Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving at Old Country Buffet

It was just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner this year and rather than cook at home we decided to go out for Thanksgiving Dinner. There are local menu restaurants that do one time buffets for Thanksgiving but these are priced high and generally, in a restaurant that just serves by the menu day to day, buffets are either a disappointment or are staffed by employees who would rather be at home and are unhappy about working.  Now, unhappy employees having to work on a holiday can be found at any restaurant, but in the past three years that we have been going to Old Country Buffet for Thanksgiving, this has not seemed to be the case. At least the employees at the OCB that we frequent have not shown it, if they are unhappy about having to work on Thanksgiving.

This year Old Country Buffet, and also Golden Corral Buffet increased their price for the Thanksgiving Day meal. An ad showed the price for Golden Corral on Thanksgiving as $12.99. The Old Country Buffet that we went to usually charges $11.29 for an adult dinner and on Thanksgiving this increased to $11.99. Of course, at both chains the price does not include a beverage and at OCB the beverage is an additional $1.99. The restaurant would be open until 7:00 pm.

We arrived at the OCB at about 4:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day. There was a short line at the cash register but a longer line inside to be seated. We waited about ten minutes or so to be seated. One of the OCB managers was seating guests. Once seated, just like any other day at OCB you are on your own to get your beverage and start at whatever part of the buffet you wish.

Dinner that was being served was similar to the usual Sunday OCB offerings with several additions in side dishes. There were three soups out. One was the usual Chicken Noodle soup, another was the Sunday featured Corn Chowder, and the third soup was Cream of Broccoli. 

The salad bar was the same as always. There was the pre-mixed Caesar Salad, the usual assortment of mixed greens and also raw spinach. If you have been to any OCB, you have seen exactly what the salad bar contains.

The meat that most expect on Thanksgiving is turkey, and they are carving their usual turkey breast. In addition there was roast beef, ham, and steak. There seemed to be a lot of people passing the turkey by and choosing the other meats - and there were some who were asking for the carver to cut an assortment. (There was one man who already had a plate piled high with food who asked for one of each carving. With no room on his plate for anymore, the carver just piled one piece on top of the other. There was not really a long line to the carving station at any time. Wouldn't it have been a lot more appetizing to come back for the meat one type at a time? Some of what you see go on, you wouldn't think to make up!)

In addition to the carvings there were all of the traditional side dishes for Thanksgiving and more. There were candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, corn, carrots, string beans, corn bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash in a sweet sauce. There were also some not so traditional side dishes - all of which you may find at OCB at various times. These included french fries, baked potatoes, broccoli and cheese sauce on the side, cauliflower in cheese sauce, boiled cabbage, spinach casserole, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti with tomato sauce on the side.

To add to the carvings in the way of entrees there was fried chicken, baked chicken, fried shrimp, beef and chicken tacos with fixings, and pizza. There was no way that one could not find something that they would like to eat.

Dessert was the usual assortment of desserts at OCB. There was, in addition to everything else, traditional pumpkin pie and pecan pie. I had to have a piece of pumpkin pie. The slices were not thick but they were good. There was whipped cream to spoon on top. 

There were large families dining that went over a dozen people. There were average families, couples, and singles all enjoying their Thanksgiving Dinner at Old Country Buffet. The restaurant did seem more crowded than usual when we have been there for Thanksgiving, and we are pretty certain it was due to the many families near this OCB who were severely effected by the disastrous Hurricane Sandy that resulted in the loss of many homes in this area and beyond. In fact, there were several emergency relief workers dining here together in wearing their emergency uniforms and bright yellow vests.  What I like about going to OCB for Thanksgiving is that you are not eating alone - even if it is two of you. You are eating around other people who are enjoying the holiday and there is a festive atmosphere created just by the diners. And as I said, the employees at least made if feel that they were happy to be there with you too. (Though the manager who was seating tables did at times seem overwhelmed and mumbled a bit as he walked by, but he did keep a smile and was greeting people with holiday appropriate salutations.) The general manager was also in the restaurant and was dining in the dining room with his family- while also keeping an eye on things.

The dinner went smoothly. If I was the manager, I would have made sure that there was always another turkey ready to come out as soon as the one being carved was nearing the bottom. At one point, more turkey would not be out for another five minutes. In fact, I would have had two turkey breasts out under the heat lamps bring carved. This was minor and other than this there was never an empty serving tray.

