The vibrant scene in the city of Lancaster includes street musicians, vintage clothing shops, historic buildings, art galleries and lots of culinary spots, from Hammonds Pretzel Bakery (top left) to the Lancaster Central Market (bottom left). Photos by Stephen Walker; pretzel photo by Huong Fralin
The Lancaster countryside may be known for its Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbords and shoofly pies, but if you explore the city of Lancaster, you’ll find an eclectic mix of hip and historic restaurants and food venues.
Over the last 10 years or so, the city of about 60,000 has become an intriguing melting pot, with a dynamic eating, arts and shopping scene, and a strong locavore sensibility. Food-wise, there’s a little bit of everything, from upscale restaurants, chic coffee shops and Asian noodle bars to a pickle store and a pretzel factory.
The focal food spot is the Lancaster Central Market, which was established at the city’s founding in 1730 and is the country’s oldest farmers market. First operated as an open-air facility, the downtown market continues to be located in the building it’s occupied since 1889, a large, ornate brick-and-stone structure with terra-cotta towers. The market has evolved, and with more than 60 stalls it’s a combination of old and new. There are Amish and Mennonite farmers whose families go back decades, as well as newbie vendors selling artisan charcuterie, and ethnic stalls offering everything from Puerto Rican sandwiches to African chickpea cakes.
Here are some of the must-see, must-eat offerings (for a full directory, visit centralmarketlancaster.com/directory; the market is open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Friday, and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday):
The German Deli (Stand 1)
Top selections of sausage, ham, salami and German cheese can be found at Heidi and Henner Steinle’s stand, not to mention herring, dumplings, sauerkraut and more. Stop here if only to meet Heidi—a real character who loves to chat—and to buy a skinny and smoky salami stick to snack on while shopping.
Heidi Steinle of The German Deli is among the friendly proprietors at the market. Photo by Stephen Walker
Groff’s Vegetables (Stand 10),
Thomas Produce (Stand 14),
Stoner’s Homegrown Vegetables (Stand 20)
These are the longest-running produce stands in the market, operated by generations of local family farmers. The Groffs have been selling at the market since 1946; the Thomas clan has been coming since 1927; and the Stoner family wins the prize with 120 years.
Multiple generations of the Thomas family run their market produce stand. Photo by Stephen Walker
Havana Juice (Stand 11)
For lunch, opt for one of the ethnic stalls such as Havana Juice, owned by Cuban-born Rene Diaz, who cooks up big chunks of super-tender roast pork, along with flavorful rice and beans, and fried sweet plantains. To wash it all down, try pressed sugarcane juice, coconut water or a mamey smoothie made with the Latin American fruit.
Havana Juice owner Rene Diaz sells Cuban fare, including roast pork sandwiches and fruit smoothies. Photo by Stephen Walker
SweetHearts of Lancaster County (Stand 26)
An innocuous dipper, celery takes on a new life at this Lititz, Pennsylvania, company, which sells a meaty, less stringy and far more flavorful version of the veggie. The celery plants are “aged” for six weeks at 70 degrees, causing the outer stalks to rot and fall off, resulting in a sweet inner portion.
Long’s Horseradish (Stand 39)
The Longs have been making horseradish for a long time—since 1902, to be exact. Michael Long has been bottling it at the market and selling it there for the past 27 years, hand-grinding the hard root, adding vinegar and water, and scooping it into jars. “Horseradish is very versatile,” says Long, who suggests mixing it into barbecue sauce, meatloaf, deviled eggs or chicken salad, or coating it on roast beef while it cooks for an “amazing gravy.”
Stoltzfus Homestyle Bakery (Stand 52)
Daniel Stoltzfus, a friendly fellow and former farmer, sells sweets—including whoopie pies and the oblong-shaped doughnuts called Long Johns—from Achenbach’s Pastries, a longtime Lancaster-area bakery. (For a lighter sugar load, select a plain pretzel-shaped doughnut.) Stoltzfus also sells locally made preserved goods, such as jams, jellies, spiced watermelon rind and a terrific chow chow (pickled vegetable relish).
Linden Dale Farm (Stand 60)
With the help of their six children, Andrew and Mary Mellinger produce and sell a host of goat’s milk products, including cheese (chèvre, feta, Gouda, Romano and more), Swiss-style and Greek-style yogurts, and, of course, just the milk. It’s all accomplished on Linden Dale Farm, a seventh-generation operation that’s been in the Mellinger family since 1816. In 2005, Andrew and Mary sold their dairy cows and started building a herd of goats, and the results are delicious.
Goat’s milk products are the focus of Linden Dale Farm. Photo by Stephen Walker
Rooster Street Butcher (Stand 68)
Tony Page—a former chef at Emeril Lagasse’s Emeril’s Chop House at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem—and his wife, Kristina, own a whole-animal butcher shop and counter service restaurant in nearby Lititz, offering hormone- and antibiotic-free meats from local farms. (If you go, it’s a no-brainer—get a charcuterie plate.) The market stand sells fresh cuts, as well as the Pages’ housemade deli meats, sausages and cured products.
Rooster Street Butcher employee Amy Crystle with a bowl of homemade sausage. Photo by Stephen Walker
Breweries and Distilleries
Several of the facilities offer tours; check websites for details.
