Lancaster & Amish Country
It’s no wonder the verdant, rolling farmland of Lancaster County’s Amish country, the nation’s oldest such settlement of the traditionalist Christian sect known for simple living, plain dress and abhorrence of modern convenience, attracts 10 million visitors per year.
Before I was 10 years old, I’d visited Amish country several times with my Aunt Charlotte, who lived nearby in Camp Hill and had Amish friends. I remember the simple farmhouses without electricity. And the way people dressed: men with suspenders and long beards and women with covered heads and long dresses. From the Amish, I learned to love real soft pretzels with sweet honey mustard. From Aunt Charlotte, I gained an understanding of Pennsylvania Dutch self-sufficiency, the characteristic of someone who cooked from scratch and dotted her applesauce with cinnamon Red Hots.
That’s just a memory, but here’s the reality. The number of Amish—there are about 32,500 in this patch of earth—is steadily climbing, and the region still exports much of its agricultural riches to bigger cities. But today Lancaster has reconnected to its roots, 2014-style. Everywhere you look, a DIY spirit and reverence for the land is revitalizing the community and dancing, somewhat ironically, in step with today’s renewed interest in sustainability and locavorism. Lancaster County buzzes with a new distillery, burgeoning breweries and inventive farm-to-table restaurants. They just happen to share the landscape with the buggies, antique shops and all-you-can-eat buffets. Soon, the industrial-chic aesthetic of reclaimed warehouses will feel as quintessentially Pennsylvania Dutch as the county’s 29 covered bridges and numberless red barns.
WHERE TO STAY
In downtown, seek out Lancaster Arts Hotel, whose brick walls bear nearly 300 works of art, many by Pennsylvania artists. This hotel’s located in a former tobacco warehouse—think lots of exposed stone, weathered brick and wooden beams. (You’re also within paces of the on-site restaurant, John J. Jeffries.)
Just outside downtown you’ll find Cork Factory Hotel, which opened in 2010; its name reflects its original incarnation as Lancaster Cork Works, dating to 1865. Vestiges of its previous life remain: there’s at least one exposed brick wall in every guest room and most of the original window openings and building footprint have been preserved. (Its on-site restaurant, the Cork & Cap, offers updated, from-the farm regional specialties and the likes of whoopie pies from The Baker’s Table, its house bakery-café.)
For something slightly more rural, the 63 rooms and suites at The Inn at Leola Village are regularly lauded. Located just a few miles outside Lancaster, the Inn comprises six antique barns and buildings that were one part of an early-19th-century tobacco farm. Recently awarded a four-star rating by Forbes Travel Guide, it’s a country stay with plush touches such as 400-thread-count sheets, an Italian restaurant, and a spa and fitness center.
WHERE TO EAT
Many people road-trip for Bube’s Brewery, a maze-like complex including an intact 19th-century stone brewery and restaurant whose aesthetic involves dark lighting and brewing artifacts. It’s hard to be bored here, with the casual biergarten, fine dining in candlelit underground catacombs, live music, beer-pong tables and themed “feast” dinners. And there is the beer, which they’ve been pouring since 1982 and which leaves the premises only in a growler; you won’t find it bottled.
What started as the barbecue competition team of Maria Jo Harless and Jeff Boy Harless turned into a nanobrewery and barbecue joint called JoBoy’s. She’s from New Holland, he’s from North Carolina, and their homespun Manheim business recently relocated to significantly bigger digs in Lititz. Order the smoked cabbage smothered with butter, barbecue sauce and bacon.
Barbecue’s not your speed? With its chalkboard menu, checkerboard floor and honest-to-goodness soda fountain, Tomato Pie Café is all vintage charm. The Fishers, the café’s owners, feature a family recipe for a Southern staple called tomato pie; with flaky top crust and a fluffy cheese topping, it’s decidedly not pizza, despite its name. Fill up on baked oatmeal or quinoa pancakes before a day of beer sampling.
