Where to Eat this Weekend: July 31-August 2

Saint Marco Italian Food Festival

lasagna-saint-marco

Celebrate the flavors of the Old World at the Saint Marco Italian Food Festival. Taste Italian favorites like porchetta sandwiches, fresh dough pizza, pasta with meatballs, crispelle, and Saint Marco’s famous lasagna. There is also live entertainment and a weekend-long bocce tournament. The festival is open Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 12 noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 12 noon to 9 p.m. at the Saint Marco clubhouse in Temple.

Read the Berks County Eats review here.

Reading Fair

IMG_4055

The 161st annual Reading Fair kicks off its 7-day run on Sunday. The fair is the county’s largest, attracting thousands of visitors to the fairgrounds for a week of music, entertainment, races, and most importantly, food. Be sure to stop by the Grange tent for a delicious burger, sandwich or fries.

Read the Berks County Eats review here.

Dinner on Main, Kutztown

Enjoy a night on the town this Friday night in Kutztown. Part of the town’s bicentennial celebration, many of the town’s best restaurants will be serving special menus for the occasion. Participating food vendors include:

  • The K’Town Pub
  • Pop’s Malt Shoppe
  • Camillo’s Italian Restaurant
  • La Cocina Mexicana
  • Betty’s
  • Spuds
  • The Fraternal Order of Eagles
  • The Kutztown Fire Company

Live music and local artists will be setup starting at 6 p.m. with dinner served from 7 to 11 p.m. Also, the open container law will be rescinded for the night, allowing beer and wine to be enjoyed along the street.

Uncategorized

ViVA named official caterer of Reading Country Club

viva-header

ViVA Catering announced on July 22 that it is taking over as the official caterer at the Reading Country Club, effective September 1. ViVA made the announcement on its official Facebook page while an article in Monday’s Reading Eagle provided more details. According to the Eagle article, Exeter Township has agreed to a 15-year lease agreement with JMH Holdings, a real estate company that shares ownership with ViVA Bistro & Lounge.

The Eagle also reports that the clubhouse will become the ViVA Castle Pub restaurant after a renovation process that is slated to begin September 1. Renovations are expected to be completed before the end of the year.

The Castle Grille, and all catering, has been managed by Chef Alan’s since 2009. Chef Alan’s will continue to manage dining at the club until September. This will leave the original West Reading location as the only Chef Alan’s property for the first time since 2001 when it opened a restaurant at the Fairgrounds Square Mall. That location was closed in 2013.

Food News

Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar

shirley-s-tequila-bar

One of the best ways to experience a new restaurant is with friends, especially ones who are already regulars there. Knowing you can lean on their expertise helps ease the angst of trying something new.

So when some friends asked us to join them for dinner at Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar, we couldn’t turn it down.

Shirley’s is a little off the beaten path, set in the middle of what was once a thriving industrial district in Laureldale. An abandoned factory sits rotting across Duke Street. Our friends have claimed the vacant driveway as their personal “VIP” parking space.

The building that houses Shirley’s blends in with the neighborhood. Utilitarian in appearance, only the glowing sign above gives away that it’s a restaurant.

Inside the front door is the crowded bar area. Hang a left, and you’ll find the patio (and after a few seconds, you might also find the button that opens the sliding glass door). That’s where our group of six relaxed for a pleasant evening.

shirley-s-coco-cobana-margarita

Being that Shirley’s is a tequila bar (and being that I don’t drink), Julie had to try one of their margaritas. The Coco Cobana was one of eight fruity margaritas and featured a lot of coconut, a little mango, and just enough tequila.

We were dining a little later than usual, so we were excited when our chips and guacamole arrived at the table.

shirley-s-chips-and-guacamole

The chips were advertised as fresh “made locally,” and it showed. The corn chips were fried and much thicker than the store-bought variety. The guacamole was also fresh, topped with a wedge of lime and slices of jalapeno peppers.

Once I ate the first chip, I couldn’t stop. The chips could not have been any better, and the guacamole was excellent, with diced red onions and the occasional chunk of tomato.

I wasn’t expecting a tequila bar to have such variety on its menu. Of course there were tacos and quesadillas, but the Latin American influence was strong throughout the rest of the menu. Along with seven traditional pizza varieties, there were three pizzadillas: pizzas done quesadilla style.

But my eye stopped at something I had never come across before: cazuelas.

shirley-s-classic-cazuela-1

The word cazuela comes from the Spanish for “cooking pot,” and refers to a variety of South American dishes. Shirley’s offers three varieties including the “Shrimp Vera Cruz” (shrimp, tomatoes, assorted vegetables and rice) and the “El Cioppino” (an ocean of seafood like clams, mussels, and calamari mixed with sausage, vegetables and rice).

But if I’m going to try something for the first time, I’m going to go with the one called “The Classic.”  Here’s a look at everything that was packed into it:

  • black beans
  • red beans
  • white beans
  • hominy
  • sautéed tomatoes
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • celery
  • onions

Add to that my choice of meat—carnita style pork shank—and three pieces of flatbread and it was one hearty meal.

shirley-s-classic-cazuela-2

And Shirley’s doesn’t skimp on the portions either. It was served in a seemingly bottomless terra cotta bowl. The dish looked like chili, but lacked the heat of the chili powder. That’s not to say it was without spice, as it got a little bit of a kick from the chipotle seasoning.

Digging beneath the surface, I found my three pork shanks. The meat pulled right off the bone and blended nicely with the beans and vegetables. Half of the stew and one of the pork shanks came home with me, but I enjoyed every bite I had at Shirley’s.

shirley-s-texas-pulled-pork-barbecue-sandwich

Julie went with something a little lighter, but no less flavorful. The Texas pulled pork sandwich was topped with Colby Jack cheese and sweet and sour slaw. The top of the roll was lightly buttered like a slice of garlic bread or Texas toast. The pork was lightly sauced, which helped the other elements truly blend well to create a delicious sandwich.

