Friday, May 25, 2012

Return to Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, Waynesboro, PA

I have not been back to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania since 2009. I have always liked this buffet but I have not been in that part of Pennsylvania since then. A trip back there meant a visit back to Mountain Gate was a must.

The Mountain Gate Restaurant is a combination menu restaurant and buffet. The buffet is a combination of American Country and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, though you are quite some distance hear from the area generally considered the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We come to Mountain Gate when we are traveling in Maryland, as it is just across the border. As I have said before in my reviews the restaurant is really off the beaten path. It is at the foot of a mountain area and to get to it, I always feel like I am driving more than I should be from east I-81 before I get to it. It is a large restaurant with several dining rooms. The buffet is set right in the center.

I have mentioned in the past that the decor at this restaurant has a religious theme. On this most recent trip it was not as obvious as it has been in the past. The owner is a very religious man and this is a very Christian area. This has never had anything to do with the food. Just what is hanging on the walls, but as I say, if this had been my first time here on this last trip I would not have noticed.

We went on a Friday night. The buffet was primarily various seafood mixed in with meat entrees. Fried shrimp seemed to be the most popular item on the buffet, as people were filling plates with fried shrimp and not much else. The fried shrimp was very good. But there were so many other things to try. What is served on the buffet varies by the night of the week with certain mainstay items on most nights.

There were three carvings being served and there was a gentleman who would come over right away when you stepped up to the carving station to carve for you. The carvings were ham, roast pork, and a very well done, but fall apart roast beef that was delicious. I like rare beef but this was slow cooked until it fell apart and was moist and almost melted in the mouth.

As I say, this was Friday and there were several seafood entrees on the buffet. There was broiled haddock that was very good. There were fried clams that were excellent. There was a seafood casserole that was very good. Those of you that read this site regularly know that my wife does not eat any seafood other than shrimp. She had no problem finding plenty of things to eat including the fried shrimp, the roast pork, and ham. There are plenty of side dishes. Freshly mashed potatoes, a Pennsylvania Dutch side dish of green beans and ham, another Pennsylvania Dutch dish of pork and sauerkraut. And of course, there is always fried chicken and the fried chicken here was especially good. There were plain vegetables like kernel corn, hot beets, stewed tomatoes, sweet peas, and carrots. They have the most wonderful macaroni and cheese. This mac and cheese is covered in and has mixed through a thick layer of cheddar cheese and is crusted on the top. I should not eat this - I could not resist this and I had to go back for more. I want to also make note of the Green Beans and Ham. This is a simple dish of chunks of ham cooked by boiling together with fresh green beans. In some places it can be a very bland dish. Here there was a rich smokey flavor that came from the ham and permeated the green beans. This was one of the best green beans and ham that I have had.

There are two soups and a long salad bar with the makings for salad, as well as prepared salad. There were the fixings for Caesar salad but the dressing that was out for it was the oil type of Caesar dressing as opposed to creamy Caesar which I prefer. I skipped the Caesar dressing and used a very good Ranch dressing instead. There are also a number of prepared salads. I was tempted by the macaroni salad and I took a little. It was very good! The soup I took was Maryland Crab and it was excellent. My wife had the vegetable soup and enjoyed that.

All of the food here is very good. It has been on every one of my visits. This is home cooking and farm cooking. The buffet might not be considered large when compared with some, but there is plenty to eat and to choose from. You will easily eat all that you care to eat and enjoy it - but do not eat too much because what sets this buffet apart is the dessert area.

This is one of the more bountiful dessert sections (if not the most bountiful) of any buffet that I have been too - and it is all home baking. There is a section with a variety of layer cakes. There is another section with a variety of cream pies, meringue pies, pudding pies, nut pies. And there is yet another section of fruit pies. Name a pie - you will likely find it here. Then there are puddings, fruits, jello, prepared desserts, and if you want ice cream - your server will ask you which of the seemingly countless flavors of ice cream that they make would you like to have. It would be easy, if you are so inclined, to make a meal just of desserts here and you would feel that you got your money's worth.

Our service was good. The waitress cleared our plates promptly and refilled our soft drinks.

This is one of those buffets that most people don't know about. This is a local restaurant and the people that come are primarily local families. This is a buffet not to be missed if you are even remotely in this area. If you are a dessert fanatic, this is absolutely a must.

The restaurant is located on Route 16 east of Rt. I81 at 10530 Buchanan Trail Road in Waynesboro, PA. There is now a website and that site is linked at the side of this page. The phone number is 717-765-6772.

Mountain Gate Family Restaurant has two locations. This one and there is one in Thurmont, Maryland. In our next article, I will tell you all about my first visit ever to the Thurmont Mountain Gate Family Restaurant. On this trip I was determined to try them both!

Friday, May 18, 2012

IKEA's Midsummer Swedish Smorgasbord in June

Ikea store's restaurants will be offering another of their seasonal Swedish Smorgasbord dinners on June 15, 2012. This one is the Midsummer Swedish Smorgasbord and features summer dishes from Sweden.

