Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Buffet of 2012 - Wood Grill Buffet, Charlottesville, Virginia

The Wood Grill Buffet located in Charlottesville, Virginia is one of the five TOP BUFFETS of 2012 named by this site. The Wood Grill Buffet in Charlottesville is one restaurant of four that are a small chain within a chain. The over-all restaurant chain is Western Sizzlin. This award is given to this specific buffet restaurant location in Charlottesville, VA. and no other in the chain. We have not been to the other locations and we have no idea if the great experience that we have had consistently over the number of times we have been to this buffet in Charlottesville, is any indication of the other restaurants in the chain.

This buffet is located in its own building sharing a parking lot with a store and a supermarket. The shopping center is located off Route 29. There is plenty of parking, but depending on the night you go to this buffet there may be a crowd to get in. All that this means is that there will be a short wait before you are seated. Even on a weeknight, when we were there last, the restaurant was crowded at dinner. There is a large dining room with both tables and booths. The buffet area takes up the entire rear and right side of the restaurant.

Dinner price for adults in 2012 was $10.59 on weeknights and $10.99 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Refillable soft drinks are $2.09. This is an incredible price for the variety of food that is served on this buffet! The food here is a blend of country, Southern, southwest, and just plain old good American cuisine. There is something for just about anyone to be satisfied with. On the weekends they are open until 11:30 pm which is also unusual for a buffet.

There is an extensive salad bar, split between two large, cold buffet servers.  You will find everything including cold meats to create your salad, plus there is an extensive array of interesting and tasty prepared salads. The chicken salad with large chunks of chicken was particularly good. There is also real crab salad - not the fake crab that so many buffets use, but real crab meat filling the salad! As I have said in the past, it is easy to just come here and enjoy the salad bar and nothing more - BUT there is so much more to move on to at this buffet!

There are hot buffet servers with meat dishes, fish, crab cakes, lasagna, and so many entrees and side dishes. The fried chicken was the best that I have had at any buffet and it was good real Southern fried chicken! There is a counter with a grill behind that has steak being cooked and put out in various stages of how it has been cooked from rare to well done and they are grouped together for you to take. At this grill there are also ribs - real, fall off the bone, barbecue ribs. This is one of the few buffets that I know of where you can get good barbecue ribs. And in this area, they know how to cook ribs and those coming here know what to expect!  There are also chicken breasts coming off the grill, and there were burgers, hot dogs, roast beef, ham, and more. Also at the grill counter was a taco and burrito bar. There is a bake potato bar on one of the hot buffet servers.

There is so much that one person could not possibly even try it all in a small amount and not be overly stuffed. You could come here several nights in a row and eat something different each night just in your choosing from what it there each night.

Desserts are found that bakery counter that takes up a side of the restaurant. At this counter there are breads, pizza and baked good desserts along with a sundae bar with soft serve ice cream, Fresh fruits, puddings, and the like are over on the cold buffet server. At the bakery counter are pies, cakes, hot cobblers, cupcakes and more. There is also a chocolate fountain which many enjoy.

What stands out about this buffet for me is the extent of good food and in particular the ribs. There is a lot to eat here and it is all good. There is a variety to eat here and even my picky eater wife finds plenty to enjoy of plainer cooked entrees.

This buffet is highly recommended.  Our only regret is that this buffet is over 600 miles away and we cannot get here as often as we would like to. Go here and enjoy! We congratulations to the management and staff of the Wood Grill Buffet in Charlottesville, Virginia. The award of Top Buffet of 2012 is well deserved!

The Wood Grill Buffet in Charlottesville is located at 576 Branch Lands Boulevard, Charlottesville, VA 22901 and their phone number is (434) 975-5613. Their website is linked at the side of this page in our listing of buffet links.

Family Cupboard Restaurant in Bird in Hand, PA to CLOSE

I am interrupting the series of articles on Top Buffets to announce that the Family Cupboard Restaurant in Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania will close its doors permanently on February 2, 2013. This is very sad news. I previously reported that the owner of the restaurant put the business up for sale in hopes that someone would carry it on as it has been. Evidently no buyer has been found and to make matters worse, key employees including the general manager have found other employment (which is understandable) plus the key evening buffet chef has been in and out of the hospital and needs time for recovery. John Dienner reports that there is on way to continue to remain open and provide the quality and service that this restaurant has been known for and will shut the doors on February 2nd. 

