Berks Food News: Renovations and Relocations on the Menu

Steak Shack Leaves Body Zone

The Steak Shack has moved out of its location inside Body Zone in Spring Township. Early last year, a second location opened in the parking lot of the former SureFine along Penn Ave. in Sinking Spring, and according to the restaurant’s Facebook page, Shack owner Eryk Ceranowski is now working at that location.

Cafe Sweet Street Celebrates Grand Re-Opening

Cafe Sweet Street in Reading celebrated its grand re-opening on October 29 after a series of renovations and expansion. An outdoor terrace and new pizza oven highlight the changes to the cafe, located at the headquarters of Sweet Street Desserts. The cafe is open weekdays from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Buffalo Wild Wings Project Moves Forward

The planned Buffalo Wild Wings at the Berkshire Mall took another step forward when the Wyomissing Borough Council approved the transfer of a liquor license from a Reading establishment, according to an article in the October 15 Reading Eagle. The proposed restaurant will be built on vacant space in the Berkshire Mall parking lot.

Mission BBQ Moving at Former Hooters

Mission BBQ is set to take over the former Hooters location in Wyomissing, according an article from the October 22 Reading Eagle. Mission BBQ offers a simple menu of barbecued meats like brisket, chicken and ribs with sides like mac-n-cheese and baked beans. The property that Mission BBQ takes over has been vacant since the franchisee closed Hooters in 2013 amid financial difficulties.

Two Major Food Events Set for Weekend

Area foodies will have plenty to chew on this Sunday in Berks County with a pair of food-centric events. From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., the Temple Oheb Sholom in Wyomissing will be holding their annual Jewish Food & Cultural Festival, where they will be serving a sampling of traditional Jewish cuisine. Also on Sunday, from 1 to 5 p.m., the Hamburg Area School District is hosting its fourth annual Iron Chef Competition. The Hamburg Iron Chef is the longest-running culinary contest of its kind in the area. In addition to the cooking challenge, more than 25 different food vendors will be offering free samples.

Food News

Paradise by the Slice

As part of National Pizza Month, I have spent four weeks sampling some of the most clever and unique pies in Berks County.

Each restaurant has impressed in a different way, taking pizza in completely opposite—but delicious—directions.

Still, the question remained: Who has the best pizza in Berks County?

Despite devoting my October to finding the answer (I stopped counting after my 15th slice), it’s a question that I would be hard-pressed to answer.

What I did know is that my research would not be complete until I tasted the pizza from the restaurant that was voted Best in Berks 2013 by the readers of Berks County Living: Paradise by the Slice.

Wernersville is no island paradise, and the restaurant’s logo—a pizza slice sitting on a beach chair underneath a palm tree—certainly seems out of place on a cool fall evening.

One of the things I am always looking for is the unique: unique food, unique experiences, or anything else that sets the restaurant apart from their competition. So when I found out that Paradise by the Slice has their own app, I didn’t hesitate to download it.

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The app is just a cleaner version of the restaurant’s webpage with options to view photos, get directions, follow them on social media, learn about the restaurant, and order on your phone.

In all my times of ordering take-out on my phone, it has been the old-fashioned way (10 digits, speak to an actual person, hope they get the order right). But after using Paradise’s app, I’m hoping more restaurants offer online take-out ordering because it made it fast, easy and convenient—three of the four things you look for when ordering take-out.

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The fourth thing, of course, is the food. And with a Best of Berks award in their back pocket, I wasn’t too worried about that when I walked up to the take-out counter (which, oddly enough, is completely detached from the rest of the restaurant).

I resisted the temptation to sneak a slice on the drive home, a difficult task when you’re trapped in a car that smells like cheese and garlic for 15 minutes.

After finally arriving home, I threw open the lid and got my first look at the White Meatball Pizza.

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The 14″ pie was topped with garlic butter sauce, sliced meatballs (cut to look more like pepperoni) and mozzarella with handfuls of ricotta, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes strewn about on top.

It’s rare to find any dish—pizza or otherwise—that doesn’t pair meatballs with marinara sauce (Swedish meatballs being the exception) so I was intrigued by the combination of them with the garlic sauce. But I can safely say that it worked.

The key was proportions: there was not too much of any one ingredient to overpower the rest. The sauce was very light, just brushed onto the crust before the toppings were added, and though you could certainly taste the garlic, it wasn’t overly strong. The meatballs, by virtue of being cut so thin, were also milder, and with the mozzarella in between, it wasn’t that much different than taking a bite out of a meatball sandwich.

