Categories
Features Nightlife Restaurants

This Bowling Alley Strikes Your Taste Buds With Its Jaw-Dropping Menu

Bowling alley food in general has a bit of a reputation. For me, it usually falls into that sweet spot where awesome meets disgusting. It’s salty burgers, fries that are somehow over-crisped and soggy at the same time and light beer in bowling-pin-shaped bottles. You can’t help but love it and hate it all at once. But one chain of bowling alleys is redefining the bowling culinary experience — or maybe it’s more accurate to say they’ve created a bowling culinary experience where previously we had none.

Bowlmor, which has locations around the U.S., was founded in 1938 in New York, did brisk business through the bowling boom of the ’70s and ’80s and barely made it through the ’90s, when Tom Shannon, an entrepreneur with a vision, took over and implemented game-changing ideas that made the business take off again, eventually merging with some of the industry’s biggest names, like AMF and Brunswick.

One of the big changes, as mentioned, was the idea that the food and drink selection at a bowling alley doesn’t necessarily have to be all about microwaved tater tots and overdone corn dogs (though, again, I have a soft spot in my stomach for the sorts of foods that grease up your fingers just right when you’re trying to make a comeback in the eighth frame). Bowlmor’s menus include all kinds of amazing-sounding gourmet foodie options that don’t feel too ostentatious for the bowling alley setting. Let’s have a look at a few of their selections that we are dying to try:

Pizza Cake

pizza cake

Credit: Bowlmor

Just look at that thing. One of Bowlmor’s great ideas was to improve upon some of our favorite foods with giant, gourmet, shareable portions. More to come below, but this pizza cake definitely has what it takes.

Pizza Cupcakes

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Credit: Bowlmor

And if you’re more of a cupcake fan, they’ve got you covered there as well. I, for one, am in favor of a pizza version of every dessert.

Wings

Chicken wings

Credit: Bowlmor

Bowlmor’s selection of wings is nothing short of comprehensive, with something for everyone: classic buffalo, garlic parmesan, cajun, sweet chili, lemon pepper, honey BBQ and mango chipotle.

5-Pound Burger

5 pound burger

Credit: Bowlmor

There are many things in the running to be declared the modern equivalent of breaking bread, but my vote’s on sharing a burger, and what better way to do it than with this monster, which you can share with several friends without sacrificing a full serving. And hey, if you’re feeling especially ambitious and hungry, take it on solo — we’re not here to judge.

2-Foot Hot Dogs

2-foot hot dogs

Credit: Bowlmor

Ditto for Bowlmor’s monster dogs, which take the classic footlong and double it. These come in two flavors: The Coney Mega Dog, which comes topped with mustard, Coney sauce, and onions and is beautiful in its simplicity. They also serve up the Chi-Town Mega Dog (pictured above) topped with peppers, onions, pickles, tomatoes, neon relish, and mustard.

The Breakfast for Dinner Burger

breakfast for dinner

Credit: Bowlmor

Putting a fried egg on a burger is a delicious move, but it’s nothing new. Bowlmor’s version, however, has sausage, bacon, hashbrowns, and maple ketchup on it. They’re not messing around. Breakfast for dinner never sounded so good.

Cocktails

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Credit: Bowlmor

And last but certainly not least, Bowlmor’s gourmet selections include a range of house cocktails that sound like a dangerously good time. A couple highlights: The Madhattan is described as a cross between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan that’s made with whiskey, Cointreau, sweet vermouth, and bitters and is served in a cocktail glass. The Liquid Courage is gin, lemonade, club soda, and elderflower liqueur. Who knows? It might just help you land that strike.

Overall, Bowlmor sounds like a place I’d stop for dinner that happens to have great bowling and games. Go for the food or the fun, but stay for both.

