It doesn’t have to be Sunday to take the traditional “Country Drive” — not if you’re retired. When the sun shines, just get up and go. This week the destination was Lancaster County — the course was Route 23 from Chester County through Berks and into the Amish Farmlands of Lancaster. You know you’re there when you spot rising silos, horse-pulled ploughs on farms that stretch to the horizon, and the electric lines stop short of the buildings. Route 23 is surrounded by picturesque countryside, antiquing, unique shops, Pennsylvania Dutch eateries, nurseries and a market that draws local farmers and visitors from distant states.

Let’s start at the market.

Shady Maple Sausages (credit: Jay Lloyd)

Shady Maple Sausages (credit: Jay Lloyd)

SHADY MAPLE
1324 Main Street
East Earl, PA 17519

It’s about 30 miles from Phoenixville to Shady Maple, a massive farm market complex, the size of a small country that specializes in Pennsylvania Dutch food and draws thousands of shoppers every day from distant states. We bumped into John and Mikey Jonkers from Ringwood, New Jersey. They drove 3 hours for sausages, scrapple and donuts. Fresh meats including cuts you never heard of, fresh local veggies and garden supplies provide the color. And, it’s not unusual to see Amish buggies parked alongside cars and buses.

Shady Maple Smorgasbord (credit: Jay Lloyd)

Shady Maple Smorgasbord (credit: Jay Lloyd)

SHADY MAPLE SMORGASBORD

Walk the length of a football field from market to Smorgasbord for one of the largest groaning boards of craving inducing comfort foods in Pennsylvania. Everything associated with Pennsylvania Dutch cookery from potato pancakes to pot pie. The folks who work here are quick to tell you that the spread spans 200 feet and serves up breakfast, lunch and dinners. Big eaters really like the pricing: www.shady-maple.com/smorgasbord/daily-menu-pricing.

After breakfast and a bit of shopping we reversed course and headed back with a few stops along the way before lunch.

Black Creek Greenhouse (credit: Jay Lloyd)

Black Creek Greenhouse (credit: Jay Lloyd)

BLACK CREEK GREENHOUSES
211 East Black Creek Rd.
East Earl, PA 17519

Amish country is known for its nurseries and the back country setting off route 23 is the kind of vista that suggests a really green thumb is at work. The greenhouse interiors are so expansive that they fade into a a distant horizon and are filled with every variation of plant and shrub known to local gardeners – and then some. Garden accessories, tools, furniture and advice are as abundant as the plant life. Black Creek is a destination stop for Philadelphia area garden clubs and can consume hours of browsing.

Amish Buggy (credit: Jay Lloyd)

Amish Buggy (credit: Jay Lloyd)

WINDMILL RESTAURANT/KOG HILL WINERY
Route 23 and route 10
Morgantown, PA 19543

You can’t miss the restaurant. A large Dutch style windmill marks the entrance at a busy crossroads. Across the street from this landmark eatery that serves up a Thanksgiving dinner any time of year and has Mexican finger food alongside pork topped sauerkraut is a popular Berks County winery. If you’re curious about Pennsylvania wines, the tasting room is a starting point after some homemade Windmill ice cream.

French Creek (credit: Jay Lloyd)

French Creek (credit: Jay Lloyd)

FRENCH CREEK STATE PARK
Elverson, PA 19520

A relaxing interlude in the route 23 ramble is a picnic at French Creek State Park with that spread you brought from Shady Maple. The park straddles parts of Berks and Chester Counties and is ideal for a pleasant hour on Hopewell Lake in a rented boat, a photography walk on one of the popular hiking and nature trails or just lounging beside the creek. We passed up the picnic and headed straight for lunch at our next stop.

St. Peter's Bakery (credit: Jay Lloyd)

St. Peter’s Bakery (credit: Jay Lloyd)

ST. PETER’S BAKERY
3441 St. Peter’s Rd.
St. Peter’s Village, PA 19470

An outdoor deck overlooking the boulder strewn and scenic French Creek is the setting for one of the best sandwich lunches in the region. The bread of course is the key. The bakery’s breads are no stranger to suburbanites who discovered them at local farmers markets or on visits to St. Peter’s Village. The meats and cheese rise to the quality of the bread. Mary savored the turkey and goat cheese. I favored the Black Forest ham and imported Swiss. The honey mustard gave it a pop. The intoxicating sound of the rushing stream is the inducement to stay for dessert.

SEVEN STARS INN
Route 23 and Hoffecker Rd.
Phoenixville, PA 19460

My prime rib on an earlier visit to Seven Stars Inn looked like it was carved off a mastodon. It was massive, so don’t get sticker shock, because what you take home from this iconic country inn with a big reputation will feed you for a week. If your ramble keeps you out till dinner and you haven’t tried the Seven Stars, it’s an experience. A rustic interior and bar is as solid as the meal that follows your entrance. The clue about what lies ahead is that everyone exiting carries a box, and it’s not for the dog. Delicious tender meats and lobster tails that dwarf a nuclear sub can give a server a hernia. You gotta’ try it.

Now go home and sleep it off.

ALONG THE WAY

As you cruise on route 23 from Phoenixville to Shady Maple or Lancaster, keep an eye out for your own brand of interest. You’ll spot rural oriented antique shops, tack shops, farm stores, a little red schoolhouse that has been turned into a tourist welcome center and signs for Amish Buggy rides. Don’t try to do it all in one day — it’s been here since the dawn of known time. It’s not going away.