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.
I 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Made 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 cookies.
The 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.
I 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 CravenCountyis 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.