Friday, December 30, 2011

The BEST BUFFET of 2011

I have thought long and hard about the choice for the best buffet for 2011. I have been to several really good buffets for the first time this year. I always think when I walk into a new buffet, perhaps this will be the one to top them all. As those of you know who have been reading this site for several years, the choice of best buffet has gone year after year to Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Pennsylvania. It has troubled me that this continues to be the choice - year after year. Was I being fair to the others that have been so good? I have even thought that perhaps I should just skip naming a Best Buffet for this year. Yet, it keeps coming back to me that when something is really good and consistent, and meets the criteria that this site has set for what really constitutes the best, was it fair not to name that buffet that remains untopable.

In making my decision I decided to go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord during the month of December, mid-week for lunch. I have been there for lunch in the past but not nearly as much as I have been there for dinner. I was pretty certain that it would remain as good at lunch as it has at dinner, but I was going to put it to the test once again.

Lunch, of course, is less expensive than dinner - $12.99, but keep in mind that this includes Pennsylvania sales tax plus and included 8% tip. This brings the price for the meal to about $11. Yes, this is similar in price to dinner at the chain buffets - and this is for lunch, but what you are getting for lunch goes way beyond what the chain buffets are giving you for dinner - and this includes the beverage that you will pay $2 more for at the chain buffets.

The food was abundant and very much included almost everything that is included on the overflowing Shady Maple dinner buffets. What was different were the grill stations and rather than steak, they were serving burgers, but the marinated chicken breasts, the full oriental saute grill, and two grills grilling fish, veal Parmesan, and more were all serving at lunch. The buffet servers had the same and similar offerings as they have at night. And perhaps it was the season, or the day of the week but there were also some very Pennsylvania Dutch dishes including chicken bot boi (chicken with vegetables and broad noodle dumplings), snitz and knep (apples and dumplings), and pig stomach (you would be surprised how good this is!). Nothing at this meal disappointed.

When I speak with local people in this area in Pennsylvania, without my mentioning Shady Maple at all or any buffets for that matter, when the topic of food comes up, they always tell me about Shady Maple Smorgasbord. I have been in stores and farmers markets, and have passed people talking about Shady Maple. I never hear talk like this about any other restaurant in this region - and there are many fine restaurants in Lancaster County. Everyone seems to know and love Shady Maple. And there is a reason - it really is the best.

So if your reaction to this is, "Oh, not again!", I am sorry. But proper due needs to be given where it is deserved. No other buffet comes even close including the large casino buffets that are the only ones that approach the abundance, but too often fail in the consistency. I know of no other buffet that is larger, offers as much to eat (at a very reasonable price), and maintains a consistent quality and value. Everything is here - great soups, an extensive salad bar, a wide assortment of meats and vegetables, a mix of plain and fancy, and an extensive dessert area where you really can get just about anything that you would like for dessert.

It is for all of this and more that the Art of the Buffet names, once again, Shady Maple Smorgasbord as Buffet of the Year - 2011.

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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Old Country Buffet

Believe it or not, I have been eating at Old Country Buffet a lot lately. No, I have not been going to what I and others have called the "worst OCB in the Country" which is the nearest location to me but we have been traveling the twenty or so miles out to their other location in our area - the one with the "good" manager. Actually, we have been going at least once a week and some weeks more. It is really the only buffet "in town" so to speak. With the exception of a very few remaining Chinese buffets, there are no other chains or buffet restaurants near here.

My wife likes OCB. She prefers it over the other chains buffets. As everyone who reads this site regularly knows by now, she is a picky eater. And at OCB she can pick and choose things that are relatively plain and not overly seasoned. This is a good thing for many who do not want the heavily sauced and hot spiced items that have become popular at the other chains. She likes the carvings - especially the turkey, and the vegetables which can vary by recipe but can be found most nights to be served plain. She also likes that the salad bar is extensive and it is always possible to pick vegetables from the salad bar.

