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.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Yoders Restaurant on a Wednesday Night

I thought I had been to Yoders Restaurant in New Holland, PA at least once on each night of the week, but we were in the area on a Wednesday and went to Yoders and discovered that when we got there it was Italian Night. We had not been there before for Italian Night so this was going to be an experience for an Italian that grew up in an all Italian family and was raised on fine Italian cooking.

As we went in I wondered just how much of the buffet would be Italian and how much would be the usual Pennsylvania Dutch fare that Yoders usually serves. We discovered that there was a very pleasant mix of the two. What this showed me and that  I can share with all of you is to not be put off by a "special" feature night and that generally there will be standards and non-themed dishes served along with the featured theme.

One would not know from the soups on this night or the majority of what was served from the grill that this was Italian Night. The soup selections were Cream of Celery and Chicken Corn Noodle. The chicken corn noodle was both our choice and it was very good. It was loaded with noodles and corn in a light stock with pieces of chicken. I tend to like a thicker chicken corn soup but this was very good and it did have pieces of hard boiled egg in the soup which is traditional in this area for chicken corn soup. 

The salad bar was the same as always. It had its usual great selection of a variety of lettuces, toppings, dressings (including creamy Caesar), and prepared salads. 

The grill was featuring Smoked Brisket, Cajun Catfish, Potato Cakes, Corn Fritters, and in keeping with the theme - Chicken Parmigiana. I tried the Smoked Brisket and the Chicken Parmigiana. The brisket was a little dry and I should have put some barbecue sauce on top which was available. The Chicken Parm was a little unusual from what you would get at an Italian restaurant in that the chicken was not fried, but broiled and then put without breading on the flatiron grill with cheese and tomato sauce put on top. This was then covered with a lid and steamed to melt it all together. It was tasty but not what I had expected - but that was OK because it was good.

It was when we went up to the hot buffet servers that we saw that this was Italian Night but the Italian dishes were intermixed with Pennsylvania Dutch and American dishes. There was a very good assortment and this included Lasagna, Fettucini with Red Clam Sauce, Italian Sausage and Peppers, Eggplant Parmigiana and Pizza in the Italian selections and Hamballs in Pineapple sauce, Ham in Gravy, Prime Rib, Baked Chicken, Broasted Chicken, Baked Haddock. Chicken Hot Wings (Buffalo Wings), Nachos with hot, melted cheese and toppings, aTaco Bar and a Potato Bar. The side dishes included Corn, Steamed Mixed Fresh Vegetables, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Green beans, Mashed Potatoes, Potato Filling, Macaroni and Cheese, Stewed Tomatoes, Brown Butter Noodles and
Brussels Sprouts. 

The Lasagna was good. The Fettucini in Red Clam Sauce was interesting. There were not obvious clams in the sauce. I suspect that they were blended well in with the tomatoes which were chunked. It was very nicely seasoned and it tasted very good. I was quite delightfully surprised. The Italian Sausage and Peppers brought me back several times for more. These were not served in a tomato sauce but rather as grilled or baked sausages with peppers and onions around them. The Hamballs were very good and not overly sweet. The Prime Rib was a big surprise as in the pan it just looked like thin slices of Roast Beef in a thin gravy. But when I ate this it was definitely Prime Rib  - very tender and good! I very much enjoyed it!

We were quite happy with the selections. My picky eater wife found plenty of things to enjoy. Over on the counter where the breads are there were hot trays of baked oatmeal and baked oatmeal with blueberries. I tried the baked oatmeal with blueberries and they were a nice addition to what is already a good baked oatmeal.  

There were a variety of desserts out including fruit and cream pies, shoo fly pie, cakes, and a wide assortment of prepared desserts. There is also soft serve ice cream and a sundae bar and the soft ice cream here is excellent. I wish they would include the hard ice cream that is made in Yoders adjacent dairy. This fresh made ice cream is wonderful and can be had on the menu but not the buffet. I chose the same two desserts that I had the night before at Dutch-Way - shoo fly cake and cracker pudding. Here the cracker pudding is more traditional and not overwhelmed with coconut though there is coconut in it. I like this cracker pudding better. The shoo fly cake was very good but the shoo fly cake at Dutch-Way was moister. Both were satisfying and I would not pass either up. 

