Friday, August 31, 2012

Dutch Way Family Restaurant, Myerstown, PA

I have been writing about a buffet that has been new to me for less than a year. It is the Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Gap, Pennsylvania. The three Dutch Way Markets in Pennsylvania each have a restaurant but only two of those restaurants have a buffet - Gap and Myerstown. Since being so happy with the buffet in Gap, I have been looking forward to an opportunity to try the buffet in Myerstown.

Myerstown is north of Lancaster. It is just south of Route 78 which cuts across Pennsylvania in the north to Route 80. I am not often in this part of Pennsylvania and while a trip up to this area is not out of the question if I am in Lancaster, I have been waiting for an event that we attend that is not far from Myerstown. The day of this event arrived and I looked forward to dinner with great anticipation.

The restaurant, like the restaurant in Gap, is part of a supermarket - located off to the side in a connected building. We went on a stormy Saturday night at the end of July. There were forecasts of severe but scattered thunderstorms and we drove in and out of heavy downpours as we headed south from Route 78. We arrived as rain was just stopping at about 6:45 that night.

The restaurant is to the left of the supermarket entrance. On first impression the look of the restaurant was that it was smaller than the restaurant in Gap and for lack of a better way of describing it, less formal (more casual?) than the interior in Gap. Here there are rows of tables and booths down the length of the restaurant. At the back there are two private dining rooms that are there for parties but likely would be opened if there was a crowd in the main dining. There were a number of tables filled when we went in, but through the course of our dinner the restaurant emptied out. The feature menu nights at both restaurants are the same and as this was Saturday night the feature is Prime Rib and Ham - which is the feature also on Friday nights.

The serving staff here and pretty much all of the staff here was made up of young women - some in high school. I know this because I overheard a conversation about one about to start college in the Fall but would still be working there on Saturdays. Our server was a mature woman but the people at the buffet and the carving counter and the cash register were all young women. This was also different at Gap where the staff were more mature. I will speak on this more as I go along.

The decor is very nice. The prices are the same as they are at Gap. Dinner on Friday and Saturday are $12.99. Soft drinks are $1.39. Weeknights except for Thursdays are $10.99. Thursdays are a special seafood buffet and the price is $18.99.

The buffet was almost the same. There is a much smaller serving area at this location. There is not a large grill/carvings counter but a small setup in the corner that seemed to be able to be moved away. There were fewer and smaller buffet servers and there was not the selection that I found at Gap. Let me say this right off- had I come to this location first, I would not be as enamored with Dutch Way as I was and am about the Gap restaurant. This would have been a pleasant buffet that was not much different than some other nice buffets that I have been to. It would not be in contention for best buffet of the year this year. The food was fine - so read on.

I can only make direct comparisons to describe what I am talking about. There are four soups at Gap and there are four soups here. The soups at Gap are in hot soup tureens along a counter top set up for soup. Here in Myerstown, there were still four soups - chicken rivel, ham and bean, chile, and beef vegetable. The soups were served from trays in one of the hot buffet server - not soup tureens set in, as are at other buffets - but in the usual serving trays. The chile had pretty much dried out and needed tending- stirring, moistening - or just taken away as it did not look very nice. The other three soups looked and were fine. But tending is something that was lacking and not just at this buffet server. I had the chicken rivel and this was very good. Rivels are long, narrow dumplings. My wife had the vegetable and that was fine.

We went up after soup to the salad bar. The salad bar had the basics - two types of lettuce, standard toppings, a nice selection of dressings. There were also some prepared salads. There were items missing from the salad bar that were out at Gap - and there was just no room to have added these in. Some of the prepared salads were not there. There were no chunks of Lebanon bologna - interesting as we were just north of Lebanon. Would you miss these items if you did not know they were offered at the other location? No. The salad bar was plenty adequate for a salad bar. But all being equal- price the same - things should be close to the same. Again, the salad was great and I enjoyed it very much. There were chunks of real, fried bacon and I made myself a Caesar Salad with bacon.

