Willoughby’s Bar & Grill

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Editor’s Note: Willoughby’s is now Willoughby’s on Park. We reviewed it in 2017.

It was in August of 2011 that the T.G.I. Friday’s location in Wyomissing closed.

My new bride and I had just settled in to our new home in the nearby Berkshire Heights neighborhood, and for the next two years, we would pass the vacant building on Park Road wondering if it would ever find a buyer.

Then it was announced last June that a buyer had been found and that the owners of the Hitching Post were opening a new restaurant to be called Willoughby’s, in honor of another bygone Wyomissing restaurant.

And so the conversations on our walks were no longer about what would go in, but when. We monitored the renovation progress daily. We watched as they transformed the exterior from  a hideous swimming pool blue to a deep shade of brown, as the outdoor seating deck was installed, and as the new sign went up.

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Then in October of last year, the restaurant finally opened, the parking lot was full every night, and our conversation turned from “when will it open” to “when will we go?”.

It took nearly a year, but we finally made time for a visit earlier this month.

I was hoping to order something a little out of the ordinary so I asked for the Southern fried chicken and waffles, battered and fried chicken breasts served over sweet potato waffle fries with brown ale mustard.

After I gave my order to our waitress, another waiter interjected. He had heard my order and wanted to let me know that they did not have any chicken and waffles. In fact, when he tried to place an order for one of his customers, he had been told that they would “never, ever” have them again.

He continued by saying that the chef had tried several recipes since the restaurant opened but was unable to find one that he could deliver in a timely fashion, with consistency.

Not exactly how I hoped the meal would start.

Thankfully I had no such problems with my second choice, the big bang pork chop. But before that arrived, I was going to get my fried food fix with the sweet potato and pub rings.

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While rings, and even sweet potato fries, are fairly standard pub offerings, Willoughby’s added a twist on the ordinary with the addition of their spicy maple dipping sauce. The light, sweet syrup had a little hint of heat in its aftertaste, but it really complimented both the sweet potato fries and onion rings very nicely.

The only downside (if you can call it that) was that the appetizer was made to feed four, which meant that Julie and I each ate more than our fair share of the fried treats. Sadly, we had to waste a stack in order to save room for our actual meals.

And I was glad I saved room.

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Pork chops are not normally my first choice when dining out (to be fair, they weren’t my first choice here either), but I was sold by jalapeno corn bread, crispy onion straws and Knob Creek Bourbon barbecue sauce.

The chop was only lightly coated in the sauce, just enough to give it a little sweetness without the sauce overpowering what was a very flavorful cut of meat. The onion straws were good, but I definitely did not need them after downing all those onion rings. My pork chop was served atop a bed of mashed potatoes, which were prepared from scratch with just enough garlic. On the side, the jalapeno cornbread was quite good, though when I would bite into the slices of jalapeno, it was a bit overpowering.

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Across the table, Julie decided to go for something a little lighter with their beefin cheddar, a brisket sandwich with caramelized onions, horseradish cheddar and aioli served on a pretzel roll. It was different tasting brisket that wasn’t barbecued, but it was still tender and delicious. The cheese, which melted over everything, had only a small taste of horseradish, which is all it really needed. And you tell me what sandwich doesn’t taste better when it’s served on a pretzel roll.

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OK, so the only “lighter” part of her meal was that she swapped out her French fries for a house salad. And, like everything else, the side salad was massive and probably would have been a meal in itself.

In all, we ended up spending about $40 on our meal, which was not unexpected with our appetizer purchase. I would certainly call it money well spent.

Despite walking past it nearly every day, it took us almost a year to finally stop at Willoughby’s. Now every time we walk past, the conversation will turn from “when are we going to go?” to “when are we going to go again?”.

Willoughby's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Reviews

Berks County Eats launches Facebook page

Berks County Eats is proud to announce the launch of our brand new Facebook page! In addition to the weekly restaurant reviews and special features like “Unique Eats” and our Food & Festival reviews, the new page allows us to share food news as it happens as well as share additional food-related content from around the web.

Since launching the site on Sunday, the response has been overwhelming. In just three days, the Facebook page has received nearly 80 likes and our posts have reached more than 700 people. We encourage all of our loyal fans to please like our new page by clicking here: Facebook.com/BerksCountyEats or by following the link in our top menu.

