Alebrije – Perkiomen Avenue

IMG_2965According to Wikipedia.com, an alebrije is a piece of Mexican folk art, a brightly-colored sculpture of a fantastical creature.

It’s also a really cool name for a restaurant.

Though the name is catchy, it’s the food and the atmosphere that hooks people on a restaurant. The owners of Alebrije must be doing something right to have three locations in Reading: 5th Street Highway, Perkiomen Avenue and State Hill Road.

Alebrije’s Perkiomen Avenue location is set in a repurposed Bojangles. The old drive-through window still juts out awkwardly from the side of the building. Inside, guests are greeted by a parade of cardboard cutouts, including The Most Interesting Man in the World who invites you to “stay thirsty, my friend.”

A large mural is painted across the back wall of the dining room. The clichéd southwestern scene features a desert complete with cacti. A door to nowhere betrays the fact that a wall has been removed.

The old order counter is now the bar where the wait staff were tending to a man who had his coat draped over one stool and his briefcase on another. All told he took up three of the four bar stools, and the fourth was blocked by the collection of empty margarita glasses.

We got a seat at one of the high top tables that were shoe-horned into the bar area. A forged-iron cowboy stick figure held up a dessert card and guarded the three bottles of hot sauce (two red, one green).

IMG_2960Like all good Mexican restaurants, the meal starts with unlimited chips and salsa, and for my wife, a frozen banana margarita.

IMG_2963There was definitely no skimping when it came to her drink. It was big, and as her eventual hangover proved, not watered down.

When it comes to main courses, my wife and I each have our Mexican favorites. For her, it’s ranchero sauce, a traditional mild red sauce.

For me, nothing beats a good mole sauce. Though there are thousands of variations on this chili pepper-based sauce, my favorites are the ones that have that dark brown color that comes with the addition of chocolate.

IMG_2964When my enchiladas poblanas came out, they looked like they were covered in the darkest chocolate. The sauce was amazing, the mix of heat and sweet balanced perfectly with the chicken. Admittedly I have not made it to every Mexican restaurant in Berks County, but of the ones I have, this is the best sauce of any kind that I have found.

While my enchiladas were excellent, I was very disappointed to see the light brown puddle next to them on my plate. I like refried beans—they’re great as a side or rolled up as part of a burrito—but they should at least look like beans. Though the beans tasted fine, they were runny and just did not look appealing.

Overall though, Alebrije was impressive. The building may have been a little cramped, but it’s pretty impressive what they’ve done to turn it from fast food into a real restaurant. The prices are impressive, too. Even with the margarita, our bill was less than $30. That’s hard to do without a drink at most restaurants.

I am sad to report though, I saw no mythical creatures during my visit.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Very Reasonable

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant
3805 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing

Sunrise GrilleThere are hundreds of farmers markets across the state of Pennsylvania, with dozens of them spread throughout Berks County.

From roadside stands to indoor/outdoor markets with 100s of vendors, all of these markets deliver fresh produce, locally raised meats and delicious baked goods.

Farmers markets support area farm families, boost the local economy and help customers find healthy ingredients for home-cooked meals.

They are also a great place to get amazing meals.

I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of Berks County’s best farmers markets. Now in its third year, the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing only has 14 stands, but every one of them is different.

There’s a stand for seafood, one for bulk foods, another for soft pretzels and separate stands for beef, poultry, seafood, deli meats and organics. The same is true for their dine-in options: the Sunrise Grill and Fisher’s BBQ.

The two stands are set directly across from each other at the back of the market. Fisher’s sits in the far-right corner. Beef brisket, ribs and barbecued chicken swelter under the heat lamps in the display case.

Everything is hot and ready-to-serve. Catch the stand at the wrong time though, and you may need to wait a while. Friday nights are all-you-can-eat nights, and the line backs up quickly.

IMG_2959The best entree on the menu has to be the pulled pork. It’s cliché, but the meat really is tender and juicy. Instead of loading the meat up with barbecue sauce, I mix it with a side of green beans, which are mixed with a little bit of sauce and bacon. The beans are delicious, and the juice helps bring out more flavor in the pork.

Every platter at Fisher’s comes with two sides so for your second, I recommend the carrots. The carrots have a crispy outer coating, with charred black edges, but inside they are a beautiful vibrant orange and sweet as honey. And if that’s not sweet enough for you, grab a cup of fresh-brewed sweet tea to complete your meal.

Across the aisle, the Sunrise Grill serves up some great breakfast options like French toast, omelets and pancakes, but I love it for lunch.

Sunrise Grille 3Sunrise offers some great cold and hot sub options for lunch and dinner. They’re sausage sandwiches are excellent (especially if you get the pepper and onion sausage) and come with a “barbecue” sauce, a thin sauce with a taste closer to ketchup than barbecue, but perfect for the sandwich.

IMG_1372But my favorite meal at Sunrise Grill is their hot roast beef. The meat is so tender, more like pot roast than the slabs of roast beef you get at some diners, and it is piled high on top of a Kaiser roll.

I rarely get something at Sunrise Grill without a side of fries. They are fresh cut, not frozen fast food fries. For me, these are the kind of fries that just taste that much better with a spritz of vinegar.