We have had many, many good meals at Family Cupboard - both at this location and at their original location. I have always liked the very friendly and family feeling that you got when you are in this restaurant. Their rotisserie chicken and their chicken corn soup were exceptional. I know that many of my readers have told me over the years that they too enjoyed every meal here.

We are so sorry to see this restaurant go, but we wish every employee and John Dienner (the owner) all of our best.  This was one of my wife's favorite buffets. As I had written in the article in November, John Dienner will continue in the family restaurant business at his parents' restaurant and buffet, Dienner's on Route 30. John invites all of us to come there and ask for him to say hello.

The restaurant continues to be up for sale. If it sells, there is no way to know if the business will reopen in any way similar to what it has been or if there will be a buffet there - and how good it will be.  Dienner's on Route 30 is a good restaurant/buffet and I still hope that with John Dienner there, they will extend their closing time from 6 pm on every day open except Friday which is 8 pm to 8 pm for every night. I will certainly be going there more often if they do.

Farewell to Family Cupboard!

Our series on Top Buffets of 2012 will continue tonight at the usual time our articles appear on Friday nights.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Top Buffet of 2012 - Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Gap, PA

The Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, Pennsylvania is one of the unique to this area, supermarket restaurants. There are three Dutch-Way Markets in Pennsylvania. All three of them have restaurants, but only two of those restaurants have buffets. We found the Gap location a year and a half ago and have enjoyed the buffet at that restaurant very much from the beginning. It has become one of our must go to buffets when we are in the area. We also visited the other Dutch-Way location that has a buffet but we were disappointed in that buffet - and this award - TOP BUFFET OF 212 goes exclusively to the buffet in the restaurant in Gap.

When you enter this restaurant you have no feeling at all that you are in a restaurant that is part of a supermarket. The room is finely decorated and the atmosphere here equals any stand-alone restaurant and buffet. The seating is comfortable and dining here is very pleasant. There are two dining rooms  that are connected to each other. There is a mixture of tables and booths throughout. There is also a private dining room for parties or catered events that is separated from the main restaurant by a door.

When you enter the restaurant from its own lobby that is connected to the market by a hallway, you are entering through double glass doors into an inner restaurant lobby where you will be seated by a hostess. At your table your server will take your soft drink order and you then go up to the buffet area at the rear of the room. The buffet is arranged along the wall where you will find soup choices - there are always four soups in hot soup servers. At one end of the soup area there is a breads server and if you follow the soup section around you come to the baked desserts, which follows along to the soft-serve ice cream machine and then along to the rest of the many desserts that are offered. Out on the floor are three double sided buffet servers. One an extensive salad bar with a variety of create your own salad fixings and also prepared salads that include items unique to the Pennsylvania Dutch area. There are two buffet servers with hot foods. There is also a permanently set up, large grill and carving section with one or two chefs behind the counter to carve or create to order one of the special features of that particular night.

There are features most nights and they follow a theme. These themes have changed from time to time so I will not name nights and features. The one consistent feature that I will share is an extensive Seafood Night which takes place every Thursday night and does have a higher dinner price than other nights. Seafood Night does include crab legs.

Some of the recipes here are unique to the restaurant and the chefs here have taken some standard entrees of the Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish area and given them a unique slant in taste which is very good!  Not all of the cooking is Pennsylvania Dutch and there is a nice variety of entrees that will appeal to most. Some of what is served could be considered "continental" and those dishes are great too. I have not had anything - at this location - that I would not consider good. And we have enjoyed every meal here - and think about going back often (which can be a problem when you are four hours away).

Price of the meals do vary by night, but on some nights the meal is just $10.99! Soft drinks have been $1.39 and are refillable. If you are 60 or over, tell the cashier and you receive a "Senior" discount when you pay your meal check.

Service - here - has consistently been excellent. The serving staff is attentive. The staff at the buffet makes sure the trays are filled and the food that is out is well tended and not permitted to dry out.

