(Disclaimer: This post is slightly lengthy. I just couldn’t help myself. I went a little photo crazy, but I love this place. You may want to grab a snack before you start reading….just sayin’)
See this place? This, my friends, is one of my happy places. Nestled among the rolling hills, the planted fields and the Amish farm houses of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. Shady Maple is the ultimate tourist destination – a huge mega-complex composed of a 1,200 seat restaurant, a 30,000 square foot gift shop (located below the dining room), a farmer’s market, a furniture store, a banquet hall, a cafe and more. Basically, think Der Dutchman (in Plain City) on tons of steroids. The main attraction of the Shady Maple complex is the Smorgasbord – a huge buffet that stretches over 200 feet in length, and features some seriously delicious authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, in heaping plenty. The Smorgasbord serves some of the best comfort food I’ve ever eaten, including fried chicken, steak & gravy, meatloaf, roast beef, homemade stuffing, mac & cheese and sooo much more, but what I love best is that every weekday morning, and on Saturdays too, Shady Maple opens their doors bright and early for their equally bountiful breakfast buffet. The wife and I have been here several times in the past, and upon a recent weekend trip to visit her family in southeastern PA, we knew we wanted to take them to Shady Maple for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Helpful hint: If you’re going to go to Shady Maple for breakfast, it’s probably wise to go during the week. If Saturday is your only option, as it was for us, try to get there early. After a 45 minute drive from the Norristown/King of Prussia area (just northwest of Philly), we arrived at around 9:00 am, and had about a 30 minute wait. Long lines are not an uncommon sight at Shady Maple, since they attract visitors from all across the country.
There was a sign in the lobby welcoming morning guests. Shady Maple starts serving breakfast at the crack of dawn mainly for the farmers, as has been tradition for the restaurant since they opened. But anyone is welcome as early as 5:00 am (although their hours will change starting in September to 6:00 am).
The mammoth dining room is composed of several areas. There’s the main floor, and then there are several side rooms just off of the main dining room, which are used regularly. To give you a little perspective, this photo captured only about a quarter of the dining room. It may look cramped, but there’s plenty of space at each table, and it really isn’t bad, even when the room is packed. The buffet and accompanying grills are all situated along the far side of the room.
So we got through the lines, and as soon as we were seated at our table, I hit the buffet. I kind of started in the middle, which was a little unconventional, and incidentally was where the sweet stuff was located. I picked up half a donut while I was in the area :)
There was a buffet designated for French toast, biscuits, waffles, and cereal.
Lots and lots of fruit & yogurt.
I moved on to the loads of Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food. Pancakes, French toast sticks, bread pudding, oatmeal, grits….
Several styles of breakfast potatoes including cheesy hash browns, hash brown patties, fried potatoes, sausage gravy, creamed chipped beef…
Sausage links and patties, smoked sausage, scrapple, fried mush…
And the biggest pile o’ bacon my eyes had ever laid sight upon!!
Some of the biggest attractions are the grill stations where you can customize and personalize your breakfast to your liking. The pancake station was busting with activity. Pancakes made with several kinds of fruits, nuts, sprinkles, chocolate/pb/butterscotch chips, and even pieces of candy bar!
Likewise, the customized eggs station was cranking out some incredible omelets, scrambles, benedicts, and more!
I’m usually a two-plater kind of guy, and you know I planned to get my money’s worth here! The thing about buffets is that most buffet restaurants always tend to WAY underseason their foods, because they are serving such a diverse range of people with different tastes. It’s done that way so that you can alter the seasonings according to your taste buds. Shady Maple is similar in that their foods do sometimes require an extra shake of the salt and/or pepper on top, but it’s different in that you can just tell that their foods are made from quality ingredients, which always gives the food a more well-rounded flavor.
My first plate consisted of some basic scrambled eggs, bacon, a couple of sausage links, half of a chocolate-iced cream-filled donut, and a split, homemade biscuit with sausage gravy. Everything was really tasty and cooked well. The only complaint I would have is that by the time I got back to the table, my sausage gravy was a bit cold, but I’m not sure if that’s because it was cold to start with, or if the long trek back from the buffet just cooled it down a bit for me. Either way, it was edible, and hey…it’s gravy!
