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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Breakfasts, Buffets, and Beery Yearnings

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 Hotel
Main Street
Virginville, PA 19564
(610) 562-7072

Fancy Pantry
252 West Main Street
Kutztown, PA 19530
(610) 683-8642
Scrapple for breakfast and other good stuff (closes early).

Haag’s Hotel
Third & Main streets
Shartlesville, PA 19554
(610) 488-6692

Belleman’s Church
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
(717) 354-8222
Particularly good for scrapple!

Miller’s Smorgasbord
2811 Lincoln Highway East
Ronks, PA 17572
(717) 687-6621

Deitsch Eck Restaurant
Old Routes 22 and 143
Lenhartsville, PA 19534
(610) 562-8520

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
(717) 354-4748

Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant
Route 772 East
Intercourse, PA 17534
(717) 768-8156
Eat in what looks like a farmhouse.

Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant
150 Eastbrook Road
Smoketown, PA 17576
(717) 394-7111

Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant
Route 340 East
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505
(717) 768-4400

Plats Perdus

When you’ve spent hours preparing a dish only to have it turn on you like an evil beast, what do you do? While there’s something satisfyingly maudlin about throwing everything in the trash/compost bin and starting over (or just ordering in), nothing beats the pure glee of stripping the dish for parts and creating something unique. The eponymous host of Stephencooks.com recently wrote an engaging blog post about his latest phoenix-from-the-ashes experience: turning hopelessly burned oven-dried tomatoes into divine-sounding charred tomato pesto.

Food blogs are great resources for these sorts of tips, which mainstream magazines and papers tend to shy away from (it’s not pretty or lovely to talk about burned, broken, or botched food, after all). A few weeks ago Adam at the Amateur Gourmet posted a cute and instructive poem to help people deal with shattered dreams of flaky pastry:

When your pie crust won’t roll out/ and your dreams and hopes start to tumble/ Throw those shreds right in the trash/ and make yourself a crumble.

I had a failed-pie episode of my own last week, though I went forward with the baking of the crust before finally admitting it was a lost cause. After the monstrous thing cooled (there was no filling —I had been baking it solo for use in a savory pie), I calmed myself down by reciting Adam’s poem in my head. But the contrarian in me couldn’t bring myself to follow his dictum to the letter: I ended up saving the crust, crumbling it up and sticking it in a jar once it had cooled. A few days later, I subbed those bits for half of the bread crumbs in James Beard’s yummy apple brown betty recipe, and the result was a nice brown-buttery flavor that was ever so slightly reminiscent of these fantastic spoon cookies.

Have you had any luck with “salvage food?” What new recipes have you concocted after botching a dish (or seen described in blogsville)?

Bon Appetit’s 50 Delicious Years

Bon Appetit celebrates its 50th year of publication with this month’s issue, which contains some real gems amid a field of mostly predictable retrospectives.

In addition to the obligatory “Timeline of Stories We Have Covered Over 50 Years As Selected and Summarized by One or More Junior Editorial Assistants” feature, the issue sports a low-key but deceptively cool cover. Fifty different photos of various food items, laid out in a grid, actually act as postage stamp-sized gateways to 50 different recipes housed thoughtfully on the magazine’s website. It’s a neat way to display a tremendous density of information with the help of the Internet.

Also notable: the magazine offers a fifty-year recap of the evolution of American bread culture. It opens with a brilliant counterpoint: the father of the author’s excitement upon discovering non-Wonder Bread 1956 France, stacked against the excitement of a nine-year-old tasting Wonder Bread for the first time in the present day.

Butter on a Stick

Back in the late eighties, we had the fine fortune to attend the Minnesota State Fair, in all its cheese-curd and fried-dough glory. Since then, what we remember most was how all the classic fair food you could imagine was available on a stick. Corn dog on a stick! Corn on the cob on a stick! Even pickle on a stick!

Well, that was then. This year, Teo at Belly du Jour is sharing the mind-boggling melange of food-on-a-stick offered at the recently concluded 2006 fair. Hot dogs as long as your arm, chocolate-dipped cheesecake, hickory-smoked turkey legs, catfish, pork egg rolls, wild-rice corn dogs on a stick, sure. But it takes true Midwestern genius to move into teriyaki ostrich, deep-fried Snickers bars, shrimp toast, porcupine meatballs, spaghetti, alligator, frozen grapes and yes, the crowning glory, hot dish on a stick [see previous post below on the glories of hot dish on a stick].

About the only fattening thing not on a stick is butter —but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of it on display. In fact, the very first job of Audrey Mohr, aka Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the goodwill ambassador from the Minnesotan dairy industry who’s crowned at the fair, is “to sit in a rotating cooler for nearly eight hours on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair to have her likeness sculpted in a 90-pound block of butter,” according to a press release from the Midwest Dairy Association. The bust is then put on display in a refrigerated room, open to visitors throughout the fair as a monument to local dairy-fed pulchritude. Oh Princess Kay, Princess Kay, you can rule the Land O’ Lakes for us any day.

Foodie Wedding of the Year?

Leave it to a chef to throw a foodie wedding to end all weddings. NYC chef David Bouley (known best for the restaurant Danube and Bouley Bakery & Market, both in Manhattan) marked his marriage last month in France with a five-day extravaganza of guests, food and wine from around the world.

