Bird-In-Hand Is Better

13 food plateLinda Burton posting from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania traveling from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Trenton, New Jersey – Buttery new potatoes with skins. Sweet-corn casserole. Bright-green peas. Kraut and sausage. Chicken pie. Shepherd’s pie. Ham and scalloped potatoes. I was walking the center aisle of a Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbord, dipping a smidge of everything onto my plate. Ham balls? There was no more room, well, maybe one. The salad bar was to my left, the dessert bar to my right; I bypassed both, stopping at the bread bar for fresh-baked rolls. Then to my booth by the window, through a silver-haired crowd in a room filled 13 horse purplewith happy talk. Tour buses waited in the parking lot; seniors were traveling today. The weather is still tolerably good; family traffic has slowed with kids in school; now’s the time to wander the hills and open farm lands that make up the happiest place I’ve ever seen. I was happy, that’s for sure; fresh vegetables on my plate, locally grown and simply cooked. Across the road, two horses grazed behind a white fence; one wore a purple blanket, I wondered why. An Amish buggy, horse-pulled at a rapid clip, went by on the highway, ah, that’s it. The purple-blanket horse just finished a buggy trip and was in cool-down mode. Should I go back 13 buggythrough the smorgasbord for a second round? Some shoo-fly pie? It was tempting, but no; the drive ahead to Trenton would be intense; dessert would make me sleepy, and soft. I flipped through my Lancaster County guidebook, and sighed. Too many potatoes? No, too many things I’d miss today. Is this a come-back place? Is this a place I’d recommend for the senior crowd, and for every family with kids? I give it an “A,” for absolutely.

13 farmlandLancaster County is very popular with tourists these days. But back in the 18th and 19th centuries, it attracted German farmers – both for the religious freedom offered by William Penn, and the rich soil and mild climate of the area. The farming industry is strong today; there are over 5,000 farms in the county, devoted to dairy, food, and livestock-raising; almost half of the county’s land is zoned for agriculture. As to 13 shoo fly pietourism, “I brake for Shoofly Pie” is the state slogan! Tourism in the area began right after the Civil War, but it didn’t really take off until the 1920s, when the Lincoln Highway was built. 13 witnessThank show biz for the next phases: the 1955 Broadway musical Plain and Fancy brought many visitors; and the 1985 movie Witness pumped the area even more. Remember Harrison Ford, the Philadelphia detective (John Book) who protected the Old Order Amish boy (Samuel Lapp) who had witnessed a murder? He fell in love with the boy’s widowed mother (Rachel Lapp); the movie won two Oscars and intrigued movie-goers about the Amish way of life. Lancaster County tourism benefitted greatly.

13 bird in hand signBird-in-Hand is an unincorporated community of about 400 in Lancaster County, with a large Amish and Mennonite population. It was the setting for that 1955 Broadway musical I mentioned, Plain and Fancy. Bird-In-Hand is on the list of “delightfully named towns” in Pennsylvania Dutch country; as are Intercourse, Lititz, Mount Joy, and Paradise. The Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord, where I’m enjoying my new potatoes and chicken pie today, is run by the third-generation of the Smucker family; they started with a small 30-room motel in 1968, and an adjoining coffee 13 sign plainshop. The coffee shop expanded into a 145-seat restaurant in 1970; an indoor swimming pool was added in the 1980s; the buffet in the 1990s. The Smucker family’s decision to cater to tourists has paid off handsomely; businesses are booming all around and many have an Amish theme, such as buggy rides, and crafts.

I flipped to Attractions in my Lancaster County guidebook. Amish Buggy Rides; catch a buggy ride in Ronks, visit an Amish farm, travel the scenic back roads, enjoy the petting barnyard. There are buggy rides at Bird-In-Hand, and at Intercourse. AAA Buggy 13 buggy covered bridgeRides offers a 5-mile ride through a covered bridge into back country and a farm tour; Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides take you to Plain & Fancy Farm and offer 7 routes and 20 options. Abe’s Buggy Rides (the original, started in 1967) tell you the history of the Amish; an ad for The Amish Farm and House tells of guided farmhouse tours (house built 1805), a 15-acre farm visit (farm est 1715), and an authentic one-room school at America’s first Amish heritage site – do this one in a 14-passenger bus, in Lancaster. The Amish Village ad promises a guided tour of an 1840 farmhouse and 12-acre village grounds, in Strasburg.

13 balloonThat’s just the first page of Attractions; next I see Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, Balloon Rides, Biblical Tabernacle at the Mennonite Information Center, Miniature Golf, Sports Emporium, Dutch Wonderland family amusement park. Can you see the all-ages appeal?

There’s the Choo Choo Barn at Traintown, the Doll Outlet at Ronks; a Christmas Tree farm at 13 z cow milkingLitiz, and a working farm at Paradise, where you can milk a cow, bottle-feed a calf, and collect eggs. Stop at George’s Furniture and Woodshop Tours to learn the furniture craft; stop at Intercourse Pretzel Factory and learn how to twist pretzels. In an ad for Kitchen Kettle Village, a silver-haired lady smiles beside a giant gingerbread man; in an ad for Eldretch Pottery are pictures of glistening “Pennsylvania German inspired salt-glazed stoneware and redware.”

