New restaurants highlight busy week in food news

Excellent Restaurant opens in Reading

Penn Street has a new restaurant with the addition of Excellent Restaurant. The restaurant opened earlier this month, according to an article in the May 26 Reading Eagle. Excellent Restaurant, located at 922 Penn Street, specializes in Latin American cuisine and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

New Vietnamese restaurant planned for Wyomissing

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A new Vietnamese restaurant is coming to Wyomissing. A sign in the former Alebrije location along State Hill Road advertises a Vietnamese pho restaurant coming soon. There is currently no information on when the restaurant will open.

TV crew films at Cafe Sweet Street

A reality TV crew was filming at Cafe Sweet Street on Wednesday, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. The cafe posted that it was “True TV filming a July episode for MTV…..” The MTV show, actually called True Life, documents a different topic in every episode. No further information is available on the topic of this episode.

Scott’s Hot Spot temporarily closed

Scott’s Hot Spot, a popular sandwich stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, will be closed for the next six to eight weeks, according to the business’ Facebook page. The post cited personal health as the reason for the closure, which started on May 11.

Food News

Letterman’s Diner

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“Feeding the world, 23 seats at a time.”

That’s the slogan written on the shirt of a waitress at Letterman’s Diner in Kutztown. The busy breakfast and lunch spot is made busier by the fact that it only seats 23, most of them at the counter.

The seats go quickly, but the wait is never long. Service is quick, and in the time that we were there, only one group (a party of 7) actually left because of a lack of seating.

The cozy pre-fabricated diner that sits in the heart of downtown has been serving customers for more than 70 years. Since 1998, the restaurant has been known as Letterman’s and has been serving big flavor in big portions.

In the middle of a college town, it’s a place that caters more to the locals, the year-round residents who keep the restaurant jammed every morning even after the semesters end.

As we waited for our food, a couple came in, and I heard the young woman exclaim, “Look, I made the board!” This was Abby, for whom one of the daily specials, the Abby omelette, was named.

This is the type of thing that you will only find from a true neighborhood joint. I don’t know how many Abby omelettes (Swiss cheese, onions and potatoes) were sold, but I know at least one person who bought one.

Julie had her eye on one of the other daily specials, the porky omelette. As the name implies, the omelette was loaded with pork: smoked sausage, bacon and pulled pork with onions and cheddar cheese.

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From our counter seats, we watched as all of the food was prepared on the small grill top. We watched as the eggs were cracked, as the massive sausage link hit the griddle, followed by the wad of pulled pork and four foot-long strips of bacon.

The omelette was no match for the mound of meat, splitting open on the plate to reveal the delicious contents. By itself, the pulled pork would have made a great sandwich. The sausage, also, could have served as a dinner entree at any area restaurant.

Because that just wasn’t enough, the omelettes also come with toast and homefries. It’s almost a shame that they give you so much food because the homefries are really good, but completely unnecessary at that point. The omelette is just too big, and too delicious to sacrifice.

I was almost jealous looking over at Julie’s gorgeous plate of food. Almost.

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That’s because in front of me was my own scale-breaking plate of food: strawberry stuffed French toast. Three slices of French toast, layered with cream cheese and topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

Each bite was decadent. It probably didn’t need the cream cheese because there was enough sweets with the whipped cream and strawberries to cover every bite.

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And I managed to finish every bite, despite making the mistake of ordering a side of sweet potato homefries (which actually turned out to be regular sweet potato fries). I only finished half of those and should never have ordered them to start.

We did take home half of my sweet potato fries along with half of Julie’s omelette and homefries. There’s enough Letterman’s in our fridge for at least two meals, which makes the price tag of a little over $25 (we also had two glasses of juice) a little easier to take.

Letterman’s is a place you could only find in a small town, a greasy spoon that caters to the local community and its loyal customers.

It’s a place that makes sure you never go hungry, but always leaves you wanting more.

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

Letterman’s Diner
242 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Letterman's Diner on Urbanspoon

Breakfast & Brunch Classics Diners Reviews

Berks Food News: Expansion, Renovation and Reopening

Bistro 614 reopens

Nearly a year after a fire gutted the restaurant, West Reading’s Bistro 614 is back in business. The bistro held its soft opening during dinner on Tuesday, May 19, according to its official Facebook page. The restaurant’s grand opening will be this Friday, May 22.

Viva Planning Expansion

Viva Bistro and Lounge is looking to expand its restaurant seating, according to an article in the May 16 Reading Eagle. The article reports that a member of Viva’s ownership group was at the Wyomissing Zoning Board meeting last week seeking a variance to expand seating closer to Hill Ave. The variance was approved by the board.

