Blue Marsh Canteen sold, 2 restaurants close to opening, and more

Blue Marsh Canteen sold, renamed

The Blue Marsh Canteen is now the Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant. The restaurant along Route 183 in Penn Township received the new name after being sold to the owners of Gino’s Cafe in Shillington, according to an April 18 Facebook post. A new menu is now being served as well.

Crab Barn now hiring

The Crab Barn is now hiring as it moves closer to its opening. The restaurant put the word out on Facebook on April 26 that it is seeking applicants for all positions. No opening date has been set yet.

Bistro 614 gets occupancy permit

West Reading’s Bistro 614 is one more step closer to reopening after receiving a new occupancy permit. The restaurant’s official Facebook page reported the news on April 18. The Bistro has been closed since a fire gutted the building last June.

Americana Diner no longer 24 hours

The Americana Diner in Colebrookdale Township has changed its hours of operation. The restaurant, which was formerly open 24 hours, is now open Monday through Thursday from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. The change was announced on the diner’s Facebook page on April 19.

Food News

Virginville Hotel – CLOSED

virginville-hotel

The Virginville Hotel is now closed as of August 20, 2017. There are no current plans for a new restaurant to take its place.

“Let’s go for a drive in the country.”

That was what Julie said to me on my first day back after a four-day business trip to Arizona. That’s how we found ourselves winding our way through northern Berks County on our way to Virginville.

There are few restaurants in Berks County that are as much in the country as the Virginville Hotel. About 300 people live in the tiny village between Kutztown and Lenhartsville. Thousands more pass through each year as they travel to the nearby Crystal Cave. That traffic has only helped drive customers through the door of the hotel since it opened in 1885 as the Mansion House.

Like the village itself, the Virginville Hotel is not very big, at least in the dining area. The taproom, which has its own entrance out front, feels like it takes up half of the building.

There is nothing small about the menu, however. The hotel’s offerings more closely resemble a diner with four pages of simple, homestyle entrees, pasta, burgers and sandwiches, plus daily an entire page of daily specials.

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One of the appetizer specials during our visit was pork pot stickers. The deep-fried treats were served with a cup of sweet and sour sauce for dipping. Unlike their pan-fried counterparts you find at most Chinese restaurants, these pot stickers ate more like finger food, the crunchy outer shell making the delicious morsels even easier to dunk.

There were a number of menu items that caught my eye, including Pennsylvania Dutch baked ham, honey dipped fried chicken, and country sausage. But I decided instead for stroganoff pasta.

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Beef stroganoff is a favorite of mine, but one that I rarely find on restaurant menus. The heavy cream sauce was loaded atop the pile of egg noodles, steak tips and sliced mushrooms. It was a big, meaty, filling dish with a flavorful sauce that brought it all together. And more than one-quarter of it came home with me for later.

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Each pasta dish comes with a side salad (entrees came with a salad and a side, or three sides). The salad was basic, but I really appreciated the two different flavors of croutons in it.

Another special for the day was chicken lasagna, Julie’s entree of choice on our visit. It was certainly anything but traditional.

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Instead of a slice from a large sheet, the lasagna was served in a bowl. To better compliment the chicken, the dish was topped with alfredo sauce instead of the standard tomato. The ricotta cheese helped the dish maintain its identity. The flavors were still very reminiscent of lasagna, just a little cheesier and heavier (thanks to the alfredo sauce).

Our two meals left no room for dessert so we finished up our meals with a total check around $30.

The trip to the Virginville Hotel took us on some of Berks County’s scenic back roads, a nice drive that led to a fine little restaurant in a quaint little village.

All in all, I would say it was a good trip.

Virginville Hotel on Urbanspoon

Closed Reviews

Road Trip: Saffron Indian Kitchen – Ambler

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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 an hour east of Reading to Ambler, PA.

Every day I make the trek from my home in Wyomissing to my job in King of Prussia, a 50-mile journey down the Morgantown Expressway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

While I wish that I could work closer to home, my job affords me the opportunity to experience some great places—and great restaurants—in Montgomery County.

A recent outing with some of my colleagues took us to one of Montgomery County’s coolest small towns, Ambler. And it’s there that we found Saffron Indian Kitchen.

Ambler is a lot like West Reading. The main street, Butler Avenue, is lined with independent shops and enough restaurants to keep a blogger busy for months.

Parking is scarce, especially on Friday or Saturday evening when it seems like everyone comes to town for dinner.  But if you are lucky enough to find a parking space (and thankfully, I was), the metered lots are free after 6 p.m.

