Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading

In January 2018, we made our first visit to Brocmar Smokehouse at the Shillington Farmers Market. By this time, the local barbecue company was already running a stand at the Santander Arena.

The Farmers Market was their second location and featured an expanded menu that included the Brocmar Taco – the dish of smoked meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce atop a corn cake that made our list of Favorite Entrees for 2018.

And Brocmar’s stand at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened for the 2018 season, has become my go-to for ballpark foods.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2019 and Brocmar Smokehouse is now four locations strong with the opening of their first full-service restaurant at the Lofts at Narrows in West Reading. The new Brocmar shares a space with the B2 Cafe – the grab-and-go breakfast side of B2 Bistro. Under the partnership, B2 continues serving coffee and breakfast while Brocmar takes over for lunch and dinner service.

Two weeks ago,  I was invited to the friends and family opening. So Julie, Jakob and I stopped in last Friday evening for a first taste of the new Brocmar.

While the restaurant is attached to B2, Brocmar has fully taken over the space. From the Brocmar sign painted on the brick outside to the high-top tables made out of barrels in the dining room. Honestly, it feels more at home with the industrial salvage motif than B2 does.

This was only the second night of table service for a business that has never done it before so there were hiccups to work out. We were seated promptly and we put in our drink order quickly but were told that Jamie would be taking care of us after that. Jamie never came so it was obvious that they’re still learning who is responsible for which tables, but things were smooth after that.

For the friends and family event, we were encouraged to order a lot of food and to try some of the new offerings along with the old. After we ordered, it wasn’t long before a large tray filled with sample dishes arrived at our table.

The friends and family preview menu was “limited.” About the only thing that wasn’t available was my beloved Brocmar taco. But that just meant an opportunity to broaden my horizons – appropriate since that’s exactly what Brocmar was doing as well.

(Gary, the owner and pitmaster, offered to have one delivered to us anyway, but we declined. If you want to read about the Brocmar taco, click here).

Brocmar offers eight different sauces, and I’ve tried just about all of them now. Preview night was my first exposure to the Mississippi Comeback sauce – listed as a “classic southern dipping sauce for fried foods.” Appropriately, it was drizzled atop my order of fried catfish.

Long time readers know that I am not a fan of seafood but I was pressured into trying the catfish. I have to say, I actually enjoyed it. There wasn’t much of a fishy taste to speak of. Instead, most of the flavor came from the combination of the breading and the sauce. The comeback definitely had a kick to it – not as much as the cayenne-based Moonshine sauce – but enough to get your attention. And both Julie and I really enjoyed it. I would actually order it again sometime.

My favorite among Brocmar’s sauces is still the Cripple Creek. Made with bourbon and brown sugar, the Cripple Creek sauce is a dark, thick sauce with deep flavor and just enough sweetness. It works on everything, but I especially enjoyed it on our loaded tots.

The golden brown tots come topped with cheese sauce (we had it on the side) and choice of meat – for us, brisket. All of the ingredients are good, but it was the addition of the sauce that made it great for me. Adding that rich, smokey flavor to the tots and brisket was perfect.

Among the other samplers we got were the smoked wings. Unlike the fried version, these had a nice char around the outside. Julie found it to be a little too well done, but I thought the char from the smoker added some excellent flavor.

I thought the same about the ribs. They were charred on the outside but the meat still came off the bone easily. And with a few drops of sauce, they were very enjoyable.

Both Julie and I also ordered sandwiches (to be fair, we thought we were getting half-sandwiches, not whole sandwiches cut in half) with our favorite barbecue meats – brisket for Julie, pulled pork for me.

There’s nothing I can say about Brocmar’s smoked meats that I haven’t already said. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it right.

