Friday, September 09, 2011

Where the Locals Eat - Lancaster County, PA

I have been asked by readers over the years what buffet do the locals eat at in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In this area, locals could mean just people who live in the area or the Amish and the Mennonites - the Pennsylvania Dutch that have made this area an attraction for people from all over the country to visit. I generally answer more in terms of where the Pennsylvania Dutch eat rather than where the local folks eat - as local residents are going to eat everywhere that is local to them.

I have often said in my articles about buffets that specialize in ethnic foods, that if you see people of that ethnic background eating at a restaurant, that is a good indication that the food is fairly authentic in its preparation. There are many buffets in Lancaster County. There are just a few that you will see Amish and Old Order Mennonites eating at on a fairly consistent basis.

The one buffet that strikes me as most frequented by the Amish and other Pennsylvania Dutch people is The Family Cupboard located on Route 340 in the village of Bird-in-Hand. I recently wrote of a visit to this buffet with an updated review so I am not going to go into the details of the buffet and the food again. When we were there this past July, there was an Amish family dining there. When we were back again in mid-August, there was a large group of ten Amish eating there. In the rear of the restaurant's parking lot there is a stable shed to tie up horse and buggies. While this is common at many restaurants and businesses in Lancaster County, including Walmart, you do not always see them being used. Here at Family Cupboard, they are frequently in use.

Now, I am not saying that if you want to gawk at the Amish, go to Family Cupboard. These people are not an attraction for the amusement of the tourists. They are very hard working and devout people who have committed their entire way of life to their religious beliefs who are trying to go about their lives. They do, for the most part, understand what makes them a curiosity, and those I have met are very friendly as long as you are not rude - or staring. The point that I AM making here is that if you are looking to eat well prepared, local, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking you can be pretty certain of that if the Amish are eating there.

It actually surprises me a bit that they are here at this restaurant so frequently, as it does attract a good number of tourists as well. Mostly, the Amish, unless they have business to do, will avoid the tourist places. As I said in my recent article, you are not likely going to see Amish at Millers Smorgasbord, as it is heavily frequented by tourists. They do come to Family Cupboard however.

What other buffets do the Amish dine at? I have seen Amish at Dienners on Route 30. The couple who run Dienners are related by family to the couple who run Family Cupboard. The recipes are the same and often the same dishes are served at both. Dienners closes very early - around 6 every night except Fridays when they are open until 8, and this may be one reason why the Amish frequent here as well - most tourists are not going to dinner at a restaurant that closes at 6 pm. I have seen Amish (though not often) and more Mennonites at Bird-in-Hand Restaurant and Buffet, also on Route 340 in Bird-in-Hand. While Shady Maple attracts many local people - many local people - only occasionally will you see Amish eating there (though I have seen them there). More often you will see Mennonites there. Yoders is another buffet/restaurant that is mostly local people with few tourists, I have infrequently seen Amish there but I have seen Mennonites. There really is no "off-season" for tourists due to the large number of outlet malls in Lancaster County, but in the winter months you will see the Amish come out more to places that they tend to avoid during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Rarely, will you see any of the locals - Amish, Mennonite, or just folks who live in the area - eating at the Family Style restaurants. I never say never - anything is possible.

So if you want to eat where the Amish eat, try Family Cupboard. If you don't see anyone, don't ask where they are. Again, they are not there for you. The restaurant does not arrange for them to be there. This is not Disney with a large mouse walking around to entertain you and when not seen, someone asks, "Hey, where's da Mouse? How come he ain't here? You know, I come to see da freakin' Mouse!" If they are there, they are looking to have a quiet and private meal without interruption. Politely, smile and go about your own business and enjoy your own good meal.

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