Friday, June 28, 2013

Buffets, Inc. Does Not Want You to Count Carbs

Just about all of the buffet chains have a nutrition chart on their websites. The Buffets, Inc. restaurants' websites do have a nutrition chart but they are missing a very important column - the carbohydrate counts for each of their food items. This is an interesting deletion as all of the other standard counts are there. So why is this a problem? The Buffets, Inc. buffets include Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Fire Mountain Buffets, and a chain called Grannies Buffets.

Most Diabetics need to count carbohydrates, whether exactly or approximately. They are necessary to  determine how much insulin a Type I Diabetic needs to take before a meal. They are necessary for Type II Diabetics to know to make positive food choices when they eat.  Many watching their weight or on a weight control diet also count carbs. Lowering one's carbohydrate intake will result in weight loss. There are carbs in many foods - and very often those carbs are hidden or are in prepared foods that one would not expect them to be in. What is a hidden carb - some recipes for "low fat" foods substitute a carbohydrate for the fat.  For example, most low fat salad dressings have much more carbohydrates in them than the regular fat included original. Calorie counts don't help. Many low calorie so called "diet" or "sugar free" foods have high carbohydrate counts. It has to be carbs on the chart to make meaningful choices.

So what is a carbohydrate? The most obvious is sugar, but flour, bread, pasta, potatoes, fruits (fresh or processed), starch, beans, many vegetables and many other foods all have carbohydrates. And a low carbohydrate diet is just that - low - and not no carbs. One can make choices when one knows the quantity of carbs in a food serving to still enjoy many carb containing foods in a reasonable and known quantity. And doing this is not a problem in any of the other buffet chains like Golden Corral or for that matter most of the non-buffet chain restaurants. They all have carb counts per specified quantity  listed on their nutrition charts.

I have no idea why Buffets Inc. has chosen to exclude carbs in their nutrition counts. A number of years ago, carbs were on the Old Country Buffet nutrition chart, and then they were gone. Could it be that if their patrons knew how many carbs are in their foods, they would not come and eat there?

I have found at OCB that foods that do not need to be covered in sweet sauces, are swimming in them - this adds carbs to a food that would be perfectly fine without the sauce - and the sauce could be offered on the side to add to your own taste. Some of these foods would have no carbs on their own, but once the sauce goes on, the carb count (if they revealed it) would be high. Meats that have not been processed (added to like sausage or hot dogs or made part of a recipe) have 0 carbs, but add seasonings with sugar or starch and now a 0 carb meat becomes a food containing carbs. All we need to know is how many carbs to make a proper choice. We were at an OCB recently and one of the meat dishes ran out and out came a tray of smoked sausage which is one of my favorite items at OCB - and often is not put on the dinner menu any longer. Well, the tray of smoked sausage was covered in a thick red/yellow sugar sauce. Now, smoked sausage has some carbs on its own - but with that sauce it became a super high carb dish.

So, if Buffets, Inc. is reading this (and I always suspect that they are - and that is fine!) put carbohydrate counts back on your nutrition charts! Many of us really do need to know!

Friday, June 21, 2013

MIdsummer Smorgasbord at IKEA

It was time for one of IKEA's special smorgasbord dinners in their stores' restaurants again. This one was our second year at the Midsummer Smorgasbord.  We have attended each in 2012 and so far in 2013 with the exception of the August All You Care to Eat Crayfish dinner. This dinner, tonight (a week before you are reading this article) was the most fun of all of the dinners because it was set up to be a real party with a three person band that played, sang, and set up singalongs and  dances to Swedish music. The food offered was very similar to the food at each of the other IKEA smorgasbord dinners. The all you care to eat menu served as a buffet is basically the same at each of the special smorgasbord dinners that they have. The summer dinner offers more in the way of fresh fruits - strawberries and blueberries, along with tossed salad with berries added, and a dessert of rhubarb crumb pie tarts, and cherries in syrup to put over a very nice and dense cake, plus ice cream.

Let me tell you the menu, in case this is the first of my articles that you are reading about IKEA's smorgasbord dinners. The following was the menu as printed:

Assorted varieties of herring
Hard boiled eggs with shrimp
Gravad Lax with mustard sauce
Smoked salmon with horseradish sauce
Whole poached salmon
Tossed green salad
Cucumber salad
Rhode Island Salad
Midsummer fruit salad
Assorted Swedish cheeses
Boiled dill potatoes
Meatballs with lingonberries
Swedish ham served cold with mustard
Prinskov sausages (sauteed)
Crisp bread, thin bread, and dinner rolls
Ice cream
Assorted desserts

I need to compare this dinner that we have just had with the similar dinners that we had in the past year plus at these special Smorgasbords. While the menu was basically the same, there were some things slightly less at this meal. Yes, there was herring, but instead of the three distinct varieties of marinated herring that I sampled last year at some of the dinners, there was just one type of marinated herring out at this dinner. The smoked salmon initially put out on the serving tables was one type of "cold smoked" salmon and not the three varieties that were served last year. About halfway through the dinner seating - an hour into the two hour dinner - that smoked salmon was gone and a "hot smoked" gravlax took its place. Both were good, but my preference was for the "cold smoked" salmon and I was glad that I took a quantity of it on my first plate as it was gone later. I have never had "hot smoked" gravlax before, but I have heard of it and, here, it was good. Basically, I am observing a cutting back on the fish offerings - not the quantity but the varieties. Nothing else ran out during the coarse of the dinner (except a simple thing of sour cream that was put out served with the boiled potatoes). The staff here do an excellent job of replacing emptying serving platters on the fly. As soon as a platter is seen as getting low, someone comes out almost immediately with a new platter to take its place.