If one ingredient did stand out over the rest, it was the ricotta, and I think it’s because it was such an unusual topping. The fresh cheese was dropped on in clumps, and while it is a very mild cheese by comparison, getting a mouthful of it really changed the flavor, making it a little sweeter with a light texture.

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Wanting to try more than just pizza, we added a side order of Paradise’s beach fries. Advertised as hand-cut to order, they were reminiscent of Boardwalk fries, thin-cut with potato skins clinging to the ends. Though they were very good, I wish we could have enjoyed them fresh from the fryer at the restaurant because the container had begun to sweat on the ride home, making them a little soggy. I’m sure they would have been even better on the table.

As has been the case with most of my pizza adventures, the meal was too much for two people so Julie and I had two slices and a serving of fries to put in the fridge so we could stretch our $20 across two days.

If you asked me if Paradise by the Slice is the “Best in Berks,” I don’t know that I could give you a definitive answer.

But if you asked me if I would go back again, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Paradise by the Slice
63 E. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Paradise By The Slice on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews

Food & Festivals: Greek Food Bazaar

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It’s not uncommon to see a Berks County church hosting a food festival.

Throughout the year, you can find peach festivals, strawberry festivals, blueberry festivals, and more.

At the very least, just about every church will host a public dinner at some point throughout the year.

At Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, they just do things on a much larger scale.

Now in it’s 44th year, the Greek Food Bazaar is not your typical church function. Thousands of patrons walk through the doors of the three-day event, which is why  some of the area’s largest corporations and businesses—including Redner’s Warehouse Markets, the Reading Fightin’ Phils and 69 News Berks Edition—are advertising in the 50-page program book.

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And this year’s festival is larger than ever with the addition of an outdoor market and “Opa Tent” with plenty of space for dining and dancing.

Great food can be found throughout the church grounds, every room offering something different than the previous.

There is the Taverna, probably the most in-demand room in the building, where patrons enjoy traditional Greek tavern food, served with ouzo and wine. A gyro window serves a variety of sandwiches. Gyros and other appetizers were also available inside the Opa Tent. The kafeneio serves as an on-site coffee shop.

For hungry food bloggers, light fare and appetizers are just not enough. That’s why you will find me in the Estiatorio.

The church’s social hall is transformed into a sit-down restaurant where they are serving full dinner plates, like their Athenian chicken.

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Served with rice pilaf (or pastitsio), salad cup, and green beans cooked in tomatoes, the half chicken is more barbecued than baked. The lightly salted skin is reminiscent of the chicken I had at Kauffman’s, but a little crispier and not quite as spicy. And the spices are more than skin deep (pun intended), giving the meat a nice flavor of its own.

The pilaf and green beans are the perfect compliments to the meat. The beans are swimming in a sweet tomato sauce that’s much thinner and sweeter than an Italian marinara, while the pilaf was the necessary starch that balanced it out.

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I took my dinner into the Opa Tent where Julie was waiting with her spanakopita. The spinach and feta were mixed in bite size filo dough pockets and served atop a full pita. Even with the lightness of filo, it was heavy enough that the pita was unnecessary, and we ended up bringing most of it home with us.

Of course wherever there is a church festival, there are always desserts, and Sts. Constantine and Helen does not disappoint. A classroom is converted into the zaxaroplasteio, or Greek bakery.

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On the whiteboard is a tally of all the baking done for this year’s bazaar: 3,840 baklava, 1,539 loaves of bread, and 7,080 twist cookies. At $2 each, we picked out five of their most appealing options: two floyeris, one baklava, one finikia, and one kataifa.

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Greek pastries generally revolve around two ingredients: filo dough and honey. All but the finikia, which is a honey dipped cookie sprinkled with nuts, were made with the thin dough, while all were sweetened with the honey syrup.

The most unique of the four had to be the kataifi, a honey and walnut filled pastry that is made with shredded filo. Having only bought one, we had to cut it in half, at which point the honey began oozing out, leaving us with what looked like piles of angel hair pasta that was doused in gooey sweetness.

In all, we spent about $30 on food. The only thing we missed out on this year was the loukoumades, the church’s famous Greek honey balls. Every year, the deep fried, honey flavored dough balls are a big hit with the crowds. This year was no exception, and by the time we got to the window on Friday night, the day’s batch was already sold out.