In the Gap restaurant there was a large selection of fancy breads. Here there was just one fancy bread and a limited selection of plain breads and rolls. The one it did have - raisin bread - was dry.

There was one and a half small but double hot buffet servers with entrees and side dishes. Again, less than at Gap. My wife felt that there were just as many dishes out but in smaller serving trays - which is sometimes better. What struck me- as we had been to Gap recently on a Friday night when the same buffet menu should have been served was the lack of local dishes here. We are north of the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country here though we did pass horse and buggies along the rode on the drive here - and there were Mennonite ladies sitting at a table nearby us. Since the Gap restaurant does not gear toward tourists, those dishes are served there for the local diners, as I would think, would be done here too. The only local dish here was pork and sauerkraut - which was very close to the very good one that I have had at Gap. Here is what was on the hot buffet - meatloaf, fried chicken (which was not labeled "Henny Penny", pork and kraut, sausage stew, corn pie, turkey in gravy, fish sticks, baked chicken, barbecue ribs (no bone formed ribs), ham balls, chicken croquet, corn, green beans, harvard beets, carrots, broccoli casserole, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, potato filling, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes with ham, and mixed vegetables. There were two carvings which are the Saturday and Friday night feature, Prime Rib and ham. There was chicken gravy and beef gravy.

I went right to the sausage stew. It was made with smoked sausage slices in a thin broth with potatoes and shredded celery and carrots. It was fine but the sausages stewed like this lost most of their taste. The The pork and kraut was good and as I mentioned earlier was much like that at Gap. I later went up for a slice of Prime Rib and the prime rib was tender and nice. I tried the chicken croquet and these breaded and fried balls of chicken and filling had a good amount of chicken in them and clearly, you knew these were chicken. This is not always so in some other buffets. I had not noticed the sign over the barbecue ribs when I first went up and when I saw them I had to try them. I did not notice also until I took a section from the pan that these were formed, boneless ribs - much like is served at McDonald's - and which I complained about at another, much fancier buffet. At that fancy, high-priced buffet these were inappropriate to serve - on the adult buffet. Here in a much less expensive and more casual buffet, they were not out of place. They did have too much sauce on them, and frankly at this point I was filling up and I left some of this over. There are better choices here than these - unless you really love these.

My wife tried the meatloaf and said it was good. It was in a thin tomato sauce. She also tried the ham balls - served in a pineapple sauce - and these too were good. She also had some of the turkey in gravy and she liked that as well. Remember, she is a picky eater. She had no problem eating here and enjoying it.

We both tried the corn pie and found it missing something. It was corn cooked with a pie shell topping mixed with potatoes. It was a bit bland and both of us commented that it should have been been for how it looked.

The dessert area is much abbreviated from the one at Gap. There was a small counter with some pies and cake slices. There was a soft serve machine with two flavors of ice cream. There was a section with fixings to make sundaes. There was also a small hot section with hot desserts in cups - similar to what there is a Gap, but less so. There was a cold section on the salad bar with a small selection of prepared desserts. Over by the breads, there had been donuts and pastries out the entire time we were there along with small wrapped muffins and little square pieces of what looked like cake with chocolate icing. When we went for dessert, I went past the donuts to see what was on the dessert area. When I walked back - in a very short time - all of the donut halves and pastries were gone. The trays had been taken away for the night. I did try the chocolate cake squares which turned out to be chocolate peanut butter cake squares. Pennsylvania loves things with chocolate and peanut butter together.

For the most part the food was good - and there was plenty to eat. It just did not come up to the selection, the tending, or the service around the buffet tables that the much better location of this same restaurant in Gap came to.

Our table server was good and she cleared our dishes promptly and refilled our beverages. As I had noted above, she was a mature woman. There were times around the buffet server that two young women working were more involved talking to each other than to get out of the way of the customers who were trying to get to the serving trays that they were standing in front of.

