Marion Fire Company

Stouchsburg 1

There is no doubt that Berks County is blessed with a plethora of amazing restaurants. From upscale, downtown dining to back country bars, the options are seemingly limitless.

But sometimes the best meals are the ones you can’t get in any restaurant.

Pick up a copy of the Reading Eagle or the Merchandiser and you will find a treasure trove of dining options at local churches, fire companies and social clubs.

Homemade meals from pancake breakfasts to roast beef dinners are available every weekend. But the true specialty of Berks County is chicken pot pie.

I’m talking about genuine Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie, the three-part dish of dough, meat and potatoes served in a bowl. (Sorry KFC, but what you serve is chicken pie, not chicken pot pie).

And some of the best pot pie in Berks County is only served once a year, in the small village of Stouchsburg.

Every March, the Marion Fire Company hosts an annual pot pie supper at its social quarters along Stouchsburg’s Main Street. The wood paneling adorning the walls of the social hall is broken up only by the large bingo board used on Tuesday nights.

Dinner is served family style. Large bowls of pot pie, peas and applesauce are passed around the table for diners to take as much as they would like. The only downside is that some people (i.e., me) put so much pot pie on their plates that the rest of the table has to wait for another bowl to be delivered.

The reason I take such large portions is that the fire company is serving near perfect pot pie.

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So what makes it so good? Any good pot pie starts with the dough. More than an over-sized noodle, the dough is thick enough to chew, but soft enough to slide right down.

The second piece to the pot pie puzzle is the meat. Unlike most places where chicken is the only option, the Marion Township Fire Company also serves the under-appreciated beef version of the dish, with large chunks of roast beef mixed in, the juice from the meat combines with that of the dough and potatoes to create a pseudo-gravy that helps keep the dish moist. It’s everything you could hope for in real Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie.

Like all good social dinners, dessert is included with your dinner ticket. An array of pies and cakes tempts the diners. My choice is the spice cake, which is served with cream cheese icing, a short and sweet finish to a hearty meal.

There are plenty of organizations across the county serving delicious dinners so you don’t have to make the trek to the Lebanon County border. But for me, the yearly trip is a family affair, a mini reunion built around a home-cooked meal, all for less than $10 per person.

The annual pot pie dinner is scheduled for Saturday, March 8.

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette

Mom Chaffe Menu

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette
148 Tulpehocken Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Mom Chaffe's Cellarette on Urbanspoon

Classics Dessert Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Austin’s Restaurant and Bar

It’s hard not to notice the lights.

The dining room is dimly lit. Small lamps at each table mimic the glow of candlelight. The dark brick walls, only partially lit by interspersed overhead lights, stand in stark contrast to the brightness of the kitchen, which sits in full view of customers through large glass windows.

A team of waiters and waitresses buzz by, their black clothing blending into their dark surroundings.

There is something romantic about the low lighting at Austin’s Restaurant and Bar. Though there are plenty of families there on any given night, it still feels like the perfect date night restaurant.

Austin’s is part of a small chain of restaurants in southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. The other three – located in Lancaster, Langhorne and Christiana, DE – operate under the J.B. Dawson’s banner.

The menus among the four restaurants are nearly identical. Burgers and sandwiches are popular, but so too are the surprisingly good barbecue selections like baby back ribs and pulled pork. Fresh seafood and pasta dishes, flatbread pizza and six different cuts of steak round out a menu that is so much more than bar food.

No meal at Austin’s is complete without a loaf of their signature honey wheat bread. Though no longer complimentary, the bread is well-worth the nominal charge.

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The loaves are fresh-baked, served warm with a dab of honey butter. You can taste the honey, but it’s a subtle sweetness, not overpowering to the bread as a whole. I never would leave a slice of bread at the table at Austin’s like I would at most restaurants.

For your main course, it is hard to go wrong with any of Austin’s options. I enjoy the baby back ribs (all-you-can-eat every Monday night) and pulled pork, though they don’t reach the heights of some other barbecue joints.

Another go-to of mine (and on this occasion, my wife) is the Texas Tenders. The breading is different from any other fried chicken I have tried. It’s very thin, giving the dish a light and airy feel (which is the exact opposite from most fried chicken dishes) while still providing a nice crunch. The tenders blend perfectly with the house barbecue and honey mustard sauces.

