A Tale of Wine, Buggies, Brunch and State-Run Liquor Stores
It was a Friday morning at the Firm and I was planning to take the day off leave early around 11 a.m. But closings, phone calls and emails managed to get in the way, per usual. I arrived home around 2:30 and we were on our way to visit our friends in Amish Country by 3:15.
As we drove further away from home, the cornfields in fields and valleys sprung up on either side of us. It’s amazing how the landscape of this country can change so dramatically and driving through this new territory was breathtaking. ::insert dramatic landscape picture here::
We arrived at our destination around 8:30, only three and half hours late after we planned. Not too shabby. Several bottles of wine and a few Secret Stashes on the rocks later, we headed off to bed.
I knew nothing about Amish Country prior to our visit, but everyone else seemed to. Lancaster, Pennsylvania was our destination and everyone I mentioned it to knew about it. As it turns out, it’s pretty much the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. A bustling city at its core, but drive seven minutes outside downtown, you’ll find yourself surrounded by corn, wagonfuls of children being pulled by donkeys, horse drawn buggies and homes disconnected from the grid. The home of the Amish.
What I didn’t expect was such a vibrant dining and drinking scene downtown. Breweries, distilleries and restaurants populate almost every corner of downtown Lancaster, and wine bar choices are plentiful. The architecture has been well maintained and restored to its glory days of yore. America’s oldest continually operated farmer’s market operates every weekend where rows of fresh cheeses, meats, flowers and donuts abound.
If you have a chance to visit, there’s lots to do and see. And if you have 24 to 36 hours to spare, I’ve got the perfect itinerary mapped out for you.
Lancaster in 36 Hours
The humidity was a bit stifling but we started our Saturday off with a walking tour of School Street Hills, through Franklin & Marshall College and made our way downtown. Block after block of grand old houses grace lush, green tree-lined streets; it was almost like walking a movie set.
Per usual, we got started on the later side of the morning, and by time we arrived at the Lancaster Central Market, the famous Shady Maple Long John donuts had long been sold off to the early birds. Heading out donut-less, we continued our walking tour, with a quick stop to look inside the historic Fulton Opera House.
Next stop was Wacker Brewing and Thistle Finch Distillery about a quarter of a mile away. We grabbed some paninis, pretzels and pints from the brewery, which shares a classic hipster-vibe tasting room with the distillery. The beer was awesome, and given their extremely small set up, so was the pub fare. Our distillery guide took us through the history of the tobacco shed-converted distillery and tasting room, and walked us through the production process from grain to glass. We rounded out the tour with a sampling of their distilled offerings and I walked away with a bottle of barrel-aged gin.
We finished up our tastes, hopped in the car and drove approximately seven minutes out to Amish Country where we wove our way through cornfields, spying our Amish neighbors on their pedal-free scooters and horse-drawn buggies along the way. We stopped at a group of shops and found out that for $60, we could do a bike tour through Amish Country and end up at a private Amish home for a candle-lit dinner. Had it not been for the intense line of looming rain clouds hovering right above us, we would have signed up on the spot.
After a quarter pound of fudge had been tucked safely in my purse, we headed back home and got ready for dinner at Pour in downtown Lancaster.
Again, given that we were in the middle of Amish Country, Pennsylvania, I wasn’t expecting a top notch dining experience. But as soon as we stepped into the trendy downtown restaurant, my feelings began to change. Low lighting and brick walls adorned with original art work surrounded a group of city-goers at the intimate bar. A quirky, craft-inspired cocktail list greeted us and while the rest of our party sampled the artisanal libations, I stuck with a bit of bubbly. The small but intricate menu changes weekly, and it was tough to choose from the mouth-watering options. We started with a charcuterie selection of delectable meats and cheeses that were out of this world. Humboldt Fog chevre is my new favorite. Seriously. Wow. Soft, creamy with a touch of saltiness. It was incredibly epic.