I had a good Thanksgiving dinner. The service was excellent and I tipped more than I usually do - just because it was the holiday. The only drawback is that there are no leftovers.

Old Country Buffet is closed on Christmas Day. They are open Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. There is a link to the OCB general website at the side of this page.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Back to Capt. George's Seafood Restaurant, Williamsburg, Virginia

Captain George's Seafood Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is one of the few, what I consider, expensive buffets that I go to. When I say expensive, I am talking about dinner for two with just soft drinks coming to almost $80 after tax and tip. If someone asked me what is the most complete and best seafood buffet that you have experienced, my answer would be Captain George's. A number of years back I would see more buffets like this but no longer. Seafood buffets are harder and harder to find.

There are four locations of this restaurant. They are in Williamsburg, Va, Virginia Beach, Va, Outerbanks, NC, and  Myrtle Beach, SC. The adult dinner buffet is #31.00. Children are charged half price. There is also a menu to order from, though most order the buffet.

The food is good. For the extent of the seafood that you are offered, the value is good as well. There is no lobster on the buffet, but there is an overwhelming assortment of crab, crab dishes, other shellfish, and fish, as well as chicken, beef, and pork. There is a large salad bar with crab salad and shrimp salad along with other prepared salads and tossed salad to make yourself. There are always two soups and they are always the same - a wonderful she crab soup which is thick and creamy with a slightly sharp taste - and New England Clam Chowder which is equally good. Because I only find the she crab soup here, that is what I have, and am tempted to go for a second cup if there was not so much more to take after the soup.

This is the place to come if you like crab legs. The crab legs are continually replenished and come hot hot and steaming. These are snow crab clusters - all of the legs and claw on the cluster and they are large. Many just pile their plate up with them. I have found that crab legs are best eaten hot and if you allow them to cool to much the meat is hard to remove from the shell. I recommend taking just one or two clusters at a time and then go back for more hot ones. There will always be more to take when you go back here at Captain George's. You can make a meal out of the crab legs alone. But there is more shellfish to take. There is hot steamed shrimp, both spiced and plain. There is also cold steamed shrimp back on the salad bar. There are steamed crawfish. There are small steamed clams - "steamers". You will also find Oysters Rockefeller. In season, you will also find steamed blue crabs. And this is just what is on the shellfish bar.

There is a long buffet of seafood entrees. Many are prepared crab dishes such as  Norfolk Special which is crab meat, shrimp, and scallops in a butter garlic sauce, baked Crab Imperial which is a crab meat casserole, Deviled Crab, soft-shelled crabs in season - which I got to try on this last visit and they were wonderful, and still it goes on and on. And for those who do not like seafood, there is good southern fried chicken, sliced prime rib of beef, and barbecue pork ribs without the bone. And I have not listed everything that is on the buffet. I could go on listing the various types of fried and broiled fish, the side dishes, the potatoes, the hush puppies, the broiled and fried shell fish, and on and on. Dinner here can be overwhelming and this is one of those buffets that even if you try to control yourself, you walk out feeling that you have eaten too much.

Dessert is an assortment of Greek pastries, cakes, hot cobblers, fruits and puddings - in particular Greek rice pudding. Desserts here are on the sweet side - as many want them to be!

I am in this area twice a year and each time I think, well, we can skip Captain George's because it so expensive. (I know many of my readers can afford spending close almost $100 for dinner for two. I just can't.) But when we are near here, I just can't resist and always go back.

The one thing to be aware of when you come to the Williamsburg location is that the restaurant has a mystery dinner theater attached to it and dinner is the buffet. If you come at the same time that dinner is set for the dinner theater you will encounter longer lines at the buffet servers than usual because of the people coming in all at once from the theater. Once they come through once or twice, the flow at the buffet servers returns to normal.

I very much recommend trying the buffet at Captain George's Seafood Restaurant. It is an experience.I have never tried any of the other locations. A friend went to the Captain George's in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and told me it was great.

This Captain George's is located at 5363 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23188. The phone number is 757-565-2323. Large parties should make reservations in advance during the summer. There is a link to the main webpage for all locations at the side of this page.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back to Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Gap, PA Again and Again

Since my last article about Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA this past June, we have been there again several times. We have found another favorite to add to our list of must eat at when we are in Lancaster County. The food is good and the selection is always fine, even on their feature nights.

