Viva Bistro & Lounge – CLOSED

viva

Editor’s Note: ViVA Bistro & Lounge was rebranded as Fields Kitchen by ViVA in 2017. That restaurant closed in December 2017 after a legal dispute between the management company and Exeter Township over the ViVA Castle Pub at the Reading Country Club.

When you think of Wyomissing, you probably think of the Reading Hospital and the beautiful homes that stretch out to the west.

Or perhaps you think of the other side of Wyomissing, the Berkshire Mall and all the chain restaurants that surround it.

But along Penn Avenue, the town is very different. The VF Outlet Center towers over all the other buildings in the area, a reminder of the area’s industrial past and a symbol of rebirth.

Across Park Road is another example of the resurrection of a former industrial site, where empty towers have been replaced by a Courtyard by Marriott and high-end studio apartments.

At the base of the apartment complex is a lone business, but it was here that the resurrection of the complex began in 2003.

Viva Bistro and Lounge is exactly what the name implies, a European-inspired restaurant with an expansive bar and lounge that features live entertainment on most nights.

Though I had been to Viva before, it had been more than a year and never outside of a large group so a date night with my wife at the bistro was a bit of a new experience.

As I poured through the menu searching for the one that would make me happiest in that moment, I found their Duets menu, a four-course meal for two that included two soups or salads, a shared appetizer, two entrees and choice of dessert for $35.99.

This was what was going to make me the happiest.

berry-soup-viva

For our first course, we each chose a cup soup. The soup of the day was a non-traditional mixed berry soup. Served cold and topped with whipped cream, it felt more like I was spooning a smoothie into my mouth than enjoying a bowl of soup. In fact, the soup would have worked just as well for dessert as it did as an appetizer.

lobster-bisque-viva

My wife opted for Viva’s signature lobster bisque, a dish she first tried earlier this year at the Wilson Iron Chef. It’s thick, it’s creamy and it’s rich, with a beautiful yellow-orange color and lobster in every bite.

bread-oil-viva

As we were finishing our soups, our waitress dropped off some bread and poured some herb-infused olive oil on a plate for us. The oil was infused with a heavy dose of garlic, salt and Italian herbs to create a delicious dip.

sausage-diavolo-pizza-viva

The second course was a shared appetizer, sausage diavolo flatbread pizza. Topped with squared chunks of sausage, strips of red peppers and grated parmesan, the pizza was piping hot and just a little bit spicy. The cheese and tomatoes oozed over all four sides, leaving just the corners clear to grab onto without getting your hands greasy.

In all honesty, we could have skipped right from the pizza to dessert and been comfortably full, but there was still a pair of entrees to come, and I was determined to finish all four of my courses.

steak-kabob-viva

My selected entree was the marinated steak kabob, served over a bed of rice pilaf and served with an entire head of broccoli which was sprinkled with fresh garlic. The marinade made the steak extra tender and juicy. For convenience, the steak, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes were removed from the skewer before arriving at the table, making my job a lot easier and ensuring that I received a forkful of the very tasty pilaf in every bite.

mediterranean-chicken-viva

Mediterranean chicken was the item that caught my wife’s eye. Served exactly as mine atop rice pilaf with a side of broccoli, the whole chicken breast was stuffed with Feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes and basil and topped with a cream sauce. Despite the enjoyable flavor, half of it went home with us as dessert was still to come.

bananas-foster-cheesecake-viva key-lime-tart-viva

Our dessert options included either a shared dessert or two mini desserts, but as I learned in pre-school, two is better than one (who wants to share one dessert when you can share two?). Key lime tart and bananas foster cheesecake were our two choices. Placed in the corner of entree-sized plates, the desserts looked miniscule, but they packed a lot of flavor. The cheesecake was moist and the bananas foster, which was dropped on top with a dollop of whipped cream, was done perfectly. The key lime tart lived up to its name as the sweet of the cream gave way to the tasty tartness of the key lime. But it was all well-tempered by a nice, crispy pie shell.

