Friday, July 26, 2013

Shady Maple Smorgasbord on the Fourth of July

For a big tourist area, not all restaurants are open on the Fourth of July in Lancaster County, PA. Shady Maple at one time closed early, but for a long time now has remained open for its regular hours. We were in the area on the Fourth of July and went to Shady Maple for dinner.

It was crowded but there was no wait. We went right in and was seated. The dining room was crowded and we sat a bit off to the side of where we are usually seated. I prefer a table and I like the main dining room area in front of the buffet area entrance. This Fourth of July was on a Thursday and the Thursday feature for dinner is always Family Value Night - and dinner was priced accordingly. As we were seated the hostess told us that there was an additional feature for the holiday - three types of ribs!

The menu is always changing at Shady Maple and there is so much that listing everything that is on the buffet just does not make any sense. There were some new soups which I have not seen there before that I do have to make note of and those were Sweet Potato Soup and Ham Vegetable. The Sweet Potato Soup was very interesting - and very good. Imagine mashed sweet potatoes sweetened with brown sugar and maybe even a little maple, add a little fresh butter, and liquify this with cream to a thick, creamy soup. This was the Sweet Potato Soup. If you like sweet this is the soup to try - and there was enough sweet potato flavor to satisfy. This would make an excellent soup to serve on Thanksgiving. Even though it was over 90 degrees outside, it was still satisfying!  The Ham Vegetable was interesting also - like beef vegetable but with ham and a nice ham stock loaded with chunks of ham and vegetables. When there is more than one soup here that tempts me I take a half cup of each. The Ham Vegetable was very good - and it was very different from Ham and Bean (which they also had on this night).

The three types of ribs were baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, and I guess what we can call generic barbecue ribs. The baby backs and the St. Louis ribs were served from one of the grills. The barbecue ribs were served from a tray on the buffet servers. I tried the baby backs and the St. Louis ribs. They both were good, but it may seem odd to say, but with each there was too much meat on and between the rib bones. The bones somewhat came away from the meat easily but my rib craving was not getting satisfied by these ribs. They were good but they would have been better if they had cut the ribs apart - they were served together in groups of three or four ribs, and if they were not like eating pork with bones in between. The sauce was good, but I did not go back for more ribs and ordinarily when I find ribs on a buffet I do go back for more. It did not really matter, though, as there was so much more to have - as there always is at Shady Maple.We had spent the day outside in the heat and perhaps this was just too heavy to deal with for dinner that day.

The Oriental Stir Fry was set up on the last grill and this I believe is a regular part of Thursday nights at Shady Maple. On that grill there was a sign for Portuguese Cod Cakes. I had no idea what would make a fish cake Portuguese but I tried one. These were breaded cod cakes with the cod minced like a crab cake is and it was mildly seasoned. They were flat fried on the fry grill. They were tasty and slightly spicy though not "hot and spicy". They were interesting and good.

Over on the charcoal grill they were cooking burgers. I did not have one but you could have had a burger grilled to order (with or without a bun) - add cheese and there are many toppings all over the buffet to build a burger with.  I had wondered what they did with the grill when it was not a night that they serve steak - and on this Fourth of July Thursday they were grilling burgers.

On the buffet among so many things there were a couple of things I have not seen before here. One was barbecue beans which were kidney beans, bacon, green peppers and onions. The other was potato chunks with browned butter. There is usually browned butter noodles served every night at Shady Maple. This was the first time that I saw potatoes in browned butter (and they were good!). To make browned butter, you take a pot filled with butter and put it on a stove and melt the butter - and once the butter melts to all liquid you leave it on the flame to continue to cook. What happens then is that the butter begins to burn and brown flakes form in the liquid. When it has all turned brown - you have browned butter. This gives the butter a very nutty taste and it is delicious. As I say, it is common in this area to see it on noodles, but not so often on potatoes.

As always at Shady Maple you have to tell yourself to stop going back up because there is always something else that you wanted to try or take more of. I stopped eating with several things that still caught my eye. I don't know if I have mentioned these here before but Shady Maple serves pretzel rolls - fresh baked and brushed with butter. They are found in a glass, heated case next to the left side at the edge of the dining room of the  center grill island. These are very good but I reluctantly stopped myself from adding one of these to the end of the meal. 

Of course, Shady Maple has been BEST Buffet for so many years in a row and in 2012 when we changed the format of the awards, it remains a TOP Buffet. (As I said then - if we did not do something to add more buffets to recognize for their excellence there is NO topping Shady Maple.)

There is no question that if you are in this area you must eat at Shady Maple. I have to struggle with my dinner choices not to go to Shady Maple so that I can get to the other buffets in the area that I love.

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. There is also an active Facebook page.

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