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.