Friday, October 24, 2014

Golden Corral, Whitehall, Pennsylvania

The Golden Corral restaurant in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, just east of Allentown, is just a couple of years old. We were there about a year ago for the first time and in that article I had mixed feelings. We went back again recently and we were quite pleased.

The restaurant in is located in the back of the parking lot for a large shopping mall - Lehigh Valley Mall. We went on a Wednesday night and while the restaurant was busy, there were only a few people on line ahead of us and we got in quickly.  As you come up to the cash register (pay as you enter) you take your own first soft drink from the machines at the counter. Once you get to your table your server brings your refills. As we went in, I looked at both sides of the dining room and chose a table off to the right. As our meal progressed several large groups came in and were seated around us which was fine. The restaurant for a weeknight was busier than I would have expected.

This Golden Corral has the newer setup of continuous long serving counters that stretch across the entire length of one side of the building. These counters start with the salad bar, continuing but moving more to the rear to the soup area, then start the entrees and side dishes with the Asian section first, continue along  and come back forward to the grill, back around toward the rear for more entrees and side dishes, break for a door into the kitchen, take up again with the bread section which moves the counter right into the dessert area which includes now three chocolate fountains - chocolate, caramel, and white chocolate - and ends with the soft serve ice cream machine and sundae bar. For the crowd that was there, the restaurant was clean and the buffet trays were kept well stocked. There were a lot of children always at the dessert section going to the chocolate fountains unescorted. I see this as the parents' lack of supervision rather than a fault of the restaurant. This visit was during the summer and the feature was steak (which they always have), hot wings, and bone in fried catfish. The Golden Corral features seem to change regularly.

I was in the mood for a nicely cooked chargrilled steak and after soup and salad, that is what I went for. There were a number of people standing around the grill waiting for their steaks to be cooked well enough for them. I knew that if I did not just speak up to the grill chef that I wanted a rare steak, what was on the grill would have gone past rare. I got his attention and asked for one and he reached down and picked one up knowing that it was rare. And it was! This steak was just right. It was charred on the outside and red inside. I was very happy.

I saw that there was turkey to be carved and I let my wife know it was there. We got the person behind the counter's attention and he carved a piece of turkey for her. Also at the grill in a tray near the turkey was pulled pork barbecue. I took some of that when I went up later and it was fine - not great but fine. Golden Corral usually has hush puppies - fried balls of corn meal dough - and the ones here were very good. At some other Golden Corrals they have been hard. These were just right.

 Overall the meal was very good. The second steak that I went up for was a disappointment. The chef who was cooking before was there but he was being assisted by another older gentleman who was the one serving while the chef was cooking. I knew that I was in for a disappointment when I asked for a rare steak and the chef had to tell this man how to tell it was rare by feeling it with the tongs. The steak was put on my plate and back at the table when I cut into it, it was beyond medium. Well one great steak in a night is better than the not so good and poorly cooked steak that I get at another chain buffet. There was one other disappointment and that was a teriyaki steak that you served yourself from a tray in the grill section. I did not expect this to be rare - I expected it to be well and charred and that is how it looked. It was tasty but almost impossible to bite and chew. It was full of grizzle and after an attempt at eating it, I gave up on it. Despite these two items, I had a good meal and was very satisfied when we were finished.

Service was very good - I point this out because during our first trip here a year back service started out poor and while it got better during that night, on this night it was good from start to finish. The young lady who had our table whisked the finished plates away and made sure to ask if we wanted refills on our drinks - and brought them promptly.

I know that one of our readers recently commented on this particular Golden Corral not being good and not being clean. He was referring to a breakfast visit and I can not speak to what goes on at breakfast. All I know is that at dinner, the food was good, the service was good, and the restaurant was clean - both in the dining room and at the serving counters. I confirmed my impression of this Golden Corral with my picky wife and she agreed that this is one of the better Golden Corrals that we have been to.

I will definitely go back when I am in this area. Based on this visit, I think you will find it good. Now. if you don't like Golden Corral, this one is not going to be different when it comes to the foods served, the variety, and what is offered.

This Golden Corral is located at 900 Lehigh Valley Mall Drive in Whitehall, PA 18052. The phone number is (610) 443-0866. The chain's website is linked on the side of this page. This restaurant is just northeast of Allentown, PA. If coming west on I78 it is easiest to go to past to where I22 and I78 join and come back a short distance to the exit for the mall and this restaurant rather than drive north through the streets of the City of Allentown.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord, Bird-In-Hand, Pennsylvania

Less than a year ago we went back to Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord in Bird-In-Hand, Lancaster County, PA. We went then on a Wednesday night and I was impressed with the featured food for that night being very well prepared Pennsylvania Dutch favorites. I was also impressed that the price for this meal was $15.99 which included the beverage.

