They sat us next to the dessert case.
Yoder's Restaurant was so packed that the only place to seat me, my friend Arleen and my baby daughter – in her stroller – was toward the front of the dining room.
So there we sat, within arm's reach of a four-tiered display case of oversized pie slices: Pillowy coconut cream. Dazzling strawberry. Refreshing key lime.
Arleen and I hadn't even placed our drink orders yet, but we already knew what John had told us was true: "It's official: You're just not leaving here without eating pie."
John is a 27-year-old Sarasota resident and a regular at Yoder's. We met him and his mom in line outside the restaurant, where we waited nearly an hour to get inside.
Yes, an hour. The line was out the door, as it often is at Yoder's. The popular restaurant opened in 1975 and remains the crown jewel in Sarasota's thriving Amish and Mennonite communities. Yoder's takes no reservations and gets especially busy from November to April, when diners seeking comfort food flock there for pot roast, mashed potatoes and other stick-to-your-ribs fare.
To pass the time in line outside the eatery, Arleen and I took turns browsing Yoder's Amish Village – a collection of adjacent buildings that includes a gift shop and fresh market. We did our best to ignore the aroma of Yoder's famous fried chicken that wafted through the parking lot, as well as the stream of happy-looking customers exiting the restaurant with plastic bags that read "I 'heart' pies."
Our stomachs grumbling, Arleen and I easily could have made a meal of the offerings in the fresh market – fresh produce, Amish meats and cheeses, baked goods – and then headed home.
But no. This was Yoder's. The same Yoder's that had been stuck in my head ever since a co-worker mentioned it to me years earlier. The same Yoder's that had been featured on the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food." The same Yoder's whose matriarch was eulogized by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune when she died in July 2012.
We stayed put.
The hour we spent in line carried a certain ambivalence. On one hand, our pleasant conversation with John and his mom made the time seem short. On the other hand, John's descriptions of what awaited us inside were like torture: "I've never had a bad meal here... The desserts are amazing... Everything's really big, too. You get a lot of food for your money... You get so full."
Fortunately, John's praise for the restaurant's fast service was well deserved. By the time Arleen and I were seated at our table near the dessert case, it was our server who was left to wait while we studied the menu with the intensity of two law students cramming for the bar exam. In the meantime, our server left and reappeared with a plate of homemade Amish bread.
At last, I settled on the baked chicken and stuffing with a side of macaroni and cheese and corn cakes. Arleen ordered the pulled pork with fried okra and mac and cheese. Our dinners clocked in at less than $15 apiece.
When our food arrived a short time later, we tore into it like animals – although our bellies were already half-filled with Amish bread and apple butter. When my baby daughter swiped at my chicken with her tiny fingers, I made an internal vow to return with her when she can eat solid foods.
As I inhaled my stuffing, I overheard a woman at the next table tell her server, "Instead of a piece of pie, I want a whole pie."
Ah, yes. Pie. John had warned us about the big portions.
As our server handed over two doggie bags, she rattled off a list of available desserts, mentioning options that weren't even showcased in the glass display we'd been eyeing throughout our meal, like chocolate cake and several flavors of cheesecake. Arleen and I decided to split a slice of pumpkin cheesecake and a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie, each under five bucks.
Despite our best efforts to save real estate in our tummies for dessert, Arleen and I could not finish the pies.
John was right: Everything at Yoder's had been big. And amazing.
If You Go
What: Yoder's Amish Village
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Where: 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota