V&S Sandwiches

V&S Sandwich Shop

“u no u luv it. lol :-)”

That’s the tagline pasted on the homemade posters throughout V&S Sandwiches on Lancaster Avenue, one poster promoting the shop’s chili cheese fries, another advertising hamburger and chicken sliders, limit 125 per order.

There is a lot of love to go round at the many V&S locations scattered throughout Greater Reading. Hot and cold sandwiches, salads and pizzas that have made V&S one of the most popular restaurant chains in Berks County.

A neon sign hangs high in front of the Lancaster Avenue location, beckoning diners to try the shop’s Italians, steaks and pizzas. The retro-looking sign fits perfectly in front of a restaurant that is very much a time capsule, itself.

Red picnic benches sit atop sheets of Astroturf in front of the building. Inside, a large sign reminds patrons of the restaurant’s cash-only policy, another leftover from a bygone era of dining.

During peak hours, V&S operates more like a New York City deli, with customers taking a number and waiting to be called just to place their order. Be ready when your number is called as indecisiveness can back up the line quickly.

Though there are about two dozen sandwiches to choose from, my eyes never left the “specials” board. The steak special is a simple sandwich: steak, sauce, onions and peppers (the cheesesteak special is available for an extra $0.10).

V&S Steak Sandwich

Delivered on a cafeteria tray, the steak special looks less like a sandwich, and more like a pile of steak meat. The roll is stuffed so full that it is nearly impossible to close.

The onions and peppers are mixed in with the steak, but the thick sauce is heaped on afterward. Some bites are heavy on the sauce, others are lacking, but all are delicious.

The meat is very flavorful on its own, not like the frozen steaks you would pick up at the grocery store. I also caught the hint of a banana pepper or two mixed in, adding just a kick of sweet heat.

It was only after I finished that I noticed the puddle that had formed on the table, the combination of a soft roll and a thin paper plate having done very little to dam the flow of grease.

V&S Fries

Of course no sandwich lunch is complete without an order of fries. The small bag holds a deceptively large amount of the fast food staples.

Compared to a chain like Subway, V&S is a steal. The steak special costs right around $3.50—that for a sandwich that is longer than a standard six-inch with twice the meat. For our two sandwiches, a shared order of fries and two drinks, our bill was right around $13.00.

V&S Receipt

And there again, printed on my receipt: “u no u luv it. lol”

It’s true. I do love it.

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

V&S Sandwich Shop
1621 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19607

V & S Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Classics Lunch & Dinner Reviews Sandwich Shops

Maniaci’s Italian Bistro – CLOSED

UPDATE: Maniaci’s Italian Bistro is now CLOSED. The announcement of the closing was made on the same day this post went live, and the restaurant closed less than three weeks later.

IMG_3433 One year ago, a Berks County restaurant became famous.

Maybe infamous is a better word.

On March 10, 2013, Maniaci’s Italian Bistro in Mohnton was featured on an episode of Restaurant: Impossible on the Food Network.

The premise of the show is pretty simple: a sinking restaurant, desperate for help, calls on Chef Robert Irvine to remake the restaurant and its menu. After a few days of hard work, crammed into 60 minutes via the magic of television, the restaurant celebrates its grand re-opening with a brand new look and better food.

When Robert Irvine arrived in Mohnton, Maniaci’s was a sinking business, having lost money for three years, according to the owners. New competition had arrived when Mangia Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria opened just a stone’s throw away.

And like most, the episode ended with revelations and a newfound commitment to the business.

One year later, my wife and I made our first visit to the Bistro.

Driving along East Wyomissing Boulevard, it’s easy to overlook Maniaci’s. The strip mall that houses the restaurant sits back from the street, and the only signage visible in the evening twilight was a large Miller Lite banner hanging above the take-out entrance.

Inside, Maniaci’s is much smaller than it appeared on television. Seating is very limited, 11 tables plus the family-style table that connects the two storefronts that make up the dining room. But on a Wednesday night in March, it didn’t seem to matter as only one other party of two was in the dining room.

Maniaci Interior - RIHow it appeared on the show IMG_3435Maniaci’s one year later

With no hostess or waitress in sight, we sat ourselves at a table in the middle of the room. The room looked exactly as it had on the show, the shelves lined with potted plants and jars of pasta, arranged exactly as Robert Irvine had left them.

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The menus we were handed looked cheap in contrast to the elegant decor. Printed on a double-sided sheet of paper, the menu had several appetizers crossed out with a black Sharpie.