One thing that is nice is that the offerings on the buffet always seem to include something different each time in addition to items that they always have. It is good to mix in some variety and they do this well. After a minor disappointment at the Meyerstown location of the Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, I wanted to go back to Gap for the Friday/Saturday night weekend buffet. The feature on these nights is the carvings – Prime Rib and Ham. I actually have been back twice for the weekend buffet. Actually, my second ever visit there had been on a Saturday night. Was that great meal just a one time occurrence – or was there really a big difference between the two locations?

Yes, there is a big difference between the two locations – in ambiance and in how the food is presented. The cooking is close but I feel that the food is better at Gap – in terms of taste. Everything that was my first and second impression of this buffet in Gap continues to hold true visit after visit.

This is a buffet located as part of a supermarket complex – like Yoders Restaurant/Buffet in New Holland, PA but with a different ambiance. While Yoders – where the food and selection are also excellent – has a more casual dining room with hard backed booths, Dutch-Way in Gap has a more formal dining room arrangement. Not shi-shi fancy, but comfortably nice. (Please do not take this as any slight to Yoder’s dining room – they are just different. What you will find at Dutch-Way is a nice combination of Pennsylvania Dutch Amish cooking and American fare. There may be chicken bot boi in one serving tray and next to that will be a fancy fish dish in a sauce. There may be a dish that is spicy ala Tex-Mex next to plain farm cooking.

The salad bar is extensive. There are four soup selections. The buffet area is extensive and includes some very interesting prepared desserts along with many other temptations like nice slices of layer cakes. Service at Gap has always been good – very good.

I should mention that the feature on Thursday nights is Seafood and includes crab legs and a large selection of seafood dishes. I know many of my readers like all you care to eat crab legs and seafood. The price on Thursday nights is more than other nights.

Again, I highly recommend Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA. I think sometimes that I should not share these hidden treasures, but I must share this one. Go there – it is off the beaten path at the border of Lancaster County and while it is not hard to find, getting into the entrance can be tricky.

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.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Family Cupboard, Lancaster, PA Up For Sale

I have written about the Family Cupboard Restaurant and their buffet many times on this site. The owner of the restaurant has announced that he has the restaurant up for sale. I have commented that there is a connection between the family that owns and runs Family Cupboard and the family that owns and runs Dienner’s Restaurant, also in Lancaster. It turns out that the father of the man who owns Family Cupboard is the owner of Dienner’s and this connection leads to the reason why Family Cupboard is up for sale.

The owners of Family Cupboard are John Dienner and his wife. John’s brother has been working with their father and mother to run Dienner’s Restaurant on Route 30 in Lancaster. John’s brother will be leaving the business and John has said that he feels that it is only right for him and his wife to leave Family Cupboard and go and help run Dienner’s. So, Family Cupboard has been listed for sale.

One thing that John Dienner is looking for is someone that will buy the restaurant and keep it running as it is – including keeping all of the employees. This restaurant has a very close family feel and one reason for that is that the employees are treated like family. For that matter their guests are treated the same. I do hope that they find a buyer who is willing to do this. So many new owners have their own ideas and want to do things their own way. On one level you cannot blame them, but when buying a successful operation, as this is, it is a road to failure if they do not continue what made the location successful before.

 Some of you who are regular readers will recall, that a number of years back Family Cupboard was the “new name and location” of a restaurant called Harvest View – owned and operated by John Dienner and his wife and many of the employees who you will find at Family Cupboard now. They wanted to move the restaurant to a location that would be more visible than the back road location in the middle of the farm fields. Harvest View was taken over by an absentee owner who was not from this area and had no idea about what would make this restaurant/buffet work – and allowed it to slip until it went out of business. And it went out of business with good reason. (See some old articles here that will show you why.) My fear is that will happen again here at Family Cupboard. It is extremely important that the new owner be a local and someone who appreciates this restaurant for what it is – as it is. Sadly, with business, you often get into a position when you have to sell that you just sell. I hope that this does not happen here. There is another restaurant, unrelated to Family Cupboard, that was the Leola Family Restaurant which also had a small buffet. That restaurant was sold to Greek owners from the “big city” who ran this country farm cooking restaurant with a semi-Greek menu and while it took some time for the restaurant to close – it did close and is sitting empty after quite some time.

