Friday, September 23, 2016

Shady Maple - Lancaster, PA

We don't go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord as often as we used to. Not because it is not as good as it was, but because our trips to that area have been in the middle of tourist season. I cannot fault a buffet for the people who dine there, but when the tourists descend on Shady Maple, it can be overwhelming. And the problem is so many who have not been there before who are there are overwhelmed.

We went on a Monday night in August. We arrived for dinner and found a busy parking lot, but not as much of a line as one might expect when going to Shady Maple. Once past the cashiers, there were the usual two lines to be seated. The one nearest the cash registers leads to the front area of dining booths. We prefer to sit at a table with chairs so we always head to the side. It has been awhile since I have seen the side dining rooms being used but they were busy. The center dining room was full but we were found a table near the front which is what we prefer. But even on line I was surrounded by first timers.  Once at the table we were even more surrounded and once inside the area of the buffet serving tables there was a mass of people who could not get the idea of just not standing in the middle of the aisles, but walking along the serving tables to find what they would like to eat. And these are not kids - these are adults in all age ranges.  I always tell people that Shady Maple is an experience and perhaps this is part of the experience.

There is a lot to eat at Shady Maple - they now say that they have over 200 feet of serving tables which is certainly true but it seems like more. I am not sure if they are including the space around the three grill areas. I understand that this can be overwhelming. What I realized on this visit is that some of the PA Dutch dishes that were on the buffet as standards in the past were not there and this was disappointing. I am there to eat Amish or PA Dutch. The rest is nice too but not what I come to Lancaster for.  We also found that where there had been two sections of four different soups in each of those sections, now had less soups and  their space was now trays of hot wings. I am sure that they are gearing their selections to the types of people who are coming - and in the summer perhaps they feel that this is what their customers are looking for - which I am not looking for. My picky eater wife (remember her?) has been disappointed in the past few visits because she does not like change and some of the dishes that she would go for have been changed. She notes the sliced beef is now chunks of beef in brown gravy, sliced ham that was not topped now has a thick pineapple sauce poured over it, and the slices of turkey breast she insists is now a different turkey.

And then there are the other dinners who are very obviously not locals and who just stop and stare, the ones who stand at the buffet trays and eat what they have put on their plates, and the ones who pile their plates so high that what is under the pile is no longer recognizable. There were two businessmen sitting at the table next to us - from their conversation they had never been there before. It appeared that they were up to the point of their meal for dessert and then one came back with a steak and a plate of food, along with a plate of cake covered in ice cream. I so much wanted to lean over toward their table and say to him, "You do know that you can go back and get more and you don't have to bring it all at the same time?" I just sat quietly and watched. Perhaps steak and ice cream is a good combination. This is not the first time I have seen someone eat the two together at a buffet. They also had to make a big show of handing the woman who was assigned to their table to take their dishes away a large tip. They were upset that the ticket that goes on your table to show it is occupied says "No Tipping". This is not to be unfair to their employees - the tip is included when you pay for your meal going into the buffet. It is shown on your receipt as the tip. I know that as I get older I am getting less and less tolerant of things going on around me - but this type of thing has kept me away from Shady Maple.

Now I am not saying that you should not go. Absolutely go to Shady Maple - but if you can avoid the summer months you will have a more relaxing experience. It is still a top buffet - one of our Top Buffets in 2015 and has been consistently on the Best and Top list for years. The food is very good. The service is very good. The value and quality is still there. There really is no other buffet like it - and I guess that gets around. During the summer I go more to where the locals go with fewer tourists. We went on this occasion because I was missing dining at Shady Maple - and I knew what to expect there on an August night.

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.

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