The food is quality. There is great value to be had here, even on Seafood Night when the price has been $17.99. The restaurant has been consistent from visit to visit and we have been here several times in 2012. There was no question in our minds that this was going to be a Top Buffet.

We congratulate Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in GAP, PA - their staff - and their management on being one of this site's TOP BUFFETS OF 2012!

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 for the chain and that is linked at the side of this page. The phone number is 610-593-6080.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Every year, in the past, we have named the Best Buffet for the year. Every year, without question, one buffet is named - and many agree. Shady Maple in East Earle, Pennsylvania gets top honors. But, there are so many other great buffets that don't get named because they are not as large and not as extensive as Shady Maple. This has bothered me for awhile. It is like waiting for the new cowboy to show up in Dodge to take down the old top cowboy. Someday it might happen - and then again, maybe not.

We decided mid-year that we were going to name Top Buffets instead of "Best" buffet just to put some of these other really great buffets into the limelight. We are listing these buffets in no ranking order - don't assume that the buffet at the start of the list is any greater than the one at the end of the list.

The TOP BUFFETS FOR 2012 are:

Dutch-Way Family Restaurant (and Buffet) - Gap, Pennsylvania

Foxwoods Casino Festival Buffet - Mashantucket, Connecticut

Yoders Restaurant (and Buffet) - New Holland, Pennsylvania

Wood Grill Buffet, Charlottesville, Virginia

Shady Maple Smorgasbord, East Earle, Pennsylvania

To be considered for the honor of Top Buffet, the buffet must show consistency of cooking, quality, value, and service and come out above all of the rest. There are many buffets that we have been to that don't even come close to making this list. There are some that should have made the list but the service staff are the reason why they did not. You may note that three of the buffets on the list are in Lancaster County, PA which has so many buffets it should be considered the buffet capital of the US. The buffets on this list are also the ones that we consistently look forward going back to and with the three in the same area, it is a tough decision as to which one to go to when we are near there for just a day.

Over the next five weeks, I will be writing and posting articles about each of these buffets and telling you about them. Each has been reviewed in articles already on this site - some several times. Each buffet manager will be receiving in the mail a certificate of Top Buffet. We hope, as other buffets have done who have been given Best Buffet certificates in various categories from us in the past, that the manager will post the certificate for all of their patrons to see.

Congratulations to the Top Buffets! You deserve the designation and honor!

Friday, January 04, 2013

China Buffet, East Meadow, New York

I have been to the China Buffet many times but not since the opening of Chen's Buffet in Levittown, New York. This seems to be the case for many of China Buffet's customers. Many have started going to Chen's. My last article about China buffet was in January, 2010. Chen's opened just about a year after that and took away much of the little business that this buffet had. Chen's has become more and more difficult to park for. They have a very large parking lot in the rear but it is used also by patrons of the bar next door and fills and stays full. We decided to go back to China Buffet and see if they have made any improvements to try to compete with Chen's to bring back their customers.

We went on a Saturday night. It was cold and windy but the sky was clear. The restaurant was almost empty. The immediate change is that the weekend price is now $8.99 per adult. The weekday price is $7.99. They have changed the light bulbs also as the room is now brightly lit and a lot more appealing than it had been though the tables and decor has not changed. There were perhaps four other tables filled in the entire restaurant.

We went up to the buffet and started with soup. There were the same three standard soups that they have always served. There was clear soup for wontons, egg drop soup, and hot and sour soup. My wife took the wonton soup and I took the egg drop soup and added two wontons. The wontons were large and full of meat. They were served in a tray along side the soup and were moist in the pan. This seemed to me to be a good sign starting out.

The soup was properly seasoned - meaning not too salty - and the wontons were pretty good. The soup could have been hotter, but was OK, and later someone who came in sitting a table near by made a comment that the egg drop soup was now cold.

After the soup, my wife went up for dumplings and I went to take some of the peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp was on ice and next to it there were raw half clams. There was cocktail sauce in a bowl and also a bowl of lemons. The cocktail sauce was very thin and sweet. The shrimp was fine. Just what you would expect. The shrimp were not large, but that did not matter.  My wife took the pan fried dumplings. They were a bit greasy sitting in the pan.