I did, however, use the opportunity to try out a couple new sauces. The Moonshine sauce – Brocmar’s hot sauce – was way hotter than I expected. I was a much bigger fan of the Red Dirt Road sauce, a black pepper-based sauce that went really well with the pulled pork. I also found the Hokey Pokey sauce to be a good pairing too. It’s described as “mild and sweet with a little twang.” It’s a classic ‘cue sauce that I enjoyed, for sure.

Like his parents, Jakob is also a big fan of Brocmar. Our 19-month-old loves Brocmar’s mac and cheese. We knew that going in to the meal. What we didn’t know was how much he loves Brocmar’s baked beans.

I don’t blame him either. The baked beans are unique in that it’s a blend of black and red beans. The sauce is just sweet enough.

None of us needed anything else, but there was “Nanner Pudding” waiting.

Thankfully it was a small sample, but it was more than enough to get a taste of the delicious dessert – sweet pudding topped with fresh cut bananas. The only problem is that I have never had room for dessert after a Brocmar taco.

But maybe the opening of the new location will get us to broaden our horizons a little more when it comes to Brocmar Smokehouse. We certainly tried more on this night than in all of our previous trips to the Shillington Farmers Market combined.

And all of it was delicious. If they can nail the service – again, this was their second night of running a full-service restaurant – the new location will become a mainstay in the crowded West Reading dining scene.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Good
Ambiance Very Good

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading
10 S. Summit Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Circle S Ranch House

The Ranch House is recognizable for its A-frame roof, faux fencing and neon orange sign.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

The dining room looks tired and worn with green cushions and cream curtains accenting worn-out wooden booths

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

The Wagon Wheel hamburger is served plain with no toppings (cheese optional) but does come with a boat load of fries.

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

The grilled pretzel sandwich is the most expensive sandwich on the menu at $8.19. It's served with fries and coleslaw. (Cheese is a 75-cent up-charge).

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt.  Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

The Bull Dog - a four-scoop ice cream sundae - is one of Ranch House's signature desserts and is only $5.

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
The Napoleon Dynamite at Mad Dogs

Mad Dogs

Mad Dogs

Editor’s Note: Julie took the lead on this blog, visiting Mad Dogs with her parents (leaving me behind, sadly).

One cold Friday in February, I was looking to get out of the house with Jakob. My parents are retired so I suggested that we go to Kutztown for old time’s sake. (Zach and I are both graduates of Kutztown University). I always enjoy driving down Main Street to see what is new and what has stayed the same.

Just off of Main Street on Constitution Boulevard sits a brick building with two parking lots on each side. There is an outside seating area shared with a cigar store. While it was too cold to eat outside, we walked in the large warehouse door that I had walked through many times before – but for the first time at Mad Dogs.

Mad Dogs Daily Specials

The building previously housed CC’s Wooden Grill, once one of my favorite BBQ joints in Berks County, and Potts U, a spinoff of the popular Lehigh Valley hot dog chain.

As we walked through the door, the space looked very familar. The order counter and tables were basically the same as the last time we had visited Potts nearly two years ago.

Inside Mad Dogs Kutztown

The only difference was a few drink coolers along one of the walls which held your typical soda products and my favorite: Pure Wild Tea. (Another Berks County business). There were hot dog signs leftover from Potts U and movie posters added to go along with Mad Dogs Hollywood-themed menu.

The Throwback Lounge at Mad Dogs

Through a doorway, in an area that was previously an office, is the Mad Dogs Throwback Lounge. It was pretty cool space that looked like a fun place to hang out. There were bean bag chairs, retro furniture and flat screen TVs.

We found a seat at one of the very familiar tables and browsed the extensive menu of 21 different specialty hot dogs. Mad Dogs’ menu also has a burger, pulled pork and various sides.

Plain Jane Hot Dog from Mad Dogs

The menu also includes combo specials, which my dad took advatange of. He’s not always the adventurous type when it comes to food, so he had one plain Jane hot dog with relish, ketchup and onions (toppings are 50 cents each), mac and cheese, and a drink. There isn’t much to say about the plain Jane hot dog, but he really enjoyed the mac and cheese.