As always the food was good and this dinner sells out to people who seem to know Swedish food and very much approve of what is served here. This is a dinner (as are all of the special Smorgasbord dinners at IKEA that you must purchase tickets in advance for and a month or more before the dinner these tickets sell out. There are two seatings - 4 pm to 6 pm and 7 pm to 9 pm and both sell out. Price is extremely reasonable - $12.99 per adult and $4.99 per child BUT if you have a freely distributed IKEA Family Club card - free at any IKEA store - the price is $9.99 per adult and $2.49 per child.

So this dinner - for the first time - had entertainment.

The photo is not great. I took it with my phone from a distance and waited until almost the end of the evening when there were a lot less people and I could get as clear a shot as I could with no one in the way. Before this there were people dancing. Traditional Swedish folk dances were set up and taught to those gathered on the dance floor and everyone had a great time. There were also a few singalongs with the Swedish words repeated several times so that everyone could pronounce them and were cued to shout them out at the appropriate places in the songs. Lots of fun. IKEA - at least here - has never done this before and I don't know if it was also done at other IKEAs for this same dinner. This little combo band was very personable and mixed in some familiar American songs including some country and Cajun! (Getting ready for the next dinner which will be the Crayfish Feast in August?)

The local IKEA store just renovated the restaurant dining room and made it larger and brighter. There are also new tables in a new arrangement so everyone was a little confused who had been to these dinners before to see how the room was set up. The buffet tables were moved off to the side of where they have been in the past and the dining tables were arranged a little differently. In the past when you arrive you stand on a line with your ticket waiting for the room to open and be seated at 7:00 pm. It is always wise to arrive early - 30 to 45 minutes - to get on line to be sure you get the table of your choice. There are tables set for four to 8 and on this night there was one group of 20 together who rearranged tables so that they could be together. This was fine and several large groups of families and friends did similar. The big surprise this night was that they started to let the line in at 6:40 pm to be seated but the buffet serving area was not opened until 7:00 pm. Everyone was invited to go up and get a beverage and wait patiently at their tables until the hot and cold foods were placed out and the party officially declared "started".  It is just the two of us and we sat at a table for four. As it turned out no one came to sit at the other two seats at our table. Most stay through most of the dinner though some do arrive after 7 and there is so much food that this is not a problem.

I had a great dinner, ate more than I should have, and had a wonderful time. I am looking forward to the next Smorgasbord - but for us it will not be the Crayfish Feast in August (while I marginally like crayfish, my picky eater wife does not care for them and there is not much else at that particular dinner). The next regular Smorgasbord is just before Christmas. There are three - Summer (June), Christmas, and Spring (Easter). The fourth similar dinner is the Crayfish Feast in August.

It is different and unique. Even my picky eater wife finds plenty to enjoy - great ham, Swedish meatballs, and more! This is a really should try - as long as the menu appeals to you! They were selling tickets for the crayfish dinner. Had they been selling tickets for the Christmas dinner we would have bought them. We almost missed those last year and had to take the earlier seating because it was sold out in October.  We will start asking for them this year after the crayfish dinner in August and I am sure they will be on sale at that dinner.

And there are IKEAs all over the US and Canada - and all of them have these dinners on the same nights! Check with your local IKEA store!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Charbroiled Steak at Shady Maple

Of course, we are back to talking about Shady Maple Smorgasbord in Lancaster, PA - the buffet that has been awarded best and top buffet from this site year after year. Just before the new year, Shady Maple announced that they were adding a char grill to the restaurant. I have mentioned this but a few weeks ago I got to try it and I will tell you all about it.

We were there on a Monday night - steak night - and I was eager to see how this new grill would be utilized. The types of steaks have not changed. They are still serving New York strip steaks and Delmonico steaks. I wondered if they would be only using this new grill for the steaks as there seemed to be talk of only one grill and there are three stations where steaks are cooked.  There is just one grill and the cooking station on the left of the entrance of the buffet serving area is the one with the char grill. All of the other stations still have the fry grill that they have always had in the past. If you go to that first grill (the one closest to the entrance to the dining room from the lobby) you will get a char grilled steak. If you go to any of the other grills you will have your steak cooked as Shady Maple has always done in the past on a fry grill top. Each grill was active with people getting steaks and I wondered if everyone realized that the steaks at the first grill were being cooked differently.