I have found several dishes of theirs to my liking and have enjoyed most of the meals that I have had there. I have written so many times about Old Country Buffet, both good and bad, that I won't go into the overall set up again, but I will tell you about some of the things that I find are good. One thing that I must note for you all, is that OCB varies by location in many regards and that includes how things are cooked, how things taste, how clean the restaurant is, and how the employees are. I have been to Old Country Buffets in several states and it is rare to find two alike in the things that I have just noted. Consistency in a chain is important - but there is little consistency from one OCB to the next and that is not good. But I don't want this to be a negative article about OCB, because I have been enjoying my meals there lately.

I am finding little change from night to night at OCB. There was a time when Monday night featured one set of dishes, Tuesday another, and so on. There is now no set menu that varies night to night. Some different dishes are added in, but more often than not the dishes served one night are the same as another. This is something that I miss from the old days. There were things on the old offerings that were very good and are now gone. Their barbecue beef ribs on Thursday nights were well known, and those have been gone now for several years. They also took away the plain spaghetti with sauce on the side and now have premixed pastas or spaghetti, often containing meat which does not help any vegetarians who might eat here.

So what do I like. I very much like their Caesar salad. They mix the Romaine lettuce with creamy Caesar dressing and croutons. It is good. It would be better if they put out the lettuce and the dressing on the side, but the mixed Caesar salad is one of the better Caesar salads that I have had served at buffets - even the more expensive buffets. It goes quickly also. The location that I am going to is attentive to empty serving trays and a new tray of salad is brought out as quickly as possible.

I cannot eat it, but the Split Pea soup found on Thursday nights is good. It is a thick and rich soup. We often take the chicken noodle which is there every night. It varies depending on how long it has been out - when it is freshest it is thinner and after it has been out for a while it thickens. It is actually not bad, either way. OCB could take something from their Ryan's chain and use thick, doughy, country noodles instead of pasta noodles which would make this soup even better. The soup has good size chunks of chicken, carrots, and celery.

The turkey is good - carved on Sundays and Wednesdays. The roast beef is just fair. The ham is good. There is steak on Friday and Saturday nights. I have written about the steak before - it comes from a char grill in the kitchen, but it is brought out to the carving area and placed in a steam table where it continues to cook to become way over done. Something funny happened with the steak recently. We went on a stormy night to the closer (and bad) location because there was no place else to go. I went up for some steak and the young man, who was carving, took a steak out of the steam table and cut a piece off to place in my plate. Before putting it in the plate he suddenly stopped, put the piece onto the cutting board and cut into it exposing the grey middle. "How is that?" He asked. I laughed. I said, "It is the same as always, over done." He did not offer to find my a rarer piece but instead was going to inform me of the timing for steak. He said that what I said was not true and that there are often rare steaks that come out. These had just come from the kitchen. He then said, that it was overdone because of the time - it was about 8 o'clock and the restaurant was still open until 10. If I was there earlier, the steak would be rarer. He was playing with the wrong guy and I came back at him. I explained to him that no matter how the steak came from the kitchen once it went into the steam table, it would continue to cook to well done. He became indignant - "OH, the steaks are not steamed! They are cooked on a grill." I had to explain to him that the tray that he placed the steaks in under the cutting board was in a steamer and the heat in there would continue to cook the steak. He was amazed by this and pointed down at the cutting board and the tray underneath. "You mean here?", he asked. Yep, that is exactly where. I took the steak and went back to my table chuckling. Here at this location, they just don't get it. While the steak is not much different at our usual OCB, they do understand that the system they have to hold the steaks until served will continue to cook them. This is the one big problem with steak at OCB. Some locations, I am told, have a grill at the serving area, like Ryans or Golden Corral. I would love to find one of those and try it.

