From Potato Patch Fries to water ice: 11 must-try foods that scream summertime in Pennsylvania

From Potato Patch Fries to Water Ice: 11 Must-Try Foods That Scream Summertime in Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of Daniel Knoll for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

By Kalena Thomhave

June 21, 2024

It’s time to take advantage of the culinary delights the season has to offer by sampling all the goodies on our bucket list of Pennsylvania foods that scream summer.

School’s out, the temperature is rising, and you’re dreaming about vacation. That’s right, it’s summertime. It’s time to take advantage of the culinary delights the season has to offer by sampling all the goodies on our list of Pennsylvania foods that scream summer.

Whether you try a Pennsylvania hamburger barbecue sandwich on a road trip, bring locally-grown corn from a roadside stand to your next picnic, or beat the heat with water ice, you’ll want to try all these foods that embody summer in the Keystone State.

Soft Pretzels – Philadelphia/Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Pennsylvanians love their soft pretzels, whether they’re enjoying Philly’s take on pretzels or the soft pretzels more recognized across the country. 

You can buy a homemade soft pretzel from the first commercial pretzel bakery in the US, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, which opened in 1861. Head east to the greater Philadelphia area and you’ll find Philly soft pretzels, which are thicker and longer than typical soft pretzels, with one recognizable center knot. They taste particularly good when purchased from a street vendor on a warm summer’s day and paired with a cold drink.

Potato Patch Fries at Kennywood Park – Pittsburgh

Kennywood Park, the 125-year-old amusement park just outside Pittsburgh, is full of nostalgic wonder, especially if you grew up spending summers riding the Jack Rabbit coaster, hanging out with park mascot Kenny Kangaroo, or eating the best fries known to man: Potato Patch Fries.

The Potato Patch has been serving up fresh-cut fries to parkgoers since 1973. The much-beloved fries can be enjoyed plain or served with toppings like cheese, bacon, or vinegar. For your dipping sauce, rest assured the stand provides the only ketchup acceptable in Pittsburgh, Heinz.

Farm Fresh Ice Cream – Statewide

The plethora of Pennsylvania dairy farms means that come summertime, you can enjoy farm fresh ice cream all across the state. Visit PA has even created an ice cream “trail” featuring more than 40 ice cream slingers across the state. (And if you “check in” at six or more creameries before the end of summer, you can win a special ice cream scoop.)

We recommend trying a banana split in Latrobe, the place where the distinctive sundae was first invented. 

Strawberry Pretzel Salad – Greater Pittsburgh

Given Pennsylvania’s love affair with pretzels, the devotion to the strawberry pretzel salad across Western Pennsylvania makes sense. Of course, the strawberry pretzel salad is not exactly a salad—it’s a sweet and salty layered dessert of a pretzel crust, cream cheese, and strawberry Jell-o often found at summer picnics and other potlucks. And while it’s been a favorite dessert in many parts of the US since the 1960s, Pittsburghers regularly claim it as their own, and adapt it to taste. 

Burger bar Burgatory makes a strawberry pretzel salad milkshake with strawberries, cream cheese, and salty pretzels while the restaurant Ritual House serves a more classic version of the dessert.

Philly Water Ice – Greater Philadelphia

Philadelphians have long survived the summer heat with the help of water (wooder) ice, though it’s much more than water and ice. Think Italian ice, but usually not as smooth—water ice is often, well, icier. And unlike a snow cone, the water ice flavoring, sugar, and ice are all mixed together before being served. The distinctive summer dessert was, like Italian ice, derived from granita made by Italian immigrants in Philadelphia.

You can grab water ice all around the Philly area this summer, including the legendary South Philly spot John’s Water Ice, and the Bucks County-based chain Rita’s, which has locations throughout southeastern Pa.

Corn from a Roadside Stand – Statewide

Everyone knows the best corn is often found at roadside stands that farmers set up to sell their produce. While you can always venture to a farmer’s market or even a pick-your-own farm for your Pennsylvania sweet corn (corn is grown in every county of the state so you’ll have no trouble finding it), there’s nothing like spontaneously pulling over on the side of the road to grab some.  Once you get your fresh, local corn, all that’s left to do is shuck it, then grill it, boil it, or prepare it however you like.

Pennsylvania Hamburger Barbecue Sandwich – Central Pa./NEPA

When you hear “barbecue sandwich,” maybe you think of a pulled pork sandwich, or some other barbecued meat on bread. But in some areas of central and northeastern Pennsylvania, a “barbecue sandwich” features ground beef and a barbecue-esque sauce, and is served on a hamburger bun. It’s basically what the rest of the country refers to as a Sloppy Joe.

You’re most likely to find true blue Pennsylvania “hamburger barbecue” sandwiches at older, local eateries, like Schell’s Food and Mini Golf in Berks County, which has been in operation since 1952. 

Chow Chow – Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Statewide

This Pennsylvania Dutch staple is a relish made of summer vegetables—a wonderful use of the season’s produce bounty. There are several ways to make this homemade veggie relish, and many Pa. families use chow chow recipes that have been passed down through generations. No matter what vegetables are used—though this pickle relish typically has cauliflower, beans, corn, and carrots—chow chow is a tart yet sweet condiment perfect on other summer foods like hot dogs.

If you don’t have vegetables from your own garden to make chow chow, you can buy homemade chow chow at country stores and farmers markets across the state, including all over Lancaster County, the center of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We’d recommend fulfilling your chow chow needs at Lancaster Central Market, the oldest continuously operated public farmers market in the US.

Birch Beer – Statewide

When in need of a refreshing beverage in the summer, you can reach for a unique Pennsylvania soft drink to cool down: birch beer. It’s not alcoholic—it’s beer like root beer is beer. In fact, it may be helpful to think of birch beer as root beer’s minty tasting cousin. Birch beer was originally made from the bark of birch trees, just as root beer was originally made from the root bark of sassafras trees.

Pick up a six-pack of birch beer at your local grocery store to bring to your next summer party. No other drink tastes quite like Pennsylvania as birch beer.

Tomato Pie – Greater Philadelphia

The summer season is when tomatoes flourish, growing ripe, red, and juicy. But there’s only so many times you can eat fresh tomatoes that have been cooked down into a sauce. Another seasonal option is tomato pie, the Philadelphia standard brought to the city by Italian immigrants. Tomato pie isn’t quite pizza—it’s more pizza-adjacent. This special pie consists of a thick tomato sauce atop a focaccia-style, bready crust. No toppings and no cheese—except for a sprinkling of parmesan or Romano.  

Tomato pie is sold all across the Philly area at pizzerias as well as bakeries. Two Montgomery County spots are wekk known for their tomato pie: Conshohocken Italian Bakery and Norristown’s Corropolese Italian Bakery & Deli.

Ballpark Hot Dogs – Statewide

Nothing quite says summer like a baseball game, and the classic ballpark food is, of course, a hot dog. While you can eat a hot dog any ol’ time this summer, there’s something special about munching on a hot dog while you’re at PNC Park cheering on the Pirates, or Citizens Bank Park cheering on the Phillies. You can also find hot dogs at the many minor league ballparks located throughout the state.


READ MORE: 8 Pennsylvania Dutch Foods You Need to Try


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