by David Cecelski
I was driving on a very rural
stretch of NC 181 when I came to a little Mennonite settlement between
Vanceboro and Grifton. As I understand it, approximately 40 Mennonite families have
made their homes in that part of CravenCounty. They have established
a church, a school, and a general store that carries everything from children’s
toys to livestock supplies. They also have a wonderful restaurant and bakery
called Yoder’s Dutch Pantry.
hadn’t had breakfast yet so I stopped and walked into the restaurant. I also
wanted to get a weather report—I was hearing reports of snow to the west, which
is the way I was headed.
place was doing a good business. A big table of local farmers had finished
eating and were sipping coffee and talking about the storm. A young truck
driver on his way to the sand quarry near Grifton was eating a big plate of waffles
and bacon. Two ladies who had spent the early part of the morning shelling
pecans were enjoying cinnamon rolls and coffee. And a very urbane looking
mother and daughter had driven all the way from Greenville for the big “Dutchman’s
Breakfast”—sausage, eggs, grits and pancakes.
waitresses were wonderful. They were dressed in the kind of long, modest dresses
that are common in many Mennonite communities, but the colors were bright and
gay and really quite lovely. They wore black caps on their hair buns and
high-top boots. They moved among the breakfast crowd like clock-work and
anticipated when you wanted that second cup of coffee or more maple syrup on
your pancakes a second before you knew it yourself.
with thick slices of homemade white bread, my French toast was excellent, but
all the baked goods were seductively good. On my way out, I found them by the
cash register: big, hearty loaves of white bread, wheat bread, 10-grain bread
and frosted cinnamon raisin bread. There was also had frosted cinnamon rolls,
cherry cinnamon rolls, and some very goopy caramel pecan rolls, as well as
bakery’s glory was that frosted cinnamon raisin bread. If I was going to get
stuck on the side of the road in a snow storm, I said to myself, this is the
loaf of bread that I’d like to have with me. It was fluffy, light, and tall—it must
have been 8 inches high.
did drive through a few flakes on my way home, but I wasn’t forced to live off cinnamon
raisin bread while stuck in a snow bank. Instead, my family and I ate the bread
tonight and we all agreed that it was the best cinnamon raisin bread that we
had ever had. The crusty was chewy, the inside melted in your mouth. The combination
of homemade frosting, hearty bread, and cinnamon was just right, perfect to go
with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Now my wife and son want to visit the
little Mennonite settlement on NC 181, too.
Yoder’s is located at 3900 NC Hwy. 118, roughly half-way
between Grifton and Vanceboro. The phone number is (252) 244-1759. Breakfast is
served from 7 AM – 11 AM, Monday to Saturday, lunch (mostly sandwiches, salads
and soups) from 11 AM – 2:30 PM.
Another place that I like in that corner of CravenCounty
is the Askins General Store on US 17, south of Vanceboro. It’s a hardware store
mostly, but also has a grill that serves breakfast and sandwich lunches. The
real treats there are the two weekend specials: barbecue pork and chicken
plates. The grill is open 5:30 AM to 2:30 PM Monday thru Saturday. Vera’s
Diner, in Vanceboro, is also a popular local country-cooking place. I ate there
quite a few times when I lived in Vanceboro for a time 25 years ago.