Saffron has the look and feel of a traditional bistro. A handful of tables and chairs are set up on the sidewalk in front of the building it shares with Caffe Maida. The yellow walls and yellow tablecloths added brightness to our seats in the back of the room, away from the large front window.

Indian food is something that I don’t get to eat very often. There are only a couple authentic Indian restaurants in Berks, and my only taste so far as been a sampling of Aashiyana’s delicious chicken tiki masala at the Centre Park Gourmet Garden tour.

The trip to Saffron was a chance to broaden my horizons, and being with three other people, it meant a chance to share several appetizers, starting with onion bhajai.

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Bhajai could be best described as an Indian version of the blooming onion. What made this different was the use of chickpea batter for deep frying. Amazing on their own, they were even better dipped in one of the two sauces. It was hard to choose a favorite between the two: the green sauce tasted like fresh salsa while the red reminded me of a sweet chili sauce. Though very different, both sauces worked beautifully with the fried onions.

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Our second appetizer, spinach and feta cheese samosas, was from the “Saffron Blue” monthly menu. The large turnovers were stuffed full. One of my fellow diners said it reminded them of spanakopita. The main difference between this and the Greek dish is that the samosas had fried dough instead of filo, which gave it a little different flavor and made it feel more like an appetizer.

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The final appetizer on our table was a basket of naan. Saffron offers eight different flavors of the Indian leavened bread, and I would have loved to have tried them all. Instead, we just tried rogini naan, the traditional version. Lightly buttered, I found the bread was best used for soaking up the sauce from my goat korma.

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Goat korma was another offering on the monthly menu. I had planned on ordering the chicken tiki masala (which came highly recommended), but changed my mind when I read about the goat dish served in cashew cream sauce.

Saffron will make the dish to your desired spice level—mild, medium or spicy. I went with the medium, and it offered plenty of kick. The sauce was thick and rich, with just a hint of sweetness to go with the nutty flavor of the cashew. I happily ladled all of the sauce atop my bed of rice, which we served ourselves out of communal bowls.

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Goat is a very tender and flavorful meat, but the one problem with it is that there are a lot of bones. But there was still plenty of meat to pick at, and with the help of a couple slices of naan, I cleaned my plate.

My meal was one of the more expensive items on the menu at $20, which brought our total check to $90 for the four of us. That included four entrees, two appetizers, a double-order of naan and a bottle of Pellegrino (not my choice).

Walking from my car to Saffron, I passed about a dozen restaurants and bars, all of which looked welcoming and intriguing.

I have no doubt that I will find myself in Ambler again. I just hope all of the restaurants are as good as Saffron.

Saffron Indian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Four new restaurants planned for Berks

Two new restaurants planned for St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence could be getting two new restaurants, according to Tuesday’s Reading Eagle. The two restaurants were discussed at last week’s borough council meeting. One restaurant is Tosco’s, who is looking to open a takeout pizza restaurant at the corner of Oley Turnpike Road and Perkiomen Avenue but is in need of a parking variance. The Tosco family owns several restaurants, including a Heidelberg Township location that we reviewed last year. The second restaurant, Sophia’s, is being planned for the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and Bingaman Street. The restaurant is further along in the process and has most of its permits, according to the article.

Reading Eagle BizNotes lists two new restaurants

Tuesday’s Reading Eagle’s Business Weekly section had limited details on two new Berks County restaurants. Two fictitious names have been registered, Fatkids Lunchbox in Reading and Pho House in Douglassville, according to the paper. Pho House’s address is listed as 1139 Ben Franklin Highway. The location is the former site of Don Julio, a mexican restaurant that closed in December. Fatkids Lunchbox is listed for North 5th Street, across from George Field. No other details are current available for either restaurant.

Food News

Anthony’s Trattoria

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A century ago, Carsonia Park was a destination. People flocked by the thousands to take their turns on the rides, catch a show in the ballroom or take a swim at the park in Lower Alsace Township.

Today’s Carsonia Park bares little resemblance to the grand amusement park that once thrived here. Very few reminders of the old park exist. The old Carsonia Inn (now Klinger’s on Carsonia) still stands, and the original swimming pool continues to draw crowds in the summer.

Also surviving is the former beer garden that was added in the 1930s, now known as Anthony’s Trattoria, one of Greater Reading’s favorite Italian restaurants.