Like every farmers market, the prices at these two stands are very reasonable. Platters at Fisher’s range between $8-12, and a sandwich, fries and drink at Sunrise Grill comes in right around the $10 mark.

The biggest downside to the market, and any farmers market for that matter, is the hours. The market is only open three days a week, Thursdays through Saturdays, and only have evening hours on Friday nights. If you have a supersized appetite, Friday night is the best time to go because Fisher’s offers some great all-you-can-eat specials for the price of a single meal.

BCE Rating – Fisher’s BBQ
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Very Reasonable

BCE Rating – Sunrise Grille
Food: Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Good
Price: Reasonable

PA Dutch Farmer’s Market of Wyomissing
845 Woodland Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Barbecue Diners Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Berks Food News: January 16, 2014

Rance House Celebrating 40 Years

The Circle S Ranch House in Sinking Spring will be celebrating its 40th anniversary with all-day specials on January 28.

According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, the Ranch House will be offering 40% off all dine-in orders on the 28th, including breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. There will be giveaways all day as well.

Asian Star Buffet Closes

On the other end of the spectrum, the Asian Star Buffet in Wyomissing has closed just months after re-opening.

The Reading Eagle is reporting a hand-written note was placed on the door that read, “Sorry, because of not enough business, we are closed down.” The news comes less than four months after the restaurant re-opened as a buffet in late September.

Asian Star shares the same ownership with the Tokyo Hibachi, also in Wyomissing, and unused Asian Star gift cards can be redeemed there.

Winedown set to open new event space

The Winedown Cafe in West Reading will debut its new event space on February 6, according to the company Facebook page. The “Art of Blending” is an interactive program that teaches guests the basics of blending grape varietals and provides the opportunity to create your own unique blend.

It was announced in September that Winedown was expanding into the former Wise Owl Bookstore which occupied the building next door. The renovated space will serve as a wine school and event space.

Food News

CC’s Wooden Grill – CLOSED

CC’s Wooden Grill in Kutztown is now closed. The restaurant went out of business in the summer of 2014. 

CC-s

I was watching an episode of BBQ Pitmasters recently when I heard a quote that stuck with me. Myron Mixon, owner of Jack’s Old South BBQ, was smoking some of his award-winning ribs when he said, “real barbecue ribs don’t fall off the bone.”

Thanks to the marketing of chains like Chilis and Texas Roadhouse, “fall-off-the-bone” has become synonymous with good ribs.

But as Myron Mixon said on the show, real BBQ pitmasters strive for ribs with texture. When you bite into the perfect rib, it should leave a beautiful bite mark.

If you like your ribs to have a little meat on their bones, the best place in Berks County is CC’s Wooden Grill.

CC’s doesn’t look like much from the outside, a non-descript brick building along Constitution Boulevard in Kutztown. The inside isn’t much to look at either. A handful of paintings provide the only decoration in an otherwise drab dining room.

Even the menus are plain, a simple 8 1/2″ by 11″ piece of paper, folded three ways.

What the restaurant lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in flavor.

Many restaurants make the mistake of trying to be everything to everyone, but CC’s has a formula that works: keep the menu small, but offer quality in every dish.

CC’s only offers three entree options (ribs, 1/4 chicken with ribs, and sauteed vegetables), six sandwiches, two appetizers, two soups, a salad and a handful of sides.

I made several trips to CC’s over the summer, having an opportunity to try most of the items on the menu, and from appetizers to main courses, I have yet to be disappointed.

Corn-Chowder-CC-s

The smokey corn chowder is a great way to start your meal, and it really is smokey. The bits of smoked sausage in the chowder dominate the flavors, but that’s not a bad thing as it adds a uniqueness to a dish that you wouldn’t expect at a barbecue joint.

Smoked-Wings-CC-s

But if you’re dining in a group, you can’t go wrong with an order of wings. Just don’t expect the wings you get at your local bar. These wings are meaty, juicy and smokey. Served without sauce, the wings are coated in the crisp bark from the grill. It’s the perfect way to whet your appetite for the main course.

And if you have never been to CC’s before, your main course has to be the ribs.

Ribs-CC-s

Myron Mixon would be proud of CC’s because these ribs don’t fall off the bone. Taking a bite out of these ribs leaves a beautiful mark.

Ribs-CC-s-2

Like the wings, the ribs could stand on their own without any sauce, but they are even better with the house BBQ. The sauce is thin, very different from anything you would brush on your ribs at home, and very sweet, Carolina style. The sauce is irresistible (which is why I used my fries to soak up what little was left) and blends perfectly with the already flavorful ribs.

The only downside to CC’s is that there are no desserts. If you are craving something sweet after dinner, there are plenty of options in downtown Kutztown, but most diners won’t have any room left after the main course. I ordered a half rack of ribs, and that was more than enough to keep me full for the rest of the night.

A half rack of ribs costs just under $20, with a full rack at $25. The sandwich options are very reasonable, starting at just $5.50 and appetizers and sides starting under $3.00.

