Lancaster: Where the “Stars” Align

Posted on in 2024-2025 · Featured

Where can you find a former White House chef, Food Network champions and James Beard Award nominees, as well as dine among rock and Hollywood stars? That would be Lancaster County!

As for the White House chef, that is John Moeller, who owns The Greenfield Restaurant & Bar. Moeller grew up in Lancaster and then graduated (with honors) from Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. Always infatuated with French cooking, he set sail for France, where he furthered his studies and worked at several restaurants in the country’s notable wine regions. 

John Moeller worked at the White House before returning to Lancaster.

Upon his return to the U.S., Moeller settled in Washington, D.C., where he became acquainted with Pierre Chambrin, the head chef at the White House who was in search of a French-trained American sous chef. Moeller accepted the position and worked under Chambrin and later, Walter Scheib. Moeller became the acting head chef in 2005. During his 13-year tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he worked for presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, often gifting them with goodies from Lancaster County. (George W. loved Hammond’s Pretzels, while Laura Bush relished fresh peaches from Lancaster County.) 

Moeller returned to his hometown in 2010, where he opened a catering company, State of Affairs, in Lancaster City. He also authored a book, Dining at the White House: From the President’s Table to Yours, that is part biographical, part cookbook and is chock full of photos from White House events. 

Always desirous of operating his own restaurant, such an opportunity came Moeller and his wife Suryati’s way with the purchase of The Greenfield Restaurant & Bar in 2018. Located in a period (1780s) farmhouse in East Lampeter Township, the restaurant fit the criteria of what he envisioned, as it features a number of various-sized dining rooms, a wine cellar, an airy bar/lounge, a beautiful patio and a large kitchen to accommodate the catering company. 

The Greenfield’s lunch and dinner menus highlight high-quality, local proteins and produce. Local partners include Thom’s Bread, Brogue Hydroponics, Sauder’s Eggs, Lindendale Farm, Mr.  Bill’s Seafood, Meck’s Produce, Fox and Wolfe Farm, Lancaster Coffee Roasters and more. Wine is also an integral part of the Greenfield experience and Moeller takes pride in the selection that is offered. Thegreenfieldrestaurant.com. 

Want to have a Food Network champion prepare your meal? Chef Cedric Barberet, who won the Neapolitan Delight episode of Chopped Sweets in 2021, brings a taste of France to Downtown Lancaster with his Bistro Barberet & Bakery. Barberet’s extensive résumé also includes his time as executive pastry chef at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, where he crafted Donald and Melania Trump’s seven-tier wedding cake. He also worked at the renowned Le Bec-Fin restaurant in Philadelphia. 

Chef Cedric Barberet won an episode of Food Network’s Chopped Sweets.

Barberet and his wife, Estelle, opened their restaurant/bakery in 2015. Both from France, the Barberets grew up in the pastry business, as their respective families owned bakeries. The restaurant’s menu includes appetizers such as beef tartare and escargot. Entrées include such dishes as bouillabaisse and moules frites (Prince Edward Island mussels) and rack of lamb. Bistro Barberet also serves sandwiches, soups, quiches and salads. 

A selection of desserts from Bistro Barberet & Bakery.

Be sure to save room for dessert! Their display cases are filled with delicate, handcrafted pastries and cakes, as well as signature breads and other baked items. Indulge in decadent desserts such as Floating Island (his creation that led to winning the Food Network challenge), L’opéra (almond cake soaked in espresso, layered in coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache), 7-layered chocolate cake, crème brulée, macarons, tarts and éclairs. Many of their desserts are gluten-free. Barberetlancaster.com. 

Laura “the Cookie Lady” Merkel pays homage to Taylor Swift in a sweet way. Facebook photo.

Another Food Network alum can be found in Ephrata, where Laura Merkel began creating cookies in 2010, after her office job left her feeling unfulfilled. Over the years, she has perfected the art of cookie decorating and her bakery, Laura the Cookie Lady, was featured on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge in 2019. The episode, titled Colors of Christmas, saw five bakers compete to create the best holiday cookies. Laura won the episode after crafting a Christmas-tree-shaped cookie tart made from oatmeal-kiwi-white chocolate cookie, topped with cream cheese buttercream icing and garnished with her classic sugar cookies that were decorated as ornaments. 

The shop offers an expansive variety of cookies (and often sells out). Laura specializes in sugar cookies with beautiful, intricate designs. Her decorated cookies are perfect for any occasion, from weddings and births to holidays. The variety of cookie flavors could include chocolate chip, peanut butter, M&M, funfetti, lemon-blueberry, double chocolate and her Food Network-winning flavor, oatmeal-kiwi-white chocolate. Lauracookielady.com.

Lancaster Cupcake continues to enjoy sweet success. Facebook photo.

Lancaster is also home to Lancaster Cupcake, another Food Network competitor. If you have a sweet tooth, this is an essential stop. The bakery is the premier destination for from-scratch, gourmet cupcakes in Lancaster County. Emily Barcklow Mitchell and her husband, Jeff, started the cupcakery in 2011. The next year, they were featured on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. The episode, which aired in November 2012 and was centered around Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, saw Lancaster Cupcake take home second place. 