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Driving down Navella Ave toward the park, the sign for Anthony’s Trattoria stands on the corner. Behind the sign, almost against the house, stand a pair of street lamps that look oddly out of place. These lamps once lined the midway of the park.

Inside, the restaurant is cozy. Lighting is dim, but not dark in the three distinct dining rooms. With a little chill still in the air, it was too cold for Anthony’s to open up the outdoor patio.

Anthony’s menu is really two-in-one. There is the base menu, which includes typical fare for an Italian restaurant: spaghetti, linguini, pizza and seafood entrees, with a few surprises like tuna wasabi and chicken livers wrapped with bacon.

Then there is the daily specials menu, a collection of more than 30 entrees, appetizers and desserts that add depth to Anthony’s offerings like calamari tossed with white wine, olive oil and spaghetti; lasagna Bolognese; and lemon risotto.

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I started my meal with a bowl of cream of garlic soup. The garlic was tempered only slightly by a hint of sweetness. Every spoonful was like a bite of a perfectly done piece of garlic bread.

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After I finished my soup, our waiter dropped off a bread basket. In addition to the toasted Italian bread (wet with olive oil), there were two zeppolis—small balls that looked like donut holes. Essentially, that’s what these Italian pastries are: fried dough topped in powdered sugar. Served warm, these little bites melt in your mouth.

I stuck to the daily specials menu for my main course, gnocchetti al ragu biaco tartufato, ricotta and potato gnocchi in a creamy veal ragu with peas and Parmigiano, finished in black truffle butter.

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I’m not normally a big fan of veal, but it was perfect in this dish. It was cooked tender to the consistency of shredded chicken, but with a much meatier flavor. The homemade gnocchi melted in my mouth in every bite. The cream sauce was very dense and stuck to the pasta to ensure the rich flavors were present in every bite.

Julie followed suit and ordered another one of the daily specials: pasta al Forno alla Napoletana, a crock of baked pasta in San Marzano tomato sauce with sausage, a hard boiled egg, Parmigiano and buffalo mozzarella topped with scamorza cheese.

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The sauce was made of crushed tomatoes and basil with a consistency more resembling salsa than the pureed red sauce at other restaurants. The simple sauce was the perfect complement to a complex dish. The fried egg that was waiting to be discovered beneath the blanket of cheese was a welcome addition to the dish, adding an unexpected element to a more traditional pasta.

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Anthony’s portion sizes left us full, but not too full that we would pass on a look at the dessert tray. After salivating over the assortment of cake, cannoli and tiramisu, we decided to share a slice of “angel food” cake. While it is true that there was angel food in our slice, it was surrounded by mousse and a layer of chocolate cake, and wrapped in a smooth chocolate shell. Every bite was heavenly.

We went into the meal expecting to pay a premium for our meals. But with a check of $55 for the two of us, it was actually a little less than we had expected.

The amusement park may be gone, but there is still a crowd around Carsonia Park, at least at dinnertime. And it will stay that way as long as Anthony’s Trattoria is around.

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

Anthony’s Trattoria
900 Byram St
Reading, PA 19606

Anthony's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Dessert Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

As American as Shoofly Pie

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A little over a year ago I was browsing through the local interest section of a Lancaster-area bookstore when a title caught my eye.

As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Folklore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine wasn’t just coming home with me, it was moving to the top of my reading list.

I indulged my appetite for learning while discovering the history of dishes I hold dear like chicken pot pie and schnitz und knepp, as well as some that have fallen out of favor through the years, including hairy dumplings, and catfish and waffles.

It was engaging and enlightening, so when I found out that author William Woys Weaver would be making an appearance at the Ephrata Public Library, I made sure I cleared my schedule.

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Weaver is a food historian who has traveled the globe, but remains deeply tied to his Pennsylvania roots as the leader of the Keystone Center  for the Study of Regional Food.

His talk, like his book, traced the history of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking from 18th Century farms to 21st Century restaurants.

The title of the book, As American as Shoofly Pie, is important to note as Weaver stressed that Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is not German, it’s American. Much like America is a blending of cultures, so too is Pennsylvania Dutch cooking a blending of cultures.

Shoofly pie, for instance, is a distinctly Dutch dish that consists of old-style breakfast cake poured into an Anglo American pie shell. It’s just one example of two cultures coming together to create something unique.

Even among the Dutch, there were deep divisions based on class. The Buckwheat Dutch were the poor country-dwellers. With little money, they lived off the land, eating poverty dishes like gribble (a mix of hot water and buckwheat flour mixed to create something resembling bread crumbs). Groundhogs and pigeons would have been delicacies to people who would often use dumplings as meat stand-ins.