Plate #2 consisted of one of my all-time favorite food pairings – chicken & waffles. This plate was the result of Mrs. Grub Guy’s brilliant mind, as I had seen people with chicken tenders on their plates, and I had seen the waffles on the buffet, but for some reason just didn’t put the two together until my lovely wife suggested it. Thanks, honey :)
Some other plates of breakfast love at our table included things like pancakes, hash browns and fresh fruit for our 8-year old…
My father-in-law actually braved the long line at the egg station, and opted for a Philly cheesesteak omelet, which was packed full of tender, seasoned steak, cheese and peppers. He also went with some fried potatoes with peppers and some bacon.
Mrs. Grub Guy grabbed some sliced breakfast ham, scrambled eggs, potatoes, a banana, half a donut, and some fried mush. She said the mush was well done, but needed some salt.
She also went for a unprecidented second plate (a true rarity for her), and decided to mix things up a little with an original masterpiece…the “bacon crisp French toast”. Ok, so it was just slivers of bacon on top of French toast, but she enjoyed it :) There’s also a house-smoked sausage link there too.
After breakfast, we all made our way out to the lobby area, where there is always lots of activity. There are often times local crafters, quilters, and other artists with displays and goods for sale here. On this particular morning, there was a man selling wooden roses (the rosebuds were made from curled wood shavings and dyed different colors)….
And there was also this table of Whoopie Pie pillows for the kiddies. For those who don’t know, a whoopie pie is a favorite treat in this area, made with traditionally two soft, chocolate, cake-like cookies and cream in the middle.
In the far corner of the lobby was a small section where they sell fresh-baked goods that are made at their bakery, located elsewhere on the campus. You can pick up fresh breads, rolls, cookies, pies and other treats to take home and enjoy. I was tempted to pick up a few things, but controlled my urges.
The real temptations are located one floor below the actual restaurant, in Shady Maple’s 30,000 square foot gift shop. I can honestly say that I do NOT enjoy shopping, but this gift shop is so cool that even I like browsing it. There’s literally thousands of collectibles, figurines, country decor, quilts, toys (we caved and bought our son another Star Wars LEGO set), sports stuff, leather goods, seriously…anything you can think of that would be in a tourist gift shop, is HERE! I won’t bore you with lots of photos (this is a FOOD blog, after all), but I did want to show you a couple of my favorite aisles…
The comic book super heroes aisle (how cool are those cookie jars?!?)
And who doesn’t love this stuff???
Also located on the lower level is the Dutchette, a fast food style restaurant where they serve many of Shady Maple’s favorite dishes for take out, or individual menu options. It’s actually a great idea if you think about it…you can still have the great Shady Maple grub if you’re in a hurry and grabbing something to go, or if you don’t want to wait in the lines or experience the awesomeness that is the Smorgasbord, you can order an individual meal from the menu and eat at the Dutchette. Brilliant!
As you can see, Shady Maple is a popular place. It’s got something for everyone, which is why they are always packed – morning, noon and night. But especially on weekends! Tour buses filled with traveling folks from all across the east coast are not uncommon to the Shady Maple Smorgasborg parking lot. But the funny thing is, you might see an Amish horse and buggy parked right next to it. That’s one of the things that makes Shady Maple great, in my opinion, is that folks from all walks of life gather here to partake in delicious comfort food together. I wonder if the Weaver family had any clue, back in the 1970’s when they opened a little farm market called Shady Maple, that one day they’d be bringing folks together from all over the country.
My family really enjoys coming here. From the beautiful local landscapes and scenery to the delicious donuts and scrapple, Shady Maple will always remain a favorite for us.
Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Dr., East Earl, PA 17519 (Map). They are open Monday – Saturday, 5:00 am – 8:00 pm, with breakfast running from 5-10 am. For more info on the Smorgasbord, or any of their other facilities, you can visit their website or their Facebook page.