The wedding was held in the Loire Valley in August, at two chateaus rented for the occasion. Slashfood has the breakdown of the weekend, which included a staff of 20 and two chefs flown in from New York and Barcelona. A chef from Kyoto hand carried fresh wasabi and ginko, another guest drove from Barcelona with 11 kg of fresh tuna, while a guest from New York traveled over with a large bottle of 1990 Nuit St. Georges Burgundy, hoping security would let him onto the plane with his precious cargo.

The New York Times (requires registration) quotes the groom’s mother as saying “I’m not the least bit surprised by this week at all. This is the kind of thing I have learned to expect from David.”

Fair enough, but how do you top it? For their silver wedding anniversary they are going to have to commandeer a small country and buy up the entire annual truffle production of France. And let’s devoutly hope the marriage lasts longer than the wedding.

Deep Fried Tofu Box . . . With Lid

If you order the age tofu at Minako, don’t expect a few tastefully arranged cubes of fried tofu. They serve up a hollowed-out tofu box the size of an external hard drive, deep fried and filled with seasoned soy sauce and chopped scallions. It even has a deep-fried lid. Even a mechanical engineer won’t be able to eat it neatly with chopsticks, says Melanie Wong, but it tastes luscious even after it falls apart. The top is battered and crunchy, and the bottom soft, reaching near-gooeyness where the soy sauce has soaked through the batter. The sauce is potent and deliciously salty–and the box is big. Share it with a group if you can. Check out Melanie’s stunning photo.

Also recommended is a special of house-cured sake (salmon) sashimi with house-made honey-flavored pickled plum. Attentive, masterful curing gives the excellent cut of salmon just a little more firmness and flavor, and it’s made even more lovely by the mild, delicately sweet-and-tart pickled plums. If you like those, they apparently have some fine 1982 vintage pickled plums for you to try.

Minako Organic Japanese Restaurant [Mission]
2154 Mission St., San Francisco
415-864-1888
Locater

Board Links
Minako Organic, San Francisco

Tasty Japanese Small Plates

If you order right, you can get a variety of great dishes from Yume-ya at a surprisingly reasonable price. Chowhounds avoid the sushi, sashimi, and grilled dishes, but brothy, stewed dishes are good bets, and the fried stuff is excellent. Melanie Wong likes kabocha (pumpkin) croquettes the best, with golden-brown, crackly panko breading and a soft, creamy filling of silken-textured pumpkin puree. Dip them in the tart and savory tonkatsu sauce to cut through the sweetness and fried richness. Agedashi mochi, a special, features masterfully prepared dashi with a subtle and haunting flavor. And one of the best parts: the bill for two, including five dishes, dessert, tea, and tax, is around $29.

Yume-ya [South Bay]
formerly Thai Angel
150 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
408-530-8156
Locater

Board Links
Update on Yume-ya in Sunnyvale

Blue Hill at Stone Barns Revisited: Late Summer Showcase

Simple pleasures abound this time of year at Blue Hill at Stone, where gorgeous farm-fresh produce is prepared with skill and minimal fuss. Lunch–three courses for $42, four choices per course–is a fine option that also offers visitors a stunning glimpse of the surrounding farmland.

Tomatoes, as you’d expect, are abundant and put to good use, with house-made cavatelli and basil, or in a bread salad with tuna (beautifully cooked sous-vide) and green and purple basil, reports chowcito. Slices of Stone Barns chicken–tender, juicy, and glistening like jewels–is served atop quinoa, says SLO (preparations change frequently, but this dish might also feature patty pan squash, corn, and greens). Also recommended: bean salad (enriched with house-cured lardo), corn soup (with cod croquettes and corn relish), and a salad of tender greens topped with a fried egg.

Not so summery but richly satisfying: meltingly tender meatloaf, a charcuterie plate of spicy and sweet meats, and Blue Hill’s signature warm chocolate bread pudding.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns [Westchester County]
630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills, NY
914-366-9600
Map

Board Links
Blue Hill–Stone Barns Brunch [Moved from the Manhattan Board]
Brunch for 1 yr anniversary

Jumbo Tacos on a Sidewalk in Spanish Harlem

On 116th Street, a lady from Guerrero presses platter-sized corn tortillas to order, tosses them onto a griddle, and puts together fresh, oversize tacos for $2.50 each, reports midtown diner. Working on the sidewalk in the shade of a pair of umbrellas, she fills the warm tortillas with your choice of four or five meat fillings (carnitas, chicken, etc.), a sprinkling of shredded Oaxacan cheese, and homemade salsas, including a brightly flavored green salsa studded with chunks of avocado. Also available: sliced fruit from the nearby market and sangria-flavored soda and other soft drinks.

Taco vendor [Spanish Harlem]
E. 116th St. west of 2nd Ave., outside Minaya Fruit Market, Manhattan
Map

Board Links
Best street food in NYC

Superior Onion Rings at Top Dog in Cos Cob, CT

The dogs are fine but the onion rings kill at Top Dog, says adamclyde. Crisp, flavorful, substantial–“man, they are good.” Others love the dogs, especially with chili, and fries, both regular and sweet potato.

Top Dog [Fairfield County]
118 River Rd. Ext., near E. Putnam Ave., Cos Cob, CT
203-661-0573
Map

Board Links
awesome onion rings at Top Dog in Greenwich