Wacker Brewing Co. is the oldest brewery in Lancaster. Courtesy photo
Before Prohibition, Lancaster County was a hub of beer brewing, due in part to an influx of German immigrants in the 19th century. The oldest and longest-running brewery in Lancaster, Wacker Brewing Co. (wackerbrewing.com) dates to 1853 and now operates a taproom in a circa 1900 tobacco warehouse, offering tastings of its classic German beers, as well as Belgian and English brews made in the basement below. In a unique setup, the brewery shares production and drinking space with Thistle Finch (thistlefinch.com), a craft distillery that turns out small-batch ryes, as well as gin and vodka.
Housed in another historic tobacco warehouse, Lancaster Brewing Co. (lancasterbrewing.com) operates a bar and restaurant above the beer-making operation, and you can watch the action below as you take on a tasting flight (don’t miss the Gold Star Pilsner and the Kölsch Ale).
The quirky Spring House Brewing Co. (springhousebeer.com) operates a brewery with arcade games in the loft above, as well as a taproom at another location.
Two of Lancaster’s newest handcrafted drink destinations, both of which opened in 2017, are Meduseld Meadery (meduseldmeadery.com), which produces mead, the ancient beverage made by fermenting honey with water and yeast, and Levengoods of Lancaster (levengoodcider.com), a cidery that serves up interesting versions, such as Bourbon Barrel Aged Cider and Dry Cranberry Cider.
Food Factories and Shops
Cedric Barberet—a former executive pastry chef at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, club, who also made Trump’s seven-tier, 5-foot-high wedding cake when he married Melania in 2005—now owns Bistro Barberet & Bakery (barberetlancaster.com) in Lancaster. The French-trained Barberet, who more recently served as executive pastry chef at Philadelphia’s esteemed Le Bec-Fin and Buddakan restaurants, turns out gem-like confections at his chic, hot-pink bakery. An elegant bistro completes the swanky scene.
Google Maps hasn’t led you astray; there really is a pretzel factory at the end of a residential driveway. Hammonds Pretzel Bakery (hammondspretzels.com) occupies the adjoining garages of former owners William Lichty and his grandfather William Hammond, both of whom started making hand-rolled sourdough pretzels there in 1931. Lard has been replaced by soybean oil, but otherwise not much has changed as the congenial descendants of the two Williams operate the well-worn factory. The bakery doesn’t give tours, but you can peek through the windows and see the staff knead, cut, roll and twist the dough, and in the small shop you can watch the freshly baked pretzels slide en masse out of the drying oven before being packaged.
Lancaster Sweet Shoppe (lancastersweet shoppe.com) is the home of the Stroopie, the nickname for the Dutch stroopwafel, a waffled sandwich cookie filled with a layer of caramel. Aside from plain Stroopies and others dipped in chocolate, pecans, salted caramel or coconut, the sleek café sells chocolates made by Groff’s Candies, as well as scoops of local Pine View Dairy ice cream (and Stroopie ice cream sandwiches, of course). Get the flat, round cinnamony cookies hot off the waffle iron in the morning, or they can be warmed by resting one on the rim of a mug of hot coffee on-site or two doors down at Square One Coffee (squareonecoffee.com), an award-winning Lancaster micro-roaster.
There were about 30 confectionary companies in Lancaster at the end of the 19th century, including Miesse Candies (miessecandies.com), founded by Daniel Miesse in 1875. And although there have been seven owners since then, his signature caramels live on. Beyond the counters filled with caramels, buttercreams, mints, peanut butter cups and more lies the production facility, where proprietor Tracy Artus and her crew use equipment from the 1930s and ’40s to create more than 200 types of confections. Tours of the factory are $5 and must be arranged in advance.
The Horse Inn (horseinnlancaster.com) is a former speakeasy that’s located in an upstairs loft with a lot of historic character. A chalkboard lists the “farmers & friends” who’ve contributed ingredients to the night’s menu, and the food is quite good, as is the jazz trio that performs on Tuesday and Saturday evenings.
For a more formal dining experience, the Lancaster Arts Hotel’s John J. Jeffries restaurant (johnjjeffries.com) is seriously committed to serving local, sustainable and organic cuisine. The owners of the restaurant are also partners in a nearby ranch, and dishes made from its grass-fed beef are on the menu, including a delicate small-plate of shaved raw dry-aged beef sirloin served with an herb relish and thinly sliced scallops.
Described on its website as an “intimate, farm-driven, urban cookery” with a “refined rusticity” in its food and décor, Ma(i)son (maisonlancaster.com) is another worthwhile destination. On his “Best of 2016” list, the Food Network’s Alton Brown cited Ma(i)son as one of his top two favorite restaurants in the country. Ma(i)son has a more casual sister restaurant called Luca (lucalancaster.com), which showcases Italian dishes made with local ingredients.
Where to Stay
A room at the Cork Factory Hotel. Courtesy photo
As its name suggests, the Cork Factory Hotel (corkfactoryhotel.com) is located in a 19th-century cork factory, where a clever renovation combines the amenities of a boutique hotel with an edge of chic industrialism. Beyond the cork-walled lobby, the factory’s former boiler room has been transformed into a handsome bar and restaurant, and the guest rooms sport high ceilings with unfinished wood beams.
The Lancaster Arts Hotel (lancasterartshotel.com) is a former tobacco warehouse with a hip vibe that’s home to nearly 300 pieces of local art. Two of them—giant leather chairs with backs that look like tobacco leaves—are a focal point of the lobby.
Contributing editor Carole Sugarman lives in Chevy Chase.