Thank you for continuing to support Berks County Eats and, more importantly, for continuing to support our local restaurants that make this page possible.

Food News

Road Trip: Franz’s Tavern

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Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 27 miles west of Reading to Lebanon, PA.

As a lover of unique, home town restaurants, I love checking out Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network.

Guy Fieri may rub some people the wrong way, but he is essentially doing the same thing that Berks County Eats does every week: exposing people to new restaurants and new flavors that they may not have known about before.

What I love most about the show are not the diners (though there is something awesome about the stainless steel dining cars) or the drive-ins, but the dives—those hole-in-the-wall places that may not look like much from the outside, but are serving up food that is as good as any fine dining restaurant.

I don’t know that I have found any place that exemplifies the dive quite like Lebanon’s Franz’s Tavern and Restaurant.

Heading south along Route 897, it’s easy to overlook the haggard-looking building on the left side of the road.

We were seated in the corner of an enclosed porch with light strips on the ceiling and thin carpet on the floor. The shelf above us was crammed with a conglomeration of books that ranged from the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cook Book and 500 Soup Recipes to Real Hauntings and World Explorers and Discoverers.

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I have to admit that the shear number of cook books (especially generic cook books like Pasta Cook Book and Soups and Sandwiches) made me more than a little nervous, but my concerns were eased when our bread basket came out.

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Instead of slices of white bread, the basket included a variety of homemade treats including sesame bread sticks, fresh-baked dinner rolls and even a slice of chocolate bread, which tasted just like a moist brownie without the mess of the cake and icing.

We had a lengthy wait for our entrees as everything at Franz’s Tavern is made to order. Thankfully the bread was enough to hold my growling stomach at bay for 30 minutes.

When my pork scallopine arrived, I was shocked, both with the portion size and presentation.

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The wide, curly strips of pasta were topped with a healthy layers of tomato sauce, melted cheese and grated Parmesan.  Hiding underneath it all were three cuts of pork loin, each one about the size of a large steak.

Everything was exceptional, starting with the homemade pasta, which had a nice density that allowed all of the sauce and cheese to stick to it. The pork was also cooked to perfection, holding its own with the sweet, rich sauce and perfect pasta.

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All of the meals at Franz’s Tavern are served in gargantuan proportions. Julie’s order of chicken Parmesan was almost identical to my own with crispy breaded chicken in place of the pork. Hand-breaded, the chicken had a nice golden-brown tint and great flavor.

Neither of us had enough room to finish our meals, so for about $30, we got what amounted to four meals. Four delicious meals.

The Tavern’s menu includes many more robust entrees including fish and chips, crab cakes, fried shrimp, wings and their “range-free” chicken sandwiches. Add that to a robust drink menu, and you have a restaurant that can satisfy all of your cravings.

Remember the old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of Franz’s Tavern, that certainly holds true. Outside of the restaurant, only the full parking lot gives any indication of the culinary treasures inside.

It may be a dive, but it’s darn good food.

Franz's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Berks Food News: County Restaurant Scene Continues to Grow

P.J. Whelihan’s is latest chain coming to Berks

New Jersey-based P.J. Whelihan’s is gearing up to open its first Berks County restaurant. Signs outside the former Toscani restaurant in Spring Township announce the coming of the sports bar franchise which has 14 locations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Currently, the closest locations are Allentown, Norristown and West Chester, all a 35-mile drive from downtown Reading.

Coastal Grille ready to open Monday

Coastal Grille, the newest restaurant from the owners of Austin’s Restaurant and Bar, is set to open on Monday in the former Seafood Shanty location in the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center. The restaurant unveiled its menu on its Facebook page on Thursday. The menu includes a full section of “simply grilled fish;” seafood specialties that include crab cakes, scallops and haddock; and some Austin’s favorites like baby back ribs and shoestring fries.

Van Reed Inn to reopen

The Van Reed Inn along Route 183 is set to reopen, according to signs posted outside the building. The restaurant, formerly known as Milan’s Van Reed Inn, has sat dormant since it closed in March, 2013 after 33 years in operation. The new restaurant has launched a website that announces the new ownership, but no date has been given for when it will reopen.