Service was very good and the server came regularly to clear away plates and offer refills on our drinks. While the restaurant closes at 8 pm they were still seating people at 8. 

This buffet is one of our Top Buffets for 2012 and it still deserves that rating. I have to say this every time I write about Yoders. This is a restaurant in a supermarket and it is not at all fancy inside. It is pleasantly decorated but the booths and tables are utilitarian - nothing fancy. People come here for the food and not the ambiance. And this a restaurant for the locals. It is rare to see tourists here. It is more common to see Amish and Mennonites dining here.  I was recently looking at their Facebook page and someone - obviously from outside of the area was not pleased with Yoders - things were too plain - and not fancy. Well, local people responded and suggested this must be someone from the "big city" and what were they expecting when they came in. The food is good and I come here for the food. The price is extremely reasonable and good. Deciding to come here on this night we had two other choices - buffets that don't often get to and when I discussed with my wife where we should eat, we both agreed to go to Yoders. If you are looking for big city fancy like the lady on Facebook - don't come here.
Yoders is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They open very early in the morning and close at 8:00 pm at night - as most other buffets in this area do. They recently started opening for Sunday brunch but other than that they are not open on Sunday's for lunch or dinner and close at 2 pm. The main days are Monday to Saturday for buffet and menu dining. Some at your table can order from the menu while others order the buffet. They have no problem with that.

The restaurant is located at Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. There is a website and that is linked at the side of this page. There is also a Facebook page that you can "Like" and get updates on specials.


Friday, July 12, 2013

One of Two Dinners in a Week at Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Gap, PA

We were staying several nights in Lancaster, PA and out of all of the buffet restaurants that we love to go to in Lancaster, Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap was the one that was calling us to go to first. We went on a Tuesday night. We seem to go to Dutch-Way a lot on Tuesday nights. The specials for Tuesdays on the dinner buffet at the grill are "build your own burgers" and a choice of hot wings.

I have written about Dutch-Way several times and the Gap location is one of our Top Buffets for 2012. I was curious if they posted our certificate and found that they did not. I am not sure why. Some other buffets that are awarded our certifications do post them prominently. This buffet is so good I cannot hold that against them.

This is a local restaurant much out of the tourist area. When dining here you are primarily dining with people from the communities around the restaurant including Old Order Amish families and Mennonite families. On this night there were several tables of Amish people dining at the buffet. Getting to this buffet means driving somewhat out of the way of the usual tourist area. It is not far and it is worth the trip.

Dinner from Monday to Wednesday is $11.99 and there is a discount for seniors 60 and over. The soda price is $1.99 and includes refills. Pricing here goes up on Seafood Night which is Thursday and is higher Friday and Saturday nights. As I have described in the past, is part of a supermarket and while the restaurant is completely separated from the supermarket there is a hall that connects the supermarket part of the building with the restaurant entrance. The dining room and restaurant have very nice ambiance and are at a standard equal to any stand-alone restaurant. The decor is pleasant and there are booths and tables that will seat from two to a large group. There is also a separate dining room for parties and meetings. That room has been frequently in use when we have been to the restaurant.

One nice thing about this buffet is that there is also menu dining and they have no problem is someone in your group wants to order from the menu and others want to order from the buffet. Some restaurants make a big deal about this - and perhaps that is necessary for those who want to sneak food from the buffets and just pay for a platter. There is no problem here - each order whichever way they want.

I have to get right into what was on the buffet on this particular night. I don't think we have ever been to Dutch-Way and not found something different on the buffet from other visits. As we like to start with soup, we shall start here with soup and there are always four soups. This night there were Chili, Beef Vegetable, Corn Chowder, and Beef Barley. I tried the corn chowder and my wife had the beef vegetable. The corn chowder was very good and loaded with potatoes and corn in a cream based chowder that was between thick and thin. The beef vegetable soup was a beef based stock with vegetables. It was not loaded with beans or cabbage as some vegetable soups can be and this made this soup better.