 I have written about Dienner’s. The buffet menu is close, if not sometimes, just the same as Family Cupboard. My personal preference has been Family Cupboard but Dienner’s is good. The only problem at Dienner’s is their hours. They are only open until 6:00 pm for dinner except for one day – Friday when they are open to the same 8:00 pm as all of the other local and buffet restaurants. My great hope is that John Dienner when he comes to Dienner’s increases the dinner hours to 8:00 pm Monday to Saturday – as they were at Family Cupboard. This would certainly get me there more often – and while Dienner’s is always crowded, it would increase income from customers who find dinner before 6:00 pm just too early – and that income is nice for the owners too.

I have an idea for John Dienner and I hope that he reads this article. Don’t sell Family Cupboard. Hire an operating manager who you can trust to run the restaurant and buffet just as it is. While the restaurant continues in the family it is almost a guarantee that their employee family and the good food and service that Family Cupboard is known for will continue.

John Dienner will start full time at Dienner’s Restaurant in January 2013. This Thanksgiving will be the last Thanksgiving Buffet served at Family Cupboard as it is now – and that Thanksgiving buffet, I hear, is fabulous.

I also hope that John Dienner continues his seasonal newsletter only now to the customers of Dienners. I look forward to seeing this and read it right away when it arrives by email. It used to be mailed out until postage got expensive. It really does give a feeling of family and often contains news and tidings about the employees and their families. This is something that you just don’t get at most restaurants – in fact, in my experience, at any restaurant!

It was very sad news for me to learn that Family Cupboard is up for sale. I wish John Dienner all of the best and I know he will bring greater things to Dienner's. 

Family Cupboard is located at 3029 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505 and the phone is (717) 768-4510. There is a website and it is linked at the side of this page. There is also a link there for Dienner’s which is located at at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). Their phone number is 717-687-9571.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Another Try at Peking Restaurant, Williamsburg, Virginia

In October 2011 and then again in February 2012, I wrote about an Asian buffet restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia that had been one of our favorites. It is the Peking Restaurant and in 2007 it received a Best Buffet award from this site. Before October 2011 we had not been back to this area in several years and when we returned we expected to find this favorite buffet just as it always had been. It was not. You can go back and read the articles in October and February. I am not linking them here because I want to associate this article with the negative experiences that we had in those articles. I will say that after the last visit written about in February we decided that we would not go back to the Peking Buffet.

Since then I have learned what happened there. The general manager who had been there all along was no longer there - apparently, not by his choosing. He did go to open another buffet restaurant in the area which I have written about - Wasabi - and that buffet was very good. I have said on this site many times that the manager can make or break a restaurant - and especially a buffet! We are experiencing this with another buffet that we frequent whose excellent manager was let go for unknown reasons and the good buffet has nose-dived to barely a fair buffet. Others who liked Peking Buffet also noticed what I did last year and agreed with me. Things were not good there anymore.

We found ourselves in Williamsburg, Virginia again recently - as those of you who are regular readers know from the recent Williamsburg buffet articles. We had intended to have more than one dinner at Wasabi - the restaurant that the former Peking Buffet manager opened. We we got there we found Wasabi closed. There were advertisements everywhere for Wasabi. The building was dark and a sign on the door indicated renovations were being done. What I later learned was that the owner - the man from Peking Buffet - was made an offer by a Virginia "name" chef to buy him out, which he did and the owner left the US to go to Taiwan. Perhaps good for him, but not so great for those of us who really liked his buffet. The new restaurant that has opened at Wasabi's location is not a buffet and an up-scale Oriental menu restaurant with high prices.

So, I told you all that to get to this. We got to a point that we did not know where to go for dinner. We had been to the other buffets enough and could not really afford the menu restaurants around town other than the chains and did not want to do that. My wife, with reluctance, said to me do you want to try Peking Buffet again? My first response was no. I thought about it and found myself driving to Peking Buffet. I knew that nothing really would have changed there, but perhaps someone there read one of my more recent articles and maybe it might be different.

In terms of layout and serving areas, everything is the same.  One of the things to understand about the food here as I, personally, am concerned, is that on the buffet now there are an overwhelming number of items on the buffet that are either very sweet or extra hot and spicy. There are dishes that I can take at other Chinese buffets and not have a problem with, that I cannot take here because they are over-spiced. Some may find this as a good thing. I want to taste the food and not the spiced heat. Going up to the buffet for food, I had to be sure to select things that I was going to be OK eating. My wife, as the regular readers know, only eats "plain" foods - not just not spicy but beyond that. I decided that I would follow what she was taking and eat similarly - and perhaps I would have a better experience here than I have had on my last two visits.

