone BBQ baby back ribs, beef brisket, their well known and no longer to be found beef ribs, and smoked sausage. This was their best feature. They don't bring it back any longer. Pity.

If you love shrimp, there are probably better buffets to go to. I can think of several Asian buffets that offer so much better shrimp dishes. If you are going to OCB and you like shrimp, then you will probably be happy with this new feature.

The feature is only with dinner and will be there for an undisclosed limited time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pan Seared Seafood at Golden Corral - New Feature

I was near Philadelphia, PA on business and decided that I would go back to the Golden Corral in Bensalem, PA and look closely over the dessert selections so that I could tell the readers who were disappointed in my last Golden Corral article that I did not make a big deal about the dessert selections there all about what you will find at Golden Corral for dessert. I also was looking forward to enjoying their rib feature again. It is very rare that I am somewhere that has a Golden Corral restaurant.

We got to the Golden Corral and to my surprise - and at first, disappointment that the rib feature had ended - and this was the first day of a new feature - Pan Seared Seafood - made to order at the grill. Interesting... Well, I would have more to write about.

I am not going to go into the details of this buffet or the location. I did that in my last article just a short time ago. You can read all about it there. What I do want to tell you about is this new feature - and like all other features at Golden Corral it is only at the restaurants for a limited time. And this feature is with dinner only. It is not available at lunch. This is an unusual feature as it is based completely at the grill and each dish is made to order for you. There are nine choices - and here is how it works (according to the sign at the grill). First, you select your fish - shrimp, scallops, or talapia fish. Next you select your "base" - what the fish will sit upon. You have a choice of white rice, linguine, or mixed sauteed vegetables. Finally, you select your sauce - and there are three of those - scampi sauce, spicy Alfredo sauce, or lemon picata. You step up to the grill - where the steaks are cooked and tell the chef your choices. The chef has three pans of seafood bubbling away next to him on the grill - shrimp, scallops, and talapia. The chef then takes a scoop of ONE of the seafood - shrimp, scallops, or talapia - BUT NOT a combination of them - "ONLY ONE" - and places it into another dry fry pan on the griddle and adds a bit of liquid butter or butter like sauce. The chef then lets your order saute. There are places for two pans to cook at the same time - so expect a bit of a wait if there is a crowd. While your seafood is "pan searing" you are asked what base and what sauce. You can leave any of these out if you wish. Why did I emphasize above ONLY ONE - because I made the mistake of asking for shrimp and scallops and was told rather firmly that you can have only one at a time and if you want more you need to come back. Again, this was the first day and the two chefs who were alternately working this new feature at the grill were both commenting that this was all new to them and they were not quite getting the process easily down yet. So perhaps, this only one business was just the rule of this chef to avoid his confusion - and then again, maybe not.

I went up to see what I would like to try on this new feature. I had decided on shrimp and scallops and as you see, that idea was shot down pretty quickly so I said that I wanted scallops. I did not want linguine right then. I have a problem eating rice. And when I looked at the tray of sauteed vegetables they looked extremely oily in the pan. I decided at that point that I would pass on those. I had thought that I would put my own sauce on top. The rice, linguine, mixed vegetables, and all three sauces are in the serving trays that face out to the public on the serving counter next to the grill and have serving utensils like all of the other buffet trays. In fact I was surprised that the chef had to assemble this all for you as I figured that you could get the seafood and assemble it yourself - BUT NO - the chef, here at least on this first night, had to do it all for you. I had thought that I would take my own sauce and try the lemon picata, but I had already had been handed the plate with several "seared" scallops and I did not dare touch the sauce spoon. :) By this time the spicy Alfredo sauce had run out - it must have been very popular as our server at our table had recommended that we try it. My first thought as I walked away from the grill with my plate was "Too many rules with this feature". What is the difference if you have one or all three seafood selections at the same time - it is a buffet and you will take more anyway. What is the difference if you take the "base" or sauce yourself- it is easily accessible from the front of the counter in serving trays situated to serve yourself as with all of the other buffet trays.

I got a few other things from the buffet to add to the scallops and went back to the table. They were fine. What had gone into the pan as scallops a little bigger than the size of a nickel came out smaller than the size of a dime. There were maybe nine or ten. They were not the best scallops that I have ever had but they were not bad.

Later, I went back to try the shrimp. As I walked up to the grill I decided that I would try it this time all the way - shrimp, sauteed vegetables - oily and all, and lemon picata sauce. When it was my turn to order, the same chef said to me "I know you only want the seafood - nothing else." I told him that this time I would try it all and he seemed delighted. He seared a pan of about eight small shrimp, scooped some of the mixed vegetables onto my plate and then spooned the lemon picata sauce on top of the vegetables. This was what he did with all of the sauces - they went on before the seafood despite the pictures on the wall showing the seafood and the "base" covered in sauce. I took my plate back to the table.

I have to tell you that this combination was very good. The lemon picata sauce had capers in it. The mixed vegetables were artichoke heart leaves, red peppers, and zucchini. All together they blended in a great tasting dish. I was impressed. This was probably one of the better tasting seafood dishes that I have had at any buffet. I went back again to do the same thing all over again but this time with scallops.