The Fall has brought out pot roast on Sunday nights. This varies and can be very good, if it has good down until tender. It sometimes looks like the left over roast beef, but other times it has cooked to the point that it falls apart and melts as you eat it. It is served with carrots, celery, and potatoes in a brown gravy.

My favorite thing at OCB - and something that they do not put out often enough - is smoked sausage. I love smoked sausage, and others must also because any night that it is out, it goes quickly. They serve it in several ways - grilled with sauerkraut, cooked in barbecue sauce, cooked into a jambalaya, and it has even shown up in beans and rice. It is good. It would be better if is showed up more often. I think sometimes that it is brought out to replace other meat dishes that have run out.

Recently we got a coupon that required that a survey be taken to validate the coupon. The survey on the website spoke of an Italian Station, a Chinese Station, and a Mexican Station of foods. The taco bar is standard, but I have never seen an Italian Station or a Chinese Station. There are Italian and Chinese dishes mixed in at times - always Italian with two pastas on the buffet, but no separate "station". A recent sign on the tables talks about "going around the world" at OCB and selecting Italian dishes, Chinese dishes, and Mexican dishes. I am wondering if this is happening in other parts of the country or perhaps it is something that is coming. It will be interesting to wait and see.

Deserts at OCB are basic and not really worth the calories. The ice cream is the best of the desserts offered and you can make a nice sundae with the toppings offered.

Drinks at OCB, as most know by now, are extra - no longer included in the price of the meal, and rather expensive, though in line almost with the other chains, at $1.99 each for the "beverage bar". Drinks are included in the children's prices. Dinner locally to me at OCB is $10.99. I understand that in some areas it is only $9.99. There are often coupons sent out to those who have signed up for the email list - and lately the restaurant itself has been giving out coupons to use on a next visit. The price is right - and depending on the OCB that you go to, the food is not bad either.

It is hard to just make a blanket recommendation for OCB because they do vary so much from restaurant to restaurant. But if you try a bad one, don't let that stop you from trying another. There are good ones out there.

Friday, December 16, 2011


We were near the Philadelphia area and decided to have dinner at the Golden Corral in Bensalem,Pennsylvania. It was a Wednesday night and it was at the beginning of November. When we arrived at the restaurant it was not overly crowded but there were a good number of people there for dinner.I have written about this particular Golden Corral in the past. It is a fair location - not the best Golden Corral that I have been to. It is not the worst, but it has had its share of problems in the past. I was hoping that this trip would be good - and that my wife would find something to eat, as she does have difficulty finding things at Golden Corral and tends to eat mostly from the salad bar mixing salad with some of the cold, grilled, plain chicken that is out for the salads. I am always reluctant to suggest going to Golden Corral for this reason but she was actually the one who suggested it to me - so that we could get to see the Chocolate Wonderfall in person, after recently writing about it to inform all of you of this new feature.

This Golden Corral is about a mile or so from the PARX racetrack casino and I had to wonder as we sat down at our table if the odd assortment of people - mostly men around us were gamblers who came over here for a cheap meal. This was a much different crowd that I have seen here before, but I had not been here at this time of the year before. The casino has no buffet - much to my chagrin or you all would have heard about it from me by now. When these various tables emptied they were refilled by families - so I think my suspicions are correct. Anyway...

When we paid for our dinner and drinks my wife was handed her soda, but I was told that the server would bring my ice tea to our table. When we sat down it took a few minutes for the server to come and when I mentioned the ice tea he said that he would bring it right away. Fine. Just a bit odd - and we have been here before. He went off to get the tea and we went up to the buffet for soup.

