More than a century ago, before it became synonymous with the railroad, Reading was a port city. Long before traffic snarled along Route 422, it was the Schuylkill Canal that carried the bulk of the traffic to and from the city.
The canal is long gone, but it’s memory lives on. The Schuylkill River Trail has taken much of the old towpath and repurposed it for recreation. And Canal Street continues to carry traffic along the river at the city’s southern end.
But Canal Street is much different today. The river still flows, but so too does the craft beer. And the barges have been replaced by burgers.
The Canal Street Pub sits in the former factory for Reading Hardware Company. The large brick building witnessed the decline of the canal first hand from its vantage point just across the street from the waterway.
Inside is a tale of two restaurants. Patrons walking through the front door are greeted by a traditional pub, complete with flat screen televisions, immense bar and an electronic dartboard that sat unplugged in the corner.
But through the open doorway, Canal Street expands into an elegant dining room, complete with white table linens and crystal stemware.
With two separate dining areas come two separate menus: the pub focusing on burgers and pizzas and the restaurant offering more upscale pastas and entrees. The extensive beer and wine menu is also a huge draw as beer aficionados can sample craft beers from across the country.
Both dinner menus are available to pub-goers during the dinner rush (at least they were on our visit), which greatly opens up the options.
I decided to take full advantage of this and started my meal with a cup of tomato dill soup. The dill, along with a heavy dose of cream, helped give this a very different flavor from most tomato soups. It was a little sweet and very delicious.
Having both menus at my disposal, I opted for the most intriguing option: fig balsamic duck.
I can count on one hand the number of times that I have eaten duck, and I have loved it every time. However I know little about the meat so when the waitress suggested ordering it cooked medium, I took her advice.
And I was very glad I did.
The meat came out looking beautiful, with an incredible black char around the edges of the white meat. The balsamic provided a nice base to the glaze, but the sweetness of the fig helped cut what would normally be an overpowering flavor.
The duck was served atop a bed of stir fried vegetables with a side of white rice. I expected the vegetables, a mix of cabbage, carrots and snap peas, to be tossed in the same sauce as the duck, but was pleasantly surprised to find it had charms all its own, mixed in a soy-based sauce that both countered and complimented the main dish.
On the other side of the table, my wife enjoyed Canal Street’s Mediterranean chicken. The chicken breast was topped with mozzarella and served over a bed of sun-dried tomatoes and olives to make a salsa-like base. The sauce was a mix of balsamic and pesto, but was also incredibly sweet because of the tomatoes.
It was served with what looked to be homemade pappardelle pasta which was tossed with spinach, which was delicious, but almost became an after thought because it wasn’t tossed with the chicken. Still, it was an excellent side dish.
My duck was the most expensive item on the menu so our bill was about as high as it could be without ordering from the drink menu at $55.00. Still, it was well-worth the price.
Following dinner, we took a quick walk across the street to Heritage Park, a small little green space along the river that was once canal lock #190. Today, it is home to one of the anchors for the famed “Swinging Bridge” that used to carry riders to Reading’s Outer Station.
The railroad, like the canal and Reading Hardware, is now just a distant memory.
But new memories are still being made in Reading, and if you’re looking for a memorable dining experience, Canal Street Pub might be your place.
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Canal Street Pub & Restaurant
535 Canal St
Reading, PA 19602