Friday, August 29, 2014

Shady Maple Smorgasbord, East Earl, Pennsylvania

Eight months has been too long to not have had dinner at Shady Maple. The snow this winter and the rain this Spring has kept us from traveling but we finally managed to get a passable weekend to make the trip. We went on a Saturday night in the beginning of June.

Arriving at the parking lot I said a loud, "Oh Boy!". The lots were jammed. I do not remember seeing the parking lots - yes, lots - there are three - this crowded. I wondered what we would find inside. We wound up parking in the lot adjacent to the supermarket - below Shady Maple at the entrance to the gift shop and cafe. This is also a tour bus entry area and there were two buses there - one dropping off and one picking up and I even more expected to find a mob inside. We entered through the gift shop and made our way upstairs to Shady Maple's lobby. Where were all of the people?

Where were all of the people really is a mystery because there were no lines in the lobby for the cash registers - there were two registers open and each had a family paying - but we walked up, were next, paid and went down the hall expecting a long line there. At that end there was one large group waiting to be seated, a family of four ahead of us and tables open scattered throughout. We were seated shortly.

There were people in all of the dining rooms and the rooms were busy but not full. For just the very start of tourist season and not officially summer yet, there were more people than I had expected but it still did not explain the jammed parking lots. My wife suggested that perhaps there was a very large catering function which is possible, but so many cars for one catering function seemed unusual too. Anyway, enough dwelling on the parking lot.

There were no weekend specials on this Saturday night. Shady Maple through the winter and Spring will have special feature weekends. It was a usual assortment of items on the buffet servers and multiple grill stations for a Saturday night.

Lately I am finding that I get full sooner than I have in the past and decided that to make sure that I would be able to enjoy an assortment of items - there were several grill features that were catching my eye - that I would cut back on the usual salad that I make to start dinner at Shady Maple. I took a small sampling of macaroni salad and a small sample of Amish potato salad along with a small scoop of chopped tomatoes topped with a few green olives and Ranch dressing.

Where one of the soups should be on both halves of the buffet was trays of melted cheese sauce. This was there for french fries that were near by. As a result there was one - or two - soups missing from the usual assortment. I took a very different split pea and ham soup. It was not a thick soup as expected but a thin cream soup (very pale green in color) full of split peas and pieces of ham. I have not had it made this way before and it was good - the thick version of this soup (the standard version) is one of my favorites. This had the taste but lacked the body of the standard. I would actually consider it a soup all onto itself and not to be compared to the thick green version. There were other soups - some spicy - and there is always excellent chili.

On the grills were a broad variety of foods. There was NY strip steak being cooked to order on two grills. There were Smorgy Cheesesteaks, kielbasi, country sausage, several types of fish, carved smoked brisket, carved ham, and something that I have not seen here before - marinated prime rib. The marinated prime rib was one of the things that caught my eye and I knew that if I started with that I would not be eating much else as they were carving thick, juicy slices of it. When Shady Maple has Prime Rib as a feature and they usually have this on Wednesday nights, there are several Prime Ribs being carved - each done to a different wellness from rare to well done - at the grill so well done can be made even more well done if one prefers. This was just one prime rib being carved and it was done well. There was always a short line to get a slice. It had been so long since my last Shady Maple dinner that I was drawn more to the usual and started with a New York Strip Steak cooked rare the way I like it and some country sausage. I then took the plate to the buffet servers and walked the full length of the restaurant to see what was being offered. To my surprise Dried Corn was back no the buffet. This has been missing for over a year - though having been absent for eight months I don't really know when it was brought back. Last year the sign where the Dried Corn should be on the buffet said that since the Copes company changed hands the dried corn that they were supplying was not to the satisfaction of Shady Maple. Apparently, the corn got better because it is there where it always had been before - at the first corner of the right side buffet server. I had to have Dried Corn and took some and added some buttered noodles to my plate and happy, headed back to our table.