The meal is offered during two seating's on Friday, June 15, 2012 only. One seating is from 4 pm to 6 pm and the second seating is from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. (Check your store - locations may be serving he second seating from 6:30 to 8:30) The menu includes:

Assorted varieties of Herring
Hard boiled Eggs with Shrimp
Gravad Lax with Mustard Sauce
Smoked Salmon w/Horseradish Sauce
Whole Poached Salmon
Tossed Green Salad
Cucumber Salad
Rhode Island Salad
Midsummer Fruit Salad
Assorted Swedish Cheeses
Boiled Dill New Potatoes
Meatballs with Lingonberries
Swedish Ham (served cold) w/Mustard
Prinskorv Sausage (sautéed)
Crispbread, Thin bread, Dinner rolls
Strawberries and Whipped Crème
Ice Cream
Assorted Desserts
Coffee, Tea, Fountain Beverage

The all you care to eat meal is just $9.99 per adult. Tickets must be purchased in advance and they do sell out. If you want to go do not hesitate to purchase your tickets now.

I was at the Easter Smorgasbord this year and the food and the selection was excellent. You can read about that dinner here. The menu offered in June is similar with slight variations. We are planning on going back for the June smorgasbord and we have our tickets. I suggest that you go as soon as possible for your tickets if you would like to try this different experience. If you miss it, the next seasonal smorgasbord will be in the Fall. Tickets are sold in the restaurant at the cashier. Call your local Ikea store for details and to verify that they are offering this dinner. They should be, as it appears that all of the Ikea store restaurants do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ryan's Buffet - Hagerstown, Maryland

I have been to the Ryan's Buffet in Hagerstown, Maryland before but it has been at least three years since I have been back and this is the first time after the Buffets, Inc. takeover. This past December I was at a Ryan's in Virginia and that had been my first experience at a Ryans under Buffets, Inc. rule. I was curious to see how this one compared.

I have to say that I was not pleased with what this Ryans has become. While the Virginia Ryan's just six months or so ago had not been very much different from what that Ryan's had always been, this Ryan's was noticeably under the influence of Buffets, Inc./Old Country Buffet. Other than very few of Ryan's signature dishes, most of what was on the buffet servers were very much the same as what is on the Old Country Buffet servers.

There was a special feature at this Ryans that I am assuming may - or may not - show up at Old Country Buffets who have grills on the buffet serving floor. They very well may be there now. There was a grill saute feature. You choose chicken or fish, choose rice or noodles, and choose your sauce - spicy or mild - and the chef at the grill cooks this to your order. This is just like the disastrous seafood saute feature at Golden Corral. Here at this Ryans the same chef cooking steaks was also in charge of the saute grill. While at Golden Corral the problem with this is the massive backup of people waiting while each individual order is cooked, here at this Ryan's there was NO ONE getting this saute. I watched to see. I was minorly tempted to try it but I cannot eat rice, did not want sauteed noodles and did not want spicy sauce so I passed. So did everyone else. As I looked around the dining room no one had this on their plate.

Throughout the time we were there, the restaurant was having a dish washing problem. Every stack of plates that were put out had a good number of crusty and dirty dishes in the pile. It was quite evident from the stacks and stacks of dishes that were taken off the piles in an attempt to find a clean dish and placed on the side of the dish counter. I went down the stack through several dishes before I found one that was clean. Everyone else was doing the same. At some point about an hour and a half later some employee or manager noticed this and suddenly new stacks of dishes started coming out, steaming from the dish washer that were actually- for the most part - clean. This is not good. This is how you lose customers and with the current hunt by Buffets, Inc. to close more Ryan's and Old Country Buffets based upon sales, losing customers is not something that you want to do.

My wife likes Ryan's chicken pot pie and they did have that. It was just fair and not up to that just tasted at the Ryan's six months ago in Virginia. I have always liked Ryan's char-grilled steak. I went up to the grill and the grill chef had a rare steak both times that I went up. The first piece of steak that I had was good in taste but the steak was literally half fat and grizzle - not on the side, as one might expect, but on the bottom of the steak (or top depending on which side was up). There were spots that would not cut with a knife. I wound up eating what I could of it by cutting into the thickness of it as if filleting the meat, and peeling away what was edible. The second piece was like this and was edible meat throughout, but the taste was just bland and it was tough. I will say that as both of these pieces of steak were, they were better than most of the steak that I have had a Old Country Buffet in taste and cooking. There was no smoked sausage on the grill as has been usual at Ryan's. There were chicken hotdogs out on the buffet which is another sign of the OCB influence. Hot dogs at OCB are chicken hotdogs.

The chicken noodle soup with thick doughy noodles was 100% Ryan's and was not a disappointment. The salad bar was very much OCB and very little Ryan's. They did have the romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, shredded cheese and croutons separate and not per-mixed as at OCB, but the large selection of salad toppings and salads that Ryan's once had - and was there in Virginia - was not here.

Desserts were a combination of OCB and Ryan's with several of Ryan's full sized layer cakes out for serving. This Ryan's had a freezer case with hand-dipped ice cream in addition to one soft serve machine (Ryan's usually has two soft serve machines, one with yogurt), but in that case through the glass top I could see pre-scooped bowls of vanilla ice cream sitting on a tray with four tubs of hard ice cream below that must have been other flavors besides vanilla.

