LANCASTER, PA – Amish buggies and all-you-can-eat buffets. Those are the images that have long defined Lancaster County for most outsiders – with the added bonus of outlet shopping.
And there is ample truth to feed the cliches along the tourist honky-tonk of Lincoln Highway, where faux windmills spin over signs touting shoofly pies, and seniors come by the busload to gorge on bargain smorgasbords of brown-buttered noodles, gloppy gravy platters, and dry roast chicken.
But there’s another, far more sophisticated food culture finally sprouting through Lancaster’s famously fertile earth. From the Italian red corn and fraises des bois strawberries blossoming on Tom Culton’s farm of rare heirloom wonders in Silver Spring, to the whole-animal cookery at John J. Jeffries restaurant, a thriving beer culture, a bustling historic Central Market, and a growing downtown scene of food artisans, there is a palpable new excitement here when it comes to the pleasures of the table, and the drinks beyond.
“Lancaster is totally happening now,” says Andrew Martin, who in December opened a rye distillery called Thistle Finch in a rehabbed old tobacco warehouse. Set back on an obscure downtown side street, and marked only by a black-painted bird on the building’s exterior, a speakeasy-style bar open three nights a week pours cocktails with the spicy but smooth white liquor made just feet away in Martin’s handmade copper still.