I don't understand what goes on with the chargrill that Shady Maple installed at the first carving/grill station. It seems to never be in use. It is covered over and is used as a flat griddle. This was where steaks were to be made. They are still made there but are made - as they had always been made at Shady Maple from the beginning - flat on the griddle. A charbroiled steak can be so much better but I have not had one here since the new grill was put in. The steak was still good and so was the country sausage. The sausage here is made in-house. It is popular at Shady Maple and I found as the night went on and I decided to go for more that it does run out.

I love the Smorgy Cheesesteaks - a Philly Cheesesteak by another name. You can have it served to use the standard way - on a thick, hard roll - or if you are like me and don't want to fill up on bread when there is so much more to enjoy, have them scoop it off the grill covered in melted cheese and mixed with chopped onions right onto your plate. There is also tomato sauce to go on top if you like - something that seems to be local - and they are cooking the meat without onions and without cheese. I got some cheesesteak - on the plate, not roll - and also got a piece of kielbasi. To this plate I added a pirogi that were on the buffet server. There were also a few small items scattered around the right half buffet servers on top of the center other trays - one was small hor d'oeuvres sized kiesch.I tried one of those too. The kielbasi was nice. I like smoked sausage and this was good. The pirogi was good as well.

I picked at a little of this and that for the rest of the meal. I took a fried crab cake and a piece of marinated turkey. This was very unusual. It was a small piece - I suppose it could be described as a thin medallion. It was blackened on the outside, moist and flavorful inside. This seem to be the night for marinated meats as there was also marinated chicken on the buffet servers that I did not try.

The marinated Prime Rib kept calling to me from the carving station to our table but I resisted. I wanted it but I knew that I would not be comfortable if I went for it - a plate too far. As we say it is not all that you can eat but all that you care to eat - all that you care to eat needs to be tempered by common sense. My common sense won out and I skipped the marinated Prime Rib - maybe it will be there next time!

Dessert at Shady Maple is always an overwhelming assortment of choices. I saw squares of apple cake and was going to take that until I saw that the sign said "Gluten Free Apple Cake" this means something other than flour has been used and I need to know what that "other" is for my own dietary concerns. I skipped the apple cake. Then I saw a half of an apple fritter on a plate. I was about to take that and a scoop of my favorite - egg custard. Again, my common sense won out and I left the apple fritter and took the egg custard. Later thinking about that apple fritter I was tempted to go back for it as I finished the custard, but decided that I was at the point of full and just stay right there in my chair. And I did.

While we were dining Meryl spotted Mr. Weaver, Shady Maple's owner. He was talking with the main buffet manager. This is a buffet restaurant (and complex of so much more) that is well supervised and managed. 

Was it all good? Of course. Was I away too long? Absolutely. This is still THE Best Buffet! There is no question about it and everyone local to this area knows it. My next visit will be A LOT SOONER than eight months.

Oh and by the way, our Best Buffet 2013 certificate is hanging in a glass case on the piller next to the last cashier to the left in the lobby.

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. You can also keep up to date with Shady Maple by liking them on their page on Facebook!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Gap, PA

Dutch-Way Family Restaurant's buffet in Gap, Pa was our "Top Buffet" for 2013 and I explained then that a top buffet is one that is a must go to whenever in the area of that restaurant. On our recent return to Pennsylvania in June, there was no question that we would be dining at Dutch-Way.

What I like about Dutch-Way aside from good quality food at a very reasonable price, is the many different things that Dutch-Way serves on their buffet. Whenever we go to this buffet, there will be some items on the buffet that will be consistent time after time - these usually Pennsylvania Dutch foods made from local recipes, but there will also be a number of items that are just different. This is great as it gives a chance for the chefs to show off and provide a variety to every meal served. The only drawback to this can be hoping that something that you had once like this, will be there again. Sometimes it is, but often it isn't. But that new selection that you encounter makes up for it. (Thought I do hope that their wonderful ribs show up on the buffet again on some future visit!)

