As we round the corner to Easter, we will be saying goodbye to tourists who have filled the coffers of grateful merchants. Kept at bay, dreaded red tide did not make a presence during the critical touristy months and Siesta Key proved to many why it is always on the “Top 10” list when it comes to incredible beaches. Tourist season, the fifth and most important season in Florida, was by all accounts very successful in 2019.
When you think of the typical tourist, sunburnt and spending too much on items purchased at St. Armand’s comes to mind. There are also “snowbirds,” those who return every year to enjoy the warm weather, but return to their real homes once the weather here turns from pleasant to scorching. RV parks are a popular trend for not only retirees, but families wanting to see the sights on a budget. But, you would never randomly guess that a tourist could be wearing a bonnet and dress or suspenders with nary a knee in sight. But in the heart of Sarasota a quiet community known as Pinecraft welcomes droves of Amish and Mennonite families for a different kind of Spring Break.
Pinecraft is a neighborhood flanking the Bahia Vista and Beneva Road areas. Diminutive, neatly-kept homes reflect the modest, mild-mannered folks who live there. Neighbors commute to work and nearby shopping via bicycles or an infrequent golf cart. They do not utilize automobiles or wear trendy clothes or could care less about what others are doing as they visit Sarasota. If you are in their neighborhood, you will learn a lot about enjoying nice days in the sun with friends, playing shuffleboard and talking about happenings within the community.
Pinecraft is a bit of an anomaly among similar-sized Amish communities around the country. Tucked smack dab in the center of Sarasota, this group has to uphold its rigorous standards of modest behavior with the modern world behaving raucously all around it. In its infancy, the Pinecraft community was surrounded by farmlands, where the Amish planted celery. As Sarasota grew up around it, Pinecraft became a tourist destination for other Amish and Mennonite groups throughout the country. Though there are year round residents, many of the homes are rented out to other members of the Amish community when season begins. Tour buses full of Amish visitors flock to Pinecraft every year, ready to live it up in sunny Florida. Rumspringa, is an Amish rite of passage where teens have a short window to decide whether to formally join the church. During this time they may date, drink, and behave as typical teens do. In other words they can party, and I’m quite sure many American Amish teens have hit Pinecraft and Sarasota for their first fling with freedom.
What do you do in Pinecraft for fun? Well, you eat, of course! Pinecraft is home to several great Amish restaurants. Perhaps the most popular is Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village, where heaps of homemade mashed potatoes and piles of tender roast beef are just the starters. Everyone knows that the real star of the meal at a good Amish restaurant is the pie, and Yoder’s delivers on super-sized portions of perfect slices of pie every single time. Walking around perusing the handmade Amish gifts afterwards gives you great appreciation for the craftsmanship and pride these people instill into their work. Just down the road is Der Dutchman where the aromas of the unending buffets tempt your smells before your taste buds can even get in on the action.
As we say goodbye to our northern friends we bid a sweet farewell to our Amish guests too, who will board their buses for home soon. Thank you for not clogging our roads with your cars and for reminding us that a life simply lived is a gift. Pinecraft is a nice juxtaposition to the fanfare and flair of Sarasota. If you would like to see a quiet community living in harmony with their neighbors while not keeping up with any of the other Joneses, take a ride to Pinecraft. And while you are there, eat some pie!
Photos courtesy of Yoder’s Restaurant & Amish Village.