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On the other end of the social scale were the Hasenpfeffer Dutch. Named for the braised rabbit dish that was a favorite of the well-to-do, they enjoyed a meaty diet with rich sauces.

It was this type of high-class Dutch cooking that inspired restaurants like Reading’s Kuechler’s Roost. Located along the Mount Penn Gravity Railroad, Kuechler’s Roost served locally made wine with foods like hasenpfeffer, pig roasts, and chicken and waffles. Unfortunately for Berks County foodies, the Roost burnt down on July 4, 1919.

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Along with lamenting the loss of the Roost, Weaver lamented the loss local heirloom vegetables. The Keystone Kitchen is heavily involved in preserving and repopulating heirlooms, many of which are down to a handful of seeds that are still known to exist. Slides showed unique squashes, red carrots and 18th Century potato varieties.

After the talk, I got my copy of As American as Shoofly Pie signed (and it is now the most legible autograph in my collection), and I’m not ready to put it back on the shelf.

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In the back of the book is a collection of recipes that spans the full history of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Some are familiar favorites (schnitz und knepp, pot pie), others are uniquely intriguing (lemon-rice pie, chicken gravy with ham waffles), and others sound less-than-appealing (browned flour soup, stewed squirrel with steamed dumplings).

At the end of his talk, Weaver said he is working on a new project: a book of Pennsylvania Dutch baking. I am already anxiously awaiting its release. In the meantime, the recipes in As American as Shoofly Pie should provide plenty to keep me busy.

Features Stories

Fleetwood chef in national competition; Tilted Kilt closes on opening date; and more

Fleetwood Grille chef to compete in national competition

A teen chef at the Fleetwood Grille will be competing in a national competition in Washington, D.C., according to a report from WFMZ 69 News. Kenneth Kline, who has been cooking at the restaurant for about nine months, competed in a Family Career and Community Leaders of America competition with two other teens, earning first place for Pennsylvania. The teen trio will compete in the national competition this July.

Tilted Kilt eyes late month opening

Tilted Kilt is now hiring as it plans for a late April opening of its Wyomissing location. In an April 1 Facebook post, the restaurant said its goal was to have 1,000 page likes before they “open the doors at the end of the month.” Tilted Kilt has also finished installing its exterior signs at the former Bensi Ristorante in the Shoppes at Wyomissing.

Work continues on Bistro 614

West Reading’s Bistro 614 is inching closer to its re-opening. According to recent Facebook posts, the restaurant has installed new kitchen equipment, painters have begun work on the interior, and “one hundred and thirty new napkins are washed, dried and folded.” Bistro 614 has been closed since late June when a fire destroyed the restaurant’s interior. No reopening date has been set yet.

Food News

Tokyo Hibachi and Bar

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Dinner is a sensory experience.

Taste is at the top of the list, but a truly great dinner encompasses all five senses: taste, sight, smell, touch and sound.

No dining experience can touch all five quite the way a hibachi can.

Wyomissing’s Tokyo Hibachi & Bar offers diners an experience that is just not available at most restaurants. Three circular seating areas with six hibachi grills are set up in what was originally a Denny’s along Woodland Road.

Tokyo Hibachi arrived in 2008, offering not only the tableside cooking show, but a large menu featuring nearly 50 different types of sushi as well as Chinese chicken and beef dinners.

But we were only interested in the hibachi.

Things started off slow at our table as we had to wait for more groups to fill around the table. Five must have been the magic number because after three more people trickled in, the waitress took our orders.

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While we waited for the chef to emerge, our server brought out house salads for everyone. The simple salad consisted of a bowl of lettuce and one cherry tomato topped in the house dressing, a creamy Thousand Island-like sauce with a strong taste of citrus and just the slightest sour note from the vinegar. It was very good, and I was more than happy to have something to hold us over until our chef emerged from the kitchen with a cart full of food and equipment.

Hibachi grilling is part dinner, part show. And the show began with quite a flash.

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Following a display of Ninja-like moves with the spatula, the chef oiled up the hibachi and set it ablaze. The eggs, which were to be chopped and toss with the fried rice, were the first to hit the grill, after a bit of juggling on the spatula. Then came a pile of rice, enough for all five of us at the table.

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After throwing on the vegetables, it was time to play catch. Everyone at the table took turns trying to catch a piece of broccoli that was flipped to us off the grill. I failed (twice), taking one sprout off my chest and another in the face. Julie didn’t fare any better, but two of our tablemates caught there’s in one shot. Being first and second in line, I’m going to say the chef’s accuracy got better as he went along.