The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm - as do most Pennsylvania buffets that I write about. From some time after 7:00 pm the young women started cleaning. Nothing was being taken away but they were clearly shutting down the buffet. As I mentioned - the donuts were taken away -well usually before doing this - especially with only a few guests in the dining room you make an announcement - "anyone wish to have XYZ should come get it because we are taking it away." Here is was clear that they wanted to close this buffet down as soon as possible to go home. Many buffets - including Gap - say "we close at 8" but keep things going at the buffet tables until 8:30 or later. They may not seat anyone but they never take anything away.

Will I go back? Yes, if I am in this area I would go back. This is an area with not many buffet choices. There is a Golden Corral in Lebanon, but I would prefer this over Golden Corral. Had I never been to Gap - same restaurant, owner, etc. - I would be writing about the nice buffet we went to in Myerstown. It was nice. It was just nothing special. Dutch Way Gap is special.

I do recommend the Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Myerstown, PA. Just take note of some of the things I have commented on. Again- nothing was wrong. Nothing was not worth going for. The food was good. I enjoyed my meal and so did my wife. I just had expected more from this buffet based on its sister restaurant. My wife thinks that this is the original and Gap is a newer location and designed for greater ambiance and a larger dining room. This very well could be. I had that impression also. I had this same impression of another pair of sister restaurants that I wrote about recently that did not match.

The Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Myerstown, PA is located at 649 East Lincoln Avenue, \
Route 422 East in Myerstown, PA 17067. The phone number is 717-866-5758. There is a website for the three locations (only two are buffets) at the side of this page.

Friday, August 24, 2012

New Features at Golden Corral

Golden Corral has a new buffet feature. They have called it Tropical Island Grill. I have not been to a Golden Corral yet to sample this new feature, but I want to alert all of my readers to this - in case you have not seen the television commercials.

I am hoping that this feature has take the place of the seafood skillet feature that caused great backups at the buffet because they were cooking each skillet dish to your order. I have written about this several times in the past year and if you would like to read my experiences with this, just search our archives or look through the listings of articles in 2011.

So what does the Tropical Island Grill bring to the Golden Corral buffet? You will find marinated grilled Key West chicken breasts, breaded spicy Cozumel shrimp, grilled teriyaki sirloin steak, grilled Fiji lemon peppered talapia, and hot island pork ribs. They say that this is inspired by the best of island cooking. From what I can see it looks either very sweet or spicy. I am hoping that the standard Golden Corral steaks and barbecue ribs are still on the grill along with these new feature items.

This feature is served after four o'clock each day and Sundays after 11 am. You will not find it at lunch other than Sundays (lunch on Sundays is served at dinner prices).

Another feature has also started at Golden Corral. They have added Cotton Candy along with the chocolate fountain. I am hoping here that there is an employee putting the cotton candy on to the paper cones and that this is not a do it yourself. If it is I can just imagine the little fingers that will go into that hot spun sugar. As I have written, the chocolate fountain has been an attraction to hands and fingers and has had little employee supervision in the several Golden Corrals that I have been to and watched at. With cotton candy around the restaurant, look before you sit down. This stuff is sticky, though it can be good.

As with any feature, it is available for only a limited time. With Golden Corral, when one feature ends they usually follow it with a new feature.

I will get to a Golden Corral soon and let you know, first hand, about the Tropical Island Grill and the Cotton Candy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Holidays at Lancaster Buffets

With Labor Day coming, I thought it was timely to talk about the Lancaster, PA buffets and the summer holidays. Lancaster, PA is a major tourist area and in any tourist area a great deal of business is done over the summer holiday weekends - Memorial Day, Fourth of July (not always a weekend) and Labor Day. But if you plan to go to some of the local buffets in Lancaster on those holidays, you may be disappointed.

Memorial Day and Labor Day are very significant holidays in this area and several of the buffets close or close early in the day following the breakfast or brunch buffet. Two of the buffets high on my "go to" list in Lancaster, Yoders and Dutch Way close on Memorial Day and Labor Day at about 1:00 pm. Shady Maple Smorgasbord is completely closed on both of those days. Several of the buffets in the main tourist areas - Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant, Family Cupboard, the chain buffets, and some others remain open. You really do need to call and check to be sure a buffet will be open.