Service, on the other hand, was good and this server was quick to pick up plates from our table and also came by to offer refills of drinks.

I am in this area just once a year and if I am there again next year, I will go back to see if it is any better - or if it is there at all anymore. There is an alternative nearby in Golden Corral and there is another Ryan's about thirty miles north in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, also along Route 81. Should you go? I just gave you what I observed and experienced, I leave it up to you.

Ryan's Hagerstown is located at 17380 Garland Groh Blvd, Hagerstown, Maryland. The phone number is (301) 766-4440. This is a large outdoor shopping center and the Ryan's is near the Walmart end of the shopping center.

Friday, May 04, 2012


Shady Maple Smorgasbord,located in East Earl, PA is in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country where the Amish live. Shady Maple, as our regular readers know, has been named Best Buffet of the Year for a number of years. This is a popular tourist destination and Shady Maple while a bit of a distance from where many of the attractions in this area are located, during the tourist season gets busy during the summer months and in the Fall following December. After December things slow down in this area and at Shady Maple. Some of the buffet restaurants have shorter hours. Shady Maple maintains its regular hours. To attract the locals it offers special weekend features on the buffet. Around April, Shady Maple returns to its usual menu.

I was just at Shady Maple at the end of April - there were no special features but the mid-week, Wednesday night buffet was featuring a number of Amish dishes that would mostly appeal to the local people who have grown up with them. This seems to be how Shady Maple transitions as it approaches the tourist season.

I will take the opportunity here to tell you that the Shady Maple website has a new look. Personally, I prefer the old look. This look is perhaps a little easier to navigate.

There has been one change at Shady Maple that I may have told you about. One of the minor things that has made Shady Maple unique is that it served both Coke and Pepsi. For some reason, and this reason may be pressure from one of these companies, Shady Maple only serves Pepsi products now. This is a bit of a disappointment - one which upsets my wife more than it upsets me, as I enjoy Shady Maple's brewed ice tea instead of soda with my meal.

At most buffets we start our meal with soup, but at Shady Maple we start our meal with salad. This is a throw back to the original Shady Maple building where the salad bar came first in the long, cafeteria type line that the original location had. There was something new on the salad bar. The sign said "Caesar Salad". They have had romaine lettuce before, but not Caesar dressing. This was a prepared Caesar Salad. I took some - and when I ate it I was surprised to find that it did not taste at all like Caesar Salad. It was much more like Cobb Salad. The dressing was a ranch type dressing. There was pieces of egg, chunks of real bacon, and cheese in the salad. These are all of the makings of a Cobb Salad. Later I checked at the other salad bar and it was there too - labeled the same, and exactly the same as what I had taken. This was a big surprise. Surely, Shady Maple knows the difference between Caesar Salad and Cobb Salad.

The feature on Wednesday nights is Prime Rib. This is served at the grill stations and there are several Prime Ribs that they are carving from - each cooked to a different wellness. Yes, they had rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well done! They are carving full sized restaurant portions so if you want to have room for everything else that is good, you want to ask for a small slice. The Prime Rib was excellent. There is horseradish at the counter for those who enjoy that with their Prime Rib.

When I looked around the buffet servers - and remember - from what I have told you before - there are two sides of buffet servers and while SOME foods are the same on both sides there are a number of different foods on each side. Any way - when I looked around I found several local Amish dishes - Chicken Bot Boi, Snitz and Knepp, and Pig Stomach (around here called Souse0. I love all three. Before you say, how disgusting to eat pig stomach, don't knock it until you have tried it. Here it is prepared to look like a stuffing - which mostly it is. The pig stomach is cooked stuffed with potatoes, bread chunks, and pork sausage cut up. When done, all of that is chopped up so you never really see the pig stomach - it is just meat mixed in. The taste is pork - no different.

Snitz and Knepp is a mixture of stewed dumplings and apples. It is thick, gooey, and sweet. It is a side dish that you could eat for dessert. Delicious!

Chicken Bot Boi I have talked about before and it is a favorite of many of my readers who have come to the Amish area in Pennsylvania. It is stewed chicken with thick dumpling noodles, carrots, potatoes, and celery. The broth is cooked to be thick. It is also delicious and Shady Maple makes it right!

These are not dishes that you are likely to find here in June, July or August when the tourists are here.

I am not going to go into all of the other foods that were served. They were typical of other Shady Maple menus that I have written about. Desserts were out in their typical glory here. There was a chocolate layer cake with cherries on top that looked wonderful. There were a variety of cheesecakes. The sugar-free pies - and there is no artificial sweetener used in these pies, just fruit juice - were strawberry rhubarb and French apple.

There has been a change in table staff and I observed this last summer - and it had changed back again in the Fall. There are a number of servers who are Russian or Ukrainian women who maybe here on an exchange program. I have observed similar some businesses in Virginia during the summer. Our server was one of these women. She was just OK - she could have been better at getting plates off the table quicker - something that is not usually a problem at Shady Maple.

I enjoyed the meal - as always. And I recommend that if you have not been to Shady Maple and you are in this area it is a must go to.

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. The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.