Categories
Fast Food Features Hit-Or-Miss

15 Items Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Doesn’t Want You To Remember

Whether you live in a Carl’s Jr. region or a Hardee’s region, one thing is certain: This fast food chain is truly the Dr. Frankenstein of the drive-thru set. It’s as if Carl Hardee himself heard that hybrids have become popular and assumed that wasn’t isolated to the auto industry (Carl Hardee isn’t actually the founder of or even a real person associated with this company, but we are officially worshiping this name as belonging to the God of satisfied cravings, amen). As a result, in many, many experiments, the company combined two or more food items into a single food item, and in some cases just made stuff up entirely, with no regard for nutrition, convention or sense — and we would like to personally thank Carl Hardee for each and every attempt. Check out some of the highlights:

1. Pepperoni Pizza Fries

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

In the spring of 2015, Carl’s Jr. answered the question: “What would poutine be like if it was invented by the highest of Americans?” Pepperoni pizza fries were born. These are exactly what they sound like — pepperoni pizza toppings, including the sauce, on fries instead of dough, for those times when pizza crust just isn’t deep-fried enough.

2. The Bisnut

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

The Bisnut is what you get when you force a doughnut and a biscuit together like some sort of delicious pastry centipede. In 2014, Carl’s Jr. tested the hybrid dessert (during breakfast hours, because in a civilized society we eat dessert after every meal). It cost 99 cents, or two for $1.89 , and is probably as delicious as it is fun to say. Bisnut!

3. Ice Cream Brrrger

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

Back in 2012, Carl’s Jr. introduced the Ice Cream Brrrger, an ice cream sandwich that looks like a hamburger, presumably meant to fool picky children into eating more dessert. This filled a gaping hole in their “all burgers all the time” philosophy. All they need now is a liquefied burger and we’ll be able to satisfy any craving in burger form.

4. Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

In the summer of 2014, the chain tested out the Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a great idea that you could easily re-create in your own kitchen without having to watch any YouTube videos explaining how to make it. But here’s the thing: It’s not like Carl’s and Hardee’s just have Pop-Tarts lying around. So someone in R&D (best job in the world?) had to say, “I’ve got an idea, but we’re going to need some Pop-Tarts.” It’s these types of simple and beautiful vignettes that make life worth living.

5. Most American Thickburger

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

The Most American Thickburger, which debuted in summer 2015, immediately became the leader of Carl’s Jr.’s gang of burgers that aren’t satisfied just being burgers. What makes it so American is the addition of a hot dog and potato chips and, presumably, the option to be “thick.” Still, claiming it’s the “most American” might be a stretch. Add bacon, apple pie, and the inability to locate Syria on a map, and then come see me.

6. Chicken Stars

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Credit: Yelp

These are just breaded and fried digestion-compatible food facsimiles, and they probably are mostly made of chicken, as far as the legal department is concerned. But it takes a special kind of “Aw, fuck it” to tacitly admit you’re not working with actual pieces of chicken and that whatever it is you are working with is easily moldable into any shape you please. So then, we have to ask: Why stop at stars, you know?

7. Double Loaded Omelet Biscuit

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

 

In October 2014, we were treated to the Double Loaded Omelet Biscuit during a time when, frankly, innovation in drive-thru breakfast was lacking. The basic recipe: Stack two meat-and-cheese omelets on a biscuit and then stuff it all down your gullet. This was, apparently, an alternative to the Loaded Omelet Biscuit, which is a biscuit with a measly single meat-and-cheese omelet on it. What are we, on a diet or something?

8. Burgers With Other Sandwiches on Them

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

If Carl Hardee were an artist, the burger would be his canvas, the blank slate on which he builds his masterpieces. So now we have things like the Philly Cheesesteak Burger and the Pastrami Burger — just two examples of many Trojan burgers carrying a hidden army of other meat. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I suspect the company’s secret plan is to make it so no meal is ever burger-free, and where do we sign up to help out this righteous cause?

9. Mashers

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

Mashers, which were first tested in summer 2014, are basically your average burger or fried chicken sandwich, but with mashed potatoes and gravy on top, presumably because serving the potatoes on the sandwiches is much cheaper than investing in bowls and utensils. The biggest surprise here is that they stopped short of putting an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a sandwich, but surely that’s coming.

10. Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

The Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger was a 2013 revelation that needs no further introduction, because burger plus booze equals heaven. And not to be ungrateful, but we have to ask: Can we get some of that bourbon in our Coke … and might as well add it to the fries and milkshake too. Just in case.

11. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos burger

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Credit: twitter.com/WrecklessEating

The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Burger was available in a few locations in Southern California in summer 2015. This burger features the titular munchie fodder and nacho cheese sauce and is clearly the masterpiece of someone who wanted to challenge the idea that adding potato chips and a hot dog to a burger is the most American it can get. The verdict? *breaks into “God Bless America”*

12. Blueberry Muffin Buns

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The Blueberry Muffin Bun is a recent addition to the list of experiments, and it’s starting to feel like they’re just messing with us. It comes standard as a breakfast sandwich, because we’re not savages — obviously blueberry muffins are for the morning meal. But they’ll happily make you a regular burger on a blueberry muffin bun too, because maybe we are savages after all.

13. Monster Biscuit

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

The Monster Biscuit is basically breakfast Tetris: bacon, egg, sausage, ham, and cheese piled on a biscuit. It made a 2009 list of the worst food in terms of calories — no surprise there. And it’s named after what kids think is going to creep out from under their bed and kill them in their sleep. Well done all around.

14. Footlong Cheeseburger

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

Back in 2010, Carl’s Jr. sought to turn heads with a new burger phenomenon: They could have gone six inches, or even eight. But “footlong” has such a nice ring to it (this was well before all the current controversy surrounding footlongs). Enter the Footlong Cheeseburger: everything a regular cheeseburger is but longer. This is a chain that’s already known for its large burgers, so the Footlong Cheeseburger is sort of the stretch Hummer of fast food: I don’t really want one, but I’m glad Schwarzenegger has the option.

15. All-Natural Burger

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

After all that, the oddest thing on the menu is definitely the All-Natural Burger, which is just a regular-length burger with no other sandwiches crammed in it, and no side dishes or desserts or booze to be found. Not only that, it’s hormone- and antibiotic-free. And no option to get it flavor-blasted or kraken-sized? Hard pass.

Bonus: Boxers

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Credit: Carl’s Jr.

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s also dipped their toe into the apparel game, offering branded boxer shorts for $20. The pricing is outrageous, but in their defense, their pricing department isn’t used to this type of product. “I don’t know? Maybe $20?” We weren’t able to test them (even though shipping was free), but word is they’re a little bit chewy and pretty bland.

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Hit-Or-Miss News

5 Little Known Supreme Court Rulings That Affect How You Eat And Drink

The Supreme Court handles cases that deal with all avenues of life, and eating and drinking are no exception. The Highest Court is on everyone’s mind these days, from the Illuminati-esque death of Justice Antonin Scalia to Justice Clarence Thomas’ surprising break from his usual silence. Naturally, we started wondering if there have been any SCOTUS rulings in the world of food and drink that have affected our lives in major ways, and whether we would have a chance to bring them up the next time we’re trying to sound knowledgeable at a party. Yes and yes.

South Dakota v. Dole

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Credit: Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia Commons

In South Dakota v. Dole, the court had to determine whether Congress’ 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act is constitutional. Because of the states-rights focus of the 21st Amendment, one of the finest pieces of writing in American history, the federal government can’t directly enforce a minimum drinking age — it’s up to the states to regulate everything to do with booze. So to put some pressure on the states, the NMDAA withholds 5 percent from the transportation budget of any state that doesn’t enforce a 21-or-older drinking age.

At the time, South Dakota wanted to get 19-year-olds drunk while maintaining 100 percent of their federal highway funds, which should obviously replace “have your cake and eat it too” as an idiom for wanting it all. So the state sued. In a 7-2 decision that has kept 19-year-olds from drinking ever since, the court found that Congress was within its constitutional right to blackmail states so long as it was a reasonable amount of blackmail.