This time we had some interesting dishes. Bacon is very popular lately and two side dishes on the buffet on this Friday night featured bacon. One was string beans and bacon. This was just what it says strips of bacon and string beans cooked together. This is very much like a local dish often served in this area - string beans and ham - with the bacon put in place of the ham. It was good. If you are a bacon lover this was a treat. The other bacon dish was another variation of a common dish and again involved string beans. Most are familiar with string bean casserole - a popular Thanksgiving side dish of string beans in mushroom sauce (often cream of mushroom soup) cooked with french fried onion rings. Take that dish and bake it with strips of bacon on top and that was what was served at Dutch-Way. Again, good and a nice surprise added to a dish many have had before but not this way.

Fillings are a common Pennsylvania Dutch dish. Fillings are like stuffing but made with other than bread cubes. Dutch-Way has one of the best potato fillings in this area, and that is one of the dishes generally found here on most nights. I had that - and enjoyed it as I always do here. On this night they also had an Apple and Sausage Filling - a bread based filling chock full of apples and local country sausage baked together. This, too, was very good!

Another interesting and different dish served on this night that we were there was Crab Covered  Broiled Catfish. Take REAL crabmeat lightly mixed with breadcrumbs just slightly seasoned and spread it on top of catfish and broil it and this is the dish that they had. It was good!

Of course as always there were four soups. The beef vegetable with fresh garden vegetables, beef in a thick tomato stock was an excellent soup. The salad bar is wonderfully stocked with so much to both create a salad and try many local prepared salads, and the chicken salad is exceptional. I could easily make the meal center around the chicken salad but there is so much more that I take some chicken salad and go on to the entrees.

Friday and Saturday night are Prime Rib and Ham at the grill. The Prime Rib was well done but the slice that I had was moist and tender. It was very tasty. The ham looked as good but I passed on the ham for several other meats on the buffet including an excellent meatloaf and ham balls. I also took some of the Pork and Kraut that is excellent here with very large pieces of pork mixed into the sauerkraut.

As I have described in the past there is a large assortment of desserts including cakes, pies, soft-serve name brand ice cream (Turkey Hill), and prepared desserts. There was also hot shoefly cake. I took some of the cracker pudding. Cracker pudding is a local dessert made like rice pudding using saltine crackers and coconut. No rice - crackers! It is wonderful and here it is excellent.

The price for dinner on Friday and Saturday night is $13.99. It is less Monday to Wednesday. Thursdays is the most expensive dinner night and the reason is it is all seafood. Seafood night is $19.99 and a great deal of seafood is served including snow crab legs.   Unlimited soft drinks are extra.

I have to acknowledge someone at this restaurant and that is our server/waitress. Her name is Marie and she has been our waitress here several times before. She is the MOST FRIENDLY waitress of any restaurant - buffet or menu - that we have ever been to - and that is a lot of restaurants over many years. She is delightful in her manner and in how friendly she is. There is always a quick and sincere thank you!  She really stands out. She does her job well and is very attentive to her tables and guests. She is prompt and makes sure that dishes are cleared regularly. She truly stands out! Thank you, Marie!!!

Should you go to Dutch-Way if you are near Gap in Lancaster County, PA? Absolutely! Don't expect a large, lavish restaurant or an overwhelming buffet - it is big enough and there is plenty enough. It has pleasant decor and is one of the supermarket restaurants that seem to only be found in this area of Pennsylvania. The restaurant is in the same building as the supermarket - completely separated. This is Lancaster farm cooking with a a bit of continental added in on the side.

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, August 08, 2014

Even in the Best Basket You May Find a Rotten Apple

Here is another article put in the middle of the every other week schedule - as it is a bit out of the ordinary. You will be reading an article in a few weeks about another previous to this dinner at Shady Maple in East Earle, Lancaster, PA, but this is about a more recent dinner there. And something happened that has never happened to me there before and I hope to think rarely if ever to anyone there.