OK - for those who keep saying how can I eat so much - I don't eat so much. The serving size of these featured dishes are about the size of a typical side dish serving. You are not getting a plateful with this. When I eat at buffets, I eat a sampling of things - not whole portions. This feature is portioned out by the chef and he is not filling your plate. You can always go back for more.

Anyway, the scallops were just as good with the vegetable and lemon picata sauce as the shrimp - perhaps even better! I did not try the scampi sauce - it is garlic and butter and not different from any other scampi sauce. There was no more spicy Alfredo sauce. And I did not try the talapia. I have to tell you a little that I know about talapia. It is popular in restaurants because it is a mild tasting white flaky fish that is a less expensive substitute for flounder. What I have read - and don't debate me on this if you think differently - is that FARM raised talapia does not have the same omega health benefits as other fish and what it does have for some reason, some how takes away the benefits from you that other healthy types of fish give you. I like talapia. I used to order it a lot. I don't order it often any longer because of what I have read about it. Here is just one such article. I did not write it - I am just passing the information along.

Before I go on to the desserts, I give the new feature at Golden Corral a BIG thumbs up!

Now, the desserts. I wish that I could tell you that they had wonderful desserts at Golden Corral, but there really was nothing here worth boasting about. The best of the desserts was the soft ice cream and sundae bar and if you are into sundaes or ice cream cones, then there is a nice selection of four flavors (two machines) and a lot of sauces and toppings. As to cakes - there were two cakes - carrot cake and what they called German chocolate cake. German Chocolate cake usually has a light chocolate frosting - theirs had a hard dark chocolate frosting. There was also a sugar free Mocha cake. There was blueberry pie and the sign said apple pie but no apple pie was to be seen. There were chocolate covered macaroons. There was a fruit filled cookie bar and a chocolate filled cookie bar. There was diet chocolate pudding and diet jello. There were three different hot fruit cobblers and one overly gooey chocolate cobbler - the fruit cobblers were more appealing. There was a sign that said vanilla cupcakes and I have had Golden Corral's cupcakes in the past and they generally are good. There was also a banana pudding. Nothing looked wonderful- except the ice cream.

I went over to the salad bar to look for fresh fruit. Behind the salad bar is a whole display of fresh oranges, lemons, and watermelons. There were no oranges on the buffet server and the watermelon server was empty. A young boy came up looking for watermelon and asked the man behind the counter for some. One piece was placed into the serving bowl for him - and that was it. Others came up looking for it, now found no one to ask, and walked away.

A few don't believe me when I say that so often the desserts are not worth telling you about - and when there are great desserts you hear it from me. If you go to Golden Corral for the desserts you are going to be disappointed.

Before I close, I want to comment about the choices at Golden Corral and I like Golden Corral very much - it may just be the best of the remaining chain buffet restaurants. There is not a lot of choices at Golden Corral if you want to eat plain or low fat. Most vegetables are seasoned or are in some form of sauce. The meats are beef, pork, or chicken - and only the rotisserie chicken and the cold chicken breast strips on the salad bar are not fried or highly seasoned. There are no carvings. There were at one time but not any more. This is a high fat selection buffet. My wife does not like Golden Corral because it is hard for her to choose what to eat there. She does eat low fat and likes plain things. She winds up eating the cold chicken from the salad bar and salad selections for most of her meal. So if you are not a meat eater and you are one who wants to eat lower fat foods this is not the place for you. Even this new feature has butter in everything and the seafood was cooked twice in butter (or some type of butter sauce).

So - pan seared seafood feature - Yeah!
Desserts - hardly worth the calories.

Friday, July 08, 2011

A Tale of Father's Day at OCB

I picked this up from the Old Country Buffet Facebook page and had experienced it myself. This took place the week leading up to Father's Day this year.

I don't expect anything really special at OCB for holidays and they usually put out the usual Sunday menu which consists of turkey, ham, and roast beef carvings, two pasta dishes, and then all of the usual sides, desserts, etc. (if you don't know what the usuals are at OCB then see some of my other OCB articles). And really, this is fine. But this year, OCB started to make a big deal about Father's Day on both Facebook and their emails. In fact they sent out an email to everyone on their email list several days before Father's Day talking about coming to OCB for Father's Day and then in the middle of the promo ad they wrote "Offer good only on June 19". This is what they put on coupons but there was no coupon there. What offer? What did this mean? This started a big stir on the OCB Facebook page with everyone wanting to know what the offer was - and where was the coupon? As I have recently written - everyone on the OCB Fan page clamors for coupons. I can understand not putting out a coupon for a holiday meal. It would overwhelm a potentially over crowded restaurant on a holiday - and the idea of a coupon is to bring in business when you generally don't expect to get a lot of business. So no coupon was no surprise. But what offer on this cryptic email promo was a big question.