I can say with certainty that we got our money’s worth for our $37 (the lobster bisque was an extra $1.00 upgrade) and we certainly left feeling full and satisfied.

There are still plenty of old industrial buildings in Wyomissing that aren’t full. Some have planned renovations, while others are sit idle. After a meal at Viva, I can’t help but look at these near-abandoned buildings as an opportunity for more great restaruants to add to the town’s already steallar culinary reputation.

Viva Good Life Bistro & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Closed Reviews

Revisted: Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar

In March of 2012, I made my first trip to Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar. From that visit, Berks County Eats was born.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two years since the blog began, and even harder to believe that it has been that long since I have returned to the place that started it all.

Since my last visit, the Peanut Bar went through a series of changes, first hiring, then firing executive chef Andrea Heinly, former contestant on the reality show Hell’s Kitchen.

But the 90-year-old bar showed no evidence of change as I found it much the way I had left it. The same strings of lights still snaked through branches suspended from the ceiling. The walls were still covered in an assortment of vintage photographs and brewery ephemera.

And the peanut shells still crunched beneath my feet.

We tip-toed to our table, careful not to take an embarrassing spill. We were seated much nearer the bar this time. An antique wooden phone, which could have been plucked from an episode of Lassie, hung on wall. Above the bar, a flat screen played a slideshow of images from Reading’s past.

Three-Chambered-Peanut-Peanut-Bar

All the while peanut shells were cracked and tossed about the floor. Lady luck proved in my favor as I found an elusive three-chambered peanut in our bucket.

The menu has also gone largely unchanged since our last visit, a testament to the restaurant’s enduring quality. Entrees range from fried chicken and burgers to oyster po’ boys and lobster tail risotto.

Chicken-Schnitzel-Peanut-Bar

I decided to satisfy my German side with chicken schnitzel in leek and onion cream sauce. The presentation truly went above and beyond as it was topped with a bright pink flower and a small herb stem.

The schnitzel came served on a bed of spaetzle—small German egg noodles—and mushrooms. The chicken was lightly breaded, but still heavy enough to give it a nice golden crisp. I tried to get a bit of everything in every bite as the flavors mixed so well together, especially with the creamy sweetness of the sauce. Though the sauce was thick and rich, I would have loved just one more ladle of it to cover the rest of the plate.

Crab

Soft-shell crab was the dish that caught my wife’s eye. The crab was served topped with almonds and brown butter and served with broccoli and a side of French fries.

After frantically Googling whether it is safe to eat the soft shell (you can), then trying to decide whether she wanted to eat it (she didn’t). Somehow she managed to pick the shells clean of their meat. But much as it was the last time we went, the fries were her favorite part of the meal. The Peanut Bar’s fresh-cut fries are another thing that hasn’t changed, and I hope they never do.

Sadly, another thing that didn’t change is that we had no room for dessert when the meal was over (next time, I will try some of their pretzel pie, no matter what).

Our second trip to the Peanut Bar was as enjoyable as the first. For us, it brought back memories of just a few years ago, while for many, the institution along Penn Street brings back memories decades in the making.

And as long as the Peanut Bar is serving up great food, people will continue to make memories there for a long time.

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

Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar
332 Penn St
Reading, PA 19602

Reviews

Dino’s Wings & Things

Along with burgers and fries, there may be no more popular sports bar food than chicken wings.

Every restaurant has the own unique take, tossing them in ever more original sauces and seasonings.

And while dozens of Berks County restaurants are tossing wings on a nightly basis, there are very few that are doing them as well as Dino’s Wings and Thing’s in Temple.

Dino’s is more sports shrine than sports bar. Photos and memorabilia from all of the local sports teams dot the walls, but it is the sport of kings that holds the throne at Dino’s.