Granholm v. Heald

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Credit: Matt Pourney, via Wikimedia Commons

Alcohol again!  Granholm v. Heald was a 2004 Supreme Court case that centered around red-blooded Americans in Michigan and New York wanting the inalienable right to have booze shipped to them from wherever they pleased, because, and this can’t be stressed enough, this is America. Those states allowed in-state wineries to ship directly to in-state consumers but did not allow shipments from wineries outside their borders. The states argued that the 21st Amendment guarantees states the right to police everything about alcohol, including its use as a pawn in the game of monopolistic business practices, apparently.

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court ruled that the states were violating a clause of the Constitution that has to do with interstate commerce, but that’s boring, so let’s just pretend a majority of those justices were winos. Unfortunately for us consumers, the ruling didn’t mean all states have to allow booze shipments, just that states couldn’t have different rules for out-of-state businesses. State liquor control commissions being the antisocial weirdos of this playground we call American bureaucracy, they didn’t just open the booze cabinet and invite everyone to party, particularly in Michigan, where their response was to ban all direct shipments of booze, effectively taking their ball and going home.

Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola

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Credit: Pom Wonderful

Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola was a 2014 Supreme Court case that at its core asked: Can we sue a beverage company for misleading packaging? It was not, weirdly, a lawsuit about whether pomegranate can even be considered a fruit, rather than a stone-filled orb that’s possibly from another planet. The details about why this was even a question are interesting and well documented elsewhere. The main takeaway is: A very important round of the false advertising wars would be fought on the field of juice. Pom claimed that Coca-Cola had deceived consumers with a product that contained less than half a percent of the fruit they named and showed on the bottle.

Regardless of their motivation, in bringing the suit Pom was asking an important question about consumer rights when it comes to false advertising on food packaging, which had historically been practically untouchable because courts didn’t want to undercut the FDA’s authority to police food advertising claims. Where would we be if we superseded the FDA’s jurisdiction over juice, after all? The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Pom unanimously (though one justice did not take part), which allowed the suit to proceed. The important result for consumers is the decision paves the way for food and beverage companies to be more diligent about false advertising, and now your bacon-infused whatever better have some damn bacon in it, legally speaking.

44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island

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Aaaand back to booze. In the 1950s, Rhode Island enacted a statutory ban on any advertising that listed the price of liquor, because we all know that the first step toward alcoholism for many Americans is the inability to pass up a good deal. In 1985, 44 Liquormart sued the state after the company was fined $400 for including liquor in an advertisement next to some mixers and snacks that had prices listed. The citation was issued because 44 Liquormart implied it had low prices and also showed liquor, which sounds like an overreach even for the original law, which in itself seems unconstitutional. 44 Liquormart thought so too. The lawsuits flew, and after a roller coaster ride through the lower courts, the Supreme Court heard arguments in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island. The justices unanimously agreed that the law violated the First Amendment, which was probably better for 44 Liquormart’s marketing than being able to put prices on their ads. Maybe their next move should be to team up with Pom Wonderful for a marketing campaign focused on pomegranate cocktails that are truthfully advertised and specifically reasonably priced.

Katzenbach v. McClung

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Credit: Mark Pellegrini, via Wikimedia Commons

And lest you assume Supreme Court rulings on the food and beverage industry result in only narrow changes to the way life works, check out Katzenbach v. McClung: Ollie McClung was a barbecue aficionado and huge racist in Birmingham, AL, in the ’20s. His restaurant had been in business for nearly 40 years by 1964. At that time, many restaurants allowed only white customers inside for table service, with everyone else (primarily black people) relegated to a takeout window. The white restaurateurs had found a way to honor their core value of greed without having to compromise their core value of racism. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 threatened to change the game.

