All I’ve ever had in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is super-touristy food. I’ve only eaten in venues with (literally) busloads of tourists, so I was looking forward to digging deeper.
I’m not usually a B&B type of guy, but I figured that if I wanted to “go inside,” I needed to live inside. So I booked a room at the Old Stone Guesthouse (1599 Swan Road, Atglen, Pennsylvania; 888-642-9107), on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and prepared to relax into the simpler ways of centuries past (while, of course, relentlessly reporting on the experience with my flash audio recorder, seven-megapixel digital camera, and PowerBook, and guided via GPS navigation on my late-model Avis rental car blasting digital music through my DLO Transpod iPod Car Solution, and frequently checking email on my Treo). Ah, simplicity!
I think I may have startled Mrs. Stoltzfus as I crashed my way into her quaint premises with my Tasmanian Devil-ish whirlwind of gadgets, luggage, and road-trip manic brio. I tried to scale down and ratchet back, talk slower and less crazy, and say “Ma’am” a lot, but Mrs. Stolfzfus, in spite of her impeccable manners, couldn’t quite conceal her startledness. If you try to book a room at this place and are asked to provide references, you can blame me.
Actually, Mrs. Stoltzfus and I got along great once we got to know each other. Simple as she comes off, her shrewd gaze misses nothing. And her breakfasts are very good. The photos tell the tale. (For shots of the Old Stone Guesthouse itself, see their website.)
This is a local dish called “baked oatmeal,” a wonderful dessert (even after dinner) that can be made from rolled or steel-cut oats. Mrs. Stoltzfus uses rolled oats.
But that’s just breakfast, leaving two meals (or more!) to grab in the surrounding area. So each morning I’d drive off the farm (bidding adieu to the 7,000 turkeys, which looked surprisingly erudite with their craned necks and courtly wattles) to find what I could find.
First, the torture. Mrs. Stoltzfus, an ardent churchgoer, prohibits alcohol on her premises. And though I’m not a big drinker, the injunction gave me a wild and insatiable thirst. So every day, as I’d pass the beer store on the main road at the turnoff for Old Stone Guesthouse, I’d yen mightily. Problem is, you can’t buy individual bottles of beer in Pennsylvania. You can’t even buy six-packs. Only cases. And I had no way of keeping a case of beer chilled without triggering Mrs. Stoltzfus’s watchful eye. So several times a day I’d eye the beer store wistfully as I drove in and out.
The closest excellent beer bars are the Drafting Room (635 North Pottstown Pike, Exton, Pennsylvania; 610-363-0521) and, even better, Black Angus (Route 272, Adamstown, Pennsylvania; 717-484-4386), the superb steakhouse of Stoudt’s Brewing, maker of fine beers (mostly lagers). Black Angus also makes some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. But I didn’t get to either. Instead, in keeping with my Simpler Living aspirations, I went dry and just hit local buffet places where Mrs. Stoltzfus said I’d eat with the locals.
This was another time of guided eating rather than pure chowhounding, but it’s a vast rural area with well-hidden commercial pockets. It doesn’t lend itself to the driving-around school of free chowhounding.
First, a note about names. Yoder, Dienner, and Stoltzfus are the Smith, Jones, and Martin of Pennsylvania Dutch surnames. Most restaurants (as well as other businesses) have one of these three surnames, and though no two identically named places, given the rather hermetic gene pool, can be conclusively deemed “unrelated,” one must avoid falling into the “I think I’ve heard of that place” fallacy. The Dienner’s rotisserie chicken at Reading Market is not the same as Dienner’s buffet. The Yoder’s du jour is a whole other Yoder’s. As with Blarney Stones, cultural continuity belies shared ownership.
As mentioned in my previous report, Yoder’s was a buffet, frequented by locals, with food dismayingly similar to what’s served at tourist traps. My second night, I hit Dienner’s, which was a bit more touristy and actually a little better. The cooking is as charming (and as heavy) as it appears in these photos.
