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Sarasota is home to a unique culture for Florida. Within 10-square blocks of the Pinecraft neighborhood is an Amish and Mennonite community where you’ll see residents pedaling adult tricycles and find eateries serving the best comfort food ever. Hop a trolley with Discover Sarasota Tours to learn how and why the Amish are part of Sarasota’s cultural fabric.
Sarasota Isn’t Your Typical Spring Break Destination
When I worked at the Sarasota tourism office, a major newspaper published a photograph of three girls at Siesta Key Beach wading into the water as they held up the skirts of their dresses. While some Florida beaches attracted the Spring Break and “Girls Gone Wild” crowd, this was prime opportunity to tout Sarasota as a more family-friendly beach destination where you’d find “Girls Gone Mild.”
And, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in Amish culture. Growing up in Western New York, we frequently visited friends in Titusville in Western Pennsylvania and home to an Amish population. The trip seemed like an eternity, when in reality it was less than a three-hour drive, and when my mom said, “Look, there’s an Amish horse and buggy,” I knew we were close to our friends’ house.
A few years ago, I went home to visit my family and we drove through the Amish country of New York’s Cattaraugus County. We attended an auction where I enjoyed some delicious apple cider donuts then purchased butter from an Amish home.
Discover Sarasota Tours Has the Perfect Guide for the Amish Experience
Growing up aware of the Amish culture there’s still so much I don’t know. Quenching my thirst for knowledge, I joined about 10 other curious passengers to learn during this Amish Experience Tour offered by Discover Sarasota Tours.
Kendra Cross is the perfect tour guide. Strands of tinsel in her perfectly coifed hair sparkle as much as her welcoming personality. She grew up around horses and buggies in Amish and Mennonite country, and as an adult, she worked for a corporation known for recognizing top directors with pink Cadillacs. Throughout the hour-long tour, she shared how she grew up Mennonite.
How did she end up leading tours about the Amish in a Florida beach community? Having successful careers and raising a family, she and her husband retired to Sarasota from Indiana. She took a city tour with Discover Sarasota Tours and after speaking with the company’s owner, well, the rest is history. The tour company specializes in unique excursions like Psychic Sunday, Rainbows and Unicorns, and Tiki Trivia. The Amish Experience tour Kendra mapped out fits in perfectly with other options.
No Buggies But Bunches of Bicycles
The trolley navigated through some of the Pinecraft neighborhood. You won’t find horses and buggies here. Residents and seasonal residents left them up north and ride adult tricycles with baskets on the back. Which, are available for rent. Located at the intersection of Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street, homes are packed tightly together with minimal yards but large enough for laundry to airdry.
Men dress in dark pants, light-colored button-down shirt and suspenders and women wear long-skirt dresses in a variety of solid colors from dark blue to browns and lighter colors like light blues, pinks and yellows. Their hair is tied back into perfect buns tucked under white head coverings. They waved with curiosity as the trolley rolled through the neighborhood. It stopped in front of what Kendra says is the only Amish church she’s aware of.
A Church Like No Other
See, in the Amish culture, church is typically held in the Amish homes which are much bigger outside of Florida. Because the homes are smaller in Pinecraft, the church was built to accommodate the seasonal residents in the mid-20th century.
While the trolley was stopped, Kendra explained why Amish men don’t grow mustaches and which ones grow beards. If you’re wondering, mustaches date back to when the German military grew mustaches. The Amish are a non-violent culture and keep a clean-shaved lip. As for the beards, they indicate a married man.
Kendra also had two head coverings worn by Amish women. They wear white coverings then bonnets on top of the coverings. If the covering is heart-shaped, it’s worn by Pennsylvania Amish women. Road-shaped coverings are worn by Amish women from Indiana and Ohio.
Learning About the Amish Culture Through Quilts
We proceeded to the Carlisle Inn and Conference Center Sarasota where the general manager greeted us with samples of pie. Yum! Mounted on the walls are quilts handmade by Amish women. Kendra pointed out features making them unique and special like an applique quilt where cloth shapes are handsewn on top.
Quilting is a social activity for Amish and Mennonite women, a time to catch up. Later during the tour, we stopped at Alma Sue’s Quilt Shop and watched a woman carefully sew part of a design in a snow-white quilt.
The Amish Experience Tour included a stop at Der Dutchman Amish Kitchen Cooking Restaurant, an eatery owned by the same company that has the Carlisle Inn. There’s a shop associated with the restaurant where they sell tasty baked goods like pies, breads, and donuts. They also sell other bites of deliciousness like gourmet ketchup, preserves, and Amish peanut butter. Upon Kendra’s recommendation, I picked up a bottle of the peanut butter. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s like liquified, sweet peanut butter fudge. So good!
I learned more about the Amish culture in that hour than I have in decades. What made this excursion so special was the Kendra sharing her knowledge and personal experiences. She opened a window into a culture that values privacy which made this tour priceless.
How did an Amish and Mennonite community end up in Sarasota?
How did an Amish and Mennonite community end up in Sarasota? Well, like others in the Midwest know, winters are cold up North. During the 1920s some Midwest Amish and Mennonite farmers ventured down to Sarasota to farm the land. Unfortunately, the soil wasn’t suitable for crops but, they decided to stay the winter to soak up the sun. Over time, more decided to stay year-round and the Amish soon became part of the destination’s cultural fabric.
Nuts & Bolts About the Amish Experience Tour with Discover Sarasota Tours
Visit the Discover Sarasota Tours website for availability and current pricing of the Amish Experience and other tours. Even if you won’t be booking a tour, the tour operator’s office is as cute as a button and stocked with quirky, fun, and vintage gifts and home goods with many having ties to Sarasota.
Discover Sarasota Tours
1826 4th St.
Sarasota, FL 34236
Tel: (941) 260-9818
About the Carlisle Inn and Conference Center Sarasota
The Carlisle Inn and Conference Center Sarasota is a new comfortable hotel with 100 rooms and function space in the Pinecraft neighborhood. Dutchman Hospitality headquartered in Ohio owns and operates the hotel. Their mission is to share the Amish and Mennonite heritage. They operate several hotels and restaurants primarily in Ohio. Also in the Buckeye State is a theater.
Where to Eat in Sarasota’s Amish Neighborhood
Dutchman Hospitality’s Sarasota restaurant is Der Dutchman (3713 Bahia Vista Street; Tel: (941) 955-8007) and was one of my grandmother’s favorites. It’s a great place for good ole comfort food like broasted chicken, liver and onions, and mashed potatoes and gravy. They serve a delicious lunch and dinner buffet and delicious pies.
In addition to Der Dutchman, find Yoder’s Restaurant in Pinecraft (3434 Bahia Vista Street; Tel: (941) 955-7771). Their sweet pies are famous! They also have the great Deli Market to grab soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods, among other items.