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Of course if you order chicken tenders, fries have to be the default side. Austin’s French fries are sliced exceptionally thin, which gives them a unique look and feel compared to other local restaurants.

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Austin’s menu also includes a handful of pasta options. On our last visit, I ordered the Chicken Florentine Pasta: grilled chicken and penne in a spinach cream sauce, topped with diced tomatoes. The tomatoes were marinated in a balsamic vinegar, which blended well, never overpowering the richness of the cream.

The food was more than enough for two whole meals, so we packed up half of our meals to save room for dessert. We were not disappointed.

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We opted for the banana cream delight. Essentially a deconstructed pie, it featured whole sliced bananas, graham cracker crumbs and banana custard topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. The graham cracker helped temper the sweetness of the other ingredients, adding a flavorful crunch that put this on par with a really good banana cream pie.

The ambiance of Austin’s may feel like fine dining, but the prices are much more reasonable. Our dinner for two, complete with dessert was under $40. There is always a long wait during the dinner rush, especially on weekends, but you can always grab a few drinks at the bar to pass the time or plan your trip for off-peak hours.

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

Austin’s Restaurant and Bar
1101 Snyder Rd
West Lawn, PA 19609

Austin's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Good Eatz Green Cafe – CLOSED

Good Eatz

 

The Good Eatz Green Cafe is closed. The restaurant had relocated from West Reading to the Fairgrounds Farmers Market in April 2014 before closing in February 2015.

When Good Eatz Green Cafe opened its doors, it was an anomaly. Berks County is a meat-and-potatoes kind of place. I honestly never thought an organic cafe that specialized in vegan and vegetarian dishes could survive.

Five years later, Good Eatz is still going strong.

The cafe is tucked neatly at the entrance to Designer Place at the VF Outlet, having moved from its former home along Penn Avenue more than a year ago.

Brick walls with white and maroon tile floor harken back to the building’s industrial roots, but the stained glass sign at the entrance – Good Eatz set out in bright red set against blades of grass and a brightly colored ladybug – perfectly captures the Cafe’s chic vibe.

The menu is a lot larger than expected, with plenty of choices for the hungry meat-eater like the Andouille sausage burrito, grilled chicken wraps and Kobe beef sliders. But Good Eatz caters to those with special dietary needs like gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free (many menu items fit all four categories).

Though Good Eatz is open for all three meals, lunch items dominate the menu. Soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis and wraps make up the bulk of the menu, but everything has its own twist. There are salmon burgers, gluten free pizza and my wife’s choice, the raspberry and brie grilled cheese (an interesting combination that worked surprisingly well together).

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For me, this trip was all about stepping out of my comfort zone.

If ¬†you’re a follower of Berks County Eats, you know how much I love good meats. Whether it’s a tender steak, a perfectly smoked rack of ribs or a rotisserie chicken, I have spent many a meal satisfying my inner carnivore. It would have been easy to order up a burger or a stir-fry.

Instead my eyes locked in on the 11-item vegan menu, and I was surprised to see so many familiar dishes – sloppy joes, meatloaf, burgers and my choice, shepherd’s pie.

Vegan Shepherd's Pie

Traditional shepherd’s pie is my ideal dish – mashed potatoes loaded with meat and gravy. Vegan shepherd’s pie looked the same, but the flavors were very different.

And that’s not a bad thing.

“Textured vegetable protein” mimicked the look and feel of ground beef. The use of red-skinned mashed potatoes as a base was a great way to make up for the lost flavor from the missing meat. Mix in peas and carrots, and top it all with mushroom gravy, and you’ve got a dish that’s almost as good as the original.

To my surprise the food was not only delicious, but very reasonably priced. My shepherd’s pie, complete with side salad, cost just $10. In fact, the most expensive item on the menu, the seafood stir-fry, is only $16.

I won’t be giving up meat anytime soon, but going with a healthier alternative every now and then can’t be a bad thing, especially if it’s as good as my first trip to Good Eatz.

The Good Eatz Green Cafe on Urbanspoon

Closed Reviews