Dutch Way also closes at 1:00 pm on July Fourth. Some of the buffets had been closed or closed early in the past on July Fourth such as Shady Maple, but a few years ago that changed and they have remained open regular hours - which means 8:00 pm closing.

Of course, the intent is to give their employees a holiday with their families and this area is all about families. You have to respect a business that will sacrifice a day of increased business for its employees.

So, just be aware. If you are heading to Lancaster and will be there on these holidays, you may not be dining in one of the buffets that I have highly recommended. You will still find a buffet - and there are still great choices, but just not as many.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dienners Restaurant, Lancaster, PA

The only night that Dienners is open past 6:00 pm is Friday. On Fridays it is open to 8:00 pm. I am rarely near Dienners on a Friday evening to make it there. I recently was able to schedule in a visit to Dienners for dinner on a Friday night. The last time I ate at Dienners was three years ago.

When we got to Dienners it was 6:30 pm and there was a line to get in. Dienners is located on Route 30 very close to the area of Lancaster County that is the heart of the tourist trade. On a Friday night in the summer, Dienners attracts a mixed crowd of tourists and locals and on this night that we were there, there were also several groups of Mennonites that came in for dinner.

We were told that the wait would be from twenty to twenty five minutes and it was exactly that - twenty five minutes. You are given a pager to carry around so that you can visit the few shops next to the restaurant. This was an excessively hot night, and we went into the country gift shop next door just to avoid standing outside in the heat. The pager buzzes and lights and when it did we went inside and were seated.

It took about five minutes for our waitress to come over - and this was a foretelling of how she would be for the rest of the meal. I should say that she was not bad - but she was scarce to pick up soiled dishes off the table. She did eventually and she did bring drink refills.

The price of the buffet on Monday to Thursday for dinner is $10.25. On Friday and Saturday, the price is $11.50. The charge for children is 75 cents per year of age. It is actually better to order the buffet than to order off the menu here as the prices for the meals on the menu would add to more than the buffet. Soft drinks with refills are $1.49.

I have mentioned before that Dienners and the Family Cupboard restaurant are owned by members of the same family. The restaurants are operated separately, but much of the offerings on the buffet at both restaurants are the same. As I found on this visit, the recipes at each are slightly different. I am going to note here that I realized at this meal that I prefer the cooking at Family Cupboard. There is nothing wrong with Dienners, and the food is good. There is a bit more emphasis on adding a lot more butter to the recipes at Dienners.

There are two soups. One is always Chicken Corn Soup and the other varies. For Friday night, the other soup is New England Clam Chowder. The chicken corn soup is a thick chicken noodle soup with plenty of chicken, noodles, and corn - and some chopped hard boiled egg. The soup is thickened with creamed corn - not corn with cream, but corn that has been creamed - pulverized to a creamy consistency. This soup was good. On my prior visit it had been more like the one served at Family Cupboard. It is not really right of me to keep drawing comparisons to Family Cupboard, but if you have been to both you would clearly see why it lends itself so readily to do so.

The salad bar has most of what you want to create your own salad and there are a number of local recipe prepared salads. There are a several salad dressings for your salad, but just one type of lettuce.

What makes the dinner on Friday and Saturday night different from Monday to Thursday are the fried shrimp and fried cod that are on the buffet. I am guessing that these take the place of Fried Chicken and meat loaf. In addition to these two seafood dishes there were beef cubes in brown gravy, their signature rotisserie chicken, sliced ham, mashed potatoes, noodles in brown butter, green beans, beets, stewed tomatoes, kernel corn, baby carrots, bread filling, baked Lima beans, broccoli, white rice, macaroni and cheese, There is chicken gravy and brown gravy. There are also dinner rolls out with apple butter and Amish peanut butter (this is a local spread). The cooks here are Amish women and they are out at the buffet checking on what needs to be refiled and bringing more food out when needed.

I like fried fish - and one of the things I was looking forward to was the fish. The fish was strips of cod, fried in batter. It was good. The rotisserie chicken is just like that featured at Family Cupboard. I enjoy this chicken - both here and at Family Cupboard.