Really, it’s not a tourist/local thing. Even Mrs. Stoltzfus, a talented and caring chef who’s lived a long life on an isolated farm, uses shortcuts like Cool Whip and juice-drink crystals. Pennsylvania Dutch food is inherently unrefined, so the lines blur more easily. And you know what? To use a cliché I despise, it’s all good. There are times I’d rather have commercial-tasting buttery noodles than yet another Chilean sea bass or chocolate mousse cake.
As a postscript to my last report, I’d like to try to sneak in—over the exasperated pique of my editors—what I deem a vitally Important Innovation: BuffetCam, capturing in a mere 20 seconds the breadth of the steam-table offerings at Yoder’s Restaurant in New Holland. Yes, it’s out of focus, bumpy, and too fast. Yes, I missed an entire row of buffet. Yes, I almost took out a startled fellow diner as I shot. And yes, my sneakers are beyond hideous. But I am stoked to giddiness by the possibilities of BuffetCam, and hope you appreciate this new technical marvel, even in this experimental stage of development: Movie file.
One nonfood note—I spent the most relaxing afternoon imaginable wafting down the breathtakingly beautiful Brandywine River in a kayak rented from Northbrook Canoe Co. (1810 Beagle Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania; 800-898-2279). It was absolutely perfect. They also rent canoes and inner tubes. This is, I’ve found, an ideal pastime for between-meal hours in the midst of rigorous chow tours.
Chowhound published the following report six years ago, and it didn’t survive the transition to the new design. But since things change slowly in Amish country, some of this info is likely still useful, so I’m including it here for those planning trips.
Pennsylviania Dutch Secrets
Here are a few insider tips for eating in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, most of which I’m pretty sure you’ve not heard of. If, like me, you’re weary of the Disney Worldish Shartlesville Hotel or Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant, where tour buses crank out camera-toting diners by the score, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are plenty of places that aren’t commercialized.
Especially interesting on the following list is the church. Church dinners are still a tradition in this region, and they offer some of the best, most authentic eating in this area. You’ll find more info on church dinners and other special community meals in the community calender page of the Reading Eagle.
For what it’s worth, the in-the-know order at church dinners and other nontouristy haunts is pig’s stomach. But also keep an eye out for chicken and waffles; food historians have been struggling mightily to determine the origins of this dish, but it’s been served as long as anyone can remember here in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It serves the snobs right for shunning this homely-but-delicious cuisine for so long!
It’s easy to forget what a short trip this area is from New York City. I think I’ll jump in my chowmobile tomorrow and go get some stewed dried corn. And apple dumplings. And good home fries. And pies. And ice cream. And fried stuff made by people who know how to fry. And apple butter. And (I can hardly contain myself) noodles! Oh, God, how I miss noodles!!!
Many thanks to saxophonist Ron Bertolet and his parents for providing this info. If anyone has comments (or other tips), please leave them on our Pennsylvania Message Board.
Virginville, PA 19564
252 West Main Street
Kutztown, PA 19530
Scrapple for breakfast and other good stuff (closes early).
Third & Main streets
Shartlesville, PA 19554
3650 Belleman’s Church Road
Mohrsville, PA 19541
(610) 926-4280 or (610) 916-1044
Shady Maple Smorgasbord
1352 Main Street
East Earl, PA 17519
Particularly good for scrapple!
2811 Lincoln Highway East
Ronks, PA 17572
Deitsch Eck Restaurant
Old Routes 22 and 143
Lenhartsville, PA 19534
The following four may be less obscure, but Ron’s parents still think they’re worth a try:
Yoder’s Restaurant & Buffet
14 South Tower Road
New Holland, PA 17557
Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant
Route 772 East
Intercourse, PA 17534
Eat in what looks like a farmhouse.
Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant
150 Eastbrook Road
Smoketown, PA 17576
Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant
Route 340 East
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505