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Simple and Delish: Mennonites Satisfy SC palates with Homemade Foods

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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“Thank you for the wind and rain
and sun and pleasant weather,
thank you for this our food
and that we are together.”

This blessing embodies everything good about the Mennonite dining experience — gratitude for nature, nourishment and the gathering of folk around the table. That’s what you’ll experience when you dine at one of South Carolina’s Mennonite-operated dining establishments.

In the late 1960s, Mennonites living in rapidly growing cities in Virginia packed up their belongings and headed our way. The farmlands of Abbeville, Aiken, Barnwell, and Oconee counties appealed to their desire for a quiet, rural lifestyle. Though the migration was modest, there is a Mennonite presence to be found in Blackville, Due West, Cross Hill and other small towns. Churches, schools and an array of businesses operated by Mennonites are fully integrated into these quiet communities where family names like Stoltzfus, Miller, Stoll and Swartzentruber are well known.

But don’t expect to see horse-drawn buggies moving down Main Street. Though often confused with the Amish, the Mennonite culture and belief system are somewhat different and somewhat alike. It doesn’t help that some groups of Mennonites are referred to as “Beachy Amish” to reflect the conservative Anabaptist denomination to which they belong. Both share roots in the Protestant Anabaptist movement, though, and strive for lives of simplicity and service to others.

A good many Mennonite women sew their own simple dresses and wear a bun hairstyle covered by a prayer cap, in a way similar to Amish women. And Mennonite men sometimes apprentice to learn a trade, just like their Amish counterparts. The tradition of attending “frolics” for group sewing or quilting is another way the two can be similar.

But Mennonites distinguish themselves by largely embracing a more relaxed way of life. They do not shun members who break away from their religion, for instance. Unlike the Amish, they drive cars, use electricity, send their kids to college and work in a variety of occupations.

When that occupation involves food service, rest assured you are in for a treat. From-scratch dishes, fresh vegetables and home-baked breads are the calling cards of the Mennonite cook. Think hearty country breakfasts and homestyle meals.

Because a lot of Southern cooks share this aesthetic, you might not even be aware you are dining in a Mennonite establishment. Subtle clues might be the mix of simple surroundings, a warm welcome, and a few recognizable Dutch-German dishes on the menu. Here, we enlighten you with a list of South Carolina eateries that are Mennonite owned and operated. Call before visiting to confirm hours of operation.

Country Cafe and Bakery, Cross Hill 
Inside this plain gray building, you’ll find fresh-baked bread, homemade pies and cakes, and gobs (whoopie pies). The breakfast toast is made with homemade bread and the pumpkin pies are considered the best in the state.

Dienner’s Kitchen, Seneca 
Ham loaf, dried beef gravy, tomato gravy, cornmeal mush and cubed beef with buttered noodles are often part and parcel of the Dienner’s lineup. Full breakfasts, a lunch buffet featuring great fried chicken and homemade pies keep the customers coming.

The Dutch Plate, Campobello
This hometown diner touts a Southern menu with “a touch of Dutch.” Shoofly pie, apple cake, sweet and sour meatballs, German chocolate cake, chicken pot pie, whoopie pies, chicken broccoli casserole and more are served with a warm smile.

The Gray House, Starr 
This lovely little house with a Victorian flair is a restaurant and a bed and breakfast. Amish baked chicken, peppered pork loin, country fried steak, fresh apple cake, pineapple layer cake and bacon potato soup are served in charming style.

Healing Springs Country Store, Blackville 
Located near the artesian wells of God’s Acre Healing Springs, this operation offers hoop cheese, birch beer, souse, homemade coleslaw and potato salad and made-to-order sandwiches. If you’re a fan of fried German bologna, this is your place. They are also stocked with some traditional Amish foods like smoked pickled eggs and peanut butter. In warm weather, there’s ice cream, too.

Hershberger's Bakery, Fair Play 
This bakery and cafe is famous for its decadent fried cinnamon rolls and Bavarian cream donuts. Other treats to try: apple cider donuts, sourdough bread, dinner rolls, sticky buns, whoopie pies and fruit turnovers.

Miller’s Bread Basket, Blackville 
Mennonite home cooking is the name of the game here. The food is wholesome and made with real butter, real cheese, fresh eggs and locally grown produce when available. Made-from-scratch desserts and homemade bread are in high demand.

The Rivers Edge, Cheraw 
This cozy cafe is located in the heart of the Pee Dee region. Quaintly outfitted with an array of hand-crafted quilts, it is famous for chicken pot pie, country fried steak with creamy gravy, and some of the best chicken salad around served on fresh-baked croissants. The toasted coconut caramel pecan pie is to die for.

Swartzentruber’s Bakery, Abbeville 
The sweets sell like hotcakes at this bustling Mennonite operation. Pound cakes, fruit pastry puffs, apple cinnamon cake, whoopie pies and seasonal fruitcakes are just a sampling. Try some iced raisin bread for the win.

Yoder’s Dutch Kitchen, Abbeville 
This family-style restaurant, included on the Travel Channel’s list of “101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down,” offers affordable dining in casual surroundings. Chicken livers, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, creamy mashed potatoes and homemade cornbread and yeast rolls are favorites. Leave room for their famous apple fritters and gooey shoofly pie.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.