Today, Lancaster Cupcake has two locations in Lancaster County (recently expanding into Lebanon County) and a cupcake truck, which can be booked for events. Cupcakes are made from locally sourced butter, cream cheese, cocoa and flour. Mainstay cupcake flavors include strawberry champagne, red velvet, vanilla and chocolate. The cupcakery also offers seasonal and holiday flavors, cakes, decorating kits, macarons and gluten-free cupcakes. An array of coffee drinks is also offered. Lancastercupcake.com.

Per Diem’s décor pays homage to farmhouse styling.

If you would like a side of rock ‘n’ roll with your meal, head to Per Diem at the Hotel Rock Lititz. The restaurant, which is located on the Rock Lititz campus and is operated by TFB Hospitality, is a one-stop shop for A-list artists who are preparing to go on tour. You never know who you might see exploring Lititz! Last fall, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith popped into a local hardware store, while Ariana Grande was spotted at Target. 

With the décor inspired by Lancaster’s iconic farmhouses (with an edge to match Rock Lititz’s vibe and its huge collection of concert memorabilia), it only made sense that the menu would celebrate the farm-to-table movement. The menu changes seasonally so that ingredients can be sourced from local purveyors.

For dinner, choose from starters, salads, pizza and main dishes. Entrées include lobster ravioli, pepper-crusted filet mignon, cassoulet, the Tour Burger and more. For those with dietary restrictions, the menu offers accommodations and options for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Seasonal apps and sides round out the menu. Per Diem also offers a Sunday brunch menu, featuring pork belly benedict, baked eggs, breakfast pizza and more.

Drinks include signature house cocktails and an impressive list of wines and craft beer. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert from Per Diem’s in-house pastry chef. Perdiemlititz.com. 

Photos of stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era decorate the walls of Josephine’s.

Speaking of stars, an evening at Josephine’s Downtown in Lancaster will have you surrounded by the legends of the silver screen. No, not in the flesh, but through vintage black-and-white portraits that co-owners Dean Oberholtzer and Justin Ang spent the pandemic collecting. Part of the fun is trying to name the more than 400 Hollywood stars whose portraits (including that of the restaurant’s namesake, Josephine Baker) decorate the walls of this beautiful restaurant that takes its inspiration from supper clubs of old and puts a new and modern spin on the concept. (Many of the specialty cocktails are named for Hollywood stars, as well.) 

If you love seafood, chef Rafe Hottenstein recently designed a new menu that places emphasis on ingredients that come from the sea. Josephinesdowntown.com. 

And, in more news out of Hollywood … Lancaster is the hometown of actor Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire, Dark Zero Thirty), who is an investor in Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse, a trifecta downtown destination that entails a micro-distillery, a restaurant and a movie theatre that specializes in Indie films and live music and other events. Chad Taylor, who was a member of the rock group, Live, has been performing there as of late. 

Taylor Kinney lent a hand at Zoetropolis’ take-out service that was offered in 2020. Instagram photo.

As for Kinney, he made an appearance in March of 2020, when he helped employees man the take-out/self-pick-up service Zoetropolis made available on Water Street. Needless to say, drivers were shocked to receive their orders from Lt. Kelly Severide (Kinney’s character on Chicago Fire). Ironically, the late Treat Williams played Kinney’s/Severide’s father on the show. Williams was a graduate of Lancaster’s Franklin & Marshall College and could often be found posing as a human model in the windows of The Male Bag boutique back in the early ’70s. He was also a close friend of the late Mount Joy restaurateur, Betty Groff, who put Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine on the culinary map. Zoetropolis.com. 

The décor at Decades is straight from the TV show, House of Cards.

And, Lancaster has yet another Hollywood connection in the realm of food. At Decades, an entertainment destination that boasts a bowling alley, retro arcade games, a friendly bar and a fun menu, the Hollywood connection can be seen in the lighting fixtures, furnishings, accessories and even a phone booth that define its décor. Tons of such items came from the set of the Showtime series, House of Cards, which starred Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a scheming couple aiming to make their mark in a town where political intrigue is a way of life. 

The series was filmed in the D.C. area and its set decorations were stored in a warehouse in Maryland. When the series ended in 2018, the question remained of what do with the contents of the warehouse. Shipping a warehouse full of stuff to California would be expensive. Fortunately, the owners of Decades – Chris Trendler, Jonathan Yeager and Adam Ozimek – were contacted by a high school friend who worked on the show and was aware that Decades was in the making.  

The call proved to be a stroke of luck. The owners made the trip to Maryland and were wowed by what was being made available to them. After all, how does one decorate a cavernous building such as the historic Stahr Armory? The three were stymied until they walked into that warehouse. The House of Cards décor provided the solution, as it was a perfect fit from a style, size and balance perspective. We doubt whether there is a bowling alley across America that is outfitted with such beautiful chandeliers! 

Who knows? You just might spot a famous face. Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of Green Day, celebrated his birthday there in 2020. Decadeslancaster.com. 