Items were dished out one at a time as they were finished so our plates gradually filled, giving me a chance to taste everything hot off the grill.

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First came the fried rice. It was, hands down, the best fried rice I have ever tried. From the fresh cooked egg to the nicely browned rice, everything was perfect. If I didn’t have that salad to hold me over, the rice would have been gone before anything else hit my plate.

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With every hibachi dinner, you get a two-piece “shrimp sampler.” I’m not a big seafood fan, but I gave them a try, and I have to admit that they weren’t bad. And seeing them transformed from the raw, gray blobs into the nice pink pinwheels was pretty impressive.

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The final pieces to the puzzle were my NY strip steak and mixed vegetables (thankfully no game of catch was involved for these). The steak was nicely caramelized from the oil and sauces that it was cooked in. It was just a little greasy, but the strong flavors made up for it.

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Julie decided to go a different route for her meal, opting for a side of noodles instead of rice for her shrimp. Everything on the plate really absorbed the soy sauce, but somehow the sauce did not overpower it.

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Everyone at the table also gets two dipping sauces: mustard and ginger. The mustard was a little more complex that your store-bought brand; it reminded me a little of a Carolina barbecue sauce, but not as sweet. The ginger sauce was my favorite, though. The namesake spice was very strong and I thought it went perfectly with the steak.

With the hibachi dinner, you are paying a premium for the experience, but at $44 for the two of us, it was still a good deal considering the sheer amount of food (and entertainment) we received.

We could have gone to the restaurant and sat at a booth and had the exact same food. But I know it wouldn’t have been the same.

Instead of having plates of food delivered to us, we got to watch our dinner crafted from scratch, feel the heat of the hibachi (and the broccoli hitting my face), hear the sizzle of the grill and smell the aromas of everything that was prepared.

The fact that the food was outstanding made it all the more enjoyable.

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

Tokyo Hibachi & Bar
960 Woodland Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Tokyo Hibachi &Bar on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

McDonald’s

mcdonalds Sometimes I put off visiting a restaurant for no reason. I see a place over and over again, thinking to myself, “I need to try that sometime,” but never do. There is one restaurant in particular that has seemingly been calling to me since I moved to Wyomissing three-and-a-half years ago. Every time I drive past McDonald’s, there’s a line of cars wrapped around the building, each one filled with hungry customers just waiting to get a taste. Finally the temptation became too great, I had to stop and see what the fuss was about. The dining room looked like a spacious cafe with a combination of booths, tables, counter seats and cushioned chairs. The walls are adorned with decorative clocks, each one stopped at a different time. I have never seen anyone work as fast as the McDonald’s team. We placed our order at the counter and had a tray full of food just a few minutes later. mcdonalds-chicken-mcnuggets For my dinner, I opted for the 10-piece Chicken McNugget meal. The nuggets were oddly shaped—some looked like a boot, others like a bell, and some were simple ovals—but they were perfectly sized for dipping (or were the sauce packets perfectly sized for the nuggets). With their light, airy texture, I could have probably eaten 20 or more without thinking. mcdonalds-chicken-mcnuggets-2 My fries were golden yellow, matching the colors on the arches out front. Beyond their varied size, the fries all looked identical; evenly cooked with not a speck of skin to be seen. Like the McNuggets, I could have kept eating these slightly greasy but extremely flavorful spuds. mcdonalds-shamrock-shake I decided to combine my drink with dessert and ordered the limited-time special Shamrock Shake. Mostly green with a little white swirled in, the shake was loaded with as much whipped cream as could possibly fit inside the cup. It was slightly minty with just a hint of vanilla. While I prefer real milkshakes made with hard ice cream, it was still really enjoyable. mcdonalds-chicken-selects Julie also opted for chicken, but instead of McNuggets, she went with the Chicken Select Tenders. Styled more like a chicken finger, the Selects had a heavier breading with more spices (including a nice dose of pepper). The three Selects were loaded with flavor— very good and very filling. In addition to some delicious food and speedy service, McDonald’s also keeps prices low. Our two dinners were a bargain as we spent less than $15 between us. As a food blogger, I like to think that I have a refined palate, one that can distinguish fine food when it is served to me. I can safely say the chef at McDonald’s is serving some very fine food. I’m glad that I finally stopped.

McDonald's on Urbanspoon

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Reviews