Claret, as we know, is a Bordeaux style blend of grapes. This one included 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13% Petit Verdot, 8% Syrah and 1% Petite Syrah.
Three of us had the porchetta, and boy, it was delicious. A beautiful cut of meat, deboned, stuffed with herbs and wrapped in a thick cut of crispy bacon. Yes. You read that right. Bacon. It was absolutely divine. And the wine label had footnotes, so clearly I was in love.
There were some serious legs on this baby. It was big and bold and needed a bit of time to open up. When it did, it was peppery with nice notes of plum. On the drier side with a subdued fruit finish. The big wine paired perfectly with our rich, hearty Italian dinners.
When the bill came the sticker shock was palpable. I was expecting a big number. After all, we had indulged in cocktails, charcuterie, a nice bottle of wine and four entrees. But the total was less than $200 for four people. Supremely reasonable, a fantastic value.
Being the hobbits that we are, after dinner we decided to head home and go to bed so we could rest up for brunch in the morning.
On our Saturday walk we happened upon Citronelle, a quaint little French restaurant that advertised Sunday brunch. And it was BYOB. So clearly we made reservations for Sunday morning. Now, the booze situation in Pennsylvania is a bit precarious. It’s one of several states where the liquor stores are state run. This means decent prices with little to no selection. We stopped into the “Fine Wine and Good Spirits” shop before dinner to get some bubbly for the morning, and while I was thankfully able to get a bottle of Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, there was little else to choose from. The ability to get into the state-run stores is based purely on numbers, so small producers without a lot of market share are locked out; this means you get a whole lot of big labels and not much else. A tragedy to be sure for the fine folks living in the Keystone State.
After brunch we packed up our gear and headed back East. We took the scenic route home through the picturesque Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and so did the massive rain storm that followed us. The Whole Way Home. Our five hour journey morphed into seven, but the scenery was beautiful, and we made up a few car games along the way. A perfect weekend getaway to the heart of Amish Country. And I assure you, we will be back.
Have you been to Amish Country? What’d you think? Would you give up the internets for a life of peaceful farming?
 Oh wait, I apparently didn’t take any. #photoOp
 But the five hour drive gave us the opportunity to get an education. The history is fascinating, and most surprising to me, 90% of Amish born choose to remain Amish, even after given the opportunity to experience life in the “real world.” Read here about Rumspringa. They also have an abnormally low rates of allergies, autism and cancer. Makes you wonder what we’re doing with all these I-thingies and interwebs. I don’t know if they’re allowed to drink wine though. #dealbreaker
 Literally surrounded. It’s everywhere. I felt like I was back in Kansas.
 Far better than what’s available to Wine Esquire back at home. #HartfordHasIt … or does it?
 Frizzy Hair Don’t Care
 Not to worry, we made up for it with some local goat cheese.
 Alas, our vehicle did not magically appear; one of our hosts decided to take a soggy jog home during the tour to grab it so we wouldn’t have to walk in the pouring rain. Ever the gentleman, Mr. Dell. My sincere thanks.
 The theory behind being pedal free is that pedals would allow one to travel too far from home. Turns out you can’t actually go very far, even with two wheels, if you have to propel yourself.
 And my predictably poor choice in footwear for such a jaunt. Dressy flats ≠ walking shoes. At least I looked cute.
 We’re already planning a trip back so we can do this in the fall.
 No offense.
 Translation: goat cheese
 I wonder what my cholesterol levels are like. #meatandcheese
 Hartford, did you hear that? There was four of us. And we all ate and drank. A lot. And it was really good. Think we can maybe do something like this? Maybe? Thanks.
 Big deal breaker for Wine Esquire.
 State-run operations are rarely good for anyone. #biggovernment
 I think their motto should be “Where the Wine is Fine but the Spirits are Just So-So.” Whaddya think?
 For the record, Husband is not very good at 21 Questions. #CoveredBridge