That sounds like a good reason to return next year.

Uncategorized
Best Pizza: Nonno Alby's

Nonno Alby’s Brick Oven Pizza

For many, food is a family affair.

Whether gathering the family around the dinner table at home or at your favorite restaurant or helping your mother or father in the kitchen as they make your favorite recipe, food has a way of bringing families together.

The same holds true for restauranteurs, where children are brought in to the family business at a young age in hopes that they will someday carry on their parents’ legacy.

In the case of the Nonno Alby’s Brick Oven Pizza, it means proud parents watching their children take what they have learned and create something uniquely their own.

Opened in 2013, Nonno Alby’s occupies the original G.N.A. Ristorante property in West Reading. The second generation of the Grande family named the restaurant for their father Alby, who still oversees operations at G.N.A., now located just a few blocks east.

While Nonno Alby’s and G.N.A. have a family connection, the two restaurants are vastly different. While G.N.A. offers a fairly expansive menu of Italian dinners, sandwiches and pizza, Nonno Alby’s is all about pizza and burgers.

Walking through the front door, you can see the heat glowing from the brick oven behind the bar at the far end of the dining room. Unfortunatley we lost site of the glowing coals once we were seated on the opposite side of the room divider.

The only deviation from burgers and pizza is found in the appetizers, mostly sharable salads, but a sign at the front door advertised the addition of baked wings to the menu. Our waittress read off the available flavors and suggested honey BBQ (which is not actually on the menu, but honey and BBQ are, and the two are easily mixed). It did not take much to sell us on it so a few minutes later we had a plate of 10 wings in front of us.

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Served on a plate with mixed vegetables and a cup of ranch (bleu cheese is also available, if you are so inclined), the wings were glistening with the honey-infused glaze.

Baking them gave them a nice crisp, but not as much as if they were fried. The honey came through more than the barbecue sauce, giving them a nice sweet flavor.

The wings were just a precursor to the pizza. While most pizza places offer small and large pies, Nonno Alby’s only serves individual 12″ pies, each with its own signature toppings, many of which are imported from Italy.

My eye did not have to travel far to find my pizza of choice as the namesake Nonno Alby’s pizza was at the top of the list. The Nonno Alby’s is topped with imported San Marazano tomato, buffalo mozzarella, fresh Italian sausage, sauteed rapini (broccoli raub) and red pepper flakes.

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Brick oven pizza has a crispier crust than traditional pies. Slices are rigid so you don’t have to worry about the toppings sliding off as it sags. Every bite included a healthy helping of toppings that hit on a wide range of flavor profiles. Sweet ground tomatoes, mild heat  from the ground sausage and buffalo mozzarella, and the slightly bitter rapini came together for a memorable pizza.

In the seat next to me, Julie had ordered something completely different: the Bianca (white) pizza. Her pie was topped with baby arugula, buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto di Parma, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.

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As much as I enjoyed my own pie, hers may have been even better. I have never been a fan of white pizza, but I think that’s because it usually comes sans toppings. This was something completely different. The proscuitto, and even the parmesan, gave it a salty flavor while the arugula leaves helped to tone it down just enough that instead of becoming overpowering, it was near perfect.

In hindsight, we did not need to order so much food. Though we certainly got our money’s worth for $40, we would have been fine skipping the wings, or we could have justed ordered a single pizza with the wings and been fine. As it was, Julie took home two slices while I cleaned my plate but probably shouldn’t have.

Nonno Alby’s continues a family tradition of serving great food in Berks County.

If I were Alby, I would be proud to have my name attached to the restaurant.

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

Nonno Alby’s Brick Oven Pizza
701 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Nonno Alby's Brick Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews

Berks Food News: Long-time restaurant closes

Risser’s Family Restaurant closes

Risser’s Family Restaurant in Stouchsburg has closed its doors after 35 years in business. The news came last week via an article in the Reading Eagle and comes on the heels of the passing of namesake owner Ernie Risser in early September. The business remained open temporarily, closing on September 26 for a family vacation, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. However, the restaurant never re-opened as planned on October 6. While Risser owned the business, the property was recently sold at sheriff’s sale and the new owner has a for sale sign on the property.

Growing up in nearby Robesonia, I grew up on Risser’s food. I wrote about their Pennsylvania Dutch specialties earlier this year. Hopefully a buyer can be found that will reopen the site as a restaurant.