Fast forward to this year and we decide to go back to this buffet on a Wednesday night. We walk though the door, go up to the hostess counter and see a sign that dinner is now $19.99! Wow! One of the things that in the past had kept us infrequently going to this buffet was it's high price. At $15.99 the price last year had gone down. Now, at $19.99 it has soared back up. Even with the two dollar coupon compared to many of the buffets in this area, the price is high. Now, one can just walk right out the door again when seeing the high price and not feeling it is worth paying, but with Lancaster buffets, if you want to go then to another buffet, you had better gotten to the first one early. Buffet restaurants close here at 8:00 pm. We were set for a good buffet meal and we would not have made it any place else before it would have been too late to go in. We went on in.

The best thing at this restaurant in my opinion is the Chicken Corn Soup and they just about always serve this on the buffet. They make it very differently from other restaurants and in my opinion their thick and grainy version of this soup made of chicken and creamed corn is the best. It is not a thin chicken noodle soup with corn added that is served at the other restaurants in the area - whether buffets or menu restaurants. It is possible at this restaurant to have the soup and salad bar only. I still go for the full buffet - even though I could easily be happy with multiple bowls of this soup here. So, of course, my meal started with the chicken corn soup and my wife's meal started with the beef vegetable soup which is also very good.

The salad bar here is one full double sided buffet server with greens and salad toppings and prepared salads. At one time at this buffet the salad bar also had chicken salad or ham salad and then you actually could make a decent meal with just the soup and salad bar without the rest, but there are no meat salads now. The salad bar is good - not spectacular but decent as salad bars go.

The entrees and hot foods were some of the Pennsylvania Dutch specialties that I had a year back here and enjoyed so much then - but they were lacking some on this night. The Chicken Bot Bie was just OK. There were country sausages but when I cut into one, it did appear pink inside - a sign that the pork was not cooked through enough. I left that piece of sausage aside and the rest were better - but the sausage was lacking. Still good, but lacking. The Pork and Sauerkraut was good but not spectacular. I do like their turkey - which most people would probably not like. It is served - white meat and dark meat - cut up in a tray full of liquid. This keeps the turkey very moist and topped with gravy, if you choose to add it, this turkey is very good. They did have the turkey and I did have more than one serving.

There is a large dessert bar and one can order that alone. There are pies and cakes and puddings but, you know, we were in the mood for dessert and had trouble finding something - even with what was there - and some of what was there was the only piece left and was not replaced. There was a nice looking apple cake. We hesitated too long to take it and someone took it first while we were standing there deciding. It was not replaced. If you like whoopee pies - chocolate cake on top and bottom of thick, sweet whipped cream - they do have whoopee pies cut into pieces at the side of the dessert counter. There is soft serve ice cream and icees.

I remember - and wrote about - spectacular last year - and now, I was not feeling that. I have to wonder if that is because of the big price increase. I was feeling that night that it should have been better. Well, it always should be the best - and don't get me wrong, the food here is good but on this visit not memorable. Maybe the Amish cooks were off on this night? Who knows. Some restaurants do vary by who is cooking that night.  I may be spoiled by finding the exceptional buffets in this area. And then again, if this one was spectacular we would have been going much more often over the years.  There was a time that there were few buffets, more family style restaurants instead of buffets, and this one was one of our regular stops. That was long ago. We have been coming to this area for many, many years. It was also before this restaurant's owners built what seems now to be an empire. If you look on their website you will not only find this restaurant but also more than one hotel, a bakery complex, a campground, catering, and now dinner theater that uses this restaurant for the dinner and a stage auditorium on the lower level. And a lot of the focus in the restaurant - particularly the buffet - is on the theater guests. We did not leave hungry. There have been a few buffets that we have been to in our time that we did leave hungry. There is plenty of food here - it just should have been better than good.

Aside from the tourists who dine here - it is prominent on a major tourist route - Rt. 340 - there are many locals that do dine here - mostly from the menu that is an option if you don't wish the buffet or some members at your table do not want the buffet. They have no problem with the table mixing menu and buffet - just don't give buffet food to someone at your table who has ordered from the menu. This is a family restaurant - as are most of the restaurants in this area. It is not uncommon to be sitting next to a family of Amish or Mennonites at this restaurant. (Don't stare, be polite. This is there home and we are just visitors - perhaps more intruders.)

The price really got to me on this visit. I hope that they see a reason to put the price back down. As I say, they have done this before. Jack up the price, then the next year lower the price, and then jack it up again. There seems to be no pattern - it is not seasonal or holiday related. With the price back down, I would go back again. Is this the most expensive buffet in this area? No. I admit that Shady Maple has nights that are more than this in price - but Shady Maple includes the tax and tip in that price - and the drinks. Here you are adding the tax and tip on top of $19.99. Millers Smorgasbord is much more expensive - but I do not go there and you can look for my article as to why that is. Yes, there are coupons for Bird-In-Hand - only found in one tourist "magazine" that is free at most of the tourist sites - including the lobby of this restaurant and that will save you two dollars, but still it is expensive for what is here.

Should you not go here? I would not tell you not to go here but I will tell you that there is better for less money. If I had not place else that I was able to get to for whatever reason, I would go here. I put a lot on value - the value was missing the most at this price.

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant is located at 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. The phone number is 1-800-665-8780. There is a website located at the side of this page.The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm and is not open on Sundays. You will not be seated for the Smorgasbord after 7:30 pm.