I won’t go into the foods as they are so much the same as at all of the other Golden Corrals that I have written about in the past year. I was surprised to see that the poorly thought out seafood saute was still being featured - though now it has dropped the scallops and added crab cakes. This Golden Corral seems to have partly abandoned the cook to order idea and the chef who was also tending the steak grill, had two saute pans continually cooking shrimp and talapia (fish). On the side of the chargrill was a flat iron fry grill and on that he was scooping crab cake mixture and setting it down on the grill and flattening it out. All of the pasta, rice and grilled vegetables, and all of the sauces for the feature were at the side, now facing out for anyone to take and make their own plate of seafood. You still had to ask the chef for the shrimp, fish, or crab cakes. With this set up, it was not the fish or shrimp that were causing a long line,but the crab cakes. He was making just so many at time - not really filling the grill, and handing them out one at a time to each person on the line. And the line only moved, when that batch of crab cakes were ready. They needed to wake up to this and just keep crab cakes cooking at the back and bring them out - but no, this was a new hold up at the saute seafood fiasco. I had gone up three times just to try one crab cake and it was not until just before we were about to finish dinner was I able to get close enough so that I only waited about four minutes to get a crab cake. I wish that I could tell you it was a great crab cake. It was a bit mushy in the middle. I could not really tell if it was real crab. It did not have the texture of real crab - but there did seem to be something mixed in that could have been shell which would say then that it was real crab. Maybe yes and maybe no.

I should say that the first thing that I did once we headed up to the buffet was to walk over to the dessert area and see the chocolate fountain. And there it was. Several levels high (just like in the picture on the commercial) flowing from top to bottom with some type of chocolate substance. This is not real milk chocolate - it may taste like it but it does not have the consistency of melted real milk chocolate and it does not harden when as it cools, as real milk chocolate would. That is not a terrible thing, but it is something to be aware of. The chocolate fountain sat on the counter at anyone’s height including small children and was unattended. Next to the fountain were trays of what should have been the items to dip. All that were there were chunks of pineapple and a plate with rice krispy treat bars. There was a cup full of skewers that you are “supposed to” use to skewer FIRST what you are going to dip. There were no strawberries and no macaroons as stated on the sign on our table. I checked back several times during the night and when the rice krispy bars were gone all that was out was the pineapple. Let me get back to the meal and I will come back to the chocolate fountain shortly.

After soup, we went up for salad, and a number of the salad serving dishes were empty - many of the usual items that should have been out to create a salad needed to be refilled. There was one woman behind the counter who spent the entire night cutting lettuce - and talking to any employee that passed by. Despite requests, she never refilled those empty serving dishes. And as a result, there was no cold grilled chicken for my wife - nor were there most of the things that she eats when she eats salad. (Don’t comment that we should have said something - we did.)

To follow suit, at one point in the meal I went up to the hot buffet and many trays were empty - all at the same time. I sat back down and waited because I was not going to eat things that I did not want because they were not refilling food. It took about ten minutes and trays started to be refilled. Eventually, the hot foods were back out - but this should not happen and it is a sign of a poor kitchen manager and a poor buffet manager - not to mention the staff when this happens. The salad bar, however, was never replenished - but they had heaps of cut up lettuce - that I suppose they were keeping until the next day because that much lettuce would not be needed for that night - given the state of the rest of the salad bar.

So let’s return to the chocolate fountain. It was time for dessert and I was going to try it. My wife made a comment about chocolate fountains, in general, that had not occurred to me. If one is allergic to, let’s say,strawberries, and strawberries are dipped into the chocolate fountain (or dropped into the hot chocolate and lost below - then all of that fountain can cause a problem for that strawberry allergic person. With the pineapple chunks that were out, overly dripping with juice, that pineapple would certainly be mixed into the chocolate. So if you are allergic to any one of the items that are being dipped, beware! I had been keeping an eye on the fountain all night when I was up at the buffet to see what was going on there. What was interesting, is that there pretty much was no one dipping. Perhaps, that is because all that was left to dip was pineapple, but even when the rice krispy treat bars remained, no one was paying the Chocolate Wonderfall any attention!