Before lending his name to his wings business, Dino Iacarrino was stepping into the ring in the local gyms, where BoxRec.com lists his career record at 5-2 with one knockout. Along with autographed posters of Muhammad Ali and “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta is a faux Sports Illustrated cover showing a young Dino in training.

And while he may never have become a champion in the ring, Dino has established his business as a champion among local eateries.

So we sat down in a booth, Muhammad Ali standing tall over a fallen Sonny Liston on the wall, with diamond plating accenting the orange paint.

The service was surprisingly quick as our food was delivered in less than 10 minutes (our waitress was assisted by two adorable little girls who were tasked with bringing the empty bowls for our bones (and who were both excited to use the spray bottle on the dirty table behind us).

With 24 wing flavors on the menu, decisions are difficult, but we managed to narrow it down to three flavors for this trip.

Creamy-Ranch-Wings-Dino-s

First up was the creamy ranch. The wings were dripping with a thick coat of ranch dressing. Maybe it’s me, but I would say the dressing tasted a lot better on the wings than on any salad I have had.

BBQ-Wings-Dino-s

For the second choice, we went with the standard barbecue. Dino’s BBQ sauce is very sweet with just a little tang on the back end, definitely a winning combination on a wing.

Montreal-Wings-Dino-s

Last, and certainly not least, we went with one of the more original flavors: Montreal. As you may guess, the wings were loaded in Montreal steak seasoning, which gave them a salty and spicy taste that was my favorite of the three.

But as the name suggests, Dino’s Wings & Things is more than just wings. Other “things” on the menu include massive subs, six-ounce burgers, fried sides and a host of appetizers that include fries topped with 19 different topping options like chicken parm, cheese steak, and the mac daddy (fries topped with a six-ounce burger, American cheese, onions, pickles and Thousand Island dressing.

Old-Bay-Fries-Dino-s

But when you’re loading up on wing flavors, a simple order of Old Bay fries is perfect. Besides, you need something to soak up all the extra sauce from the wings.

For our 18 wings and Old Bay fries, we paid just under $20.00, but if you are looking for a little better deal, Dino’s offers 25- and 50-wing samplers. You can also stop in on Wednesdays and enjoy all-you-can-eat wings for $10.99 or visit on Thursdays for build-your-own burgers with bottomless fries for $8.99.

About the only piece of boxing memorabilia not hanging in the dining room is a championship belt, though you could argue they deserve one. Because while Dino may never have been a champion in the ring, Dino’s has certainly earned a place as a champion of wings.

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

Dino’s Wings & Things
5306 Allentown Pk
Temple, PA 19560

Dino's Wings & Things on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Unique Eats: Shoofly Whoopie Pie from Lil’s Bakery

Shoofly Whoopie Pie - Lil's Bakery

Berks County Eats leaves the restaurant behind in order to try some of the best desserts, snack foods and unique foods from Greater Reading’s best bakeries and food stands. These are Berks County’s Unique Eats.

In my review of The Whoopie Pie Company, I tasted the gourmet version of the Pennsylvania Dutch dessert. The normally simple cakes were given an upscale makeover with ganache filling and chocolate drizzle.

But while the Whoopie Pie Company continues to move the whoopie pie forward, other area bakeries are also putting their own spin on the traditional dish.

Inside the PA Dutch Farmer’s Market of Wyomissing, Lil’s Bakery offers just about every kind of baked good imaginable, from a variety of breads to pies and cupcakes. And like any good Pennsylvania Dutch bakery, Lil’s is putting their own twist on the whoopie pie.

The pies are not glamorous. Instead of an individual box, they come wrapped in saran, with filling bursting out from the sides. In addition to the standard chocolate with vanilla cream, Lil’s offers flavors like peanut butter and red velvet.

But their most unique version takes another Dutch dessert, replacing the chocolate cakes with shoofly for a doubly delicious dish.

The shoofly cakes are very moist, like a wet-bottom pie filling. And it’s just sticky enough to give you an excuse to lick your fingers clean when you’re finished.