That’s a small price for a lot of flavor.
CC's Wooden Grill on Urbanspoon

Closed Reviews

Recipe: Cap’n Crunch French Toast

If you read my review from the Tom Cat Cafe, you know how much I enjoyed the Dazed and Confused, Fruity Pebble French toast topped with fresh fruit and strawberry sauce.

It’s a very sweet, very unique and very delicious dish. If you would like to create your own signature French toast at home, try this recipe for Cap’n Crunch French toast, adopted from the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives cookbook:

3/4 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal
8 to 10 slices bread
butter for cooking
powdered sugar (to taste)
2 cups seasonal berries

Heat large skillet or grilled over medium heat.
Grease skillet with butter. 
Whisk together cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.
Pour cereal into a storage bag and use a rolling pin to crush until it resembles cracker meal.
Transfer cereal to small dish.
Dip bread into the cream mixture and let excess liquid drip.
Press bread slices into cereal crumbs. 
Cook
 bread until caramelized on both sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. 
Serve
 with seasonal berries and powdered sugar.

Helpful Hints:

  • This recipe works well with most sugar cereals. Once you’ve tried the Cap’n Crunch, experiment with your favorite brand.
  • Thick slices of bread work best, but you can use whatever bread you choose. I buy uncut loaves of wheat bread from my local farmers market so I can cut them to my desired thickness.

Have a recipe you’d like to share on Berks County Eats? E-mail Zach@BerksCountyEats.com and your favorite dish could be included.

Recipes

The Tomcat Cafe

Tom-Cat-Cafe-Sinking-Spring

Breakfast is probably my favorite meal of the day. There’s something special about sitting down to a homecooked breakfast of french toast or pancakes, homefries or corned beef hash. Top it off with a big glass of orange juice and you have the perfect start to the day.

There’s plenty of places in Berks County to get a good hot breakfast. Let’s face it, it’s hard to screw up french toast.

By the same token, it’s hard to find a place to eat a memorable breakfast. Pancakes and eggs are essentially the same from one place to another.

That’s why The Tomcat Cafe is so special.

Located right on Penn Avenue (Route 422) in Sinking Spring, The Tomcat Cafe does breakfast better than anyone else because that’s all they do. The restaurant discontinued their lunch options in early 2013 to concentrate on making some of the best pancakes, omelets, crepes and more.

Blues rock pumps through the speakers. Leonard Cohen’s “Old Ideas” record hangs prominantly on the wall. An Elvis Presely cat stares down from above the door.

Even the menu, with specials like the Rhiannon, Hey Joe and Don McLean, is as diverse as the decor. And man is the menu is expansive.

There are are 56 different topping combinations for pancakes alone, allowing you be as adventurous as you choose. Enjoy a simple order of pancakes with blueberry topping, or try something a little different, like the Paradise City: fried eggs and Gouda sandwiched between bacon cheeseburger pancakes.

Dazed-And-Confused-Tom-Cat-Cafe

I opted for the Dazed and Confused: two thick slices of French toast dipped in Fruity Pebbles and topped with strawberries, bananas, strawberry syrup and whipped cream.

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth at breakfast, this is the way to go. The Fruity Pebbles made the French toast that much sweeter, while the fresh fruit on top tricked me into thinking that there was some redeeming value in the sugary shortstack in front of me.

Peanut-Butter-Pancakes-Tom-Cat-Cafe

My wife decided on one of the unique pancake offerings. The No. 27 comes complete with bananas, peanut butter, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. If the ghost of Elvis walked through the door, I’m pretty sure this is what he would order, and he would not be disappointed.

Of course no breakfast is complete without an order of homefries. For the extra dollar, I added grilled onions and peppers to my order. What I got was a small mountain.

Home-Fries-Tom-Cat-Cafe

The homefries could stand on their own, but the peppers and onions were worth every penny. They were sauteed perfect, soft enough to slide right down while adding a hit of extra flavor to the meal. It was the perfect counterbalance to the sweetness of the main course and are easily sharable between two or more people.

Many area restaurants try to make up for the lack of flavor in their foods, especially at breakfast, by giving giant portions. Tomcat is just giving you more of what you actually want, a unique breakfast you can’t get anywhere else, all for around $10.00.

A trip to Tomcat takes a little bit of planning. The Cafe is open limited hours, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. But for breakfast, lunch or brunch, it’s well worth the trip.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Very Reasonable

The TomCat Cafe
3998 Penn Ave
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

The Tomcat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Breakfast & Brunch Reviews

New Brew Pub Planned for West Reading

According to an article in the January 1 Reading Eagle a new brew pub is set to open in West Reading. Chatty Monks Brewing Co. will occupy 610 Penn Avenue, formerly the site of a designer shoe store.

The brewery had initially planned to  open on Evans Avenue in Wyomissing, but zoning regulations forced a change in plans, according the company Facebook page. Instead, Chatty Monks, which already has a loyal following for its craft beers, will open in downtown West Reading sometime in 2014.

Chatty Monks will join an already vibrant restaurant scene in Reading’s western suburb which already includes more than 20 dining establishments along Penn Avenue alone. 

Do you have news to share with Berks County Eats? E-mail Zach@BerksCountyEats.com.

 

Food News