Mad Dogs Mac and Cheese

It was a unique version of the dish with tri-color noodles that looked like carrots and peppers. But they were definitely noodles. There were also pieces of hamburger, onion and bacon mixed with what tasted like a Cheez Whiz sauce.

I really wanted to experience one of the specialty hot dogs so I got the Napoleon Dynamite. I have to be honest, I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but one of my favorite childhood food memories is of hot dogs stuffed with cheese and bacon wrapped around them. The Napoleon Dynamite was the closest to that memory.

The Napoleon Dynamite at Mad Dogs

It is a grilled dog with tater tots, bacon, cheese sauce and Mad Dog sauce. Overall it was a good hot dog. The bacon and hot dog rested in the roll with cheese sauce and three smashed tater tots drizzled with Mad Dog sauce. The Mad Dog sauce didn’t quite shine through with the other flavors on my dog so it is hard to say what that actually tasted like.

They have an interesting selection of sides including fried cauliflower and sweet potato fries. But I opted for basic fresh-cut Yukon Gold french fries. The menu says that they are tossed in a special seasoning, but I don’t remember tasting it. That aside, they were very good fries. I also ordered Maple Mayo dipping sauce (they have 9 different dipping sauces to choose from), but never received it and didn’t remember that I ordered it until I was in the car driving home.

Mad Dogs Hot Dog and Tater Tots

Lastly, my mom built her own plain Jane dog with bacon and baked beans on top with a side of tater tots. The bacon was chopped up and mixed with the baked beans. She liked all of her items as well.

My only complaint was the presentation, and it’s not something you will notice in my photos. The food was brought out in long wire baskets that looked really neat. The problem was they weren’t organized by meal. One basket had two dogs, another basket had a dog and side and the rest of the food came out without baskets. It would have been nice if my hot dog and fries would have been together, my dad’s hot dog and mac and cheese together, and my mom’s hot dog and tater tots together. It would have saved a lot of shuffling and confusion at the table.

Mad Dogs seems like it’s caught on in its first year – the restaurant celebrated its first anniversary in January – because as we were there I saw more people come through the front door than on any of our visits to CC’s or Potts.

They have a good product with interesting twists and customizable options fit for anyone looking for a good hot dog. And being that it is in a college town, I’d say it’s a good value for what you get (we spent about $25 for the three of us).

I hope the next time I make my way through the doors of this building that I am still eating at Mad Dogs.

Berks County Eats Rating:
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Service: Good
Value: Reasonable

Mad Dogs
100 N. Constitution Blvd
Kutztown, PA 19530

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Sandwich Shops

Bernville Eagle Hotel

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Exterior

I love the character in historic inns and hotels, the places that have been serving food and drinks since the roads were dirt and transportation was four-legged.

Every small town and village had one, and many of them are still going. The Stony Run Inn, subject of last week’s blog, is one of those places.

This week, we paid a visit to another historic hotel, one that has been at the heart of Bernville since 1869.

That’s when the Eagle Hotel opened along Main Street in the little borough (now the only borough) in northwestern Berks County.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Interior

Nearly 150 years later, it’s still a gathering place where locals grab drinks and dinner six nights a week (closed on Sundays). Though I’m sure patrons in the late 19th century weren’t ordering from a Caribbean-inspired menu like the hotel offers today.

There is no separation between restaurant and barroom. The single dining room features a large center bar with tables lining the perimeter. The sound of crashing billiards balls echoed out of the back room.

The menu is mostly bar food, but there is a small selection of entrees (plus a few weekly specials). And everything is reasonably priced. Only two menu items cost more than $20, the full rack of ribs and my choice, the Cuban coffee crusted flat iron steak.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Flat-Iron-Steak

Served with plantains and a side of rice and beans, the steak was buried beneath a mound of onions and peppers.