Now, I titled this article “VISITED THE CHOCOLATE WONDERFALL AT GOLDEN CORRAL”.Notice that I did not say “tried” the Chocolate Wonderfall? That is because I could not try it. We were ready for dessert an hour and a half before this Golden Corral closes. There were still people on line to come in to eat. Tables were just starting their meal. And there was a young woman behind the dessert counter who was taking the chocolate fountain apart. She removed each layer, poured away the chocolate in a waste can next to her, and set the piece of the fountain in a bucket to be taken away. When she got to the bottom level, she started scooping out all of the things that had fallen into the fountain from what was lost at some time during the day and night during dips. So the final laugh - and I did laugh out loud - was that when it was time to try the Chocolate Wonderfall they were taking it away! When I got back to the table, my wife asked where was the whatever dipped in chocolate. I told her, that’s the laugh the whole fountain is gone. Lots of luck to all of those who came to have some - and in fact one of our readers commented on the article in November that they went to Golden Corral just for the chocolate fountain and there was none to be found!

By the way - there was not much in the way of dessert at this point that was being put out either. It could not have been that busy a day - and if it had been, management needed to anticipate what to do in that regard to keeping food out on the buffet.

Service from our server was overall fine. It is a good thing now that you get your own plates and you no longer need to rely upon the server to bring you clean plates each time you want to go up to the buffet. He did come by several times to bring drinks and ask about bringing drinks.
So there you have it. I tried to get a taste of that chocolate. I will say that it is A WONDER and it FALLS flat. Come on, Golden Corral - two losing ideas in a row. Perhaps they have brought you business, but you have to deliver when the people get there. And this time - like with the saute seafood - you did not deliver both at all and in any reasonable manner.

And it was another buffet meal that I felt real bad for my wife...

Now, allow me to apologize to you all as when this article was posted for some reason Blogspot put this post on the site blank. All of the text was there to be posted BUT nothing was posted. I still do not understand why. Anyway - the article is here now - formatted as best as I can get blogger to format it. Let's all hope this is not going to happen again.

Until next week...

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.

Friday, December 02, 2011


This is a buffet that is new to me. It has apparently been around for quite some time but because it is a bit outside of the usual Lancaster County area, and it does not advertise, I have not come across it before in my fifty years of visiting this county.

Unique to the Pennsylvania seems to be restaurants located within, and associated with supermarkets. We have talked about several of these on this site before - among them Shady Maple Smorgasbord and Yoders Restaurant. There are others - and Dutch-Way Family Restaurant is my newest find among this type of restaurant - and buffet. And what a find it has been.

There are three Dutch-Way Farm Market Supermarkets in this general area of Pennsylvania. All three have restaurants, but only two have buffet restaurants. I have recently visited and dined at the Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in the town of Gap, Pennsylvania. As I started out by saying, Gap is not in the general tourist attraction area of Lancaster County. It is at the southeastern side of the county and very much off the main roads. I learned of this restaurant by accident while I was searching for coupons to restaurants in Lancaster and a list of restaurants came up in my search that included this restaurant - no coupon, but the name of a buffet that I had never heard of before. As it happened, we were traveling to the area and decided that this was a must see.

Getting to the restaurant is a bit tricky - once you actually see the parking lot, as we could only find an entrance if coming from the south, and we were coming in from the main route (Route 30) toward the north. We wound up passing the parking lot and making a U-turn to get in from the direction that the angled lot entrance faced. Once parked in front of the parking lot there is a entrance to the supermarket and an entrance to the restaurant - both connect on a front hallway. If you enter at the supermarket you must walk through a snack bar to get to where the main restaurant is located.

This restaurant impressed from the moment we walked through the door. The room and the entrance way is nicely decorated and nothing that you might expect about a restaurant in a supermarket. Coming in I did not know what the price of this buffet would be or what we would find. Looking into the room we saw a two large dining rooms with the buffet located in the rear. When we walked up to the reception desk, I was asked if we were there for the buffet. I said yes, and we were brought to one side of the dining room. I am not sure why as others around us were not all having the buffet - there is a menu and you can also add parts of the buffet to you menu meal. Since we were having the buffet, we were not handed menus so I had no idea of the price of the meal or beverages. What the heck - take a chance.