McClung, supported by many other local restaurants, challenged the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act, filing a lawsuit claiming federal government had no jurisdiction to impose its law on a small local business. The Supreme Court eventually got the case, but twist! One of the justices at the time, Hugo Black, was a Birminghamian whose wife was a regular diner at Ollie’s. Oh, and one more thing: Justice Black (amusing/frightening juxtaposition in 3 … 2 … 1) was a former member of the KKK. And not for nothing, but the other eight justices didn’t exactly represent a cross-section of US culture either. Granted, it was a majority liberal court, but still, during the McClung case five of the nine justices were white men born in the 1800s, so their definition of “progressive” wasn’t necessarily a lock.

Yet the Court ruled unanimously in favor of the right side of history, citing the fact that Ollie’s sourced ingredients from out of state, meaning interstate commerce applied and the Civil Rights Act could be enforced. Tricky! Ollie’s could no longer discriminate, and despite being forced to serve everyone in the same manner, the restaurant stayed in business for over 30 more years. It was a landmark decision for the Civil Rights movement that helped pave the way to eliminate segregation in all forms.

Categories
Features Health

The Unfortunate Plight Of Life-Saving Hibiscus Tea In The US

So, when is it hibiscus tea’s turn? That beautifully tart, bright crimson tea has been popular for hundreds of years all over the rest of the world, where it goes by many names. In the US it hasn’t become trendy like chai or matcha or even boba tea (which is inexplicably everywhere for something that’s like drinking standard black milk tea that a giant frog has laid eggs in). Hibiscus tea is a long-standing cultural staple in social settings around the world, but not here for some reason.

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Credit: cyclonebill , via Wikimedia Commons

One fan said it best in his extensive essay about the drink:

As a ravishing bright red drink, as a folk remedy, as a pharmaceutical aid and commercial coloring agent, [hibiscus] is surely one of the Earth’s “wonder plants,” a gift of God that seems almost a remnant of the Garden of Eden. What more can you ask of a single plant?

What more can you ask? Well, I suppose any of the following reasons could explain why it’s not more popular in the US:

It’s Called “Hibiscus”

The Celestial Seasonings version, named back in the ’70s, is called Red Zinger. Elsewhere in the US it’s relegated to novelty drinks whose names contain words like “cooler” and “splash” — and that’s when you can find it at all. “Red Zinger” is actually probably slightly better than “hibiscus tea” for a mass market, but neither holds a candle to the South American agua de flor de Jamaica, the Egyptian karkady, the Australian rosella, or the Jamaican sorrel. In Senegal it’s called bissap, which is a bit less poetic in American English phonology, but still has a certain dignity about it that “hibiscus” just isn’t capable of. It’s all the same stuff, but what it’s called matters.

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Credit: Celestial Seasonings

Our name for it is easily the worst, and our country is where it’s least popular. Coincidence? “Hibiscus” sounds variously like a really phlegmy disease, an event that was in the original Olympics but was banned over human rights concerns, part of an insect, the sound I make when I sneeze, an off-brand car your dad insisted on driving you to school in, or a race of evil beings from Lord of the Rings.

It’s Too Healthy

A lot of what you hear about hibiscus tea in the States is centered on its various health benefits, which sounds like it would make the drink more attractive, but only theoretically. Hibiscus tea has the ability to potentially reduce high blood pressure, sure, but it’s not a fad diet or get-thin-quick miracle, which means it might as well be Centrum capsules. Its true health effects are still being studied, but in addition to the blood pressure benefits, proponents claim it aids in lowering cholesterol, which hasn’t been proven scientifically, but hey, it definitely doesn’t raise cholesterol, so there’s that. It’s also definitely got antioxidants, which we all know are great for us, at least at the moment.

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Credit: T.K. Naliaka, via Wikimedia Commons

In the US, once something has been labeled healthy, it’s tough to gain the kind of popularity you need to become a real cultural presence. We prefer to love something and then later find out it’s healthy (e.g., coffee, wine, red meat, chocolate, and all the other things that swing in and out of the “good for you” category every other year).