We went on a Saturday night in late July for dinner at Shady Maple - just search this site to see all about this exceptional buffet. It is always crowded on Saturday nights in the summer and I often avoid that night because of the tourists, the bus trippers, and the chaos of those overwhelmed by the expanse of this buffet. It was crowded. We waited on line to get in and again waited for a table. We were seated and the tourists were everywhere in mass. But it was not the tourists that this article is about - it is about an employee. One such, that shocked the heck out of me!

Here is what happened. When we finished soup and then salad, I went up to start on entrees. There was New York Strip Steak being grilled at two grill stations. I went to one of those grills and there was an older man and woman behind the grill. I asked for a rare New York Strip Steak. The man had a scowl on his face for whatever reason and looked at the woman with him behind the counter and pointed at a steak for her to take off the grill and serve to me. She took my empty plate from me and placed this steak on the plate and as her and and mine were on the plate I saw that the steak looked on the outside to be very red and raw looking. I made a comment to her that the steak looked more raw than rare. Now, I have to add here that this has happened to me at Shady Maple before. The a rare steak will often be raw inside and I was trying to avoid that before I took it and got back to the able - now you may wonder, why not just ask for medium rare and I have done that but medium rare often comes off the grill more than well done. So here we are - both hands on the plate and I make the comment.

What happens next shocked both the woman and me. The man reaches over and yanks the steak off the plate with his bare hands, (no gloves) and using both bare hands rips the steak in half shoves it up to my face (on his side of the grill) and angrily says, "Raw! It is not even rare!" He then throws the steak back onto the plate and looks at her to hand it to me. She handed it to me as he grumbled angrily under his breath. I was so taken back and in shock, I took the plate and I just stood there - still surprised, I looked at him and I said, "Be polite!" It is not in my nature, especially here, to make trouble and I certainly was not going to cause a scene - "Be polite" got my point across - though I doubt he saw any point but his - but my point was this is not a way to treat a customer. Now, I did not call for a manager and I just went back to my table with the steak - still in shock. I explained to my wife what just went on because she could not understand why I looked the way I did. Her first comment was - "He touched it with no gloves - that is illegal!" Well I don't think he is supposed to ever touch the meat once it is cooked with anything but the tongs or spatula and it is perhaps legal to cook with gloves on, but the point was how he acted. I thought to myself - he touched this steak with his bare hands, perhaps I should not even eat it - I did eat it. This spoiled the dinner and if I did not know what my experiences have been with the employees here for so many, many years, it could have kept me from ever coming back to what has been the BEST buffet anywhere. I still cannot believe this happened.

Perhaps he was as overwhelmed with the tourists here this night as I was. I passed him several times after that and he continued to have the same sour scowl on his face. Perhaps this was a bad night for him - maybe there was bad news of some sought - but why am I coming up with excuses for this employee's actions. They are inexcusable - in fact grounds for dismissal. The old maxim - "the customer is always right" may not be really true but if you want to keep customers you treat them properly and no matter how much of a pain in the butt they may be, you treat them with respect.

Now what could he have done - he could have taken the steak, put it down and with a knife, cut it open and shown me what it looked like inside - not essentially this with ripping it apart with his hands and literally throwing it back across to the other employee onto the plate. He could have said - fine, take it back and select another steak. As it happens I passed the other grill later in the meal and there was someone that was asking the same thing about how done a steak was and the young man employee behind the grill picked up a steak with a fork, cut it open and showed it to her and asked if that one would be alright. I really still am in shock. I thought about this the two hundred mile drive home.

Will I go back? Absolutely! Let's just put this up to a one time thing. Hopefully the owner of Shady Maple Smorgasbord will read this and have a meeting with his employees about how to treat customers - he seems to be a reasonable man and a good businessman. He knows what is right and what not to do when it comes to his customers.  I had to share this. This was so over the top that I could not share it with all of you.