Toast Cafe looking at Berks County

In another recent Reading Eagle article, it was reported that the Toast Cafe, a small chain based out of North Carolina, is looking to expand with a franchise in Greater Reading. The restaurant’s primary focus is breakfast and lunch, with all four locations in the Charlotte metro area open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. One location, in Davidson, NC,offers dinner four nights per week. Though Reading has been tabbed as a potential market, the article stated that the company is still looking for a franchisee. You can learn more about the Toast Cafe on their webpage.

Festival season winding down

As the year comes to a close, so to does festival season. However there are still many options to experience a taste of Berks County before the end of the year. There are two festivals scheduled for this weekend: Friday through Sunday, the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church hosts its annual Greek Food Festival, and Saturday is the Fall Food Truck Festival at the VF Outlet. View our Food & Festival Calendar for more food-centric events.

Food News

Bella’s Subs & Pizza

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The great thing about pizza is that there is no “right way” to do it.

A Yelp search for pizza shows more than 250 results for Berks County, and that means more than 250 different styles of pizza to choose from.

Most of the differences are subtle: lighter or heavier sauce, spicier or milder pepperoni, thicker or thinner crust.

But then there are the places who are serving something that strays a little farther from the round pie with canned sauce and shredded mozzarella.

Bella’s Pizza opened in 2013 in a small location along State Hill Road. The building, which had previously housed a Coney Island hot dog stand (and before that, a patio store) is actually connected to the much larger Kwik Stop convenience store.

Seating is limited, especially when the weather renders the outdoor picnic tables useless. Thankfully delivery is available for those of us fortunate enough to live close enough to the restaurant, and I will happily trade the 45-minute wait for the convenience of delivery.

The restaurant offers more than pizza. Their menu boldly proclaims the “best cheese steaks in town.” There are also plenty of hot and cold sandwich options, six flavors of wings, burgers, salads and traditional Italian dinners.

While all of those sound appealing, one item on the menu stood out to me: grandma pizza.

Maybe it was the yellow highlights around the three grandma pizza options, or maybe it was the description (“THIN CRUSTY SICILIAN Delicious!“). Either way, I was having a Tony’s Special Grandma Pizza delivered to my door.

I knew from the description that I was getting a Sicilian pizza with roasted peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella and spinach, but that does not begin to describe the beautiful pie that was inside the box.

Like all Sicilian pizzas, it was a large, square pie, but that was where the similarities ended.

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Fresh ingredients meant bright colors as the golden brown crust was topped with alternating bursts of milk white, bright red and deep green. The fresh mozzarella was dropped on in chunks, too big to melt during its trip through the oven. Large slices of tomato and whole spinach leaves were scattered about as well.

Though every bite included the crunch from the crispy crust, the layering of ingredients meant each was different. Sometimes it was the creamy taste of the mozzarella, or the sweetness of the tomato, or the mild bitterness of the spinach, or a combination of all three. In any case, every bite was enjoyable.

Nervous that a single pie would not be enough for myself and my three hungry friends, we added a Bella’s Special to our order.

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A more traditional round pie, the Bella’s Special was loaded with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Everything about it was very good, from the slightly spicy pepperoni to the generous helpings of veggies (I have never had a pizza with too many onions), but after experiencing the uniqueness of the Grandma pizza, this pie just could not compete.

Sadly, two pies proved to be too much for us, but we could all agree that the pizzas, especially the Grandma , were well worth the price (just over $40 after tipping our delivery guy).

Our two pizzas could not have been more different. And while I would like to say they were equally enjoyable, one was clearly a notch above the other.

There may not be one “right way” to make a pizza, but Bella’s Grandma pizza was definitely done right.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Bella’s Subs & Pizza
1912 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Bella's Subs & Pizza on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews

Food & Festivals: Oktoberfest at Reading Liederkranz

Polka-Oktoberfest

Germany is my blood.

Like so many Berks Countians, I can trace my family history back to the Fatherland. Before we were Pennsylvania Germans, we were just Germans.

One night every year, I take the time to celebrate my family heritage with a visit to the Oktoberfest celebration at the Reading Liederkranz.

Though it is a private club, the Liederkranz welcomes the public for special events throughout the year, but none are bigger than Oktoberfest.