It’s Caffeine-Free

You will find a drink with hibiscus tea in it at Starbucks, but its lack of caffeine means it will never be a substitute for your morning latte, and if you want one you’re going to have to actually say the words “Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher” to another human, so that’s strike two. Around the globe, hibiscus tea over ice with sugar added is a summer drink, a real thirst-quencher and pick-me-up, but without the caffeine. In Thai cities you can buy it on every corner, and cities all over the world, from North Africa to Latin America, have a similar story. In Europe the tea is also ubiquitous, and it’s often served hot. Other places, the temperature depends on the time of year.

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Credit: Hitomifox, via Wikimedia Commons

Does this sound familiar? It’s a drink of the people, an everyday beverage for any season that’s affordable and delicious, much like what coffee has become in the US (though whether that’s affordable depends on how you take your coffee, but the basic ingredient itself is very inexpensive). One of the main differences is that deliciously addictive caffeine, which other countries also have and drink plenty of. We’re just so hooked on the buzz that no drink without caffeine is going to challenge coffee’s dominance in the US. But in other countries, not only is hibiscus tea on every corner, it’s also often a larger social touchstone: In Egypt it’s used to toast at weddings, and it’s the national drink of Senegal. For many other cultures, presumably, meeting for a hibiscus tea is their “Let’s grab coffee.”

It’s Not a Popular Mixer

So no caffeine … if it doesn’t get you drunk or go well on cereal, maybe it’s not such a surprise that this drink hasn’t caught on. Yet recipes abound for hibiscus tea cocktails online. Its tart fruity flavor, compared often to cranberry, sounds like the perfect mixer for vodka, tequila, or maybe gin. Other countries have found boozy uses: In Jamaica it’s steeped with ginger, clove, and cinnamon and served with rum, which sounds awesome. There, it’s a traditional Christmas drink. In some parts of the Indo-Pacific hibiscus is made into wine.

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So then, one simple solution could change how popular hibiscus tea is in the US: a Hibiscus Red Bull vodka cocktail. Now we’ve got a popular caffeinated beverage that gets you drunk, and suddenly hibiscus tea is on the map. That, or …

Oprah Hasn’t Done an Entire Episode About It

This is self-explanatory.

 

Categories
Adventures Features

The Unfolding Craft Beer Boom In Amish Country

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Credit: Daniel Lobo

I got hammered in Amish Country. Granted, the headline for this and my experience doing it would have been so much more exciting if I could say that I got hammered with the Amish, maybe having become involved in someone’s knock-down, drag-out rumspringa, which is something I know about Amish culture because of TV. But all I did was drink lots of great beer with other non-Amish folk, and you should too if you ever get the chance.

Lancaster County, aka Pennsylvania Dutch Country, aka Amish Country, is a 1,000-square-mile area in Southeastern Pennsylvania with a population of about a half million, half of which are Amish. It’s 80 miles from Philadelphia, 165 miles from New York, and 120 miles from Washington.

The main reason I point out the proximity of those large cities is that if you were brought to Lancaster blindfolded and asked to guess where you were based on the way the place looks and feels, you would not likely intuit that three of the Top 10 biggest metropolitan areas in the country are within a couple-hour drive. We’re talking rolling farmland, unironic overalls and single-horsepower buggies sharing the road with Fords and Chevys.

Lancaster County has about 20 licensed craft breweries.

The horse-n-buggies, of course, are one of the most visible signs you’re in Amish Country. The first one we encountered, my wife and I decided to guess how many we’d see during our two-day trip. I guessed 25; she guessed 45. Two hours later, we gave up counting because we’d both guessed way, way too low.

All that is to say, tourists from those big cities come to Lancaster and the surrounding area to get away from the noise and pace and to get a peek at the really interesting culture of the Amish, a culture which I won’t get too deep into, mostly because we’re this far in and I haven’t even begun to discuss the beer.

