Looking for a gastronomic, “foodie” getaway from New York? Lancaster County and Amish Country is a good bet! We tell you where to eat and what to order.
Most people know Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for the community of Amish and Mennonite families that live in the area. It’s a gorgeous rural area with landscapes that help you to reconnect with nature and lovely places to go on a Sunday drive, hike with your family or enjoy small arts and crafts shops. There is something for everyone in Lancaster County, but we think it’s the perfect foodie escape from New York City. Only three hours away from Manhattan by car, we’ve pulled together some delicious reasons to pack up and head to Lancaster County!
Voted America’s coolest small town by Budget Travel, Lititz is a lovely spot to spend the day. We suggest two stops in town. The first at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. You can’t miss the bakery, found in the original Sturgis family house on East Main Street in Lititz. There is a huge pretzel outside the front door and you’ll smell the soft pretzels baking as soon as you step inside. You can visit their gift store and try a soft pretzel (only one dollar for a piping hot pretzel), but we suggest taking the tour and learning a bit more about the history of the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.
You can learn how to twist your own pretzel as well as little known facts, like how pretzels became popular during the civil war since soldiers could easily carry them, they filled them up and they tasted good. On your way out, make sure to check out all the varieties of pretzels in the gift store. Sturgis pretzels are only available in stores in a 150 mile radius from Lititz. (In fact, my grandfather used to always ask us to bring him a bag when we visited them in Connecticut). That said, you can also get your fix by ordering online. My personal favorite are the Little Cheesers (a kind of hybrid of the cheez-it and the pretzel.)
Also in Lititz, you will find the old Wilbur Chocolate Factory. Wilbur Chocolates have been around since 1894 and they have a signature sweet called the “Wilbur Buds.” The idea is that they look similar to a flower bud, although to be honest, they are so tasty that I always pop them in my mouth too quickly to notice! The smooth chocolates are available in dark and milk chocolate varieties. Wilbur also partners up with the folks from Sturgis Pretzels to make delicious chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate peanut butter pretzels, and almost any other sweet treats you can imagine. We like visiting Wilbur Chocolates because you can get a glimpse of workers making the chocolates as you shop. There are also quite a few artifacts the company has saved over the years.
Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking
Lancaster, PA is perhaps best known for the Amish and Pennsylvania German communities, both of which are rich in their food traditions. Pennsylvania Dutch food tends to be simple and hearty (which makes sense when you consider that they had access to farm fresh ingredients and needed energy to tend to their farms and animals.) Over the years Lancaster County has become more modern, but those food traditions have remained strong. Among other well loved dishes are pork and sauerkraut, ham balls, mashed potatoes and gravy. Food is often served smorgasbord or family style and you’re guaranteed to leave with a full belly. My personal favorite is the chicken corn chowder. If you’re looking for a great spot to try Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking is the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord.
Shoo Fly Pie
If you drive along Route 30 you’ll come upon a shop that looks like a windmill. This is Dutch Haven and inside you’ll find all kinds of unique crafts, jams and of course, the famous shoo fly pie. This pie gets its name because of how sweet it is. Made from molasses and brown sugar, it’s no wonder the first people who enjoyed this treat had to say “shoo fly!” You can find shoo fly pie at most traditional restaurants in Lancaster County, but the experience at Dutch Haven is said to be one of the best. In fact, they ship their pies around the country, so don’t worry if you need a “shoo fly fix” and you can’t make it to Lancaster.
We love a local market because you get the real sense of community and with so many farms, it’s only logical that the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market is a thing of beauty. In addition to artisan crafts, they sell local produce from the Amish farmers in the area. There are also lots of treats to enjoy and sample. Don’t miss the homemade jams, fudge and smoked meats. Sometimes you can also buy hand rolled pretzels and funnel cake.
If you find yourself in Downtown Lancaster, you can visit the Lancaster Central market, which is the oldest continuously operating farmers market. It started back in 1730 and the building itself is gorgeous. Here you can find everything from artisan cheeses, desserts, meats and produce. The market is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and it’s right in downtown Lancaster, so it is definitely worth a stop.
If you are interested in trying some local spirits, downtown Lancaster is home to Thistle Finch Distillery. It is the only operating distillery in the county and it’s definitely an insider secret. You can take a tour on Saturdays, free of charge and you’ll also get to try a free sample. After the tour you can enjoy a cocktail or purchase a bottle to take home. The Small Batch White Rye Whiskey, Market Alley Gin and Penn Square Vodka are among the distillery’s best sellers.
If you are more of a wine drinker, you can visit The Vineyard at Grandview. It is a family owned vineyard in northwest Lancaster County. The vineyard grows several varieties of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. They began producing wines in 2009 and you can enjoy tours and tastings of their different wines. You can even bring a picnic and enjoy the beautiful grounds.
Lancaster County has 16 different Craft Beer Breweries. For beer lovers, there are lots of restaurants where you can sample local beers. We like Lancaster Brewing Company which has a microbrewery right inside the restaurant. Another option is going on a craft brew tour where you can visit several breweries in one day. The bus picks you up and drops you off, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost on country roads. It’s also a great opportunity to learn a bit more about the craft beer culture in Central Pennsylvania.
If all this foodie talk has whet your appetite and you’d like to visit Lancaster County, make sure to check out the options for lodging through this link for a unique and different getaway.