The cream is simple, sweet enough that you taste it in every bite, but not too sweet to overpower the cakes. It’s a perfect balance of flavors that makes this a nearly perfect pie.

Another great thing about Lil’s whoopie pies in the price. At about $1.00 each, you can afford to spoil yourself every week. Just remember that the market is only open Thursdays through Saturdays so make sure you stock up to get yourself through the week.

Uncategorized

Taste of Crepes

taste-of-crepes

(Editor’s Note: Taste of Crepes was sold in Spring 2019. We have not visited since the ownership change)

Variety is the spice of life.

Or so it has been said. When it comes to restaurants, a good variety is important because you never want to limit your customer base.

So it seems odd to find a Berks County restaurant whose menu is made up entirely of crepes – thin, filled pancakes that are popular in France. Where is the variety in that?

But with 35 different flavors available everyday, Taste of Crepes is all about variety.

Like any good Parisian bistro, Taste of Crepes has limited seating inside, with al fresco dining along the sidewalk. But instead of metal bistro seats, the outside furniture is all wicker.

This is Berks County after all.

Many of West Reading’s restaurants have been shoe-horned into their locations, and Taste of Crepes is no exception. What limited seating can be found inside – all tables for two except one four-seater crammed in the corner – places diners in close proximity to one another.

Still, Taste of Crepes manages to feel cozy, not crowded. Maybe it’s the wallpaper, which paints a picture of a Parisian street scene around you. Or maybe it was because so many were choosing to take their meals outside on such a beautiful summer morning.

Behind the counter, crepes sizzle atop the griddle. Unfolded with the filling layered on top, the crepes look like large pizzas waiting for the oven. Instead, the crepe will be folded over to trap all of the flavors inside.

Taste of Crepes is doing crepes three ways – sweet, savory and breakfast. Sweets include hot apple pie (apples, cinnamon, caramel and ice cream) and sweet and salty pretzel (sweet cream cheese, Nutella, ground pretzel, caramel and ice cream). Savories feature a variety of meat and vegetable combinations like the turkey Cali (mozzarella, turkey, red pepper, lettuce, tomato and ranch) and big boy bites (mozzarella, ham, lettuce, bacon, turkey, spicy ranch and Dijon mustard).

The breakfast crepes include a little of both, with sweet variations like cinnamon, maple, and my choice, fresh fruit.

fresh-fruit-crepe-taste-of-crepes

Filled with bananas, strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream, the fresh fruit crepe works just as well for dessert as it does for breakfast. The crepe is folded in a giant “U,” garnished with more berries and dusted with powdered sugar.

As you start into it, the first bites are all bananas, then come the strawberries, and finally the blueberries. The three converge in the center where they have been folded together. The crepe, itself, is light and airy, like a razor-thin pancake.

The crepes are thin enough to allow the flavors of the filling to shine through, but thick enough that they don’t get lost, creating a complete dish that is filling enough for breakfast or lunch.

bacon-crepe-taste-of-crepes

On the savory end of the breakfast crepes is the bacon crepe, stuffed with crispy bacon, two eggs and mozzarella. Similar to a breakfast pizza, but not as heavy, the bacon and eggs were cooked right on top of the crepe before it was folded together. Combined, it was a classy, yet hearty start to the day.

Crepes range in price from less than $4 for a cinnamon crepe up to $10 for the smoked salmon, but most fall between $5-8 so that you don’t have to feel guilty about spending an extra dollar to add a scoop of ice cream to your crepe (though some of the sweet crepes already include it). It’s the only actual side item that you can order, unless you count the smoothies, iced lattes and root beer float available on the beverage menu.

Taste of Crepes may be small, but its menu is anything but simple. I never would have guessed their French pancakes could be so versatile as to build an entire menu around them.

Yet this is one restaurant that certainly has brought variety of Berks County.

