This post was originally written in 2015 and published by Things To Lancaster. I’m bringing it back from the archives and welcome your input to the conversation. In the years since I wrote this post, more and more publications have pointed out the similarities between the big apple and our little city. Most recently the Washington Post declared Lancaster, PA the next Brooklyn.
Since writing this 6 years ago, the little city has become even more culturally rich and an influx of new Lancastrians and the coming of age of those born and raised here, has brought a revolution of art, food, theater, and community. Lancaster keeps getting better and better and my “must try” list gets longer every day! Here was my 2015 New Yorker’s guide to Lancaster, look out for an updated version soon! ~Christine
Welcome to Lancaster, It’s been waiting for you!
If I had the resources, I would totally make a parody video of Taylor Swift’s hit “Welcome To New York” entitled “Welcome to Lancaster” and dedicate it to the many New Yorkers who have left behind various boroughs of New York, and transplanted here to our beautiful Lancaster County. Short on film crew and rights to the song, I’m writing this blog instead. But, Native New Yorkers, this one’s for YOU!
Just before Christmas, I was leaving Lancaster Central Market with my basket full of local delicacies when I heard someone calling my name, well actually what he was calling out was “Hey, Brooklyn Bakery Girl!” but somehow, I inherently knew that I was the intended party and so I turned around to see a tall man and his short “mama” rushing towards me. I admit I didn’t recognize them at first but smiled anyway as he grabbed my hand and she wrapped her arms around my neck as if we’d been old family friends for years and years. The man said excitedly, “We were just talking about you this morning.
We were back at La Dolce Vita picking up some cannoli and Mama wondered if we might bump into you again there!” This is the part of the interaction is where it all comes back to me, I had indeed met this gentleman and his mama and his younger brother at my favorite Italian “Courthouse Bakery” last year at about this time. I was there to pick up an assortment of treats for my own holiday gatherings and a tray to bring to my aunt’s house in Brooklyn on Christmas Eve. Somehow the Brooklyn connection came up and the family began telling me about how they had just moved here and were feeling hard pressed to find a “decent Italian cannoli”. The fact that I was there purchasing treats intended for my New York family brought them a great deal of comfort and a bond was forged.
From there, we quickly spiraled into a conversation I’ve found myself having with many a new “Lancastrian” still a little homesick for the big city, and hoping for a familiar taste of home, since as we all know, food and comfort go together like pastrami and rye. They peppered me with questions: Where can we get a decent bagel? How about a Neapolitan slice of pizza? Eggplant Rollatini? A deli-style Reuben? Some serious egg rolls? “Mama” dug a pen and receipt out of her giant purse and they scratched down my suggestions as fast as I could think of them.
Big City Flavor in the LITTLE CITY
Here’s a synopsis of some local flavors that remind me of some big city favorites (in my humble foodie opinion, and by no means an exhaustive list) that I recommend when I meet Native New Yorkers looking for a taste of the big city in and around our little one:
Not nearly as many options here as in NYC, but I’m partial to Grand Central Bagel Cafe on Centerville Road for all my bagel hankerings! From egg sandwiches on sesame or an everything bagel with butter or super cinnamon bagel plain, and still warm from the oven! Urban legend in our circle is that they use New York water in their bagels, if it isn’t true, I don’t want to know.
Reuben: (My all time favorite type of sandwich) If you’re sitting next to me at Bulls Head Pub in Lititz or Annie Bailey’s in Lancaster you might be tempted to say “I’ll have what she’s having!” as I’ve spent a great deal of time seeking out these two perfect offerings and have found that these two local pubs have nailed it.
Chinese Take Out:
My father was the biggest New York foodie I’ve ever known, and he requested Hong Kong Garden on Columbia Avenue every time he came to visit. The eggrolls, steamed dumplings, house mei fun, egg foo young and General Tsos are the best I’ve had anywhere- inside or outside of NYC’s China Town.
Ciro’s Italian Bistro – with the homemade gelati, and the twinkle lights outside, Ciro’s is it’s own “Little Italy” and perfect for family dinner or pre-movie date-nights!
La Dolce Vita, oozes charm, authenticity and delectable carbohydrate artistry from store-front to glass case. Cannoli, Napoleans, Rainbow cookies, black and whites, all the sweets from the neighborhood in one beautiful shop.
Fast forward again to the reunion outside of Central Market and my two friends, who shall remain nameless only because both times we met, we were too caught up in talking about other things to exchange names. They excitedly told me that they had tried many of the places on the list I gave them, and had found some new favorites while exploring their new hometown as well. We exchanged a few more restaurant suggestions, and chatted about downtown’s innovative art scene. Then as I turned to go, my new friends offered this “the best advice you gave us though, was to let Lancaster be Lancaster and New York be New York.” I smiled because my new friends seem to have learned in one year, a lesson that took me many years to learn myself. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and comparing one magical place to another is a sure way to short-change them both. Lancaster has many charms that remind me of and even rival those of my favorite BIG city, but the beauty of Lancaster is that it’s uniquely different from anywhere else. The county has it’s own flavor, it’s own charm and allure that helps us stand apart from elsewhere. There’s something for everybody here and everybody who comes and stays here becomes a part of a new Lancaster culture- rich in history, ever-evolving, and steeped with culture, diversity and charm.
Welcome to Lancaster, It’s been waiting for you!