Gone are the crab legs that were once served here. You are not going to get crab legs for $8.99 a person at a buffet. Also gone were a number of dishes and some dishes had changed somewhat in consistency. The shrimp in lobster sauce was in an extremely thin sauce and I could not see any shrimp in the serving tray. There were basically four wok entree dishes including the shrimp with lobster sauce - chicken and broccoli, beef and peppers, bourbon chicken. There was a variety of appetizer items including nicely stuffed egg rolls but these were wrapped in thin wrappers and when fried soaked up oil like a sponge, chicken on a stick. boneless ribs in thick red sweet sauce, cheese stuffed wontons, fried shrimp, stuffed clams, a stuffed bun that was covered in baked mayonnaise that had just cooked carrots and corn inside, and fried chicken legs. The chicken legs were large and looked good. They turned out to be overly fried with some of the meat not easily coming away from the bone and parts totally inedible (this was one of the better things that I had). There was white rice in a steamer and also fried rice in a steamer. I am not sure why the fried rice would be in a steamer and not on a serving tray as it is usually served at buffets. There was egg foo young and egg foo young sauce. Both the patties and the sauce were cold and there was a bit of a vinegar tang to the sauce which made me wonder if it was actually safe to eat. There was a tray of fried fish that looked good but was so chewy that I could not really eat it. There was also a tray of fried calamari that looked like the fish that I decided to stay away from. There was a tray of lo mien. A lot of what I chose was more chewy than it should have been, including the lo mien. Temperatures were also just marginal.

With the few people in the restaurant one would think that there should be no problem keeping the serving trays full but when a tray emptied, it did not get refilled. This was not late and the restaurant had hours to go before it would close. Every so often someone would come out to fill in an empty tray, but there were too many empty or near empty trays of food. There was also a problem, it seemed, keeping food tended. I went past the condiments - duck sauce, Chinese mustard and such. The top of the mustard dish was dried and crusted over.

We both wondered how do they stay in business. There were far from enough people on a Saturday night to keep the place open. We wondered if they do a big lunch business, but where they are located- not really near any large businesses, I am not sure where a big lunch business would come from. Do they get an earlier than 7:00 pm crowd? I don't know. Or are they just holding on and aside from their now year long competition, they are not cooking in a way to keep people coming in once they have been back for a try - as we were.

I have not mentioned the "hibachi" grill - which has always been in the back of this restaurant. It was never especially good. There was no one cooking back there. There was a counter set up with raw vegetables, thawed out chicken, and small shrimp. The meat and shrimp did not look appetizing and I decided that I was not going to try anything there. No one while we were there went up to that grill. Unless you turned the corner to see the counter with the raw food you would have just assumed it was closed. One of the big features at Chen's is the hibachi grill and this was where this restaurant could have competed if they really wanted to. Obviously - at least now - they had no interest.

Desserts consisted of two types of small squares of sheet cake, cantaloupe that look over ripe or having sat too long, chocolate pudding, fried dough balls, hot apple strudel, orange wedges, an ice cream freeze with hard ice cream in the back where it could not be seen, and almond cookies. The almond cookies actually looked good. We each took one. My wife commented that this cookie was the best part of the meal. It was soft and had a good taste. I agreed that it was the best part of the meal.

Service was good. The plates were taken away quickly. Our drinks (soda is $1.00) were refilled without our asking. The soda, by the way, is neither Coke or Pepsi. They have always had some off brand cola here. The room was mostly clean. The table in the booth next to us was being held supposedly straight by a stack of napkins under one of the legs. As it was, the table sat on a odd angle.

I came with hopes. I can't say that it was even as good as it used to be. It is not. After the meal we are not ill - good point for the restaurant - but there was definitely too much MSG in the food as my wife who this does not bother is complaining about it. It is almost five hours later and I am still tasting the grease in my throat.

I don't recommend it unless you want a really cheaply priced Chinese buffet meal and don't really care about how the food is. If you want a lot of cold peel and eat shrimp for little money then you might want to come here.

The China Buffet is located at 394 Merrick Ave, East Meadow, New York and the phone number is (516) 489-2525.