Archive for the ‘Lancaster area’ Category

The Finest (and Shadiest) Mini Golf Course in PA

July 21, 2013


Miniature golf in 90-degree heat doesn’t sound very appealing. But it’s a whole different story when the course is in the middle of a mature forest, thoughtfully designed around mountain streams, waterfalls, caves, and floral landscaping that rivals Longwood Gardens. I missed Village Greens Miniature Golf in my PA book travels, but I’m endorsing it wholeheartedly now after my parents and niece visited this past week and attested to both its shady coolness (the seniors) and its overall coolness (the 9-year-old). It’s in Strasburg, near all the train attractions, and about a 20-minute drive from downtown Lancaster. One course (Orange) has 18 holes and the other (Gold) 23 holes — either way, you’ll pay less than $8 a person and get a challenging and unique experience out of it. Cap your game with a stop at the air-conditioned Snack Shoppe for soft pretzels and thick milkshakes.



February 12, 2013


In honor of these fried-dough and sugar treats, here is a photo from the Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill.

Fastnacht is German for “eve of the fast” and stems from the Christian tradition of making “fat cakes” before abstaining from sugar and fat during Lent. German immigrants, many of whom settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, first brought the tradition to the United States.

Traditional fastnachts use flour made from potatoes and are deep-fried in lard (though many cooks now substitute vegetable or canola oil), then dipped in molasses and dusted with sugar. The tradition is not unlike Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, or Pascki Day in Polish communities, but I like the local PA folklore that surround the fastnacht, like the notion that the oil they are fried in has magical powers or that the person who eats the last one will end up an old maid or bachelor.

Bakeries all over southeastern Pennsylvania will open their doors earlier than usual today, with the expectation of selling thousands of fastnachts by mid-day. Churches, fire houses, and schools also sell their own variations. Even though the ingredients are always they same, everyone has fixed ideas about what makes a perfect specimen. Here is a story I wrote for Coca-Cola’s website, which offers a little more history on the fastnacht, plus an accompanying (and decidedly non-traditional) recipe for mini-chocolate cake doughnuts.

It’s a blissful day for the doughnut-loving consumer.

Doughnuts and Creamed Beef at Oregon Dairy

October 8, 2012

Besides apples and gorgeous foliage, fall brings to mind big breakfasts. One of the best breakfasts my family and I ever had was at Oregon Dairy in Lititz, right off Rte. 222.

(Footnote: I don’t say that casually — Pennsylvania has lots of excellent breakfast spots.)

We loved that every breakfast platter came with a hockey puck-sized doughnut and glass of fresh milk, and that a huge plate of eggs, home fries, and toast costs less than a gallon of gas in California right now. The dairy-themed playground next door is a perfect way for the kids to burn off all those calories and for adults to rest and enjoy the Amish countryside while nursing their pecan-waffle food comas.

On weekdays, the dining room is often filled with retired Mennonite folks, bibles in hand; tour buses like the Friday and Saturday all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets ($8.25, kids half price). This month, there’s also a corn maze to add to the fun.

Keeping cool at the Turkey Hill Experience

July 9, 2012

If you can’t be near the ocean or floating in a pool during this insanely hot summer, air-conditioned indoor entertainment is the next best thing. The Turkey Hill Experience near Lancaster does a decent job of keeping all ages happy, whatever the temperature hits outside. Located in a huge former silk mill just off Route 30 in Columbia, PA, it’s part indoor playground and part window into the world of ice cream-making. Kids can milk mechanical cows and free dive into a rainbow ball pit. Teens can learn about homogenization and pasteurization, create their own ice cream flavor, then make a commercial about it. And grown-ups can help themselves to plentiful samples of ice cream and iced tea and sneak off to the blast freezer when noise levels get too high. When I was there, Eagles Touchdown Sundae was one of eight showcase flavors; more recently, they were serving up Chocolate Whoopie Pie ice cream. I dare you not to try it.

There has been some griping about the $11.50 entrance fee, but discount coupons can usually be found at local grocery stores or via two-for-one Internet deals. If I lived within an hour’s drive of Columbia, I would consider buying a year’s pass for $30. My 3- and 7-year-old visited last summer and they still talk about the experience. Highlights: the old-time milk truck, the indoor slide, and that big rainbow ball pit. This summer, I’m sure the blast freezer would also make the list.

5 Ways to Celebrate the Pretzel

May 31, 2012

Philadelphians eat about twelve times as many pretzels as the average consumer does. It’s not surprising — soft pretzels are one of Pennsylvania’s greatest products, though they often get overshadowed by the glitzier cheesesteak and Italian hoagie.
Pretzels (scandalously) didn’t make Parade magazine’s recent Memorial Day list of all-American classic foods, but I miss them desperately when I am out of the area (those mall kiosks just aren’t the same). Here are some favorite stops along the state’s unique pretzel network. I’ll save the sublime ice cream and pretzel cone combo for another post.

• The Sturgis empire. Julius’ side runs America’s first commercial pretzel bakery in Lititz, where visitors can check out the original 19th-century ovens and learn how to twist dough. Brother Tom’s side operates the factory and outlet store about 25 miles away in Shillington. Here, you can sample all types of pretzels, from cinnamon-dusted to spicy jalapeno and buy huge tins at a discount (but there are no tours).

Philly Soft Pretzel Factory. This 14-year-old franchise has won a slew of awards, and its storefronts are everywhere from Chalfont to Reading. Plus, it had the audacity to invent the cheesesteak pretzel. So wrong, but so good.

• Hanover, Pa. The factory tour of Snyder’s of Hanover is a must – a front-row look at the conveyor belts and mammoth machines needed to mass-produce salty snack foods — but the smaller, more personal Revonah (Hanover spelled backwards) is also worth a stop.

• Don’t let the humble name fool you. Gettysburg’s lively Pub on the Square sells a terrific appetizer simply called Pretzel Twists. Served hot with marinara sauce and dusted with garlic, it’s a perfect way to carb-load after a day of biking or walking the battlefields.

• Sweet pretzels in Amish country. Pretzel purists may object to this one, but there’s something about the butter/sugar combo they slather on the dough that is heavenly. I don’t even know the name of the small shop that sells them, but it’s next to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area: Plain & Fancy Farm.

Sophisticated Lancaster

May 23, 2012

Sometimes you just might crave a little wine and cheese with that farm stay or funnel cake.

It’s Friday night and the lobby bar of the Lancaster Arts Hotel is packed with office workers sipping organic cosmopolitans and couples dressed for date night. Overnight guests wait amid mixed-media sculptures and floor-to-ceiling abstract paintings to check into the renovated tobacco warehouse. Next door, the John J. Jefferies restaurant serves lamb samosas and grass-fed bison tartare with microgreens to eager diners.

This isn’t the image most of us get when we think of Lancaster County. Amish-driven horse and buggies, Mennonite farm stands, and home-style buffets still dominate the surrounding landscape and serve as the cornerstone of the area’s tourism industry. In recent years, however, the area has upped its sophistication quotient in a big way, adding day spas, boutique hotels, expanded wineries, and elegant art galleries.

Lancaster Arts or the Cork Factory Hotel are good bases for such a venture: both are located in gorgeously renovated buildings within easy reach of the city center. Nearby at Penn Square, the Charles Demuth Museum is a rarely crowded homage to one of the country’s best watercolorists, while Fenz Restaurant is sleek and boisterous  and the go-to place for late-night goat-cheese pizza or truffle fries.

If you really want to avoid the horse-and-buggy vibe, the best town to visit is probably Lititz, a few miles north of Lancaster City.  Anchored by a girls’ boarding school on one side and a lovely park on the other, its main street is a haven of Victorian-era architecture, independent shops, and small museums.

Cap a Sophisticated Lancaster weekend with a visit to the peaceful Garden of Five Senses in Central Park (3 Nature’s Way, Lancaster) or a stop at Twin Brook Winery in Gap for samples of award-winning rose and chardonnay reserve.

There will always be time for chow-chow or shoo-fly pie on your next visit.