It certainly wasn’t the largest steak that I have ever had, but it was flavorful. I’m not a coffee drinker, but the coffee crust was subtle while adding a crisp char to the outside. I love sautéed onions and roasted peppers so I had no qualms about digging in.

The rice and beans were good, but nothing compared to the more authentic Latin American restaurants that you find closer to the city. And there was certainly nothing to complain about with the portion size.

I’m a sucker for plantains so I was going to love them no matter what.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Salad

My meal was also served with a starter salad and roll. While the salad was nothing to speak of (spring mix with onions, cherry tomatoes, cheese and a cup of dressing), the roll was very enjoyable – soft and buttery.

Julie wasn’t quite hungry enough for the full rack of ribs, but she thought she could handle the half rack.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Ribs

The ribs were also given a little twist with chipotle barbecue sauce and diced mango on top. It was a little disappointing to find the mango was not reduced into the sauce. Ribs are not conducive to toppings so most of the mango fell off with every bone that was picked out. There was also just a little kick from the chipotle, but not too much.

We both enjoyed the fries. They’re the fresh-cut, skin-on kind. That’s the way I love my fries.

The meal was also served with baked beans and slaw. The beans were OK, but nothing special. And she wasn’t a fan of the slaw which she found to be all cabbage and little slaw.

My brother and sister-in-law were along for the visit, and the four of us all had good meals. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was certainly quality bar food. For our four meals (plus drinks – one beer, one sangria and one iced tea), it came to $86 so right around $20 per person for what were some hefty portions on everything.

The Eagle Hotel is your typical local bar and restaurant. The emphasis is clearly on the bar, but you can still enjoy a good, hearty meal, just as people have been doing for a century-and-a-half.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Reasonable

Bernville Eagle Hotel
301 N. Main St
Bernville, PA 19506

Bernville Eagle Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

It’s Just Barbecue (The Pink Pig)

it-s-just-barbecue

Editor’s Note: It’s Just Barbecue’s last day of business will be September 29. The family announced in a Facebook post that they are stepping away after 12 years in business.

For the last two years, I’ve been teased with tastes of It’s Just Barbecue and the restaurant’s signature sauces.

We’ve sampled their pulled pork at Iron Chef competitions at Wilson and Hamburg (including the 2015 event where pit master Jeff Stumpf competed in the live cook-off). Every time, we say that we need to try it.

So finally, on an unseasonably warm Saturday, we decided to make the drive north on Route 61, a few miles over the county line to Deer Lake for the full experience.

There’s nothing fancy about the place. If not for the bright pink pig-shaped smoker out front, the restaurant is nearly invisible, set on the back side of the building facing away from traffic.

it-s-just-barbecue-the-pink-pig

The pig is so recognizable that most people know the restaurant as the Pink Pig.

Inside, it’s much of the same. Pigs of varying shapes and sizes can be found wherever there is a ledge. Trophies from their barbecue competitions and the Hamburg Iron Chef fill in the bare spots.

After ordering at the counter, most people take their meals to go because the dining room consists of just six wooden picnic tables.

it-s-just-barbecue-interior

While a steady stream of customers poured in while we were there, we were the first (and for a long time, only) ones to grab a table and enjoy our meal in the restaurant.

The menu doesn’t offer much in the way of variety — it fits on a tri-folded sheet of ordinary paper — but what It’s Just Barbecue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.

What I really wanted to try was their ribs, but they were already sold out for the day (like any great barbecue restaurant, the meats are slow-cooked for hours in the smoker so when an item is gone, it’s gone).

it-s-just-barbecue-beef-brisket-platter

Thankfully everything else was still available so I went with a beef brisket platter with baked beans and cinnamon apples on the side.

The brisket is simply outstanding. Though it was pulled apart, you could still see the distinct pink smoke rings, a sign of well-prepared barbecue. And from the first time my fork touched it, the meat fell apart.