Yet another Hollywood luminary has been seen out and about in Lancaster. Award-winning actor, William H. Macy (Fargo, Air Force One, Boogie Nights, Wild Hogs, and Showtime’s Shameless) has been a frequent visitor as of late, as his brother lives in Lancaster County. Macy has been spotted at such eateries as Gus’s Keystone, Frattelli’s Pizza, 3 Sisters Park and The Olde Lincoln House (all in Ephrata), Nonna Rosa’s in Akron, Mad Chef in East Petersburg, Columbia Kettle Works in Adamstown and even the Starbucks at The Crossings at Conestoga Creek in Lancaster. He generously shares his time and poses for pictures with employees and guests. So, if you see him, be sure to say hello. 

On the television front, Lancaster County has received numerous visits from the diva of domesticity herself, Martha Stewart. She has been known to frequent the area ahead of appearances on QVC in Chester County, and to film promos for projects at Shadowlight in Leola. Along the way, she has popped into farmers’ markets (including Lancaster Central Market) and stopped at roadside stands. On one occasion, she visited Scratch Bakes in Ephrata to order take-out. 

Robert Irvine, who hosts Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network, has visited Lancaster in various capacities. He has made appearances at charity events, filmed the show here and signed bottles from his line of spirits for customers and fans at a PA Fine Wine & Good Spirits store last year. A percentage of proceeds from the bottle signing benefited his Robert Irvine Foundation, which supports the mental and physical well-being of military members, veterans, first responders and their families. As for the Restaurant Impossible episode, which focused on a restaurant in the Southern End, that did not end well, as the restaurant closed prior to the episode’s airing in March 2012. 

The renowned restaurateur and founder of World Central Kitchen, José Andrés, appeared in Lancaster in September 2019 in support of Lancaster’s CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health, which is part of Catholic Health Initiatives’ commitment to create healthy communities across the U.S. (CHI was instrumental in reviving the Market House in Columbia.) In addition to speaking to a packed house, Andrés signed copies of his book, We Fed an Island. Wck.org. 

If you enjoy rustic, “old country” Italian cuisine made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, then LUCA is the place for you. Locals aren’t the only ones taking notice of this Lancaster County gem. Food Network’s Alton Brown has eaten at LUCA multiple times and has given it rave reviews after each visit. In 2020, owner and chef Taylor Mason was nominated for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category. He and his staff even prepared an Italian Supper at the James Beard Foundation in New York in August 2019. Mason, a Maryland native, attended the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. He spent several years in Napa Valley working for private clients and wineries before returning to the East Coast and settling in Lancaster. 

LUCA’s Taylor Mason prepping dinner at the James Beard Foundation in New York. Facebook photo.

LUCA’s seasonal menu features simple dishes, which aren’t necessarily what you will find at other Italian restaurants. Expect lighter dishes during the spring and summer and heartier, richer menu options in the fall and winter. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. Other specialties include handmade pastas, salumi and antipasto, simple roast meats and seafood. Their Italian-focused beverage program represents wines from all over Italy, craft cocktails inspired by Italian bar culture and an extensive Amaro collection.

LUCA’s pizzas proved so popular that the restaurant expanded to add a location that specializes in pizza, as well as snacks, salami, salads and desserts. Located at The Crossings at Conestoga Creek, the pizzeria’s well-rounded bar menu includes cocktails, spirit-free, beer, wine and Amaro. This is a self-order, no-reservations-style restaurant. Lucalancaster.com and Lucapizzeria.com. 

Another James Beard-nominated restaurant, Horse Inn, has a storied past, as it dates to the 1920s. The building was originally a carriage house until the Shaub family renovated the hayloft into a speakeasy for neighbors to congregate and share a drink. The original horse stalls were moved upstairs to enhance the ambiance. The restaurant has carried the name Horse Inn since 1935. Ten years ago, Matt and Starla Russell became its owners. Matt, a Lancaster native, met Starla in Charleston, South Carolina, where both attended Johnson & Wales. After graduating, the two remained in Charleston, with Matt working as a chef under such James Beard Award-winning chefs as Sean Brock, and Starla concentrating on restaurant management. The couple continue those roles at the Horse Inn, where the menu includes a nod to their time in Charleston with the Southern dish, shrimp & grits.   

The iconic restaurant’s drink offerings have earned nationwide acclaim. In 2020, Horse Inn was nominated for a James Beard Award in the Outstanding Bar Program. Purchasing a cocktail at Horse Inn, which offers a speakeasy vibe, is a must. Choose from either their list of classic cocktails or pick a seasonal concoction. All their bitters and syrups are made in-house, and all juices are fresh squeezed. Local and regional beers are also available, including St. Boniface, Yards Brewing, Yuengling and Ploughman Cider.

As for food, fresh ingredients are sourced from local farms and purveyors, including Stoltzfus Farms, Lapp Family Farm, Groff’s Veggies, Lancaster Coffee Roasters and more. The menu is tweaked seasonally, but some of the restaurant’s well-known dishes remain on the menu year-round, including Horse Fries, the Horse Inn Cheeseburger and, of course, their famous Tips N’ Toast. Horseinnlancaster.com. 

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