When you think of Berks County cuisine, what do you think of?
One thing I have learned since starting Berks County Eats is that we are blessed with amazing variety when it comes to dining options.
Still, if you asked me what I think of when I think of Berks County cuisine, a Vietnamese sauté probably would not have been very high on my list.
From the outside, Hong Thanh looks very much like many area Asian restaurants. Its location – a strip mall inside the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center in Spring Township – doesn’t allow for much of an exterior. A large silhouette of a mystical-looking woman adorns one of three tinted windows.
Past the large statue that stands guard inside the doors, the dining room opens up. A bright yellow booth seat runs the length of the far wall. Across the room, small tables for two are raised above the dining room.
The menus are small, but the items on them are varied. For those looking for the familiar, Hong Thanh offers a variety of lo mein, fried rice and beef, chicken and pork stir-fry.
But my eye never made it past the first of the “specialties” items: sautéed onions, garlic and French butter. The dish comes with your choice of three meats, and though I consider myself to be an adventurous eater, I was not feeling adventurous enough to try the squid. Instead, I added the cubed filet mignon, and was glad I did.
The meat was extremely tender and had soaked up a lot of the flavor from the French butter sauce, which was sweet and a little salty from the addition of soy sauce, making the filet extra juicy as well. The dish is served with a cup of lime-based dipping sauce which worked with the flavors of the dish to create a sweet and sour dynamic that took it to another level.
Rather than serving as a bed for the meat, a scoop of white rice was served in a side bowl. Instead, the plate was filled out with the addition of a simple lettuce and tomato salad that went well with both the dipping sauce and the French butter.
The other item I wanted to try was a lemongrass and curry stir-fry. Thankfully, that was the item that caught my wife’s attention. The stir-fry also included coconut, peanuts and choice of meat (in this case, pork) and was served with lo mein noodles.
The noodles were angel-hair thin and created a delicious tangled web atop the plate. The stir-fry itself was a sweet and spicy combination, with the curry coming through strong. The addition of the lemongrass also helped make this a little more authentic than the “Americanized” stir fries that feature broccoli and similar vegetables.
After our meals, we had just enough room for dessert, a slice of Vietnamese banana cake served with a small scoop of ginger ice cream.
The dessert was more pie than cake, with large chunks of bananas sandwiching a layer of thick cream, surrounded by a moist crust. The ginger ice cream, one of several homemade ice cream options, added some spice to go along with the sweet cake. The two pieces were enjoyable together, but could also stand individually.
For $45, we enjoyed a meal that went outside of our traditional comfort zone and forced us to experience new flavors.
Though Hong Thanh has only been at its current location since late 2012, the business has been serving Berks County for nearly 30 years, an eternity in the restaurant business.
Vietnamese cuisine will probably never become synonymous with Greater Reading, but Hong Thanh serves as a reminder that Berks County’s food scene is rich with diversity.