For such a small town, West Reading has a seemingly endless array of restaurants.
No less than 30 restaurants and cafes are packed into the town’s 1.5 square miles. From French cuisine to fried chicken and from vegetarian to Mediterranean, foodies can find a world of flavors in this tiny borough.
While most will never venture from the Penn Avenue and the vibrant downtown area, there is much more to this wonderful small town.
Tulpehocken Avenue shoots off from the 5th Avenue traffic circle. Blink and you may miss it and the hidden gem that it holds.
Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette looks like every other home on the block, except for the brightly lit sign proclaiming “Italian Food” and “Cocktails.”
A small brass plate on the front has a simple inscription: “Mom Chaffe’s Est. 1936.”
It is amazing that any restaurant could survive for nearly 80 years, especially one like Mom Chaffe’s, which still does not have a website, a Facebook page or any other online presence. What it does have are loyal customers and 78 years of history on its side.
Like West Reading, itself, Mom Chaffe’s packs a lot into a small space. At times it is too much as the wait staff is forced to navigate a maze of tables and chairs in the main dining room. Even the walls are cramped, with dozens of paintings fighting over the limited space.
What’s not cramped is the menu. It’s very limited-two pages of pasta, antipasto and entrees with a handful of specials added daily.
One of the specials on this night was the Italian fried hot peppers, which were served as an appetizer with sliced tomato and mozzarella over lettuce.
Though the dish was served cold, there was no escaping the heat. These were some very spicy peppers, loaded with heat and flavor. The creamy chunks of mozarella were a perfect compliment to the peppers, and along with the tomato and lettuce helped cool the taste buds.
While I was adventurous with the appetizer, I played it conservative with my meal and opted for fedelini with tomato sauce and meatballs.
The two meatballs were massive, clearly hand-formed and full of flavor. The sauce was bright red and thick, one of the best I have found in the area. My only complaint is that there was enough of it to mix with the mound of pasta that was buried underneath.
Across the table, my wife went with the lasagna (which is only available Thursday through Sunday). I wish I had made the same decision because the one bite of hers I tried was delicious. The lasagna featured both ground meat and thinly sliced sausage layered with pasta and cheese and topped with the same thick tomato sauce as my pasta. It was a meaty, yet balanced dish that I enjoyed as much as any lasagna I’ve tried (and was enough that she took home half for the next day’s lunch).
The dessert tray was sitting on a table near us, and after staring at it for most of our meal, there was no way we were going to be leaving without some. It was all fairly standard cakes and cheesecakes (I would venture to guess that these were not made in house, but at another local business). I went with a chocolate cake with a filling of ricotta and dried fruit. The cake itself was very dark, but the filling was incredibly sweet, with pieces of pineapple, apricot and other fruit mixed in for added texture.
In a restaurant with such limited seating, I had expected the prices to be higher to compensate. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the prices were in line any other restaurant with entrees falling in the $15-25 range. For our appetizer, two entrees and two slices of cake, our final bill was just over $50.
Overall, Mom Chaffe’s is a great little place for fine Italian food. If you go, make sure you save room. And be sure to call ahead or there may not be room for you.