Monthly Archives: July 2009

BIHRest

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord

I’ve been visiting Lancaster County for over 30 years and most of my time has been spent in the village of Bird-in-Hand. The Amish family whom I’m friends with have a farm there, and I’ve eaten more meals at Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord than probably any thirty-something south of the Mason-Dixon Line. People often ask me what my favorite Lancaster County restaurant is, and my answer is always Bird-in-Hand. There are other restaurants in the county that do a few things bigger and better, but overall I find Bird-in-Hand to be the best. The food is always fresh and made from scratch (more on that later). I have many fond memories of eating there with my parents, my wife, and my Amish friends. On top of it all, they have some of the nicest and friendliest servers I’ve experienced in any restaurant in any place. Several of them know my wife and I and always make us feel at home with lively conversation. The servers are very competent and many have worked at the restaurant for 15 years or longer. They provide a level of customer service that is second to none anywhere in the United States.

Paul Smucker built the restaurant in April 1968 as a coffee shop/snack bar for his adjacent Family Inn (then called Bird-in-Hand Motor Inn). In 1970 it was expanded to a 145 seat restaurant called the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant. In the 1990s, after Paul’s sons John and Jim took control of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation, a buffet was incorporated. In February 2005 the restaurant expanded and a very large buffet was installed. The dining room now holds 350 and the banquet and conference facilities can accomodate and additional 300. The restaurant features many historic photos of the village as well as the evolution of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation, which owns several hotels in the area (including the adjacent Bird-in-Hand Family Inn), a bakery, a deli and some other local ventures. The Smucker family homestead sits across Route 340 from the restaurant and the restaurant and bakery serve many dishes from old Smucker family recipes.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant specializes in family meals and traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. The restaurant features buffet and a la carte dining, and the a la carte portions are large. The restaurant is sizable and is popular among both tourists and locals. There is typically a short wait at lunch and dinner and also during breakfast hours during busy seasons. During peak tourist season the waits can be much longer depending on the time of arrival. The restaurant also features banquet services for meetings and special events. Many of the more popular dishes such as cold salads, ham loaf and desserts are available to take home in large quantities.

OK, so here is my list of must haves at Bird-in-Hand. These are some of the dishes that I think they have perfected:

Scrapple- a big, thick deep fried or grilled slab that is served with two eggs, toast, syrup or ketchup. If you’re especially hungry, get some of their excellent home fries. By far, the best scrapple I’ve ever had.

At breakfast I highly recommend the hot chocolate with whipped cream- it takes me back to my childhood. They also have outstanding coffee (we always stock up on bags of their coffee to take home).

Creamed Dried Beef over toast with home fries and French Toast with link sausage are my wife’s breakfast favorites, and they are delicious.

At lunch or dinner I always typically order at least a cup (sometimes a bowl) of Chicken Corn Soup: it is fantastic, the best I’ve ever had, and that includes home made from an Amish kitchen. A great pairing would be a chicken salad sandwich on a pretzel roll or a broiled crab cake on a pretzel roll. Also watch for their daily features and daily Pennsylvania Dutch specialties; a particular favorite is Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie (aka Bot Boi-known as Chicken and Dumplings in the South). It is typically served all you can eat with a trip to the salad bar, but I can never manage more than one platter. Their vegetable selection varies daily and all are great tasting and fresh, however, since they are made from scratch daily by different people, taste varies. Some days the buttered noodles are better than others, I guess it depends on who is doing the cooking. If you are feeling a bit hungrier I highly recommend the smoked pork chops, the breaded veal cutlet,  the Salisbury steak, the baked ham loaf, beef pot roast, and the Lancaster County baked sausage. These are all great and very filling.

For dessert, be sure to try the wet bottom shoo fly pie (best I’ve ever had- comes from the Bird-in-Hand Bakery right down the block) and the red velvet cake. Another favorite is the Apple Dumpling served with ice cream or milk- it’s big enough to be a meal in itself. They also have to die for berry cheese streusels during the spring and summer. All of their desserts can be found at the Bakery and many of them can be purchased in the restaurant to take home from a refrigerated Bird-in-Hand Bakery to Go case.

For more on the history of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation and an interview with Jim Smucker click here for an article from the Amish Country News.

CherryCrest2

Fun Down on Cherry Crest Adventure Farm

Wholesome. I kept coming back to that word on my recent visit to Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Paradise Township in Lancaster County. For people in my age group (I’m a Gen-x’er if you must know) wholesome wasn’t always what you were looking for in your entertainment dollar, but these days when it comes to my family activities, I can’t get enough of wholesome. For something special this past holiday weekend, my wife and I took our two boys to Cherry Crest for the day. Their web site describes their operation as “agri-tainment” and I would have to agree with that unique assessment. When you live in Lancaster County, although you experience the beauty and bounty of farm life all around you every day, you don’t necessarily get to be a part of it first-hand. Cherry Crest packages some of the best aspects of farm life in Lancaster County and lets you dive right in and experience “farm fun” activities that ARE fun for the entire family.

Incorporated within a real working Lancaster County farm, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm offers 36 different activities ranging from pedal cart races, to something they call the Barnyard Jump which is a giant open-sided moon bounce. I have a nearly 6 year-old (Noah) and a 3 year-old (Jacob), so their interest and abilities levels can be quite different. While Noah is a little bit braver and throws caution to the wind, Jacob is a bit more reserved and takes some time to ease into things. In this aspect, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm was a perfect fit for us. While Noah and his Mom were sliding down the giant hay chute slide or tackling the hay bale obstacle course, Jacob and I could hang out in the Lil’ Farmers Playland which had a corn bin filled with toy tractors as well as a lot of other little houses and playsets he could explore.

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There were also plenty of things we could do together as a family, from the Farm Animal Center where the boys each got to hold a baby chick and feed and pet a variety of barnyard animals, to the amazing corn maze where we could collect clues and gather map pieces to find our way through the corn labyrinth. This year, Cherry Crest’s corn maze is shaped like the great state of Pennsylvania and is broken down into 7 distinct Pennsylvania regions so you can literally visit all of PA in just one day!

We packed our own lunch and ate at one of the many picnic tables, but it looked like Cherry Crest had plenty of food available on site including their own roasted sweet corn. We sat, ate and watched the train from the Strasburg Rail Road, which makes stops at the Farm for drop offs and pick ups, pass through. In the end, we did end up getting some fudge, kettle corn and ice cream as we were leaving, so it was a good thing the farm activities kept us moving!

All in all, we really had a blast. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is a unique place that, to me, truly represents some of the greatest things about our area, and yes, it grows “wholesome” just about as easily as it does ears of corn.

Cherry Crest Adventure Farm

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