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