Noodles in brown butter are narrow noodles that have browned butter mixed thoroughly on them. To make browned butter you put butter on a stove in a pan and cook it down to almost burning to the point that brown flakes form in the butter and thicken it. It has a nutty flavor. There was a bit too much butter added. It was tasty but it really was more than it needed. The kernel corn was in a butter sauce also and that too could have had less butter and been just as good.

Don't get me wrong - it was all good. And for this area, authentic.

There is a dessert buffet server, a pie case, and a soft serve ice cream machine. There are a number of local desserts and these included egg custard, which is what I look for at PA Dutch buffet dessert bars. There were plenty of other things as well - shoo fly cake, hot fudge cake, hot apple crisp, pumpkin torte, chocolate eclair dessert, jello, cherry cheese delight, fruit salad, pistachio pudding, Oreo dessert, sugar free desserts, and much more. In the pie server there was shoo fly pie, cream pies, fruit pies, and lemon pie.

It was all good - no, I did not have all of what I have listed here and I limited my dessert to a small taste of the egg custard.

I would go back to Dienners but I would go to Family Cupboard before I would come back to Dienners. This is just my preference. I recommend Dienners but not as highly as I have in the past. If you dine early then you can go to Dienners any day. If, like many, you dine after 6:00 pm, then you can only have dinner at Dienners on Friday nights. For the same buffet menu and less butter - and open to 8 pm every night (except closed on Sundays, of course) - but with a higher meal price - go to Family Cupboard on Rt. 340.

Dienners is located in a building that at one time - many years ago - was a shoo fly pie bakery- in fact the best shoo fly pie in Lancaster. For some reason the acoustics in the dinning room are poor and it is very loud. Also for some reason the meal was not as relaxed as it should have been. It was crowded and it was warm - again, it was a record breaking heat day in July two days after July 4th.

Dienners is located at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). It is next to the big windmill so you cannot miss it. I have told you the hours, remember that like the rest of the local buffets it is closed on Sundays. Their phone number is 717-687-9571. There is a sparse website and that is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Coming Back to Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant, Lancaster, PA

I have written about the buffet at the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant several times in the past. My last article about this buffet was a year ago. We went back this year on the Fourth of July. Not all of the local buffet restaurants are open on the Fourth of July, for example, Dutch-Way and Yoders are both closed (or are open only until early in the afternoon). When selecting a buffet to dine at in this area, as many of you know, there are several that are at the top of my list. This one is about mid-way down. At times in the past, it has disappointed, but it is more often very good than not.

For a holiday night, the restaurant was not crowded, but the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday night and those traveling to the area who could not have an extended Fourth of July weekend came on the weekend before or were coming on the weekend after. This was seen throughout Lancaster even at the tourist sites on July Fourth. The restaurant was not empty, but we have been here at this time of the year before and there have been waits to get in. We were seated right away.

The price for dinner has not changed since last year and it is still $17.99. The price of the dinner buffet includes the beverage. We had a coupon from their website - which is also found in the local tourist newspapers which are available all over the area for free - which gave $2 off the dinner price for each adult. This made the price not bad considering that drinks are usually 1.99 extra- so with the coupon this is equivalent to a 13.99 dinner at other buffets. It is a great value at the $13.99 equivalent - find a coupon before you come. The price may vary by the night. It may be higher on Fridays and Saturday nights.

My favorite thing at this restaurant is the chicken corn soup. It is unlike other chicken corn soups in the area. It is thick and rich. The soup is full of chicken, chopped hard boiled egg, and corn, and it is thickened with some type of grain. There is a slight vinegar taste to the soup. It is excellent. The other soups on the buffet on this night were vegetable beef and beef noodle. My wife had the vegetable beef soup - and as always here, liked it.

There is good salad bar here - and you can opt to just have the soup and salad bar as a meal. There is a good assortment of salad fixings for the lettuce that is out. There are also a number of prepared local salads. I had tried the Caesar Salad a year ago and I like it. I took Caesar Salad and it was just OK this time. There was nothing wrong with it, but I have had better. There is an excellent ham salad and this is something to try if they have it when you come. This salad seems to alternate with chicken salad - which is also very good here and tuna salad. I also took some cottage cheese and apple butter which is a local favorite. You have to put this together yourself - as for many years it is not often found talked about or even put out next to each other. Take a spoonful or more of cottage cheese and then put a spoonful of apple butter on top of it. This is really a taste treat - sweet, tart, and salty all at the same time. There is a small buffet server off to the side with white, wheat, and crispy rolls, raisin bread, wheat bread, white bread. There are also assorted cubed cheeses. Here you will find the apple butter also. The cottage cheese is on the cold server salad bar.

The buffet menu varies here by the night so what you may find one night, you may not find on another night of the week. The Friday and Saturday night offerings include more carvings. On this night on the hot buffet there was country sausage from New Holland Meats, chicken bot boi - very thick, full of large dumplings, chicken, and potatoes, fried shrimp, broasted chicken, pork and kraut- sweet and with plenty of pork, roast beef, turkey - two ways - in a tray and on the carving station, carved ham, Swedish meatballs, broiled pollack , pizza, zucchini casserole, red potatoes, corn on the cob, baked lima beans, bread filling, succatash, ham and scalloped potatoes, carrots, stewed tomatoes, buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy and beef gravy.

I love the turkey here that is served per-carved in the tray. It is a whole turkey cut into pieces, both white meat and dark, and served in its own liquid. I find it has a great taste that is unlike carved turkey. I eat a lot of turkey. To me this is the best. The sausage was very good. This is local country sausage and I enjoyed it a lot. The chicken bot boi was very good because of how thick and full it was - no skimping on any ingredient. The pork and sauerkraut was outstanding. It was more sweet than tart. Generally, the tartness of sauerkraut can overwhelm this dish. Here the sauerkraut was sweetened and this really added to this local favorite. It was also full of chopped pork. The broiled pollack, however, was too salty. The zucchini casserole was good but it had an under taste of some seasoning that was OK but I did not care for. My wife did like it.

On Saturday nights, there is a separate buffet set up for kids. It was set up on this night also - perhaps because it was a holiday. They call it the Kids Corner. There were hot dogs, hamburgers, nacho chips with cheese sauce on the side, chicken nuggets, turkey, macaroni and cheese, smiley face potatoes, carrots, kernal corn, pretzals, potato chips, apple sauce, canned peaches, chocolate pudding, and cookies in little packages. The price for kids is 75 cents per year of age from ages 4 to 12. I don't think that they would mind if an adult having the buffet also sampled some of this.

There is a serving counter at the back wall that is the dessert area. There was shoo fly pie, custard pie, oatmeal pie, vanilla pie, fruit pies, shoo fly cake, sheet cake, whoopie pies, prepared desserts, pudding, canned fruit, softserve ice cream, and two flavors of Slushies. On this night there was no fresh fruit. The baking is good here. This restaurant is associated with the Bird-In-Hand Bake Shop. You can just order the dessert bar without a meal.

I very much enjoyed this meal at the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant. It made me wonder why I have not gone back as often. One thing had been in the past - longer than a year ago, the price here was higher - a lot higher. They seem to have realized that to bring in the families of tourists to compete in this area you need to be affordable - while serving a good and quality meal. They are doing that at the current pricing. I also liked the selections on this night more than what I have had here on Friday or Saturday nights. This is just a personal preference of my own.

I highly recommend that you try the buffet at Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant. I was asked recently by a friend where to dine in Lancaster and, of course, recommended the usual tops on my list but added that if they did not want to travel too far out of the central area for dinner to go here. Try it.

Like all of the other local buffets and restaurants they do close at 8:00 pm and they are not open on Sundays. There is a good chance when you come here there will be Amish and Mennonites dining here as well.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant is located at 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. The phone number is 1-800-665-8780. There is a website located at the side of this page.