To taste what’s happening with farm-to-table fine dining in Lancaster, head to John J. Jeffries for dinner. Chefs Sean Cavanaugh and Michael F. Carson specifically chose the region for its abundance of small farms and the community love such relationships facilitate. Think deceptively straightforward menu with a local, nose-to-tail ethos; they go through “thousands of pounds of bones per month,” says Cavanaugh. Check it out: the tartare, which they call “the Truth,” with Thistle Creek Farms beef, is always on and always earns raves. Its accompaniments, like the menu itself, change in “bits and pieces, very often,” says Cavanaugh.
Like-minded but more intimate in scale is the BYOB Slow Food member Ma(i)son. It’s small in scale, seating about 30 and offering a dozen dishes daily, but big in ambition. Owners Taylor and Leeann Mason have transcended thoughtful farm-to-table fare to collaborative, take-back-the-earth heights. With two culinary gardens in partnership with farmer Alex Wenger, who grows specifically for the restaurant, Ma(i)son is tackling the next frontier in sustainability: grains. Ask how the spelt, barley and heirloom corn crops are doing.
That’s progressive, for sure. If you’re hankering instead for an allyou- can-eat Amish buffet, the kind that makes people pull off the road for shoofly pie and chicken potpie, either of two historic spots, Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand (which also has its own on-site hotel) or Miller’s in Ronks, should more than satisfy. Or eat with the locals at Lititz Family Cupboard, with its authentic, scratch-made fare prepped and served by Amish and Mennonite cooks and staff.
WHERE TO DRINK
Pennsylvania is home to a growing number of micro-distilleries, and Lancaster’s got one, too, in rustic-chic Thistle Finch. Andrew Martin opened the spot last Christmas Eve in yet another former tobacco warehouse. The semi-hidden entrance is through the building’s loading dock on a side street. The name is a rough translation of distlefink or “goldfinch” in German, found on hex signs and indicating good luck. Three nights a week, its tasting room operates like a speakeasy where you can sample the rye whiskey (from local grain) and try the house specialty, a Martin Mule.
While you are in the building, if they haven’t moved yet to bigger digs, you may notice the roasting and training facility, aka the Badasserie, for Square One. Josh and Jess Steffy’s stellar café is located downtown (with a second one in Philadelphia at 249 S. 13th Street), where you can settle in at one of the wooden tables for a single-origin, sustainably sourced cappuccino, espresso, regular drip coffee, or its signature, the cold brew coffee. Those are expert pours, too—the baristas, blessedly, have legit training, impressively landing tenth and eighth in the U.S. Barista Competition and U.S. Brewer’s Cup.
Lancaster and its environs are chockablock with breweries and supported by an increasingly locavore-loving restaurant culture. Downtown, decisive beer lovers need their A game for the dizzying 100 taps to select from at Federal Taphouse. Near the Lancaster Arts Hotel, open up the door to The Fridge. This casual, friendly neighborhood bottle-shop-meets-pizza-joint is known for its 500 craft brews and a menu focusing on locally sourced ingredients, including a mushroom, kale and Gruyère pizza. And yes, there’s more exposed brick, too.
Two of the region’s most recognizable craft brewers, Stoudts Brewing Company in Adamstown and Lancaster Brewing Company have been operating continuously since 1987 and 1995, respectively. They do what you expect: pour award-winning ales and offer tours and brewpubs. Spring House Brewing in rural Conestoga may not give tours.
Never fear. Fill your pint glass or growler full of one of its unique beers, such as its pumpkin ale, Braaaiins, at its cozy Taproom downtown and have a bite to eat from its small pub menu. (They also offer a special beer at the Cork Factory Hotel called the Cork & Cap Ale.)
WHERE TO SHOP
It spent a couple of years under wraps and tarps to improve its facilities and restore some of its beauty, but the historic Central Market—a year-round, thrice-weekly indoor affair—completed its much-needed renovations in 2011. The red brick building dates to 1889 but the market goes back even further; King George III designated Lancaster as a market town in 1730. With 63 vendors, it’s a microcosm in food, from traditional necessities such as scrapple, smoked meats and whoopie pies to organic produce, a juice bar, and Linden Dale Farm, an increasingly popular goat vendor with dairy and meat. Lancaster residents love their celery, so for local flavor don’t miss vendor Sweethearts, dedicated solely to celery.