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

Taste of Crepes
617 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Taste of Crepes on Urbanspoon

Breakfast & Brunch Reviews

Unique Eats: The Whoopie Pie Company

Whoopie-Pie-Company-1

Berks County Eats leaves the restaurant behind in order to try some of the best desserts, snack foods and unique foods from Greater Reading’s best bakeries and food stands. These are Berks County’s Unique Eats.

When you think of Pennsylvania Dutch desserts, whoopie pies have to be one of your first thoughts. A heap of vanilla cream sandwiched between a pair of chocolate cakes makes for a simple, perfect dessert.

But the culinary arts are all about innovation, and that is what the Whoopie Pie Company is doing with these Dutchy desserts.

The bakery is tucked in the back corner of the VF Outlet Center’s Blue Building, on the outer edge of what is an otherwise a drab, generic food court.

It’s a fitting setting for a company that takes a tired (yet delicious) food that has never really changed and jazzes it up in a fresh, new way.

Whoopie-Pie-Company-2

The Whoopie Pie Company offers seven everyday flavors that range from traditional (chocolate with buttercream) to unique (vanilla cakes with buttercream and raspberry drizzle).

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough stomach to try all seven so I decided that if I could only get one, The Classic was the obvious choice.

The Classic is the “traditional” chocolate cakes with cream filling. But this looked nothing like a traditional whoopie pie. First, there is the whipped buttercream filling, beautifully squeezed onto the bottom cake instead of slopped on. Then there is the chocolate drizzle crisscrossing the top cake.

It was almost a shame to take the first bite and ruin the beautiful dessert. The moist, dark chocolate cakes were perfectly balanced by the sweet cream filling.

And because you can’t eat just one, I also took a bite out of The Rebel, which isn’t very rebellious at all. The Rebel is the opposite of your traditional pie, with vanilla cakes and a chocolate ganache that gave it just enough chocolate flavor to remind you that it is still a whoopie pie.

Though the pies were both very good, you are paying for pretty. The pies cost $2.00 each, which is a lot for a pie that really isn’t very big.

And though I might have wanted a little more for my money, the whoopie pies would have left me wanting more no matter how big they were. They were just that good.

Uncategorized

Thaiwat

thaiwat-1

Never judge a book by its cover.

In the two years since I started Berks County Eats, I have found that old cliché rings true more often that not.

While many chain restaurants lure customers with their elaborate exteriors, the real draw to restaurants is the food, no matter what the outside looks like.

I’ve found amazing food in roadside trailers, former factories and fire companies. But one place I keep finding myself is strip malls, spaces I once believed were reserved for chain sandwich shops, cookie-cutter Chinese restaurants and average pizza.

But I have been proven wrong over and over again.

The Berkshire shopping plaza in Wyomissing doesn’t look like a place for a foodie, with a Wal-Mart, Taco Bell and a Burger King, but take a closer look.

In the Redner’s strip mall, tucked between Jake’s Coin Laundry and Sally’s Beauty Supply, is Thaiwat, a small restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine.

thaiwat-menu-1

The menu tells the story of the tiny restaurant, which literally means “Thai temple.” It’s only appropriate then that Buddha stands guard over the dining room from his perch along the back wall.

Decorative wall panels helped make the restaurant feel more like a building in Thailand than a Berks County strip mall.

For those who are new to Thai cuisine, a guide in the front of the menu illustrates the differences between common Thai spices like sweet basil, galangal and kaffir lime.

thaiwat-thai-tea

One of the most common spices used in Thai cooking is ginger, which is found in most of the dishes on the menu ,including the traditional Thai iced tea, which is made from tea, milk (or cream) and ginger for added flavor. The dairy made it a lot thicker and creamier than any iced tea I have tried before, and the spiciness of the ginger gave it a completely different, but completely enjoyable flavor.

