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!

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