Dining in the Slow Lane: An Amish Country Meander
In the fall, as jewel-colored leaves drift slowly across the back byways in the area of Northwest Indiana called Amish Country, it is possible to catch glimpses of life as it was lived over a century ago. Young boys navigate horse-drawn wagons filled with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables down dirt roads; girls dressed in homemade dresses and matching bonnets in the palest of pastels drive buggies past farms set on squares of green.
I have my favorite places to stop when I’m traveling through this 19th-century rural landscape and the first is always Country Lane Bakery, just seven miles south of Shipshewana on County Road 43. Like most Amish homes and businesses, it is a plain white building. Inside, even without electricity, it buzzes with visitors who all know to get here early for the freshly baked rolls, breads, cakes and unbelievable pies.
On my first visit, I arrived at 2pm and, alas, found only one peach cream pie left but oh, it was so good. I’ve never been able to find a recipe similar to the one I ate and so now I’m among the first arrivals on my pilgrimage through some of the best country eating in the state.
Just a few miles north on the same country road, I visit Green Meadow Farms, an Amish farm selling Lady-Finger Popcorn, a tender, very small, hull-less heritage popcorn, as well as fresh eggs, cheeses and meats (depending upon the day) from their self-serve back porch.
For house-prepared Amish-style meals, both Blue Gate in Shipshewana and Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury know how to cook classic country such as homemade noodles topped with beef or chicken and served with real made-on-site mashed potatoes, biscuits, fried chicken and, of course, more pies. Both places have a bakery, inn, offer carriage rides and shopping.
On County Road 16, which covers the short distance between Middlebury and Shipshewana, watch cheese being made every morning at Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Haus. Then head west to the Dutch Country Market, owned by the Lehmans, an Amish family of eight. Here you can see noodle making using a hand-cranked noodle machine (and buy some too), fresh-from-the-hive honey products as well as nut butters. The noodles, made of only durum wheat flour, eggs and water, are packaged under the name of Katie’s Noodles in honor of Mrs. Lehman, who cranks out 48,000 pounds each year with the help of her six children.
Another plus: The Lehmans, like many businesses in Amish Country, annually plant a quilt garden—a mass of blooms replicating either a traditional or new-style quilt pattern. Make spotting them as well as the quilt murals drawn on barns part of your Amish meander.
At one time, every river, creek and stream in Indiana most likely had a mill or two or more, the water generating power to grind grain into flour. The Bonneyville Mill, Indiana’s oldest continuous operating grist mill, first started grinding flour in 1832. Now part of the 223-acre Bonneyville Mill County Park, just east of Bristol, Indiana, on County Road 131, there’s no charge to enter and watch the giant millstones grind corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat, which are packaged and sold at the gift shop across the road.
It’s not all country eating here. A fascinating food scene is taking place in many of the area’s charming 19th-century towns. In Bristol, with its century-plus opera house, stop by for a tasting at Fruit Hills Winery. While in Elkhart, a scenic city where three rivers meet and mansions line the riverbanks, sip 13, an American Black Ale, while munching on the Landimore Garlic house-made pizza with garlic oil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, mozzarella and goat cheese in the outdoor beer garden at Iechyd Da (the name is Welsh for cheers) Brewing Company.
In downtown Goshen, beautiful Victorian-era commercial buildings house food-centric entities. Kelly Jae’s Café offers small plates and craft cocktails and Rachel’s Bread is an astounding artisan bakery where yummy goods are made in a wood-fi red oven. Next door is the delightful Goshen Farmers’ Market, where I buy freshly picked ground cherries (covered with a papery skin like tomatillos and good for pies) as well as other local edibles. There are many more must-stops here— Mattern Meat Butcher Shop, The Chief Ice Cream (voted number one in Indiana) and Venturi’s, which makes certified Neapolitan pizza.
Be sure in all this traveling to take a side road or two. Last time I did I ended up at the Wakarusa Dime Store, where they’re known for their jelly beans, so who knows what treats you might find. But keep in mind that Amish places will be closed on Sundays.