I wanted a char grilled steak and went right for that. Of the two steak cuts served, the Delmonico has always been my favorite. I find it has more flavor than the NY strip but it is a thicker cut steak and I decided that it would go better on the char grill than the thinner Delmonico. So I asked for a NY strip rare and that is what I got. It was cooked nicely. It could have been charred on the outside more but that is sometimes the price of ordering a rare steak - less cooked both inside and out. (My idea of a perfect steak is red on the inside and crispy charred on the outside and I have had steaks like this - even at some buffets.)  Right away I regretted not having the Delmonico just because I prefer it so much more.

I went back later for a second steak and this time I ordered the Delmonico. I enjoyed it much more than the NY strip but I knew that I would.

Now, does the char grill add very much to the steaks at Shady Maple? Well, I have liked the steaks fried on the grills of Shady Maple for many years. These charbroiled steaks come off the grill with less grease and a flame broiled taste so they were good. On occasion, Shady Maple will have different cuts of steak for special occasion dinners and I think that these thicker and fancier steaks might grill better and really put the new char grill to excellent use. The next steak night that I go to Shady Maple I will certainly go for the char grilled steaks rather than the fried steaks. I prefer charcoal cooking over frying (searing) when it comes to meats. But if the only steaks available were on the original grills I would not be disappointed. Which leads me to note - as the night got later and the grill stations were combined down to just one, the char grill was closed and the center grill with the fry grill top remained open, so all steaks then were cooked in the original Shady Maple manner. So if you go up for your steak late, you may not see a char grill choice at all.

Just a side note. It is remarkable when I talk about Lancaster County in any context sometimes with complete strangers and totally unrelated to food, I am asked if I know about Shady Maple. This restaurant seems to be known by so many as the must go to place to eat in Lancaster.

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East from Lancaster 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.There is also a very active Facebook page!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Cactus Willies Steak Buffet and Bakery, Lancaster, PA

It has been a year since I have been at Cactus Willies Steak Buffet and Bakery in Lancaster, PA. This is becoming our Sunday night buffet in Lancaster as all of the usual buffets are closed on Sundays other than Millers Smorgasbord, Cici's Pizza Buffet, and Old Country Buffet. This is not a Pennsylvania Dutch foods buffet but it is part of a two location chain with the other location in Essex, Maryland.

Not much has changed in a year here. The prices are still good and the meal has a lot to offer though do not expect it to be on the same scale as Golden Corral which it is most similar to in layout inside.

I will focus this review on what stood out on this visit and there were two items that became the mainstay of our selections - one for my wife and one for me. Those to items were the barbecue ribs and the grilled chicken made on the char-grill. If you are a regular reader you know which of us had which. Let me say that I did start with the steak which has been good in the past was good on my last visit a year ago. The steak this time was not very good. The meat was grizzled and tough and while I asked the woman cooking and serving at the grill for a steak rare or medium rare, the piece that she had that was the closest was far from that and she did not offer to cook one for me. After that piece with no other steaks seeming to have gone onto the grill, I did not go back for another try at steak.

What caught my eye were the barbecue ribs. They looked good though they had a lot of red barbecue sauce on them. For most this is OK but for personal reasons, I prefer less sauce - but they were calling to me and I gave in. The ribs (as I have said in the past) were meaty and fell off the bone. They served my urge for "real" barbecue ribs very nicely, though I doubt that they had been cooked in a smoker. They tasted good, the meat was tender, and I could wipe away any sauce that I did not want. I should say that the sauce was good and not too sweet or with too much vinegar. The ribs were the size of baby back ribs (though I am not certain that this is what they were) and they were cut into pieces of three ribs. As I took some of the pieces up with the tongs onto my plate some of the bones fell away.

I did try a few other things that were on the buffet that night. I went back for a favorite of ours that we have only had here - turkey pot roast - and that was good. But those ribs, that was what I went back for and did have a few plates of them.

Now my wife is a picky eater and my readers know that. She eats "plain" - no sauces. She looked for carvings and there was not the usual ham or turkey. She did find grilled chicken breasts which she had spotted on one of our previous visits but had not tried. She took one and enjoyed it. She did have another. Had I wanted to look for something other than the ribs I was enjoying I would have tried the chicken also. (I stuck with the ribs.)

A little aside, and something that I have been doing more and more recently. Just because it is a buffet with choices of many items there is no reason why you cannot just choose one item that you like a lot and make a meal of it - an all you care to eat meal of that item. For me on this visit it was the ribs.

Will the ribs be as good the next time that we go? I hope so. As I have found here, things change and it depends on who is cooking and what is being cooked.

We do not get here often. We have been planning our Lancaster visits around weekdays and Saturdays when the regular buffets that we enjoy so much are open. When we need to be in Lancaster on a Sunday night, this is where we will come.

If you are looking for a buffet on a Sunday night, give it a try. I can't say everyone will like it and don't think you are walking into anything like the Lancaster buffets that I usually recommend. You will find enough to eat and we have both been fine there.

Cactus Willies is located in a strip mall not far from the city of Lancaster. It is located at the Regency Mall, 101 Rohrerstown Rd, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This is a bit out of the way of the usual tourist areas. The phone number is (717) 390-7060. There is a website (for both locations) and that is linked at the side of this page.