K’Town Pub undergoing renovations

Kutztown’s K’Town Pub Taphouse and BBQ is closed for renovations, according to the restaurant’s official Facebook page. Work is being done to the floor around the bar and new cabinets are being installed. The renovation is scheduled to last for approximately two weeks, reopening sometime around the first of June.

Food News

Chen Vegetarian House

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It is very hard for a Chinese restaurant to set itself apart. With so much competition—it seems as though there is at least one in every town—there has to be something unique, a hook that separates it from the pack.

One West Reading restaurant found a way to make its mark on the Berks County food scene by taking Chinese food in a new direction by giving it a vegetarian twist and making it more healthy.

That’s what makes Chen Vegetarian House different from the rest.

In addition to healthful foods, Chen offers a range of healthful drink options including 18 fruit and vegetable juices, five dairy-free smoothie flavors, and four kinds of hot teas.

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I was craving something sweet so I went with a papaya smoothie. Papaya has always been one of my favorite fruit flavors, but it’s one that isn’t readily available. The fruit has a light sweetness, a perfect base for a refreshing drink.

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Of the 18 juice bar options, more than half start with carrot. The rest are pure fruit, most mixed with ginger to add a little spice to the sweetness. Julie’s juice cocktail was a combination of apple and pineapple with a hint of ginger.

Chen Vegetarian House has some familiar sounding entrees on its menu: General Tso’s chicken, beef teriyaki, and sweet and sour chicken. But as a vegetarian restaurant, all of the “meat” is made from soy  and wheat. The shapes and textures are meant to resemble the real thing because sesame chicken sounds a whole lot more appealing than sesame tofu.

My original plan was to try the vegetarian version of General Tso’s, but the description of the mango chicken sounded so good that I changed my plans. And it was the right decision.

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The dish included strips of mango, “chicken,” onions and peppers tossed in citrus sauce and served inside a mango shell. The best part of the dish was the fresh mango, which took center stage over the tofu that was there strictly to absorb the sweet sauce and make the dish more filling.

I was actually happy that there was no meat in this dish because chicken would have made it too heavy. It was hard enough to finish the giant plate of food as it was, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste.

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Across the table from me, Julie went with the orange flavored beef. The tofu in this case was made to look and feel more like strips of steak and served atop a bed of broccoli. The orange tangerine glaze was thick and stuck to the tofu.

The flavor was spot on, sweet and tangy with just a little spice. The tofu came close to the right consistency, though it was a little chewier, closer to beef jerky than steak. Still, it was a great dish, one that Julie got two meals out of (it was just as good heated up as it was fresh, the mark of good Chinese food).

Not only are Chen’s dishes comparable to its meatier counterparts, but the prices are similar as well. Entrees are all in the $10-12 range. Our two specialty drinks put our final bill right at the $30 mark.

Chen Vegetarian House is truly unique in Berks County, a place that serves one-of-a-kind dishes not found anywhere else around.

And it’s meals like this that make Chen as good as, if not better than, all of the other Chinese restaurants out there.

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

Chen Vegetarian House
709 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Chen Vegetarian House on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

White Palm Tavern

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If you had asked me a few years ago to point out Topton on map, I don’t think I could have done it.

All I knew about it was that it was somewhere in the general vicinity of Kutztown and that I had played a Junior Legion baseball game there 15 years ago.

But as I continue eating my way across Berks, I continue to become more familiar with the place I call home, finding the best restaurants in every corner of the county.

Topton was a town that was still missing from my map 16 months after I began my weekly blog posts, but what better way to check it off my list than with a stop at one of the highest rated restaurants, not only in Topton, but in all of Berks County.

With no less than 4 1/2 stars across every review site, I had to try White Palm Tavern on my first trip to Topton.

White Palm Tavern is filled with subtle nods to the Caribbean. A copy of Islands magazine sat on the hostess stand atop the latest Berks County Living. Island-themed artwork hung from the light green walls in the dining room.

Much like Island Pizza in Birdsboro, White Palm Tavern has an island-themed menu: a hot roast beef sandwich becomes the Fiji; the Bora-Bora is actually a French dip.

White Palm Tavern promises patrons will “escape the ordinary,” and there are several menu items that enable you to do just that. We decided to start our meal with one of those one-of-a-kind appetizers: pretzellas.

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Pretzellas are mozzarella sticks that are battered in crushed pretzels—a delicious mashup of two bar food favorites. The pretzel flavor was subtle, but it made for a crunchier, slightly saltier version of mozzarella sticks. With the marinara dipping sauce, it made for an excellent start to the meal.