Former Hooters location gets new owner

An article in the September 3 Reading Eagle revealed that the former Hooters property in Wyomissing has a new owner and will soon have a new restaurant. Joseph T. Posh, a developer from Lehigh County, has purchased the property and will bring in a chain that is new to Reading, according to the article. Hooters closed in March of 2013, and the building has sat vacant since.

Food News

Frank & Diannah’s Arbor Inn

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When looking for a new place to try, there is no shortage of places to find information.

Sites like Urbanspoon, Yelp and Trip Advisor are invaluable when looking for a new place you may have overlooked.

On a recent Thursday night, I found myself searching Trip Advisor for ideas.

With 84 reviews and an average rating of 4.5, Frank and Diannah’s Arbor Inn is the No. 1 restaurant in Reading according to Trip Advisor. That’s against nearly 300 restaurants that have been rated.

That sounds like a place I need to try.

A full parking lot was just another hint that we were heading to a popular spot.

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Through the doors, the Arbor Inn looked much smaller than it does from the outside. The entrance opened into the bar room, where about a dozen diners were lined up on stools with a handful of others shoehorned into tables along the wall.

On the wall were three framed articles – one of them was a recent review from the Berks Barrister, the official newsletter of the Berks County Bar Association. The writer raved about burger night, and it just so happened to be burger night tonight.

Frank, one of the two namesake owners, was doing the hosting duties, greeting customers at the door and stopping by their tables to chat during their meals.

A second couple entered behind us as we were waiting, and Frank came up to us and asked our permission to seat them first.

“We’re clearing a corner table for you, a little more romantic,” he said. “You’ll also have our best waitress. They’re all good, but she’s the best.”

How could we argue with that?

We couldn’t see the dining room from where we stood in the bar, so it almost felt like a big reveal when we were finally led through the small doorway and toward our seat.

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The room was small, and I don’t think they could have squeezed in any more seats. Each of the tabletops, including our own, was adorned with a single red rose in a simple glass vase to add just a little extra touch to the ambiance.

The Arbor Inn’s menu is also not very large (one page, front and back), but there wasn’t a single item that did not sound appealing. Everything had an international flare, from the Asian-spiced duck breast, Middle Eastern-inspired chicken and schnitzel done four ways.

As much as I wanted to try everything, I decided to take advantage of burger night and order the week’s burger special: the Italiano, a burger topped with spicy capicola, roasted red peppers and provolone cheese.

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At times, it was easy to forget that I was eating a hamburger as the combination of toppings were more akin to a pizza, or in the case of the red peppers, a meatball sandwich. But then I would take another big bite into the thick, meaty patty and quickly remember that this was no sandwich, but a burger. And an exceptional one at that.

Burgers are served with a side of fries, cooked to a beautiful golden hue and topped with coarse-ground salt. The Italiano was filling, but the fries were too good to stop eating, and I managed to force them all.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my burger, I couldn’t help but feel a little jealousy at the beautiful rib eye steak sitting across the table from me.

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Larry’s Rasta Rib Eye Steak is rubbed in Caribbean jerk seasoning with a pepper and onion sofrito. My wife allowed me a bite, and my jealousy increased. The steak absorbed a lot of flavor, both from the spice rub and from the sofrito, the onion in the latter giving it a little extra sweetness, making it one of the best steaks I have tried in a long time.

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The entrees all come with a starter salad with house-made Asian vinaigrette dressing. Though the flavor was very good, a little salty with a hint of sweet, I found myself puckering up from the strong vinegar flavor. But watching Julie finish off hers in half the time, I am going to say that I was just overly sensitive to it.

Dessert sounded delicious—semifreddo is one of my favorite words in the English language—but neither of us could handle any more food (half of the steak went home with us) so we got our check and called it a night.

Our bill was about $40, though it would have been a little higher had I ordered an entree instead of the lower priced burger option.

I would never be able to rank one restaurant ahead of all the others that I have visited during my time on Berks County Eats. But if Trip Advisor is going to rank the Arbor Inn No. 1, I’m certainly not going to argue.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Good
Price: A Little Pricey

Frank & Diannah’s Arbor Inn
47 S. Bingaman St
Reading, PA 19606

Frank & Diannah's Arbor Inn on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Food & Festivals: Bowers Chile Pepper Festival

The heat was oppressive as we walked around William DeLong Park.

