BY MICHAEL MUSTO | Forget Ozempic. I’m an old school “I see food, I eat it” kind of guy. Recently, I realized that just seeing a video of food has me reaching for the nearest utensils. In fact, when Paper’s Mickey Boardman forwarded me a promo clip about Shady Maple Smorgasbord, billed as “the largest buffet in the entire country,” my stomach started growling in anticipation. I was amazed by the sight of the East Earl, Pennsylvania attraction (in Lancaster County), with its seeming miles of food stations. I insisted that we head there, and I even wrangled two other friends to come along (Chuck Attix and Bradford Louryk), not only to ingest like piggies at the trough, but to get a taste of unadulterated Pennsylvania living and just to have a laugh. To be truthful, I was hoping to people watch—i.e., point and giggle at crowds of gluttons in a shaming way—not realizing that I’d be the most mockable oinker of all.
The buffet is open Monday through Saturday, from 7am to 7pm, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (I guess on Sunday, you just go to church and digest.) There are special nights (Monday is Steak Night, Tuesday is Seafood Night…), and while prices vary depending on when you go, it’s quite reasonable, considering the potential intake.
For our Saturday “Grand Menu” lunch, it was only $27.99, plus 12% service fee—and they offer a senior discount—and here’s an idea of what you got: fried shrimp, salmon, New York strip steak, beef brisket, 46 salad bar items, four soups, six cheeses, 14 vegetables, 14 desserts, sundae bar, beverages…plus “dinner features on the grill”!!! But who’s counting?
You don’t need a reservation, and at 12:15pm, it wasn’t a long wait to get in. The problem is, a customer had collapsed right onto the carpeting in the check-in area, and the people with him seemed to be waiting for medical help to arrive. While hoping the person would be OK, I also prayed that this wasn’t a regular customer who was suffering the effects of overeating. The last thing I needed was for this poor guy to unwittingly become my Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
En route to our booth, we noticed the signs warning against sneaking stuff home—“Taking food out of the building is considered shoplifting” (although you can arrange to pay for some takeout). So much for the two large bags I had brought, lol. There are also posters advising you to not waste food by overloading your plates. Part of me was actually relieved that message was there, encouraging attendees to make this less of a gross food orgy for privileged people who can’t control themselves. But my noblesse on this subject was not all that generous, admittedly enough. I felt the “Don’t overgrab” rule didn’t really apply to me, since I’ve never had a problem finishing what’s on my plate. Wasting food is just not something I do.
And so, I—the attitudey New York guy—started realizing that no one looked more ridiculous than I did (in my tight pants and flannel shirt), nor was anyone inhaling more food than I was. I just couldn’t resist the fried chicken, freshly grilled skirt steak (with sauteed mushrooms), fried butterfly shrimp and baked cod, so I sampled them all. The first three items were delightful and though some of the vegetables were less than stellar, I put a decent salad together out of greens and topped it with a tangy “red French dressing.” The coffee creamers didn’t include milk, so I settled for Half-and-Half, and Mickey noticed that the make-your-own-sundae toppings didn’t include butterscotch, but again, we managed to keep our oral cavities occupied. And I also had a sugar-free blue slushy, followed by—what the hell—a few more shrimp.
Mickey and I had done a casino buffet or 12 in our lives, so we totally knew the drill. And this buffet—set up as a long parade of stations, past where the seating is—was easy to navigate because it was straightforward and organized, without an omelet or pasta station to complicate things by making you stop and order a specialty item. Despite those omissions, the buffet contains a whole mess of stuff and you can get up, grab a fresh plate, and try as many of them as you want.
The place is clean and friendly, there are tons of condiments, and ultimately it was a relief that it wasn’t the complete pigout I had anticipated. (Except for myself, of course.) Our culinary excursion gave me a new affinity for the heartland—and by the way, the downstairs gift shop was even more sprawling than the buffet! Back in New York, I surprised myself by giving money to a homeless man.
Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via @michaelmusto.
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