Someone at OCB management - actually Buffets Inc. - must have realized the blunder because the next day another email went out that basically said - we goofed, there is no offer - just come and enjoy Father's Day with us. Ok - if it just stopped there.

What followed was another OCB posted Facebook thread - a poll - saying "A hearty steak or grilled chicken? BBQ or Pizza? What's your dad's favorite?" To me and many others this implied that on Father's Day we would be seeing steak, grilled chicken, BBQ, and pizza. If not, what was the point of this. Why entice people with something that would not be there? Now, grilled chicken and pizza are standards - usuals - on the OCB buffet. Just about any dinner you will find some variation of grilled or roasted chicken, and you always find pizza, BUT steak is a Friday night only offering and BBQ rarely is found unless there is a BBQ feature which there has not been in years. Even an old standard, BBQ Beef Ribs, were discontinued about a year or more ago. Steak and BBQ is a draw and on Facebook they were telling everyone that if this is your dad's favorite - come on Father's Day and he will get it. Again, otherwise, why even suggest it? Certainly they were not saying that if you want this go someplace else.

We went. Silly me - I was actually looking forward to BBQ and some steak, even though often OCB steak leaves a lot to be desired. I thought about this all day and when we went in for dinner I went right over to the hot serving area to see what BBQ they had and the steak. I am sure you can guess that there was none. No BBQ, no steak - sure there was chicken and pizza, but that was a sure bet. What was being served was the usual Sunday buffet - turkey, ham, and roast beef. About four weeks ago they stopped the additional hot entree that was regularly served on Sunday night - pot roast - and replaced this on some Sunday nights with baked beans and others a potato dish - hardly a substitute for an entree dish. Anyway - the point is - no BBQ and no steak. I was disappointed. I asked - they were surprised - why would I think they would be serving steak and BBQ. If the main office intended this, no one told them.

Now, when I got home that night, I looked on the Facebook page to see if anyone had commented on this. There was a comment left by another disappointed customer. That he took his family there, found no BBQ or steak and that OCB was practicing false advertising and fraud - in fact he suggested that if one really wanted to find steak and BBQ then Golden Corral was the sure thing. What is most interesting is that OCB removed this comment the next day - perhaps it struck to close to the truth. He and someone else had also left an after the fact comment on the original what is your dad's favorite thread. Those are still there.

It really is baffling. Why set customers up this way? It really is poor business practice and Buffets Inc. seems to go out of its way to do this.

Will I never return to another OCB? Of course, I will, but I will not believe another offer until I see it on the buffet myself.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Skylon Tower Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room, Niagara Falls, Canada

The Skylon Tower restaurant offers a buffet with probably one of the most magnificent views in the world. Let me tell you right now that I have not been to this buffet - I cannot review the quality or taste of the food. As I often do, I want to share with you an unusual buffet experience - even if I have not been able to dine there.

I learned about this buffet from several people who have been to it and said how good it is. A comment was also made that it is expensive - and looking into it - yes, it is. The buffet costs $39.99 Canadian Dollars per adult and $15.00 per child for dinner. Lunch is $27.50 and $12.50 for children. So we shall set aside the price and concentrate on what you are getting - because not only are you having what I have been told is a fine buffet meal but you are also sitting in a restaurant up in the air on a tower that overlooks Niagara Falls. That alone has all buffets beat for atmosphere. There is a menu restaurant that revolves on Skylon Tower also. I do not believe that the buffet restaurant revolves - so if a revolving restaurant is not something you would enjoy (I know I would not) then give them a call before you go to make sure that the buffet restaurant is stationary and does not go around and around, no matter how slowly...

The dinner is served from 5 to 10 pm in "season". This generally means June to August, maybe September. All other times of the year there is a buffet brunch on Sundays.

The dinner includes a salad bar with mixed greens and salad toppings, a selection of prepared salads, mixed seafood salads, and Marinated Gravelax. Entrees on the buffet are Whole Poached Fresh Salmon, Crab Legs, Baby Shrimp with Seafood Sauce, Roast Prime Rib of Beef au Jus, a changing chicken entree, a pasta entree, rice pilaf, roasted potatoes, and assorted fresh vegetables.

On the dessert table there are assorted cheeses (this is very continental to have cheese for dessert), fresh fruit salad, fresh strawberries, and assorted cakes and pastries. I can't be more specific as I have not been there.

The beverage that is included with the buffet is coffee, tea, or milk. No unlimited sodas here.

The lunch buffet is exactly the same as the dinner offerings at the lower price and is served from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.

With dinner you get free admission to the Skylon Tower attraction and also free admission to the indoor and outdoor observation decks. These have separate admissions to the general public so if you were planning on seeing this attraction on the Canadian side of the Falls then your dinner or lunch buffet is more reasonably priced as it includes those admissions.

Reservations are recommended and you can make them on their website which is listed at the side of this page.

The Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room is located in the Skylon Tower, 5200 Robinson Street, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada L2G 2A3 Phone 1-905-356-2651 and Toll Free in North America 1-877-4SKYLON (1-877-475-9566).

If any of our readers have dined here, please comment.