Lancaster County has something like 20 licensed craft breweries, and when you count the breweries just outside of the county the number is probably more like 30. If you’re someone who frequents places with an interesting beer selection, you’ve probably heard a lot of the names: Victory Brewing Co., Troegs, Appalachian Brewing Co., Lancaster Brewing Co. The area is known for its lagers, which is a somewhat underrepresented style in indie brewing, where hoppy IPAs are the most common answer to the skunk-water lagers of the macro breweries. But don’t worry: There are plenty of IPAs being cooked up in Lancaster, as well as styles I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

Wacker Brewing Co. is one of the oldest breweries in the country.

At Wacker Brewing Co. I tasted a gose, which Beer Advocate describes as having a “twang” and which I would describe as tasting more like cheese than beer. (Full disclosure: My palate is not what you would call super refined; I like what I like at any given moment, and sometimes that’s a simple pale ale or pilsner and sometimes that’s a sour beer or IPA and sometimes that’s straight-up Rolling Rock.) Like lager, gose is a German style, and you’re going to recognize that as a trend in breweries around Amish country.

Wacker is one of the oldest breweries in the country and was the first in Lancaster. They credit German immigrants to the area with introducing lager to the U.S. and birthing the brewery revolution that currently has such a strong foothold. Don’t let the cheese beer scare you — they have plenty of other styles that are super drinkable, and they share a space with the Thistle Finch Distillery, so if you somehow don’t find any of their beers to your liking, you can grab a taste of some local gin or white rye.

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Credit: CucombreLibre

OK, fine, we should talk about the main reason tourists flock to the area. The Amish culture has been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into those details. What I will say is that traveling to a specific place just to kind of observe how someone lives feels very intrusive, though it doesn’t seem to bother the locals much. Everywhere you go there are buggy rides and Amish smorgasbords, the latter of which is essentially just an all-you-can-eat feast of fried chicken, roast beef, buttered noodles, chicken pot pie, sausages, mashed potatoes, some token vegetables and at least four different choices of dessert, including shoo-fly pie, a local specialty with a sort of custardy filling made of molasses that is uber sweet. Apparently, most of the smorgasbords are buffet-style, but the one we went to, charmingly called Plain & Fancy (as seen on Travel Channel, of course), served dinner family-style.

We were seated at a table of about 12, and our server brought us large platters of food to serve ourselves for a very reasonable price. This method, family-style all-you-can-eat, is much better than a standard buffet, for me at least, because despite the fact that the server would bring us more as soon as a platter went empty, I was painfully aware that a bunch of strangers were watching and waiting as I served myself, thus prompting me to eat a more civilized amount than I actually wanted. Don’t get me wrong: I ate way too much, but it was an overeating I didn’t immediately regret, which is not something I can say for many of my buffet experiences, if I’m being honest.

Anyway, as I was saying: Despite the tourist-focused local industry, it feels really weird to drop into someone’s world just to see how they live, like you’re at a zoo where the attractions are people put on display for being different. I get that there’s agency here — it’s not like we were walking up and looking in windows; most of the touristy stuff is well away from the actual Amish community in a controlled environment where the people being gawked at are presenting themselves voluntarily. But not always.

It feels really weird to drop into someone’s world just to see how they live, like you’re at a zoo where the attractions are people put on display for being different.

Each time a horse-n-buggy clopped by on the road, smartphones and DSLRs whirled to capture video and snapshots of what was likely a family headed to the store or a friend’s house or, you know, a funeral or whatever. The point is, Amish people actually live and work and play and exist in this community, so let’s visit and support the local economy and eat too much buttered noodles and shoo-fly pie and pay too much for a buggy ride to people who are voluntarily allowing us to engage them and take video and explore their farms. That’s all great. But I bet we could have some restraint and hold our shutters when someone’s just trying to run an errand in town.