There’s also a guide to Thaiwat’s heat scale, where one pepper is a “stimulating kick to the lips and tongue,” two is a “tingling sensation and spreads a hearty glow,” and three is a “raging fire represents the exotic flavors of Thailand.”

thaiwat-evil-jungle-princess

For my meal, I opted for the “Evil Jungle Princess.” Despite its foreboding name, it only registered a single pepper on Thaiwat’s scale.

The dish consisted of spiced chicken and a vegetable medley tossed in red curry with coconut milk. There was definitely some heat in the curry, but the coconut milk helped cut the spice, giving it a delicious sweet heat.

All of the entrees at Thaiwat are served with Jasmine rice on the side. For our party of two, a super-sized rice ball was brought out to split between us.

thaiwat-thai-basil-2

While the red curry heated up my plate, Thai basil leaves were the main spice in my wife’s dish, appropriately called “Thai Basil.” The dish featured beef, green beans, carrots and ginger with a gentle, yet flavorful, spice. The sauce was more broth-like, but all of the ingredients, especially the rice, soaked it up well.

“Good things come to those who wait,” is another cliché that seemed appropriate on our trip. There was only one server working during our visit so service was a bit slower, but it was well-worth it when the cook (yes, the cook), brought our meals out to our table.

Thaiwat also offers vegetarian entrees, duck prepared three ways, Thai noodle dishes and curry. And everything is very reasonably priced with no entrees above $20.

The book that Thaiwat is writing is a small piece of Thailand just outside Reading, with good food in a unique atmosphere. But you would never know that from the outside.

Just remember, when it comes to restaurants, don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge it by its food.

Thaiwat may have some of the best food in Berks County.

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

Thaiwat
1145 Berkshire Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Thai Wat Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Food & Festivals: Food Truck Festival at VF Outlet Center

Meals on wheels took on a whole new meaning on Saturday, June 28, during the annual Food Truck Festival at the VF Outlet Center in Wyomissing.

Ten gourmet food trucks from around the region parked outside the Designer Place building to serve festival-goers with internationally inspired dishes.

Big Chipper’s BBQ, Gour*mand, Just Jackie’s Food Truck, KAMI Cart, Kino’s Tacos, MAD Sandwiches, Mr. Softie, Smudge Smokehouse, the Chicken Truck and the Perk Up Truck were serving their unique dishes to the hungry masses.

The event was supposed to include a meatball cook-off, but a “cancelled” sign was set up in its place. It was disappointing, but there was still plenty of other foods to try.

I decided to wait out the line at MAD Sandwiches after seeing a sign for their intriguing Latino Parfait. Served in a bowl,  the dish consisted of layers of beans, rice, pork and Argentinian Chimichurri sauce.

mad-sandwiches-latino-parfait

The pork was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned. On its own, the Chimichurri sauce tasted a little too much like mustard when eaten on its own, but mixed with the remaining ingredients, it created a delicious, full-flavored dish that would be a welcome addition on any restaurant’s menu.

smudge-smokehouse

Smudge Smokehouse caught the attention of my wife so she waited in a long line to try one of their barbecue specialties: brisket tacos.

smudge-smokehouse-brisket-taco

In addition to the standard lettuce, the taco was topped with mango salsa and chipotle cream sauce. The brisket picked up a nice smokey flavor, and that smokiness blended perfectly with the sweetness of the mango and the slight spice of the sauce to create a well-balanced dish.

the-perk-up-truck

For dessert, we decided to split a smoothie from the Perk Up Truck. And though we could have combined any number of flavors, we settled on a simple banana smoothie topped with a heavy dose of whipped cream.

the-perk-up-truck-banana-smoothie

A mix of bananas, milk, sugar and ice, the smoothie was basically a milkshake without the ice cream. It was a nice, sweet treat, especially on such hot afternoon.

In the end, there were just too many food trucks and not enough room in my stomach to try something from all of them.

But that just means I get to try something new at next year’s festival.

Food Festivals & Events