Friday, April 08, 2016


For many years, Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has been a Best and a Top Buffet. There can be no list of top buffets in the United States without including Shady Maple Smorgasbord. Shady Maple is the most impressive and largest buffet restaurant not in a Casino or lavish hotel (and it has those beat too) in the country. Once again, Shady Maple Smorgasbord is a Top Buffet - and now for 2015.

In the land of the Plain People - Lancaster, PA - Shady Maple Smorgasbord serves the food of the Plain People along with a large and wide varieties of foods in a setting outside of rolling farmlands and inside in a large restaurant complex in a building with two floors, a lobby rivaling the finest restaurants with huge crystal chandeliers and one of the largest buffets - if not the largest - that you will ever enjoy. This is an experience that grew from simple roots under a shady maple tree as a farm stand years ago. The same owner is still there at the restaurant. Some days and nights he can be seen going through the dining rooms. The buffet menu has grown over the years but in addition to what has been added the same entrees and foods served when this was still a large but smaller buffet in a building that can be seen next door to Goods Department Store on the property and at the opposite end of the parking lot from Shady Maple's supermarket complex which is also quite large.

People seem to know Shady Maple all over the US. We will be hundreds of miles away and overhear conversations of people talking about a meal at Shady Maple. I don't know any other restaurant - much less buffet - that this happens with. I can understand when going through farmers markets in Lancaster and hearing local people discussing having just been there for dinner or planning on going there that night - "Going down to the Shady Maple tonight!", but this also happens so many, many, many miles away. Perhaps, needless to say, Shady Maple is an experience - and for some a destination location, coming to the area for a day or night just to go to this restaurant.

After the impressive lobby, and the often long waits in line (during "season" which can be just about all year except January to early March)  to pay for your meal going in, and then another wait in line to be seated, you can find yourself sitting in one of two massive dining rooms or one of the several private dining rooms along the side of the large dining rooms that are opened to all on crowded nights. At tables (or booths) around you there will be tourists and local people including Amish and Mennonite families. All have come for one thing - and even with the impressive size of the restaurant and the elegant decor, that one thing is the food. The food is excellent. The variety of foods served at one time is overwhelming. The buffet serving area is as long as the restaurant's building - and this is a big building. You enter from the middle past several grill sections, and it goes down in two directions. Some people coming in assume that each direction of foods is the same as what will be found in the other direction, but his is a misconception due to some foods first seen being the same, but the two sides are not the same and what will be down one side will not be down the other and vice versa, increasing the number and variety of foods to choose from. Even the two salad and soup bars which are the first serving areas that you encounter are not the same with only some overlap.

There is a breakfast buffet, a lunch buffet, and a dinner buffet every day and none are the same each day. There are themes with specific foods featured on each weekday  - for example steak is a feature on the grills on Mondays, Seafood is a feature on the buffet and grills on Tuesdays, Prime Rib on Wednesdays, and so on. At different times of the year and on different nights some specialties are served such as Smorgy Cheesesteaks - a variation of the famous Philly Cheesesteaks made the Shady Maple way. On some nights you will find house-made, local style, country sausages. There is just so many things and so much to name, it is impossible. Local Pennsylvania Dutch foods and entrees will vary on different nights - Chicken Bot Bie - a locally famous dish of flat doughy dumpling noodle squares with chicken, carrots, potatoes, and celery in a rich broth sauce, Pork and Sauerkraut (locally a dish served on News Year's Day) and served every day at Shady Maple, Pigs stomach - surprisingly good, just so much! And then, of course, the end section of each side is the dessert area with cakes, pies, prepared desserts and puddings, shoo fly pie, apple dumplings, apple crisp, softserve Turkey Hill ice cream and sundae bar, low sugar and no sugar desserts, again - overwhelming. The only problem is that if you eat all that you see and want, dessert may just push you over the top of eating more than you can eat. But from the look on so many faces, holding their stomachs and smiling as they walk out to the parking lot - it is worth it. (As I have learned over the years - here and at other irresistibly buffets - eat what you like but know when to stop and you will be much happier and enjoy it more - particularly during that walk to the car at the end of the meal.)

So - quality - yes. Value - yes - the meals here are priced including the local tax and a gratuity (tip) of not a large percentage for the servers and staff plus the meal includes all including the beverage - so it may look like the prices are more than some other buffets but all together they are not. Consistency from visit to visit - yes. Clean and well maintained - absolutely yes. Good service staff - yes. Top Buffet - no question.

If someone asks me what buffet should I go to when visiting Lancaster, I tell them Shady Maple - and you know we know other Top Buffets in this area. I tell them Shady Maple for the overwhelming experience. And when I see or hear from them after they have been there, they always thank me. This is a must go to.

Shady Maple is not located in the main tourist area of Lancaster County. It is not on Route 30 or on Route 340. It is off almost out of the county but people still come. Try it.

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. There is lots of parking (free, of course). 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. Like most other local buffets and restaurants in Lancaster County, Shady Maple is closed on Sundays - and some holidays, but not all. Dinner ends at 8:00 pm and you will not get in past 8 and the dining room will close down at 9 so don't go there late - get there early enough to not rush through the experience.

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