Maybe it’s just me, though, because I’m oversensitive about making people uncomfortable, having been uncomfortable for about three decades myself. But that all made me want to stick mostly to breweries, which is easy to do in Lancaster and would likely have been my preference whatever the rest of the place had to offer. So, back to beer.

Lancaster Brewing Co. has one of the sweetest deals around. For $16 they’ll pour you 4 ounces of every beer they currently have on tap, which when I visited was 13. They also serve what looked and smelled like great food in their brewpub (I would have eaten if I wasn’t worried about saving room for beer). I was able to speak with Lancaster Brewing’s Pete Keares about what makes this area such a hotbed of breweries.

“Pennsylvania has been very progressive on the legal side of things, allowing craft breweries to open and operate,” Pete said.

“Pennsylvania has been very progressive on the legal side of things, allowing craft breweries to open and operate,” Pete said. That and the proximity to densely populated areas, the draw of tourists to the Amish community and the local indie craft spirit are contributing factors, he added. Despite lagers being what the area is known for, his personal favorites are his brewery’s stouts, and I have to agree. The Lancaster Brewing milk stout is one of the best examples of the style I’ve ever had. Their Hop Project #1 is another amazing beer, and I could go on — none of the 13 tasters I shared with one other person went undrank.

There is some direct interaction between the breweries and the Amish community, Pete said. Hop Buggy, one of Lancaster Brewing Co.’s styles I was able to try, is brewed using grain sourced locally from the Amish, though most of the ingredients they brew with come from elsewhere. But I was wondering: Is there a connection between the breweries and the Amish as patrons? Is the rumspringa and secret drinking of the Amish (whose religion forbids it) helping fund the breweries of the area? Maybe it’s no coincidence that all the craft beer in this part of the country shares air with one of the most insular groups of purportedly non-drinkers. Well, it turns out it’s not a coincidence, but for more benign reasons.

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“It’s the German culture, the German heritage,” Pete told me. You see, the Amish are descendants of some of those German immigrants that introduced lager to the area and were ultimately responsible for making Lancaster County the beer mecca it is today. Where the dividing line between those two destinies is, exactly, I couldn’t tell you, but the explanation makes perfect sense. On our horse-n-buggy ride (of course we did, and you should too), I was able to ask the Amish driver about the beer situation. Do the Amish ever enjoy a pint? And if not, can you be our DD later? His coy answer was, “Once we get married, we don’t do that anymore.” Got it.

Before we left Lancaster County, we went up to Lititz to see the Wolf Sanctuary of PA and grab lunch at the Bulls Head Pub, where we had the best meal of the trip (sorry, Plain & Fancy), and true to local form, the beer selection was also quite good. The Bulls Head is set up in the style of a traditional English pub, and the comfy interior is plush but not pretentious. Make sure you go hungry, too, because the food is outstanding. Their Scotch eggs are killer and their burgers are perfect. If you head to this area, stop by for a meal and a pint or two or three.

The Wolf Sanctuary has dozens of wolves at any given time.

The Wolf Sanctuary is a nonprofit that takes in wolves from around the country for various reasons, often having to do with people illegally attempting to own one as a pet and finding out that that is not always a great idea. The Sanctuary has dozens of wolves at any given time and is supported in part by scrap meat donations from local restaurants. The tours are extensive and happen only at scheduled times, so plan ahead. An experienced keeper will walk you from pen to pen and tell you about every pack and every animal. They’re knowledgeable and helpful and they definitely have some stories. It’s a worthwhile cause and a cool experience that you should look into if you’re ever there. Make sure you show up on time and leave your video camera in the car, though. You see, unlike for the Amish folks down the road, it’s against the rules to take video of the wolves at the Sanctuary.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a beer-focused vacation that’s off the beaten path or just happen to find yourself in Southeastern Pennsylvania, you could do worse than checking out the breweries and brewpubs of Lancaster County. Eat awesome food at the Bulls Head or at an Amish smorgasbord, take a buggy ride to a working Amish farm and bring a friend so you can try everything the area has on tap.