The Tavern’s menu is dominated by sandwiches and burgers, but there are a select number of entrees that allow you to “escape the sandwich.” At the top of that list is a dish inspired, not by Latin America, but southeast Asia: Thai riblets.

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Don’t confuse these riblets with those at Applebee’s (which are actually button ribs); these are meaty, individual pork ribs that White Palm Tavern serves over rice noodles with a cup of sweet ginger sesame sauce on the side.

Without the sauce, the riblets reminded me of barbecue chicken (actually surprisingly close to Kauffman’s). Adding the sauce gave it a whole new flavor, sweet and spicy with a little saltiness thrown in. Ginger is one of my favorite spices, and I loved it with this dish.

Rice noodles absorb flavors very well so they already had the strong ginger flavor from the start. They were an excellent accompaniment, one that very much stood on its own.

While Julie didn’t escape the sandwich, her dinner was anything but ordinary as her eyes were set on the fruit wrap.

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A fruit wrap is exactly what it sounds like: a tortilla shell filled with fruit—grapes, strawberries and bananas with cream cheese spread. As an added bonus, kiwi slices were served on the side.

The dish was sweet and delicious, one that could work well as breakfast or dessert. Somehow it even worked as a dinner entree. Served without a side, it was filling enough that you didn’t miss one.

We both left full, and my wallet left only a little lighter than when we arrived. Our dinner came in under $30, a little price for a lot of food.

It may not have been the Caribbean, but White Palm Tavern deserves its place as one of the hottest restaurants in the county.

I don’t know how the rest of Topton can top it, but with all the restaurants we passed on our way, the town has plenty of opportunities to try.

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

White Palm Tavern
5 Centre Ave
Topton, PA 19562

The White Palm Tavern on Urbanspoon

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Boehringer’s Drive-In

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The beginning of spring is one of my favorite times of year. The weather begins to warm. The flowers begin to bloom. And Boehringer’s Drive-In in Adamstown springs to life for another season.

Located just a stone’s throw from the Berks County line, Boehringer’s is a true throwback—a seasonal spot open from mid-March to September.

Last May, the grill fell silent after a fire ripped through the kitchen. A faulty milkshake mixer was blamed for the blaze and for the first time in 70 years, the summer staple sat idle as the calendar turned to June.

But two months after the fire, Boehringer’s was back, and picked up right where it left off.

The summer flew past and September came faster than I expected. I never made it to Boehringer’s after the re-opening, which meant enduring the six-month hibernation until I could go again.

Part of Boehringer’s charm is the coziness. And by cozy, I mean it’s small. Cramming inside the building with the hungry mob is all part of the experience. There is no indoor seating, just a narrow area where everyone waits before and after placing the order.

The only place that may be more crowded is behind the counter, where about 10 workers jockey for position to take orders, scoop ice cream and build burgers, all while sharing a single cash register.

Boehringer’s is a lot like Schell’s (without the mini golf). The menu is simple: burgers, hot dogs, French fries and hamburger BBQ, with lots of ice cream.

While there are no seats inside, there are plenty of picnic tables outside along Little Muddy Creek. We were among the lucky few to find a table while many others were stuck eating in their cars in the jam-packed parking lot.

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There’s nothing fancy about Boehringer’s food. It’s just simple and good. The hamburger BBQ doesn’t taste much different than you would find at a backyard picnic. The fries are typical fast food. But everything is delicious (and inexpensive) which is why so many people go back year after year.

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What really sets Boehringer’s apart from other places is the ice cream. The sign on the wall says it all, “Yes! We still do, always have, and always will make our own ice cream.” Twenty-one flavors of hard ice cream are available at all times, along with 12 sundaes and my favorite, milkshakes.

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Peach sounded like the perfect flavor for a spring shake, and I was right. I got a chunk of fresh peach with every few sips. It was cool, refreshing and delicious.

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Julie has always had a soft spot for Boehringer’s banana ice cream, another flavor with real pieces of fruit, not syrup flavoring, which makes all the difference.

One of the reasons why people keep flocking to Boehringer’s is the how inexpensive it is. For our two meals, plus a third for my mother-in-law who was tagging along, our bill just hit $20.

Boehringer’s has been a summer tradition for more than 70 years, and its no surprise. Homemade ice cream, great food and a unique experience combine to make the drive-in a real attraction.

Just watch the calendar. September will be here before you know it.

Boehringer's Drive-In on Urbanspoon

Dessert Drive-Ins Lunch & Dinner Reviews