If you Google search “minimalist coffee shop,” the second picture in the search results is a familiar site: the vertical wooden menu slabs inside Passenger coffee. The New York Post called Lancaster the “new Brooklyn,” noting that young chefs are coming here in “droves.” Luca got its own review in The New York Times, two years after the city was first featured in the food section for its farm-to-table dining. In the past few years, a host of new restaurants opened in the downtown area – offering everything from Trinidadian food to rolled ice cream – right next to city staples that residents have loved for decades. With such rapid expansion in everything from brunch spots to real estate – and even the grocery store scene – a trend is revealing itself (and no, it’s not just that New Yorkers figured out that other cities exist). Lancaster went from a quaint hidden gem to a nationally-recognized “foodie town,” and if you look closely, it really isn’t surprising at all.
When you look at the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, you notice that geography is more or less at their foundation. Centuries ago, access to waterways was essential for trade and travel, and thus, people gathered near the ports. Now, overpopulated areas have lost their glean of “coolness,” and people have been relocating to smaller communities that allow for a better quality of life. Lancaster is positioned just right: with some of the country’s most exceptional farmland around it, driving access to at least three of the biggest cities on the east coast, and the history of being one of the first inland towns in the U.S., it’s a perfect spot to develop.
Food has always been at the core of Lancaster City. Its most recognizable staple, Lancaster Central Market, is not only a tourist haven, but a where residents shop for groceries every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Supporting local farmers and families is at the epicenter of what makes Market so special, and that focus on community has in no small part been what’s helped the city grow.
Despite all the newness it’s gotten so much attention for, culinarily speaking, Lancaster is very diverse. While locals love to frequent bars and taverns like Tellus360 or the Horse Inn, there are multiple upscale dining options that have been here for years, such as Maison or John J. Jeffries. There are ethnic cuisines like Himalayan Curry & Grill for Indian, Silantra for Asian street food, Sprout for Vietnamese, and Callaloo, the Trinidadian restaurant that’s already become a household name to locals. There are classic brunch spots like On Orange, and a handful of brewing companies, like Lancaster Brewing Company or Springhouse Brewing Company. If you just want a craft beer, The Fridge is always packed on weekends, and if options are what you’re after, you can check out 100+ different beers at Federal Taphouse. For those with a sweet tooth, the new cookie dough shop on Prince St. has already been drawing crowds, and the cupcake shop opened by contestants on Cupcake Wars is one block over, on Queen. And of course, we couldn’t talk about the food scene without talking about the coffee (it’s even been the theme of entire issues of FLL!) There are so many incredible shops to choose from, and locals always have their preferences. Between Prince St., Passenger, Square One, Mean Cup, Cafe 18 and the newly minted Copper Cup, the coffee scene has played a huge part in attracting people to the city (and hey, it’s the perfect beginning to any great weekend downtown).
For a long time, Lancaster was a haven that only locals really knew about. And though there are definitely mixed opinions about how much expansion is coming to the town (some who loved it for its quaintness fear it will be diminished, others have concerns about ethical expansion and ensuring Lancaster doesn’t lose its focus on community) all issues that are, unfortunately, often par for the course. The point is that Lancaster is becoming something it wasn’t before, even if there are some growing pains along the way. The long-kept secret is out, and it was food that started it all. We gather around food, we celebrate with food, and we recognize the simple beauty of sharing a meal with the people we care about most. For the residents of Lancaster, we’ve grown a whole city around the love and art of food, and the nation is starting to pay attention.