The salad bar at Dutch-Way is extensive and it takes up both sides of a buffet server. The arrangement on this night was odd for this buffet and several diners at the salad bar were commenting about this. Everything that has always been there was there but in a different spot and arranged on different sides from where people expected to find things. Other than the so many things to add to a salad, the prepared salads are very good and the potato salad was especially good. If you have never tried Lebanon bologna, there are chunks of it here to add to a salad. This is something to try and a specialty of this area.

There are two long hot servers and half of one is filled with hot dessert choices. The entrees that we found on this night were Ham Balls with pineapple sauce, Swiss meatballs with mushroom sauce, Chicken Bot Boi, Chicken with Biscuit, Roast Beef, Turkey, Henny Penny Chicken which is a version of "broasted" chicken, Cajun catfish, Pork and Kraut, Lemon Herb Pollak, and Dutchloaf in brown gravy which is meatloaf. Add to this the specials on the grill which were "build your own burgers" and hot wings. The "build your own burgers" were burgers grilled to order and then on top you chose items like bacon, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, raw onion, a variety of cheeses, tomatoes, and other toppings and sauces. The burger is served on a roll. I had mine without a roll. The side dishes were
Mixed Vegetables which were not the usual frozen mixed vegetables but rather an assortment of fresh vegetables, Green bean casserole, Roast potatoes, Baked Limas, Stewed Tomatoes, Macaroni and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Potato Filling, Pineapple filling which is bread filling full of pineapple, and Beets.

I have talked about Chicken Bot Boi from various restaurants in Lancaster County many times. Here the noodles are more pasta like and less doughy dumplings as is done at some restaurants. The squares of noodle/dumplings are in a thick yellow chicken stock with chunks of chicken meat, carrots, and celery all boiled together into a stew. This is similar to but not like Chicken Pot Pie - there is no crust and the taste is much different. While I prefer the larger doughy dumplings the taste of this Chicken Bot Boi is very good.

The Chicken with Biscuit is creamed chicken served  topped with individual biscuits and it is very good. The Swiss Meatballs were just right with the mushroom sauce that was covering them. The ham balls were not too sweet in their pineapple sauce and they are a favorite of the both of us. The Pork and Sauerkraut here is not overwhelmingly flavored with vinegar as it can be in some buffets.  The Lemon Herb Pollack was light in texture and right in taste. My wife who as my regular readers know is a picky eater and likes primarily plain foods likes the Dutchloaf here. She does not care for meatloaf covered in ketchup and here it is served in brown gravy. It has a dense texture that holds together well.

At the grill I had a burger made to order. I asked for a medium rare burger with cheese, bacon, and sauteed mushrooms with no roll. The burger was cooked perfectly. The items were melted together on the flatiron grill so that the cheese was dripping down the sides of the burger. It was a very good burger and I enjoyed it! (Why no roll? I learned a long time ago eating at buffets and all you care to eat restaurants that there is no need to fill up needlessly on bread when there are so many good things to have.)

The potato filling as I have said in previous articles about Dutch-Way is one of the best with the potato taste predominant and not the dough it is mixed with. The Green Bean Casserole is the Thanksgiving favorite and made exceptionally good with fresh green beans in a mushroom cream sauce and topped and mixed through with fried onions. These did not seem to be the canned onions but similar onions made in the kitchen. 

Along with the meal there is a counter with a variety of breads with breads like pumpkin bread, banana nut bread, breads swirled with fruit and more. Some of these make a good dessert - but there are good dessert choices here that vary. There are many prepared puddings and desserts. There are fruit and cream pies. There is a cold case with the pies that need to be kept cold. There are usually cakes but there were none out on this night. There were hot desserts - warm cakes with toppings to pour over on one of the hot buffet servers. There is also Turkey Hill brand soft serve ice cream and a sundae bar. I don't often take dessert but I could not resist the Shoo Fly Cake which was served to scoop from a tray with the prepared desserts and the cracker pudding. Shoo Fly Cake is a molasses cake with a crumb topping. It is very similar to Shoo Fly Pie which is a specialty of this area. Cracker pudding I can only find now at two restaurants and this is one of them. Think rice or bread pudding but made with saltine crackers and shredded coconut. This is very good!