In a cruel twist, Mother Nature had brought on a late-summer heat wave just in time for the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival. Just in case the peppers weren’t hot enough, the midday sun ensured that we were feeling the heat, and I cursed myself for forgetting to bring drinks.

The Bowers Chile Pepper Festival is billed as the largest in the nation, attracting tens of thousands of people to the eastern Berks County village of about 300 people.

Vendor tents snaked around the park, each one more crowded than the last. I realized early on that I would never be able to squeeze to the front of every stand, let alone taste everything.

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My first stop of the day was to Torchbearer Sauces where their product line ranged from sweet to hot to Zombie Apocalypse. I decided to stay to the milder end of the table because Zombie Apocalypse sauce sounded scarier than an actual zombie apocalypse. And luckily for me, that’s where I found my only take-home item of the day, Torchbearer’s Pineapple Papaya sauce.

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Papaya is one of my favorite fruit flavors, and this sauce did not disappoint. It has a nice fruity flavor, sweet but not too sweet. The label said it was a test run flavor, but I’m hoping it sticks because one bottle is not going to last me through next September.

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With my sweet tooth piqued, the next stop of note was Swarmbustin’ Honey. With too many flavors available to sample them all, I honed in on hot and sweet, tasting the hot garlic honey and raspberry honey flavors. The hot garlic was milder than I was expecting, though there was no ignoring the garlic. The raspberry honey was amazing. Though it just looked like a darker shade of honey, the berry flavor was strong and delicious, and I regretted not taking a bottle home with me.

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Chile peppers add flavor to any condiment, and mustard is no exception. Miller’s Mustard offered three levels of heat, and though I’m not a huge mustard fan, I did enjoy the mild and sweet. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as my friend Josh who took a few jars home with him.

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One of the more unique items at the festival came from Pappardelle’s, who is infusing heat into their pasta with flavors like green jalapeno fettuccine, chipotle blackbean tagliatelle and orange Szechuan linguine. I only wish they would have been serving some at one of the hot food stands.

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Piper’s Peck was one of the companies serving unique pepper jellies. I tasted the raspberry chipotle preserves and was struck hard by the chipotle. Thankfully, there was some sweet pepper jelly there to help calm my taste buds. It tasted just like a green sweet pepper, just in an unexpected form.

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Barbecue sauces are always popular with pepper fans, and Aunt Caroline’s had plenty of options to choose from, including their blue flame hot BBQ sauce, which lived up to its name (and then some) as one of the hottest items I dared to taste.

As for the hottest thing I tried all day, that came from a cup of ice cream.

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Jacky’s Jams and Jellies was offering cups of Cherry’s hot raspberry ice cream. On a sweltering day, ice cream sounded like a great idea. Besides, how hot could raspberry ice cream actually be?

Pretty damn hot.

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At first, it was like any other raspberry ice cream. It was creamy with a nice raspberry flavor. But it wasn’t long after the first spoonful that the heat arrived. That made me want to eat more ice cream to cool off, which only made it hotter. It was a vicious, delicious cycle of sweet, heat, repeat.

Many of the stands in the field were ones I recognized from my trip to the Kempton Pepper Jam in May, including the Penn Werner Hotel, which was serving their fresh-made jambalaya. Sloppy 2nds BBQ, Cactus Pete’s Jerky and Saint Lucipher spice rub were among the many familiar names on the booths.

Even hotter than the peppers though was the sun, and after an hour of walking around in 90-degree heat eating hot pepper-infused delicacies, I was ready to call it a day.

Hopefully the weather is a little more seasonable next year. Either way, I know where I will be the first weekend in September.

Food Festivals & Events

Stampede Smokin’ BBQ – MOVED

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Editor’s Note: Stampede Smokin’ BBQ has relocated to a new, permanent location along Route 10. The restaurant is now known as Stampede Barbecue. We visited for a blog shortly after it opened in June 2018.

Barbecue is hot.

The food industry is one of trends, and barbecue has been trending for some time now.

Grocery stores have entire aisles devoted to gourmet barbecue sauces, restaurants are serving more slow-cooked and smoked meats, and entire television shows are being devoted to the art of the ‘cue.

Berks County has always been a place that is known for chicken pot pie and other Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, but thanks to the success of places like Muddy’s Smokehouse Barbecue, slow cookers have started to pop up along the road throughout Greater Reading.

Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is a place that has taken the Muddy’s model and made it their own.

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The bright red trailer sits along Route 23 in Morgantown, just across the Berks border in Lancaster County. The entry way is all stones, with a small patch of grass marking the parking spaces.

An actual house sits on the property, an extended front porch serving as the seating area with brand new picnic tables, oversized umbrellas serving as sun shades on hot summer afternoons.

Stampede’s trailer has been parked full-time at this spot since last year, serving up beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, ribs and chicken.

The menu is scribbled on a chalkboard. In the center, boxed out from the rest of the items is Stampede’s specialty sandwich, the Dude.

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The Dude is aptly named as it takes a hungry dude to finish a sandwich that includes heaping portions of both smoked sausage and beef brisket. After squirting it with a stream of sauce and tossing on a cup full of chopped onions, I dug in.

It was love at first bite.

The brisket was so tender, falling apart with every bite while the sausage had picked up all of the flavors from the grill, making it extra smoky and satisfying. But the sauce was what brought it all together. It was sweet and tangy and just blended perfectly with the meat to create an outstanding sandwich.

Equally impressive were my side of barbecue beans. Though they were clearly baked in barbecue sauce, the flavor was closer to that of a meatless chili thanks to the inclusion of kidney beans and a few dashes of chili powder.

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I was prepared to order a side of fries as well, but once I saw the bags of Charles potato chips hanging on the side of the trailer. I could devote an entire blog to my love of Charles chips, and how “The Chip Man” used to deliver tins of them to our door each week when I was a child. As I ripped open the bag, all of those childhood memories came rushing back to me. Unlike other local brands like Good’s and Dieffenbach’s, Charles chips are light and airy, and I savored every bite.

This was, as a whole, one of the best barbecue meals I have had. And though $14 had seemed a little high when I was rung up, I can say that it was money well spent.

After finishing my meal, I grabbed one of Stampede’s take-home menus. On it are four things that the business strives to do: to provide excellent smoked meats, sides and service, to be consistent, to carry forward a good name, and to shine a light in a barbecue world.

To shine a light in a barbecue world.

A barbecue world is exactly the kind of world I want to be living in.

And after my visit, I can confirm that Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is shining a bright light.

Stampede Smokin' BBQ on Urbanspoon

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Festival Calendar Filled with Foodie-Friendly Fun

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Food and fun go hand-in-hand in Berks County so it’s no wonder that so many of Berks County’s fall fairs and festivals offer something for foodies to sink their teeth in.

Berks County Eats has compiled a running calendar of area festivals and events that will appeal to food lovers. Below is a snapshot of some of the events upcoming in September. To view the full calendar, click “Food & Festival Calendar” in the top menu or click here.

September 5-6
Bowers Chile Pepper Festival

The small town of Bowers grows exponentially each September for the annual Chile Pepper Festival. The two-day event, held on the first Friday and Saturday of the month, brings the heat with a celebration of spice. Weekend events include a jalapeno eating contest and a salsa contest. There is also a pick-your-own pepper field excursion, live entertainment and aisles of food vendors. The event runs from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. both days.

September 5-7
Hay Creek Festival

Joanna Furnace takes festival-goers back in time during the annual Hay Creek Festival. The three-day event includes a Civil War Encampment, home craft and antique market, and early American craft demonstrations. Foodies will enjoy the open-hearth cooking demonstrations (and sampling the tasty results). Open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily.

September 18-20
Oley Valley Community Fair

The 68th annual Oley Valley Community Fair returns to the Oley Fire Company Fairgrounds Thursday September 18. In addition to agricultural displays and entertainment, the fair is known for its food. Among the food stands are the fair’s famous French fries and soft-serve milkshakes. Hours are Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.

September 27
Reading Pretzel Festival

FirstEnergy Stadium hosts the second annual Reading Pretzel Festival, featuring special musical guest Foghat. The event celebrates Reading’s snack food of choice, the pretzel, with local vendors including Unique, Tom Sturgis, Uncle Henry’s, Pretzel Revolution, Fallers and Dutch Country Pretzels all scheduled to be in attendance. There will also be pretzel competitions, food and beer pairings and a judged dessert competition, all of which feature some of the area’s top restaurants.

Food News