Even without the sauce, the meat was juicy and flavorful. The tables all had a bottle of the original house barbecue sauce (which I found to be too sweet for my tastes), I doused my brisket in a full cup of hot and sweet sauce that had just the right amount of after-burn.

The baked beans, like those at any good barbecue joint, are cooked with a little bit of leftover meat. There was just a little bit of pulled pork in mine, and I found myself wanting a little bit more.

The cinnamon apples were also very good, so much so that I was scraping the bottom for the extra syrup that remained when the apples were gone.

it-s-just-barbecue-chicken-sandwich

Julie’s meal was a little bit lighter than my own. She went with a smoked chicken breast sandwich and a side order of chili.

The chicken, like the brisket, was delicious on its own. It really captured the flavor from the smoker. After pouring on some honey barbecue sauce and closing the bun, it made for an excellent sandwich.

Her chili was a little lacking so she added some of that same honey barbecue sauce to it to give it a little more flavor. I would have probably done the same thing with the hot and sweet sauce if I had ordered the chili; it just needed a little something more.

But it’s hard to complain when the barbecue was as perfect as you will find. The price was great too, with our two meals (plus a couple bottles of iced tea) coming in at just over $25.

It’s Just Barbecue is worth the drive for any lover of smoked meats.

It’s a restaurant that truly lives up to its name.

It's Just Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Stampede Smokin’ BBQ – MOVED

stampede-smokin-bbq-2

Editor’s Note: Stampede Smokin’ BBQ has relocated to a new, permanent location along Route 10. The restaurant is now known as Stampede Barbecue. We visited for a blog shortly after it opened in June 2018.

Barbecue is hot.

The food industry is one of trends, and barbecue has been trending for some time now.

Grocery stores have entire aisles devoted to gourmet barbecue sauces, restaurants are serving more slow-cooked and smoked meats, and entire television shows are being devoted to the art of the ‘cue.

Berks County has always been a place that is known for chicken pot pie and other Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, but thanks to the success of places like Muddy’s Smokehouse Barbecue, slow cookers have started to pop up along the road throughout Greater Reading.

Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is a place that has taken the Muddy’s model and made it their own.

stampede-smokin-bbq

The bright red trailer sits along Route 23 in Morgantown, just across the Berks border in Lancaster County. The entry way is all stones, with a small patch of grass marking the parking spaces.

An actual house sits on the property, an extended front porch serving as the seating area with brand new picnic tables, oversized umbrellas serving as sun shades on hot summer afternoons.

Stampede’s trailer has been parked full-time at this spot since last year, serving up beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, ribs and chicken.

The menu is scribbled on a chalkboard. In the center, boxed out from the rest of the items is Stampede’s specialty sandwich, the Dude.

the-dude-stampede-smokin-bbq

The Dude is aptly named as it takes a hungry dude to finish a sandwich that includes heaping portions of both smoked sausage and beef brisket. After squirting it with a stream of sauce and tossing on a cup full of chopped onions, I dug in.

It was love at first bite.

The brisket was so tender, falling apart with every bite while the sausage had picked up all of the flavors from the grill, making it extra smoky and satisfying. But the sauce was what brought it all together. It was sweet and tangy and just blended perfectly with the meat to create an outstanding sandwich.

Equally impressive were my side of barbecue beans. Though they were clearly baked in barbecue sauce, the flavor was closer to that of a meatless chili thanks to the inclusion of kidney beans and a few dashes of chili powder.

charles-chips-stampede-smokin-bbq

I was prepared to order a side of fries as well, but once I saw the bags of Charles potato chips hanging on the side of the trailer. I could devote an entire blog to my love of Charles chips, and how “The Chip Man” used to deliver tins of them to our door each week when I was a child. As I ripped open the bag, all of those childhood memories came rushing back to me. Unlike other local brands like Good’s and Dieffenbach’s, Charles chips are light and airy, and I savored every bite.

This was, as a whole, one of the best barbecue meals I have had. And though $14 had seemed a little high when I was rung up, I can say that it was money well spent.

