For a small town, Bowers offers a lot to the culinary scene in Berks County. Most notably, the tiny village of 326 residents is home to the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival, one of the largest festivals of its kind in the country.
But it is more than just a once-a-year destination for foodies. Like all small communities, Bowers has its own gathering place, one that serves great food and drinks to neighbors and strangers alike.
The Bowers Hotel has a long history that dates back to 1820 when Jonas Bower (of the family from whom Bowers is named) built a small log cabin that served as a tavern.
More than 100 years have passed since the log cabin was replaced by the current two-story structure, but the hotel does not show its age. It maintains some 19th century charm in the wallpaper (red with beautiful white scrolling) and dim overhead lighting with votive candles on the tables, but the tables and chairs are much newer and add a modern feel to the historic property.
We were seated in the first of what are three partially divided dining rooms with a more “early bird” crowd while later arrivals were seated in the far room where a jazz band kicked off their set toward the end of our meal.
The menu also recalls the past with traditional dishes like liver and onions, shepherds pie, oyster pie and chicken pot pie (not the Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, but the baked-in-a-crust kind). And like most traditional restaurants, all meals are served with a basket of warm baked rolls.
We started our meal with the most interestingly named appetizer on the menu, pierogies au schpeck. The potato-filled pierogies were wrapped in strips of bacon and served atop a bed of sour cream, chives and sautéed onions.
The result was a cross between a pierogi and a baked potato, deep-fried and delicious. It had the perfect mix of texture, the crispy outer shell and bacon mixed with the fluffy potatoes and dense, creamy sauce made for an exceptional appetizer.
For my main course, I didn’t go in looking for something simple, but upon seeing pork and sauerkraut on the weekend specials, my decision was made.
Pork and sauerkraut may be the most quintessential of German American dishes, one that is normally reserved for New Year’s Day. But there’s no rule that says you can’t get some good luck in mid-November. And while I can’t confirm that the pork and sauerkraut brought me good luck, I can tell you that the Bowers Hotel brought me some darn good pork and sauerkraut.
The key to the dish is the sauerkraut: too sour and it leaves a poor taste in your mouth, not sour enough and you lose the flavor. This sauerkraut was done just right, injecting a jolt of acidity into the pork. Adding mashed potatoes to every forkful made it even better.
Also opting for traditional, Julie decided on chicken Parmesan for her main dish. The chicken and spaghetti were covered in a thick tomato sauce and a layer of melted cheese. It was just about as good as any Italian restaurant.
We were tempted to continue our meal with dessert, but I managed to show restraint and leave on a full stomach instead of an overly full one. With Julie’s addition of an apple cider sangria, our total bill came to just over $40.