The buffet is comprised of three large double sided buffet servers and three walls that have food servers as well. At the end is a large grill area. There is something offered from this grill included with the buffet every night. It turned out, as we discovered when we went up to the buffet that we were there on Italian Night. Monday is Italian Night. Wednesday is Southwestern Night. Thursday is Seafood Night. Friday is Steak Night. Saturday is Prime Rib Night. We asked about Tuesday and were told that it is an assortment that varies. We also learned from the sign that announced that it was Italian Night that the price of the buffet was $10.99! I am going to tell you right now that this is an incredible buffet for just $10.99! The price is not the same each night and I was not able to find out about any of the other prices except Seafood Night which I will tell you about later.

As usual we started with soup and there were four soups out. There was vegetable beef, chicken corn noodle, chili, and pasta fagioli (macaroni with beans). I tried the chicken corn and my wife took the vegetable beef. I am a chicken corn soup fan. I prefer it made thick. This one is thin - chicken broth, noodles, chicken and corn. The soup was very good. My wife loved the vegetable beef. The soup was nicely seasoned. The vegetables were nicely cooked without being too soft. Neither soup was greasy. They make a point to let you know that they are homemade.

The soup was a hit. We finished it and moved on to the salad bar. The salad bar is extensive. There are two types of lettuce - iceberg and romaine. There was raw spinach as well. There were a nice assortment of toppings. They had chunks of local Lebanon Bologna - more a salami than a bologna - to add to your salad. There were also chunks of ham and two types of cheese. There was a nice assortment of dressings in serving bottles and next to that there was a basket filled with Ken's Dressings packets including several fat free dressings. In addition to the salad fixings bar, there was another server with prepared salads. These were a broad assortment of local salads like pepper cabbage and chow chow, along with the usual deli salads. There was also a wonderful chicken salad. The vegetables on the salad bar were extremely fresh and there was none of the typical dripping from one serving tray to another. There was also the traditional PA Dutch cottage cheese and apple butter. We both enjoyed the salad very much.

The entrees were an interesting mixture of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking with Italian dishes - as this was Italian Night. The feature at the grill on Italian Night is a Pasta Saute Station. A chef is there waiting for you to pick your pasta, your sauce, and what you would like sauteed with that. There was sausage, bacon, chicken, a wide variety of vegetables, mushrooms, and more. On the buffet the Italian dishes included eggplant parmigiana, sausage and peppers "rustica", baked stuffed manicotti with mozzarella melted on top in tomato sauce, shrimp scampi on spaghetti, spinach stuffed rigatoni with mushroom Alfredo sauce, and chicken ravioli with three cheese sauce. There were garlic bread sticks at the grill. The "regular" entrees included fried chicken, roast turkey served in gravy, roast beef served in gravy, pork and sauerkraut, dutch loaf (meat loaf in a nice gravy), and ham balls in pineapple sauce. The rest of two servers were filled with side dishes - potato filling, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, macaroni and cheese, glazed carrots, harvard beets, mixed vegetables, baked lima beans, and stewed tomatoes.

I had a tasting selection - a little of most things so that I can tell you how the food is. I liked it all. The turkey was turkey breast sliced thick and served in turkey gravy. It was good. The sausage and peppers were tasty but if you are Italian you will say that this sausage is "Italian-style" as it did not have the heavy traditional sausage seasons found in Italian sausage in Italian areas. The Dutch Loaf was a nicely lightly seasoned meat loaf in what must have been an onion gravy. This was the dish that I went back for more of. The fried chicken breasts that were out were HUGE. I dug deep into the serving tray to find a small piece. The mixed vegetables were nicely plain - not swimming in butter or seasoned in a way to not fully taste the broccoli, carrots, and zucchini that made up this mixture. The potato filling - stuffing made from potatoes - was light and not sweet so that you could taste the potato. The macaroni and cheese was not thick and gloppy but with a thin, mild cheese sauce that nicely covered the elbow macaroni. The pork and saurekraut was loaded with large chunks of pork. Break up the chunks on your plate into small pieces and you will enjoy this more. The stewed tomatoes were not overly sweet as some can be. The ham balls were also good. The pineapple sauce was sweet but not overly sweet.