Service was excellent as usual here. The server was bringing us drink refills before we were half finished with our drinks. Dishes were gone each time we returned from the buffet servers with a next plate. She was very friendly and very good!

I enjoyed this meal so much that I knew then that we had to come back again for dinner before we left the area. I very much recommend Dutch-Way. It looks like a small buffet when you look at the buffet servers but it is big on taste and quality. I am hesitant to encourage tourists to come here because it is not a tourist restaurant but if you are visiting the area and you will go out of the way to come here, have dinner at Dutch-Way. 

Be aware that they close at 8 and this means that they really do start to break down the buffet at 8 pm. If you arrive close to 8, expect to see them taking things away or at the least, combining what is remaining into a smaller area while they begin to clean. There are some buffets that seat until the closing time and keep the food area open. This is not one of them. This does not bother me. I get there early enough to be finished at 8 pm. 

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, July 05, 2013

Children at Buffets

Buffets are generally affordable dinners and many families come to buffets. When I go to a buffet I expect to see children there with their families. But children need to be supervised in a buffet, and for some reason so many parents just seem to send the children - I have seen as young as five - up to the buffet by themselves. And this is not only dangerous to the child, it becomes a broader problem.

Some buffets have signs posted on the sneeze guard glass above the servers, "Children under 12 must be accompanied by adult."  This is a good step but too often those signs are ignored (by the parents) and the children are up there alone anyway. Some buffets make announcement over the loudspeaker system - "Parents please do not allow your children to go up to the buffet tables alone!" Another good attempt that also seems to be ignored by many parents. Do you see that most of the problem is not the child but the child's parents?

I have seen small children - not easily seen as they are so close to the ground almost stepped on by bustling adults just walking around the buffet tables. I have seen people carrying bowls of hot soup almost pour the bowl onto a child's head. These are not single incidents. I go to and have gone to  many buffets over the years and this happens regularly. 

And the problem goes beyond the danger. So many times I have seen a child up at the buffet by themselves, trying to put food into their dish - some barely able to see over the counter - some who could not see over the counter to the tray - and large quantities of food that they will never eat go onto their plates - and onto the counter - and onto the floor. A more serious problem is when they don't use the serving utensils and their hands and fingers are in the food tray. I watched a young boy recently grab a handful of french fries with his hands, put them on his plate, take one and bite into it, make a face that he did not like it and the half of the french fry he bit into and the rest on his plate were scooped up in his hand and put back into the serving tray. (Tell the manager or staff this happened and in some buffets they will tell you that tray will be removed immediately - and it never is.) How about a finger that goes from the kid's nose to the mash potato tray and right into the mashed potatoes. And the parents - even when they go up with the child pay no attention to what the child is doing and they say "Well, he is little. He does not know any better."  Yes, he is little and that is why you, parent, are supposed to be watching and even better putting the proper amount of the right foods on that child's plate and carrying the plate back to the table for the child.

Old Country Buffet has been making this even worse with their Thursday is Kid's Night promotion. Not only is the buffet overrun with children, but the children are running all around the dining room and the buffet serving area - with no supervision whatsoever. Thursday nights was once one of my favorite nights at OCB. We do not go to OCB on a Thursday night any longer.

My wife says that the parents don't know any better themselves - and on observation, she is correct - as when you watch the parents (adults) up at the buffet, their hands sometimes go to the tray without a serving utensil (that is just sitting right there in the tray to be used). Sometimes, their food goes while standing there from the tray to the mouth and then bitten, back into the tray.  My wife's opinion is that their parents did not teach them proper manners so they do not teach their children manners either. And you know, this is not just proper manners - it is general common sense and an awareness that other people are around you, and your actions may and can effect other people. This is why our "Rules of the Buffet" came about in the first place - all are common sense do's and don't's.

So, parents who are reading this - please do not permit your children to go up to the buffet serving tables without you. When you are there, keep the child with you and YOU take the food and put it on the child's plate and make sure it stays there until the child and you together are back at your table! Remember "family dinner" does not mean "children's free for all".