We started with the noodle soup station which will create a soup to your order using any of several noodle types. This has always been good here - and was equally good on our last two visits. We like Vietnamese pho soup and that is what we had the soup chef at the counter make for us. It was good - it always has been good.  It still is.

I moved on to the "Sushi Train" which in my last two articles I explained is a moving counter with sushi on plates that move past you and you take the plates that you want. This concept does not work well at a buffet. First, you can stand there an overly long time waiting for something that went past to come back around again. Second, if you want five pieces of sushi, you are picking up five small plates. How are you supposed to carry all of these small plates back to your table. There are no trays. I went up with a large plate. I had decided that I would do one of two things. I would either take a small plate and dump the contents onto my large plate - and then have to get rid of the small plate - or I would use the large plate as a tray to carry the small plates stacked up. I went with the plate as a tray idea as I decided it would be rude to stack the little plates up on their counter and leave them. It would make a statement to how this idea does not work, but I would not do that. I took several plates of sushi and carried them back carefully on top of a dinner plate. The variety of sushi is broad. It is not well labeled and it is often a surprise when you find out that what you thought you were taking is not at all that. They have enough area to make a nice sushi serving area - but they continue with this "train" idea.

I went on to main courses and side dishes. I completely skipped the Thai section. These are beyond hot and spicy. The Japanese hibachi area is serving teriyaki and that is also made spicy. I am not sure why. I skipped that as well. There were some dumplings, noodle dishes, and rice dishes there that were fine. On the main buffet server between the Mongolian BBQ and the Japanese hibachi, there was a mix of standard Chinese dishes such as chicken and broccoli, pepper steak, and the like and then a number of hot and spicy dishes, and then a number of sweet dishes. As I said, I watched my wife and chose dishes that were plain to mild. One dish looked plain enough until you saw that the pan was lined with chili peppers. But there at least were things this time that were there to take that were not spicy. If you like sweet, there were a number of dishes cooked in sweet sauces.

I also went over to the Mongolian BBQ and remembering my last visit I made my plate up of meat - I took chicken - there was also beef, pork, lamb, and shrimp - and raw shredded vegetables and bean sprouts and put none of the sauces that were there on top. The sauces - even those that should not be  - are spicy. This was cooked for me and when I got back to the table I added soy sauce to moisten it. As I had it made, it was fine for me. Again, if you like hot and spicy, you can go to town with mixing the sauces that are out to have your meat and vegetables cooked in.

On one side of the round Mongolian grill serving counter there is a cold section and there were steamed shrimp on ice there. These shrimp are served with the heads on. This is how they would be served in the Orient. Most Americans don't like to see shrimp with the heads on. If you break off the head, it is just the same as the cocktail shrimp you usually fine.

The desserts here are typical Asian buffet desserts - little squares of cake, fruit, ice cream. One does not go to an Asian buffet for the desserts.

The restaurant is clean. Service is fine. At this meal we both had enough to eat. I did not feel hungry after we were through and we were both fine. I was able to find enough to eat this time even being careful in what I was choosing.  Overall, this was a much better experience than we had on the last two visits and meals eaten here.

Would I go back?  On this experience, I would go back and likely, will. Do I recommend Peking Restaurant? After your reading what I have written here in regard to the level of spice used and the types of foods that you will encounter, if you like spicy and/or sweet - or if you have no problem with picking and choosing to find what you can that is on the plain side, then yes, try it. I eat at a lot of Asian buffets. I have not had to pick carefully at any other as I find I have to here. Again, this is me - and there are others out there just like me. If you have food restrictions, it gets a little harder.  I do miss the Peking Restaurant that I once knew. There was a far wider variety of foods and the emphasis did not used to be on spicy and sweet.

The price of dinner here is $11.99. Lunch is $7.99. Thai food is only brought out after 4;30 pm. Sushi is served after noon. Soft drinks with refills are additional. The restaurant is open 7 days a week. Unlike many family buffets, there is a full service liquor bar.

The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)). There is a website and that is listed at this side of the page.