Elsewhere in Lancaster, Hunger-N-Thirst, the bottleshop-meetsgastropub- meets-market opened in May 2013 owned by brothers David and Andrew Ness. It’s quickly become revered for its 350 beers—many tricky to obtain—from 19 different countries, its artisanal food provisions and its evolving, adventurous gastropub menu. Imagine “Cuban cigars,” like a pressed Cuban sandwich in wonton form, or empanadas filled with foie gras, mushrooms and Stilton.
Another growing enterprise is Oasis at Bird-in-Hand Co-op, established three years ago as a way to “keep Lancaster farmers on the farm,” says Sara Bushong, office manager. With 30 farms represented, the co-op is a glorified covered farm stand, barely big enough to accomplished the growing list of things they’re doing in-house, whether it’s canning or hand-wrapping 600 to 700 pounds of butter per week from its creamery. You can also find pastured poultry, grassfed beef and woodland pork along with as much organic seasonal fruits and vegetables as possible. “If it’s not growing here, we’re not selling it,” she says.
It wouldn’t be a trip out here without antiques. Adamstown is the mother lode, with 5,000-plus vendors within a five-mile stretch on Route 272. One of the undisputed kings is Renninger’s, which holds its Sunday markets with both indoor and outdoor components totaling almost 700 vendors. Stoudts Black Angus Antique Mall, which began in the 1960s in the restaurant’s basement, is now located behind its namesake restaurant and brewery. It’s this close to one-stop shopping for Dutch country essentials.
You could spend an entire day in the enchanted Lititz, where behind the cottage-like facades food-related businesses, including mainstays such as Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, will school you on how to make your very own pretzel or offer the sweet history and chocolate “buds” of Wilbur Chocolate Museum and Store. You’ll also stumble upon cupcakes, olive oils, candy and tea. For another classic experience, the Amish-owned Countryside Road-Stand in Ronks has just about everything you’d expect in a Dutch country stop: quilts and homemade canned goods along with root and birch beers. And, of course, those timeless soft pretzels.
LANCASTER & AMISH COUNTRY
WHERE TO STAY
Lancaster Arts Hotel
300 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster
Cork Factory Hotel
480 New Holland Ave., Lancaster
The Inn at Leola Village
38 Deborah Ln., Leola
WHERE TO EAT
102 North Market St., Mount Joy
27–31 E. Main St., Lititz
Tomato Pie Café
23 North Broad St., Lititz
John J. Jeffries at Lancaster Arts Hotel
300 Lancaster Ave., Lancaster
230 North Prince St., Lancaster
Plain & Fancy Farm
3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand
2811 Lincoln Hwy. E. (Rte. 30), Ronks
Lititz Family Cupboard
12 W. Newport Rd., Lititz
WHERE TO DRINK
Thistle Finch Distillery
417 W. Grant St., Lancaster
Square One Coffee
145 N. Duke St., Lancaster
201 N. Queen St., Lancaster
534 N. Mulberry St., Lancaster
Stoudts Brewing Company
2800 N. Reading Rd., Adamstown
Lancaster Brewing Company
302 N. Plum St., Lancaster
The Taproom at Spring House Brewing Company
25 W. King St., Lancaster
WHERE TO SHOP
23 N. Market St., Lancaster
920 Landis Ave., Lancaster
Oasis at Bird-in-Hand Co-op
60 N. Ronks Rd., Suite J, Ronks
2500 N. Reading Rd., Adamstown
Stoudts Black Angus Antique Mall
2800 N. Reading Rd. (Rte. 272), Adamstown
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery
219 E. Main St., Lititz
Wilbur Chocolate Museum & Store
48 N. Broad St., Lititz
2966 Stumptown Rd., Ronks