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Our meal started with two small loaves of bread, served warm atop a wooden cutting board, a nice touch that made it feel like we were getting something more than a basket of bread. A hefty salad followed before our main dishes arrived.

Not knowing which dishes were inspired by Robert Irvine, I opted for the involtini, a mix of spinach, red peppers and ricotta rolled in pasta. Unlike a ravioli, where the filling is completely engrossed in the pasta, involtini looks more like sushi, with one thin strand of pasta banding the filling together in the center.

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The dish was beautifully presented, with halved meatballs serving as spacers in between the six pieces. I was excited to try it, expecting to be wowed by the flavor combination before me. I wanted to taste the heat of the fire-roasted peppers, the creaminess of the ricotta and the spices from the meatballs. Instead it was all masked by the tart taste of balsamic vinegar, which was liberally used in the sauce. It was good, but I went in hoping for great.

My wife opted for the Roman Delight: penne pasta tossed with chicken, peppers, spinach and olive oil. It was a good dish, but one that would have been better at home in a dinner, with thin strips of chicken that fit better in a chicken cheesesteak than a traditional Italian dinner.

Roman_Delight_ManiaciRoman Delight as served on Restaurant: Impossible IMG_3432Roman Delight, back on the menu one year later

It was only after our meal that I went back and re-watched Restaurant: Impossible, where I discovered that Roman Delight was a staple of the old menu, one that Robert Irvine had rejected for using processed chicken with no flavor.

We certainly were not unhappy with our meal at Maniaci’s, but there was a sense of disappointment after we finished our dinner. With noticeably smaller portion sizes than at their next-door neighbor, I was left wanting more, both in terms of flavor and my appetite.

When one of the most respected chefs in the world takes the time to help save your business, I expect a little more for my money.

What I got was an average meal that I could have had at any of the dozens of Italian restaurants in Berks County.

Maniaci's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Closed Reviews

Mangia Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria

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Mangia!

In Italian, the word literally means “Eat!” In English, it is the perfect name for an Italian restaurant.

As I have crisscrossed Berks County, I am always looking for something different. A quirky restaurant, an odd menu item or anything else that makes a place stand out above the countless dining options in Greater Reading.

When Mangia first opened in the former location of the Mohnton Navy Yard Galley in 2010, it was very much like any other Italian restaurant in the area: delicious pasta dishes served in heaping portions, pizzas streaming through the ovens and out the door for take-out, an assortment of wraps and sandwiches and a dining room full of happy patrons.

While exceedingly popular, Mangia lacked that certain something to make it truly unique.

But the restaurant found its signature dish, one that you won’t find anywhere else in Berks County and beyond, with the introduction of the Pasta al Parmigiano Reggiano.

More than a menu item, Pasta al Parmigiano Reggiano is a dinner experience.

After the rest of our dinner party received their meals, my meal, or at least the elements of it, appeared tableside.

A pan with pasta and red sauce simmered atop a burner next to what looks like a giant wooden bowl. This bowl is actually an 80-pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Do not confuse this with the grated parmesan you buy in shakers at the grocery store. The cheese, according to Mangia owner Joe Folino who prepares the dish, costs about $20 per pound.

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The top of the cheese is carved out to make a bowl-like structure, with shavings from the wheel in the center. Folino then takes a ladle full of grappa (an Italian liquor), heats it over the fire from the burner until it catches fire and pours it into the cheese, melting the shavings.

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From there, the pasta and sauce are dumped into the Parmigiano Reggiano and tossed until the cheese is blended with sauce and coated on the fettuccini.

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The result is a pasta unlike any other I have tasted. The cheese has a very sharp flavor, with the natural age coming through, giving it almost a smokiness. The red sauce does help to temper the cheese a bit, but its own flavors become lost.

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Your choice of meat can be added to the dish, though it is served on the side rather than tossed in the mixture so as not to corrupt the natural flavors of the cheese wheel. My side of sausage turned out to be a perfect addition, adding depth and texture to an already inspired dish.

The dish, combined with either an appetizer or dessert, would probably have been enough for two people to share, but I have never been one for sharing, and our waitress was shocked to find that I had finished it and wasn’t going to be taking any home with me.

While you may need a big appetite, you don’t need a big wallet to enjoy the tableside show. The Pasta al Parmigiano Romano only costs about $16, with an additional cost for the meat. If you manage to make it through the meal wanting more, order an encore of bananas flambé, also created at your table, or try one of the other dessert options like tiramisu, cannoli or a chocolate lava cake.

