Berks County is a land of extremes when it comes to food.
On one hand, you have the finest dining establishments, places with white table linens, strict dress codes and suits and ties.
On the other, you have the celebrated greasy spoons, locally renowned holes-in-the-wall serving great food without any of the frills.
There may be no better, or greasier, greasy spoon in Berks County than Spuds in Kutztown.
Spuds doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. There are no fancy decorations on the walls, only the photos of those brave souls who have conquered “The Beast,” the restaurant’s three-pound burger challenge (the current record holder finished it in a very impressive 13 minutes).
The menu, a single piece of paper printed front and back, is headed by the “Assembly Line,” where you build your own burger, hot dog, steak or chicken sandwich from a list of toppings and “over the top-pings” which include corned beef, ham, mozzarella sticks and onion rings.
A handful of salads appeal to those who want to trick themselves into thinking they are eating healthy, though I doubt the cheeseburger salad (which includes, you guessed it, a freshly grilled cheeseburger) or The Mob (topped with ham and pepperoni) have much redeeming nutritional value.
And then there are the famous fries from which Spuds takes its name. The original fries and curly fries are great, but why settle when there are 30 topping options, including Sweet Heat (Cajun seasoning, sweet chili sauce and mozzarella), San Antonio (ground beef, fried onions, cayenne ranch, mozzarella and bacon) and Lonely Hearts (mushrooms, peppers, onions, parmesan pepper sauce and mozzarella).
I decided to splurge on the burger, topping it with barbecue sauce, onions and pulled pork. The quarter-pound burger on its toasted bun would have been plenty filling, but not nearly as much fun. The pulled pork was tender and moist, and it would have made an excellent sandwich on its own. Together, it was a deliciously messy dish that no bun could contain.
Of course no meal at Spuds is complete without fries. The Chesapeake fries, which are tossed in Old Bay and olive oil, are one of the simpler creations available, but sometimes less is more. The thin-cut fries were dripping of oil and doused in seasoning. The cook could have probably held off on the extra salt, but the fries were as good as any that you are going to find.
Taking the opposite approach, my wife went with a simple cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise while loading up on the spuds, literally, with an order of loaded fries. The “gall bladder goodness,” as my wife calls it, is like eating a fried baked potato, with cheddar, ranch, bacon and chives.
A fork is a must as the cheese hardens atop the potatoes, but it is worth the extra effort it takes to eat the extra special fries.
Though reasonably priced (with drinks, our meals came in at under $25.00), don’t confuse Spuds with fast food. All of the burgers and fries are made to order, which can mean long waits during the dinner rush, especially when class is in session a Kutztown University. Of course, you can always call in your order (and probably should if you need more than two or three meals).
Spuds is a favorite of students, especially those looking for a late-night meal. But the food is too good to dismiss it as a college town dive.
So if you’re in the mood for a burger and fries, and if you have a few thousand calories to spare, skip the fast food and gorge on some greasy gourmet instead.