Busses carrying 40-50 Amish people leave their homes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at 4 am several mornings a week, traveling two hours to the market at the Annapolis Harbor Center. Other shops in this lifestyle mall (among them Barnes and Noble, Nordstrom Rack, Fresh Market, Bow Tie Cinemas movie theatre) are still dark when this hardy band arrives to set up their individual shops selling farm-to-table produce, custom-cut hormone-free meats and poultry, a variety of cheeses, homestyle baked goods (cakes, pies, breads, cupcakes, cookies) and endless shelves of gourmet groceries. And soon the Amish Market is open for business.
Early birds and seasoned shoppers arrive when the restaurant opens at 8:00 am. Hearty breakfasts are served at the congenial counter or at tables and booths set against a bucolic wall mural by Amish artist, Anna Lapp, of farmlands in Paradise Township in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The women staffing the restaurant wear white aprons over colorful maxi dresses and the heart-shaped hats that are a signature item in Amish fashion. Everyone in this unique restaurant seemed happy to be there – like the group of a dozen women from a local senior citizens center enjoying their monthly breakfast outing together.
Breakfast choices range from baked oatmeal, blueberry or cinnamon pancakes with turkey bacon, eggs, scrapple, and fresh fruit. Hot soups (ham and bean, chicken corn, beef vegetable) are available all day and at lunch there are rotating sandwich specials (grilled beef and cheddar melt and sloppy Joes on the day we visited) and dinner-sized platters of roast turkey or grilled pork loins with mashed potatoes, green beans and a dinner roll ($10.49 and $9.29). Desserts all day long include Amish-made pies (French apple, sour cream pear, strawberry, pumpkin), coffee cheesecake and peanut butter cake.
But the real experience here is browsing and buying at the individually owned stands. Crowds get thick as the day progresses, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when patrons of the meat and poultry counters take a number and wait to be called. Meat lovers are there for the handsome cuts of beef and pork roasts, thick chops, homemade sausages, and sliced roast beef or ham for sandwiches. A separate shop sells whole or cuts of chicken, turkey, and duck. But the longest lines form in front of the barbecue and fried chicken section, where hungry patrons can get a quick fix for their cravings. It is in this section that you may order a whole pig for your roasting party or a couple of roasted pigs ears for your dog.
On a more health-conscious path, there is a refreshing display of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, with hand-lettered signs providing prices.
As someone who has limited my Amish Market shopping to the purchase of vegetables, meats, and baked goods learned a lot when fact-gathering for this article. Mary’s Candy Shop, for instance, is a sweets-lovers dream. Shelves upon shelves are filled with individually wrapped bags of fruit slices in every imaginable flavor, candy corn comes in a variety of colors, licorice, jelly beans, macaroons, miniature marshmallows and chocolate-covered strawberries all have a place here. Sugar-free sweets are available and most items may be bought in bulk.
Who knew the Amish Market is the place to find beet, green bean or vegetable chips or a wide selection of dried fruits? Or, that you can find ready-made smoothie mixes and Swiss-style muesli? Or, that here is a source for diabetic-friendly products? We browsed through shelves stocked with gluten-free pancake mix, chocolate wafers for making ice cream sandwiches, many kinds of honey, flavored teas, and all kinds of rice. Giddy stuff for a foodie. But there’s more to discover in Beiler’s Bakery, where beautiful cakes and pies vie for attention and the variety of homemade breads maybe plain or fruited. Right around the corner is “doughnut central,” headquarters for arguably the best ever classic and specialty versions of an American favorite.
On the way out of the 290,000 sq. ft. market, you may notice another line at a shop selling takeaway edibles called “stuffed logs,” a novelty item involving soft pretzels filled with your choice of stuffings. And flanking the section nearest the exits are a cheese shop and another display of baked goods. But beyond the pleasure of finding authentic farm-to-table food raised by dedicated stewards of the earth, one comes away with a renewed sense of optimism in the basic goodness of the human race – as manifested in the peaceful faces and welcoming attitudes of the visitors from Pennsylvania.
Annapolis Harbor Center
3472 Solomons Island Road, Annapolis MD 21401
Open Thurs. – Fri. 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sat. 8:30 am – 3:00 pm. Open for breakfast at 8:00 am Thurs. – Sat.; 410-573-0770