Visit the National Toy Train Museum, National Watch and Clock Museum, Quilt Museum, 13 z turkey hillRailroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Robert Fulton Birthplace. Watch award-winning cheese made at September Farm Cheese at Honey Brook, buy local bolognas and mustards. An ad for Turkey Hill Experience at Columbia promises an “interactive family experience” where you learn how ice cream is made, and enjoy the samples. Go to Stoudt’s Brewery, the Susquehanna Glass Factory, the Wolf Sanctuary, and Zip Line Canopy Tours at Refreshing Mountain.

From Attractions I flipped through Golf Courses (you can book golf packages at several resort hotels); Museums (historic homes, Civil War, clocks, quilts, railroads); Theaters, Tours, and Vineyards; I stopped to study the Theater pages. The Christmas Show is now 13 z noahplaying at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, where they stage over 300 live performances a year in their 1,600-seat theater. Half-Stitched is the musical comedy now playing on the Bird-In-Hand Stage next door to the restaurant I’m sitting in; you can book lodging and meals along with your theater tickets. Get dinner and entertainment at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater, they do Broadway musicals; there’s also the Fulton Theater (a National Historic Landmark in Lancaster); the Lancaster County Comedy Show, and the comedy-only Rainbow Dinner Theatre in Paradise. At the Sight and Sound Theatres in Strasburg, you can watch the Bible come to life – in the Noah production, dozens of animals surround you on a 300-foot wrap-around stage.

Do you want to walk, fly, or be ushered around? The Amish Country Tours go through the farmland you saw in the movie Witness; certified guides offer insights into Amish life. Dutch Country Helicopters takes you up and over the sprawling countryside. In the town of Lancaster, take a Historic Walking Tour; or a Ghost Tour. I see listings for the Mennonite Information Center, New Holland Agriculture, Old Order Amish, and Smoketown Airport.

13 wineA dizzying array of choices; next the Vineyards category. Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. Mount Hope Estate & Winery. Thorn Hill Vineyards. Twin Brook Winery. Waltz Vineyards & Winery. “Find a wine to love,” is the inducement for visiting Nissley Vineyards at Bainbridge, offering a setting of 18th-century buildings, meadows, and grapevines. Enjoy a tasting of their estate wines and a tour of their stone-arch winery.

Shopping? The categories are Antiques, Artisans, Farmers Markets, Outlets, Sweets & Treats, and include everything from Antiques Capital USA to the Wilbur Chocolate Factory Store & Candy Americana Museum. Local shops? The Deerskin Leather Shop at Intercourse sells harness leather belts, moccasins, and handbags. The Dutchland Quilt Patch sells quilts, 13 z quiltof course; also wall hangings, pillows, and quilt patterns. Quilts are everywhere – Esh’s Handmade, Hannah’s Quilts, Lapp’s Quilts, Log Cabin Quilt Shop, Piece by Piece Quilt Shop. Furniture too – Country Home, Gish’s Amish Heirlooms, Martin’s Chair, Old Road Furniture, Peaceful Valley Amish. And unusual – Shoo-fly Pie Bakery, Lancaster Archery Supply, Olde Heritage Rootbeer, Smucker’s Gourds.

Have I left anything out? Yes, tons of things, but I need to get on the road. Last pages, Dining. I’m sitting in the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord; the ad says “homemade Pennsylvania Dutch recipes passed down from Grandma Smucker’s kitchen, using fruits and vegetables fresh from local farms.” Besides the Grand Smorgasbords, they have the Noah’s 13 z b in h f rArk Kid’s Buffet, and of course, you can order from the menu if you like. A large pleasant store as you enter and exit sells souvenirs and gifts.

Good’N Plenty Restaurant in Smoketown, family-style dining since 1969. At the Hometown Kitchen in Quarryville, converse with Amish servers as you watch Amish cooks prepare your food; at Intercourse Village Restaurant start with homemade soup and rolls and finish with warm apple dumplings. Revere Tavern in 13 z revere tavernParadise is a 1740 historic inn; steaks and seafood in a colonial atmosphere; for more historic dining, go to the Stockyard Inn Restaurant in Lancaster; the house was built in 1750; the original inn was owned by President Buchanan. Miller’s won the Reader’s Choice award for its smorgasbord; it’s been around since 1929 and claims to be Part History Lesson, Part Eatery. Any tastebud can be pleased around here; I see listings from Papa John’s Pizza to Plain & Fancy Farm; from McDonald’s to Sa La Thai. Maewyn’s Irish Pub? Or Sugarplums & Tea?

13 z fultonYou’re convinced by now, aren’t you? This really is everybody’s place. So, where do you stay? All the chains are here, then add the unusual, such as the Fulton Steamboat Inn (yes, a steamboat surrounded by farmland); Bed & Breakfast Country Inns, Campgrounds, and, the nicest touch, Farm Stay Homes.

When I got back to the car, the cats were sitting peacefully atop their pillows, eyeing the horses across the road. “I know,” I empathized. “It’s so pleasant here; it’s a shame we have to leave.”

It’s true what they say — a bird-in-hand is better than two of anywhere else.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Museums of Lancaster County