And Oktoberfest is a big deal. An article on BusinessInsider.com rates it among the nine best places in the world to celebrate the annual event. So many people attend the event each year that the Liederkranz has to sell reserved parking spaces at their Mt. Penn headquarters.

For the rest of us, that means a 10-minute ride on a school bus from the Antietam Valley Recreation & Community Center. With the twisty turns on the mountainside, the trip feels a lot longer than it actually is (the 1.5-mile trip feels like it takes 10 minutes).

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Stepping off at the top, a large banner hangs above the entrance to the grove and beer garden. Record crowds walked beneath that sign this year, according to the Liederkranz website. Even on our trip Thursday, day two of the five-day festival, the lines for food and beer were lengthy.

When it comes to the food options, there is no wrong choice, but if you are looking for something different, this event is the one place I have found for a delicious bowl of goulash.

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Even in a disposable bowl, it’s easy to see why the goulash is such an appealing dish. The beef cubes are slow cooked in a slightly spicy sauce, served over a bed of egg noodles, which sop up the sauce so well.

With separate lines for each food option, Julie and I had to divide and conquer to get our food. While I was feasting on goulash, she picked up a roast pork meal with German potato salad and sauerkraut.

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The pork was juicy and tender, but for me, the best part are the sides. The potato salad, with large chunks of spuds and plenty of herbs is the best that I have tried. And the sauerkraut is just as good with a sourness that’s noticeable, but not too overpowering.

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Patrons must buy tickets for all food and drink purchases, and if you do the math wrong (like food bloggers tend to do), you either end up with too few or too many tickets. In this case, we had enough extra tickets for an order of potato pancakes. Three large pancakes are served with cups of applesauce and sour cream for dipping.

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As we sat and enjoyed our dinner, we were serenaded by the polka sounds of The Continentals, and in between sets, the accordion stylings of Kermit Ohlinger, who wandered through the crowd playing polka versions of “Margaritaville” and “Hot Dog Man.”

After dinner, we took a brief walk through the German market, a collection of vendors selling German-made and -inspired products.

Really, this short walk was just a way to kill time before my favorite part of the evening: dessert.

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The Liederkranz offers an assortment of goodies to choose from, including a decadent chocolate cake with rich, creamy chocolate ice cream.

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But for me, no trip to Oktoberfest is complete without their famous apple strudel.

Served atop a bed of warm custard and (optionally) topped with vanilla ice cream, the strudel is a culinary masterpiece. The ice cream melts quickly, mixing with the custard to create a sweet, soupy pool for the light, flaky pastry. The strudel is so popular that there is often a line waiting for the next batch to emerge from the clubhouse.

Of course, there is also the beer (and wine) and lots of it. It is Oktoberfest, after all.

But for me, Oktoberfest is a celebration of my heritage and a celebration of delicious food.

And it’s why I will continue to return each year.

Uncategorized

Island Pizza

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No one would ever confuse Berks County for the Caribbean.

Reading is a long way from Aruba. Birdsboro is very different from Barbados.

But there is a place in eastern Berks County that at least tries to make it feel a little more like the islands.

Island Pizza sits along Route 422, about 10 minutes east of the city. The building sits on an “island,” its neon palm tree shining bright atop a hill high above the highway.

With the divided highway, the only way to reach it from the west is through one of those jug handle turns that are a rarity in Berks County.

But there is more different about this place than turning right to go left.

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Inside, every square inch of the walls are covered in bright murals depicting parrots, flowers and iguanas. An underwater scene adorns the short wall at the kitchen counter, with crabs and clownfish and others brought to life in vivid color.

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The menu is a lot larger than I would have thought. In addition to more than 20 specialty pizza options— most of them featuring island names like the Martinique (chicken, red onion, tomatoes, bell peppers and mozzarella) and the Bermuda (white pizza with fresh garlic, broccoli and spinach)—the restaurant features burgers, steak sandwiches and hoagies.

Island Pizza is also “crazy about fries” with 18 styles that range from Cajun and seasoned fries to ranch bacon cheese and pulled pork BBQ. We decided to go with something a little more Italian in nature with the Parmesan garlic fries.

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Too hungry to wait for our pizza, we asked to have our fries first. The crispy fries were dusted with in powdery Parmesan; a small pool of oil had gathered at the bottom of the basket. The fries at the bottom were too soggy to pick up without a fork, but using a fork was only a minor inconvenience.