After a one-of-a-kind Italian dining experience, there is only one thing left to say:

Mangia!

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

Mangia Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
322 E. Wyomissing Ave
Mohnton, PA 19540

Mangia! Italian on Urbanspoon

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

The Dos and Don’ts of Navigating Large Menus

Recently I posted a review of Michael’s Restaurant in Douglassville. Michael’s is your typical diner or family restaurant, offering 12 pages worth of menu items in an effort to please all of the people, all of the time.

While Michael’s menu is expansive, it is hardly the largest I have seen. The Golden Eagle Diner in Bristol, Bucks County, has a hefty 14-page menu, not including daily specials. The menu is approximately 2500 words, or the length of five Berks County Eats blog posts.

With so many choices and only one chance to get it right, a menu this size can be overwhelming. But don’t let it get to you, but do follow these dos and don’ts and you can navigate even the largest diner menus.

Don’t order a steak. There are certain parts of a diner’s menu you should avoid, starting with steak. If you have a craving for a nice New York strip or Delmonico, there are plenty of steakhouses serving up bigger, better, juicier options.

Do check out the specials. Diners with such large menus have to keep a lot of food on hand at all times. That means a lot of frozen foods and few fresh items. With specials, you know it’s not.

Don’t order ethnic food. More specifically, don’t order Italian. Pasta is fast and easy to make, which is why it is a staple on just about every diner’s menu, but you’re usually getting canned sauce and frozen meatballs. If you’re hungry for Italian, there is at least one Italian restaurant for every town in Berks County. Otherwise, you may as well make it at home.

Do order homestyle. The best diners are the ones that serve things “the way mama made it.” And the best dishes are usually the homestyle meals. Stick to the basics like roast beef, turkey, ham or meatloaf and pair it with some mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Don’t order appetizers. This isn’t an indictment on the quality of the appetizers. On the contrary, the fried dishes are usually some of the best on the menu. But at most diners, soup and salad bar are usually included. Add an appetizer on top of that, and that leaves little room for the main course.

Do order dessert. Pie, cake and coffee: three staples of any good diner. The dessert menu alone at a family restaurant can be a full page long. And let’s face it, if you’re going to take the time to read an entire page on the menu, shouldn’t it be the dessert page?

Don’t get a burger. Hamburgers are a tempting option on any menu, but especially at a diner. Many offer you a chance to build your own burger with your choice of cheese and toppings. But, there are so many great places to get a killer burger (bar and grills, steakhouses, and even Five Guys), enjoy something different on your trip to the diner.

Do order breakfast. Many diners offer breakfast all day, every day, and you should take advantage. Many times breakfast is a specialty of the restaurants. Items like pancakes and French toast are quick and easy, leading to faster service. And breakfast is cheaper. You can get a short stack of pancakes and a side of homefries for roughly the same price as a soup and salad buffet.

Don’t go in expecting gourmet. Restaurants like this not only have large menus, but they have large dining rooms, which means short-order cooks are pushing meals out of the kitchen in a hurry. So avoid anything that sounds like something you would get in a higher-end restaurant-that includes things like shrimp, lobster and filet mignon.

Do your homework. The best way to ensure you have a great meal is to do your homework. Go onto review sites like Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor and look at the positive reviews. See what those reviewers ordered and get an idea for what this restaurant does particularly well.

Always remember that every restaurant is different. Each one does something better or worse than the next. These are general rules of thumb, one of many things to take in consideration on your next trip to the diner.

Uncategorized

Road Trip: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 37 miles southwest of Reading to Lancaster, PA.

Dinner and a show. It is the quintessential night out, a perfect evening of food and fun for couples and large groups alike. Somewhere along the way, a genius decided to combine the two and the dinner theater was born.

Some dinner theaters offer superior acting with subpar food. Others offer great food with mediocre acting.

The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre has amazing food.

The Dutch Apple is one of a pair of dinner theaters in Lancaster. The nearby Rainbow Dinner Theater specializes in comedies while the Dutch Apple stage is home to musicals.

Theater-goers gather in the lobby until 90 minutes before showtime when the floodgates open and patrons are led to their seats. The two-tiered seating area is deceptively large, holding nearly 400 people on a busy night.

With that many people crowded in, it can create quite a traffic jam at the twin buffets, but it is well worth the wait.

I am sure there are some delicious greens on the salad bar, but I have never wasted a trip on salad when there are so many entree options waiting on the hot bar.

The choices remain fairly consistent between visits, with a trio of entrees (usually beef, a poultry and seafood), a fourth meat at the carving station, at least one potato dish and several vegetables.