After finishing my meal, I grabbed one of Stampede’s take-home menus. On it are four things that the business strives to do: to provide excellent smoked meats, sides and service, to be consistent, to carry forward a good name, and to shine a light in a barbecue world.

To shine a light in a barbecue world.

A barbecue world is exactly the kind of world I want to be living in.

And after my visit, I can confirm that Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is shining a bright light.

Stampede Smokin' BBQ on Urbanspoon

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Shady Maple Smorgasbord

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-1

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 23 miles southwest of Reading to East Earl, PA.

I think everyone has a birthday tradition.

For myself, and many people who live within driving distance of Lancaster County, that tradition includes a birthday feast at one of the best buffets in the entire country.

Every year on May 30, my wife and I make the short drive south to East Earl to join the throngs of thousands that pour into Shady Maple Smorgasbord daily.

East Earl, a community of just over 1,000 people, doubles in size during the evening dinner rush. That’s the way it has been since Shady Maple expanded its smorgasbord more than a decade ago to create the glorious food paradise it is today.

The only exceptions are on holidays and every Sunday when the restaurant is closed, perhaps so we can all atone for committing the deadly sin of gluttony during our visit.

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-2

It’s easy to get lost among the food, which is why signs point the way to both the east and west buffet. Combined, there are 10 islands, four carving stations and three drink stations. A pair of dessert stands bookend the room. Walking from one end to the other is nearly impossible as you bob and weave your way around a hundred other people, all seemingly waiting in line for the same thing you are.

But with limited stomach to work with, scoping out the entire buffet is a must. Otherwise you may miss the carved-to-order prime rib or the ICEE machine.

As much as I appreciate a good salad, the two stations full of greens are off-limits during my visits. I can get a free salad with a meal anywhere.

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-3

Instead, my first plate included a cup of tomato basil soup, broccoli, a pierogi and a sweet and sour meatball. The soup was a beautiful shade of light orange, a result of the added cream that gave it its rich flavor. A heaping helping of peppers and onions came along with the pierogi, but it could easily stand on its own. And the meatball was more like a miniature meatloaf, packed with spices in a ketchup-based barbecue sauce. I also added on an onion biscuit, just for good measure.

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-4

Plate number two was all about the meat as I took a slab of beef brisket and a heaping helping of roast beef. A fistful of carrots and a drop of bread filling helped balance out the plate. The brisket was a featured meat at one of the carving stations. Unfortunately the heat lamps at carving stations rarely keep meats hot, and this was no exception. It was lukewarm, and the fact that it was oven-roasted made it taste more like an ordinary slice of beef. The actual roast beef, however, was amazing. It was tender and moist, everything the brisket was not.

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-5

My third plate was my “healthy” vegetable plate. It featured baked lima beans, which were done in a very nice, thick barbecue sauce (I wish I that for the brisket); mashed potatoes; mashed sweet potatoes, which were topped with raisins and nuts; and some of the best (and wettest) dried corn I have ever tried. All the juice you see on the plate was from the dried corn, and it was excellent.

Shady-Maple-Smorgasbord-6

Dessert was a (small) slice of shoofly pie and a dish of raspberry and vanilla soft serve. The wet-bottom pie was alright, but it had obviously been chilled which hurt the filling a little bit.

After dinner, Shady Maple encourages their guests to work off their dinners and shop off some dollars in the expansive gift shop, located beneath the smorgasbord. The store is as large as the buffet, filled to the brim with everything from wind chimes and bird houses to Elvis collectibles and Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks.

If you’re looking for a little taste of Shady Maple to take home, the farmer’s market offers a large selection of fresh produce and many of the smorgasbord’s famous desserts.

Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up, Shady Maple is worth the price of admission. Dinner buffets vary depending on the featured entrees, but average around $20.00 per person. If you do happen to be celebrating, all you need is your ID and a paying guest and you’ve got your very own birthday feast on the house.

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Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews