The spring breakers clog the sidewalks in the Pinecraft neighborhood of Sarasota, but do so without the bikinis, sandals and party mentality.
Pinecraft, about five miles west of Interstate 75, is ground zero for a different kind of spring break. For years, it has been a favored destination for thousands of Amish and Mennonite snowbirds who travel in charter buses from Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and other northern spots to unwind when the winter weather makes farming impossible.
From December through April, the prospect of Sarasota's snow-free sun attracts roughly 5,000 Amish and Mennonite visitors to a part of town that began as a tourist camp in the 1920s.
Sidewalks along the main thoroughfare of Bahia Vista Street are traveled by tourists in traditional wardrobe: bearded men in black, broad-brimmed hats, women in long dresses, their heads covered with white bonnets. The popular mode of transportation is three-wheeled bicycles adorned with orange caution flags.
Two restaurants serve home-style dishes such as broasted chicken, green beans and delicious desserts. Based on word-of-mouth recommendation, I stopped at Der Dutchman for the lunchtime Barn-Raising Buffet, with its soups, sandwiches, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, salad bar and desserts.
The business district also includes another restaurant, part of Yoder's Amish Village (yodersrestaurant.com). Yoder's also features a produce market, deli and gift shop. The latter is the closest that Pinecraft comes to catering to tourists, offering souvenirs such as Amish cookbooks, quilts, aprons, handmade baskets, decorative saw blades and gourds as well as children's dolls and wooden toys.
Outside of the gift shop, Pinecraft isn't exactly Amish World. The residents are courteous, but not outgoing, such as the man who offered me directions to the local gathering spot at Pinecraft Park. With shuffleboard courts that are active almost daily (except Sundays), the park is nestled in the midst of one of the quiet residential neighborhoods.
With narrow streets lined with cottages and old Florida homes, the mood was peaceful, except for the clatter of spirited games on the shuffleboard court.
To borrow a line from Weird Al Yankovic, it looked like Amish paradise.