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My first trip through the line, I loaded up on sides while getting a few slices of ham from the carving station. The vegetables, a mix of carrots, squash, broccoli and snap peas, were cooked to a perfect t al dente. The corn casserole is creamy and delicious. The pot roast, complete with red skin potatoes and pearl onions, was juicy and tender. The ham was good, but the only bad part about carving stations is that the meat rarely stays hot under the heat lamp, and that was the case with the ham.

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Trip number two featured a second helping of vegetables. The thick slab of turkey was moist and flavorful. The addition of mini marshmallows to the sweet potato casserole gave added texture to the side dish while also adding an extra layer of sweetness. The stuffing was also quite good (though as a Dutchman, I will always pine for potato filling over bread stuffing).

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After a third trip for more pot roast and corn casserole (and a dollop of mashed potatoes), I had my fill of the main course and ventured to the dessert tables.

A server stands guard over the ice cream freezer at the front of the room. The tables next to him is loaded with toppings, as well as wide array of pies and cakes.

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Not wanting to miss out, I took a scoop of ice cream to go with my slice of pecan pie.

Pecan pie is a favorite of mine, and I enjoy Dutch Apple’s. The crust is flakey, the filling is gooey and the pecans are crisped perfectly. I only wish there were a few more pecans and a little less of the filling.

The buffet closes down a few minutes before showtime, ensuring clean up is finished before the curtain rises. If you are still hungry (you shouldn’t be), you can place an order for appetizers to be delivered to your table during intermission. But beware, there is an extra cost involved. And with tickets prices at about $50 per person, I wouldn’t spend the extra money when there is so much good food included.

I won’t pretend to be a theater critic. My area of expertise is the 90 minutes before the actors take the stage. Just know going in that you may be seeing a hit Broadway musical, but Centerville Road is a long way from Broadway.

Enjoy it for what it is, a really good dinner with a show, and you won’t be disappointed.

Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre on Urbanspoon

Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Michael’s Restaurant

Berks County is blessed with roads.

Lost in the complaints about potholes and the seemingly endless construction projects is the fact that Berks County has one of the best networks of roads in the state.

There are no two points in the county that are separated by more than an hour’s drive.

Yet the city of Reading becomes a roadblock for cross-county travel. For those of us living on the west side of town, places like Boyertown and Douglassville can feel like an eternity away.

One look at the Berks County Eats map shows that my trips to the “other side” have been few and far between. Part of it is the incredible dining options west of the city, but there is a part of me (the Pennsylvania Dutch part) that keeps me from wandering too far from home.

One of the few eastern Berks County restaurants I have frequented is Michael’s Restaurant in Douglassville.

Just two miles from the Montgomery County line, Michael’s Restaurant is your typical diner. A pair of dining rooms flanks the long lunch counter just inside the doors. A row of booths sits against the wall opposite the counter, each one equipped with a small jukebox filled with songs from the “Now That’s What I Call Music” series. I’m not brave enough to drop a quarter in to see if they actually work.

Michael’s menu is expansive, eight full pages plus daily specials, so there are always going to be hits and misses when you’re serving that many dishes. That’s why  I always stick to the Sautéed Specials page.

The Sautéed Specials includes Asian-inspired stir-fry, Italian pasta dishes and unique creations, each one mixing meat with vegetables, sauce and either pasta or rice, all for between $10-14.

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A trip to the soup and salad bar is included with all of these sautés (those without pasta also get an additional vegetable). Though not the best or biggest salad bar in Berks County, Michael’s does offer two kinds of soup and a rainbow of salad ingredients.

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On my most recent trip, I opted for one of the more original sautés: chicken tossed with spinach, white beans and bow-tie pasta in a light cream sauce.

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My dish had a beautiful presentation, and everything in it was really good (the flavor of the spinach really came through, and there was more than enough to ensure some in every bite). The only downside to the dish is that instead of coming together as one dish, it was more like a collection of individual items than a true sauté.

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The same held true for my wife’s sauté, which included chicken, broccoli and pierogies over angel hair pasta. Though everything in it was very good, I can’t help but think that it would have been better served as a pasta entree with broccoli and pierogies on the side.

I enjoy Michael’s for what it is – a family restaurant at a convenient location with good food for reasonable prices.

It’s also a marker on the right side of the map, the first of many trips to the “other side” of Berks County.

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

Michael’s Restaurant
1211 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

Michael's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Diners Lunch & Dinner Reviews