Article featured in The Intelligencer, Wheeling News-Register


As the mother of a wolf-obsessed 11-year-old, I at first was dismayed to discover the closest place I could take her to see them was near Lititz, a small town in north-central Lancaster County, Pa.

For us, that meant a five-hour trek on the dreaded Pennsylvania Turnpike, to Amish country. I like Amish country, but we have a much more accessible one in Sugarcreek, Ohio, 90 minutes north of home.

I perked up, though, when I learned Budget Travel named Lititz the Coolest Small Town in America in 2013.

The Wolf Sanctuary gave us the impetus to visit, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Lititz is not the Lancaster County I thought I knew.

Lititz is eight miles north of Lancaster City and was founded as a haven for Moravians fleeing religious persecution in Germany in the 18th century. Despite its sober start, downtown Lititz today boasts brewpubs and boutiques, foodie shops and candy stores, on-trend restaurants and a pretty park beside a natural spring.

It also is the unlikely home to Rock Lititz, a conglomerate of businesses that creates big-name rock shows. Built on a patch of farmland north of town, Rock Lititz’ complex includes a 100-foot-high black box with 30,000 square feet for building and testing out live events.

Decidedly, not Amish.

“When a horse and buggy travels down Main Street, everyone still turns around,” said Jim Wenger, president of Venture Lititz, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting downtown. In other parts of the county, the anachronisms are as common as cars.

“Fortunately, we’re one of the few communities that really have a true downtown left in the county,” Wenger said.

Our itinerary, crafted by Discover Lancaster, focused on the food, which is what attracts most visitors, Wenger said.

A highlight was lunch at the Tomato Pie Cafe, located in an old trolley stop on Broad Street. An espresso bar is situated behind the original soda counter. My daughter’s 11-year-old friend traveling with us accurately described the place as “vintage and hipster” — think jazz/swing music, formica tables, a gray-and-white checkered tile floor and leaded glass windows. The servers wear Prohibition-era waistcoats and fedoras or newsboy caps.

Co-owner Karen Fisher with her husband, Chris, also runs the Lititz Family Cupboard, a Pennsylvania Dutch-style restaurant next to the Rock Lititz compound north of town. Having grown up in a Pennsylvania Dutch home, she has mastered that kind of cooking, but she opened Tomato Pie six years ago to allow her creative side free rein.

The signature dish, tomato pie, is a warm, savory slice filled with large chunks of tomato and fresh herbs in a tangy sauce topped with a soft, cheddary dough. Is that balsamic vinegar? Fresh basil? Fisher won’t tell. Other stars of the eclectic menu are the curry chicken salad, pear and blue cheese flatbread and griddle-fried quinoa pancakes — perfect with crisp edges and a creamy center. My daughter was delighted with the kids’ rainbow grilled cheese — the bread was a marbled magenta, green, yellow and teal.

The desserts come from Fisher’s bakery, The Cake and Cup, and include cream pies, giant cookies, whoopie pies (a Pa. Dutch treat), lemon bars and 4-inch high “dreamcakes” — cupcakes topped with salted caramel- or mocha-flavored cream, encased in chocolate.

We also sampled delicious barbecue at JoBoy’s on Main Street, one of Lititz’s three craft breweries; enjoyed authentic British pub fare (meat pies, fish and chips, bangers and mash) at the Bull’s Head, part of the historic General Sutter Inn property in the heart of downtown; and gorged on the home cooking at Lititz Family Cupboard.

Other noteworthy stops:

— Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory: Tour the first commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S., opened by Sturgis in 1861. He is credited with “accidentally” creating the hard pretzel. The old brick ovens no longer are fired, but the tour includes a hand-rolling demonstration, original proofing barrels and a free soft pretzel. It was a hit with the kids.

— Wilbur Chocolate Factory Store: Did you know that before there were Hershey Kisses, there were Wilbur Buds? Neither did we! Founded in 1884, Wilbur Chocolate now is known mostly as a supplier of chocolate to other more well-known confectioners. The brick factory is recently shuttered, but a new Wilbur retail store across the street boasts a mini-museum, chocolate candy of every variety imaginable, and an on-site kitchen where you can watch workers dip and wrap treats. We recommend the buds and triple chocolate almonds.

— Shopping: You’ll find stores selling antique and vintage goods, boutique clothing, handcut meats (including wild game), handmade furniture, tea, wine, kombucha, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, baked goods, homemade candy, Moravian gifts, whimsical art, toys, books and candles.

∫ Events: It’s a rare weekend when Lititz Springs Park downtown isn’t hosting an event. Highlights include the Taste of Lititz in June, the Fire and Ice Festival in mid-February and the craft beer fest in September. This year will mark the 200th Fourth of July Celebration, with a parade, Queen of Candles Pageant and high-tech fireworks timed to music, produced by Rock Lititz.

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