Now back to our every other week schedule and there will be the next article next week.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Yoders Restaurant, New Holland, Pennsylvania

Two years ago, Yoders Restaurant in New Holland, PA was one of our Top Buffets. It was not in 2013 because of a visit in that year in which the buffet was a bit inconsistent with past great visits.  On a recent visit to Yoders for dinner, I experienced another inconsistency at Yoders. I have to say that all of the food is still great. The overall service is great. This time it was the grill that disappointed.

We went to Yoders on a Thursday night. Some nights at Yoders seem to follow themes. This night there was really no identifiable theme but smoked brisket on the grill and pulled pork barbecue on the buffet suggested that this night may have been a barbecue theme - that is just a guess. Anyway, at the grill there is a large TV monitor at the ceiling with the grill features and at the top of the list was smoked brisket. After a good bowl of vegetable beef soup and a salad of greens and dressing and some very good Amish style prepared salads, I went up to the grill for a slice of brisket. A friendly young man behind the counter greeted me and I asked for a slice of smoked brisket. His answer was that they had just run out. This was before 7 o'clock and the buffet is open until 8.I asked if more was coming out. He hemmed some and then said no. I asked if something was coming out to replace it. He hemmed some more and then said that some barbecue pork was supposed to be coming out but he had no idea when. I never did come out. He continued behind the grill serving liver and onions which was also a grill feature that night. As there was already pulled pork barbecue out on the buffet table, this could not have been what he meant - or was it - and if it was, it was there before and certainly not a substitute for a featured grill item this early. This is not the type of thing that has happened at Yoders in the past and it was very disappointing. Not that I was craving smoked brisket -it would have been nice to have - but if a grill feature runs out, something should come out to substitute for it. I expect what happened to happen in some chain buffets - but not at Yoders.

There were other main dishes to eat out on the buffet. There were ham balls, Salisbury steak, ham, broasted chicken, broiled chicken, baked cod, and stewed beef chunks made to be served over rice. There were plenty of Yoders wonderful side dishes - and one - perhaps an entree/side dish in one - chicken corn noodle casserole. This was a thick cream sauce with large pieces of chicken meat, corn, and broad noodles all baked together in a casserole. It was tasty - more heavy on noodles than chicken. There were whole baby potatoes in browned butter - anything in browned butter is good. Browned butter is burned butter and has a sweet/salt nut like taste. There were also noodles in browned butter. Then there are hot baked oatmeal dishes located off on a side hot counter where the soups and breads are. These are good and the plain baked oatmeal is one of my wife's favorites. I actually felt that the entree selection was weak and perhaps would not have been had the brisket been at the grill. 

Of course, there are always a lot of desserts including pies, cakes, puddings, prepared desserts, and hot shoo fly cake and hot cobbler. Having had more carbs in this meal than I was planning to have, I went with the egg custard - which is a favorite dessert of mine anyway. It was good as always.

Again, all of the food was excellent. The disappointment was in the selection and what was missing.

Of course, I will go back again, and that may be soon. I will let you all know what happens then.

Yoders menu noted that the Friday night feature is now Seafood Night and no longer the Sea and Land feature that used to be the standard for Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night now costs $18.99 which is the highest price night at Yoders. The usual weeknight dinners are $13.99. Saturday's feature is now Dutch Night. That used to mean an assortment of Pennsylvania Dutch foods. Until I am there on a Saturday night to see for myself, I will not guess at what it might be.

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.This is another of Lancaster County's buffet restaurants connected to supermarket buildings and when you pull into the parking lot what you will see is a supermarket. Enter at the entrance at the far right or middle and you will enter nearest the restaurant. This is not a fancy restaurant and looks like much less when you enter than it actually is. The food is good. The buffet is good. You are not coming here for the atmosphere. You are coming for the buffet. One may order buffet and other members of your party at the table may order from the menu. Order the buffet for the best deal unless you are a light eater. Often if you order from the menu they are taking it from the buffet and putting it on your plate and serving it to you if it is an item on the buffet.  Unlimited soft drinks are at an extra charge.