I liked the Italian dishes as well. The chicken ravioli was better than the stuffed spinach rigatoni but both were good. The manicotti was as good as any that I have had when growing up. Even without the fennel sides the sausage was enjoyable, and the peppers were a mix of green, red, and yellow and were nicely cooked in the chunky tomato sauce.

There was a section on the side with breads. There were several specialty breads including raisin bread, slices of corn bread, pumpkin bread ('tis the season), cranberry bread, banana nut bread, and blueberry bread. There were also muffins - blueberry and cranberry. There were also white and whole wheat rolls. At the soup section there was an assortment of crackers. There was a lot of temptation. The corn bread was not sweet, but it wasn't not sweet - if you know what I mean. The raisin bread that was more like spiced raisin bread. It was dark and tasted like the "holidays", not at all like typical raisin bread - so good!

Desserts were as plentiful as everything else. There was a vast assortment of pies, some cakes, donuts, sticky buns, Danish pastry, and cookies. There was no sugar added apple pie and cherry pie. Of course, there was shoo fly pie. There was a large selection of puddings, fruits in syrup, containers of yogurt with granola to put in it. In this area prepared desserts are popular such as angel food cake at the bottom with pineapple on top covered in whipped cream in a tray, a tray of eclair "pudding", etc. There was also no sugar pumpkin cheesecake in a tray and no sugar tapioca. I love donuts. I over did my carb intake on this meal and had to reluctantly pass them by. Again, so much temptation. There was also a sundae bar with soft serve ice cream (that was good) and toppings. The sundae bar can be ordered separately as can the whole dessert bar.

This whole meal cost $10.99. The refillable soft drinks were $1.39. The quality was far beyond any chain buffet with a similar price- heck the quality was beyond many buffets that I have been to.

Service was very good. All plates were promptly taken away and refills of beverages were offered. Everyone was very pleasant too.

I was able to find out about the Seafood Night on Thursday nights. This meal is $17.99 - so you see that not all nights are $10.99. I suspect that many weeknights are. The Seafood Night includes Maryland Crab Cakes, coconut encrusted tilapia with pineapple butter, creamy mushroom/onion whiting, tomato basil catfish, mussels Provencal, steamed clams, New England Clam Chowder, snow crab bisque, peel and eat shrimp, Krab salad, coconut shrimp, breaded cod, breaded scallops, and southern hush puppies. At the grill there is grilled haddock with fruit salsa, and snow crab legs. This is well worth the $17.99. Selections may vary week to week.

I highly recommend this buffet. I am going back. It will be on a different night to see what other treats I will find. I cannot believe that this has been right under my taste buds and I never knew about it. I was almost reluctant to write this article because it was so good - and very much a local restaurant and not one frequented by tourists, that I did not want to spoil it. But heck, they need to make money just like everyone else. This was a great find. It was the best $10.99 buffet that I have ever had. Maybe it was the best at even a higher price too. Is it the best buffet I have been to - no, But with this one meal, it was way up there. If you are in this area, this is a must stop and eat!

The Dutch-Way Family Restaurant is located at the Dutch-Way Farm Market Supermarket at 365 Gap Newport Pike (Route 41), Gap, Pennsylvania 17527. The buffet is served from 4 pm to 8 pm Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. This is about two and a half miles south of Route 30. There is a web site and that is linked at the side of this page. The phone number is 610-593-6080.