The fries were greasy and good, and the garlicky sauce was doubly good, serving as a convenient dipping sauce for the pizza yet to come.

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For our pizza, we decided to go all-out with a gourmet stuffed pizza, the Aruba.

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Peeling back the doughy lid revealed a meat-lovers dream, filled with meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon and mozzarella.

Everything about it was excellent. All of the meats worked well together with the pepperoni adding just a hint of spice to the pie. The sauce, served in a bowl on the side, was thick marinara that added just a little sweetness. in the end though, I dipped more into the garlic sauce from the fries than I did in the marinara.

The pizza, which cost about $20, was enough to easily feed a family of four. After we each finished two of the oversized slices (mine were bigger than Julie’s, of course), we still had two slices left for lunch later in the week.

It may not be the Caribbean,  but Island Pizza is an oasis of sorts, a relaxing place friendly service.

And some darn good pizza.

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

Island Pizza
3060 Limekiln Rd
Birdsboro, PA 19508

Island Pizza Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews Uncategorized

Food & Festivals: Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Qualifying in Dover, DE

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Ernest Hemingway once said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest of merely games.”

Clearly, Hemingway never attended a Major League Eating competition.

On September 28, Dover International Speedway served as the backdrop for an official qualifying round for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It is only fitting that a place built for speed would play host to the heart-pounding excitement of a 10-minute hot dog challenge, with the fastest male and female eaters advancing to the main event on July 4 in Coney Island, New York.

The event had all the pageantry of the annual televised spectacle: the Nathan’s Famous hot dogs piled high on the table, booming entrance music that would make WWE wrestlers jealous, and one of the world’s masters of the microphone emceeing the festivities.

George Shea is the world’s greatest carnival barker.

No one knows how to work a crowd quite like the voice of Major League Eating. Undoubtedly, he has made himself as much a part of the sport as the hot dogs themselves.

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With his booming voice and signature straw hat, Shea holds the audience in the palm of his hands. In his words, this is not just a battle between hungry eaters, it is a war between good and evil.

Hyperbole and storytelling rules the day when Shea takes the stage. It seems everyone in this contest was raised by wild animals or had to overcome a traumatic eating injury in the past.

And then there was Badlands Booker.

Real name Eric, “Badlands” was the biggest name in the contest. A yearly fixture of the July 4 contest, Booker is one of the world’s most decorated, with championships in multiple disciplines including matzo balls and corned beef hash.

Like Shea, Booker is also a showman. And before the contest began, he took center stage with a pair of freestyle raps.

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It was at that point that Shea jumped in, “spitting” a rap like they do in Brooklyn (not rapping at all).

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The pomp and circumstance that surrounds the competition is incredible. After all, this is 10 men and one woman eating hot dogs.

That woman was Juliet Lee, the No. 8 ranked eater in the world. At 105 pounds, she is the antithesis of Badlands Booker.

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And just as fierce a competitor.

When the competition began, the professionals quickly distanced themselves from the amateurs. A handful of contestants apparently were just in it for the free food, leisurely downing four or five of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs over the course of 10 minutes.

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Others tried, but quickly found themselves in the wake of greatness as Badlands Booker pulled out to an early lead.

But as the competition dragged on, Booker began to fade, the heat causing him to slow down long before the clock reached zero.

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While the big man faded, the little woman found another gear, downing hot dogs at an incredible pace.

From up close, the competition takes on a whole new level of reality. You can see the eaters struggle as they shove dogs into their mouths. Crumbs stuck to their faces like blonde goatees.

When the final buzzer sounds, the judges are left with the unenviable task of counting the remnants, pulling soggy remains out of water cups to determine an official count. It is the least appealing part of the contest, but Shea is there to misdirect the audience, drawing attention away from the orts on the table, and instead placing the spotlight on himself.

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It is only after the final count is finished that the spotlight once again falls on the competitors. After 10 minutes of fierce competition, two winners have been declared. Badlands Booker is the winner on the men’s side with 32 hot dogs, punching his ticket to Coney Island.

But it was Juliet Lee who ruled the day, downing 35 dogs in an absolutely stunning performance that would have been good enough to earn the title in last year’s women’s division at Coney Island.

Nine months from now, the world will have the privilege of watching Badlands Booker and Juliet Lee take center stage in New York. More legendary stories will be told, more hot dogs will be consumed and more stomachs will turn after turning on the TV.

Food Festivals & Events