All of the sandwiches are served with a choice of beer battered fries or a salad. Julie opted for the healthier, lighter option with a cup of ranch.

When the meal was over and the checks were split, our total came to $30 (that did not include the $7 chips and guacamole). It was worth every penny.

A great night out with friends is always worth the cost.

But when that night out includes an introduction to a new restaurant, it makes it all the better.

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

Shirley’s Tequila Bar
1615 Duke St
Laureldale, PA 19605

Shirley's Cafe and Tequila Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Haiku Hibachi coming to Muhlenberg; Hidden River Brewing Co. opens; and more news

Haiku Hibachi coming to Muhlenberg

haiku-hibachi-and-sushi

A new restaurant is coming soon to Muhlenberg Township. Signage is now up for the new Haiku Hibachi & Sushi. The restaurant is located in the former Taco Bell along the 5th Street Highway, across the street from the Fairgrounds Square Mall. No date has been set for the opening.

Hidden River Brewing Co. opens in Union Twp

A new brewpub has opened in Union Township. According to an article in the Reading Eagle, the Hidden River Brewing Co. opened for business last Thursday. The brewpub is located in the Historic Brinton Lodge along Route 724 near Douglassville. Hidden River is currently offering a limited food menu.

Mimmo’s re-opens after renovations

Mimmo’s Restaurant & Pizzeria is now open after the completion of part of their renovations, according to its official Facebook page. The restaurant re-opened on July 20 after three weeks of work to the building. While the restaurant is back up and running, renovations to the exterior are still ongoing.

More restaurant vacations this week

As summer continues, many family-owned restaurants are taking short vacations. Here’s a snapshot of some of the restaurants that are closed this week:

  • Bertie’s Inn, Exeter – Through July 27
  • Lavigna and Sons, Sinking Spring – Through July 25
  • Quality Shoppe, Kutztown – Through July 26
Food News
PJ Whelihan's is Chickie's and Pete's kid brother

P.J. Whelihan’s – Reading

pj-whelihan-s-sign

The arrival of P.J. Whelihan’s to Berks County last fall was a big deal.

In the past year, search terms like “PJ Whelihan’s Reading” and “PJ Whelihan’s Wyomissing” have driven hundreds of clicks to news articles on this blog.

It’s not really a surprise. Since the first P.J.’s opened in Allentown in 1994, they have built their brand throughout greater Philadelphia. The Spring Township location was the 15th and farthest west for the franchise, finding a clientele that was obviously looking for them.

PJ Whelihan

And if P.J. Whelihan’s wanted to go big with its Berks County location, they picked the right spot. Toscani had built the restaurant into one of the largest in the area, with a spacious dining room complimented by the semi-enclosed outdoor patio.

Julie and I were seated at an oversized booth along the wall, one large enough to comfortably fit six or more.

Dead Jimmy was performing throughout the evening. His acoustic songs were mostly subtle background noise, but when he really let loose, our conversations had to turn to shouting just to be able to hear each other.

The menu is printed on the paper placemats, and is your typical bar food staples like burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers and P.J.’s famous wings (the official wings of Wing Bowl).

Julie decided to start her night with a little drink (it is a bar after all). While P.J.’s is heavy on the beer selection, it did have a few frozen drinks available, including the creamsicle margarita, which looked more like a milkshake topped with whipped cream.

pj-whelihan-s-creamsicle-margarita

While Julie happily sipped it all night, she was hoping for orange creamsicle. Instead, it was slightly tart, like original frozen yogurt. It was good, but probably could have used just a little more sweetness.

On the back of the frozen drinks menu were the specials for the evening. One of them caught my eye more than anything on the regular menu: the avocado chipotle burger.

pj-whelihan-s-avocado-chipotle-burger

When the burger arrived, it looked great, but I had to dig to find the avocado. There was a roasted tomato slice and plenty of chipotle cream on top, but no avocado. Thankfully I found them, hiding beneath the large (probably 1/3-pound) patty.

The chipotle sauce was a little overpowering, and while I certainly enjoyed every bite, I thought it could have gone from good to great with a little less sauce and a little more avocado.

The burger was flanked by an order of P.J.’s “Famous Fries.” Crinkle-cut with an Old Bay-like seasoning, Famous Fries look and taste a lot like another Philadelphia-area favorite: Chickie’s and Pete’s Crabfries. The only differences being that P.J.’s is thicker cut and—at least this batch—a little saltier. They were still good, it just took a little more ice tea to wash them down.

Julie also ordered a side of Famous Fries to go with her entree of the choice, the short rib melt. The braised beef was topped with three kinds of cheese, but it was the provolone that really shined and made it an excellent meal.

pj-whelihan-s-short-rib-melt

P.J.’s short rib sandwich comes served with a mound of onion tanglers. Smaller and thinner than typical onion rings, the tanglers were more like something that would normally be served on a sandwich, not as a side. They were really good, but so rich that it was impossible for Julie to finish them.

Half of Julie’s fries and most of her onion tanglers came home with us so she could enjoy them throughout the week with her lunches. So for less than $25, we got more than a couple meals (our drinks brought our total over $30 for the night).

P.J. Whelihan’s doesn’t try to hide what it is. It’s a Philly sports bar, a place to catch the game with friends, enjoy some drinks, and eat lots of fried food.

It’s your local bar, just a lot bigger.

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

PJ Whelihan’s Pub & Restaurant
Click to add a blog post for P.J. Whelihan's Reading on Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Where to Eat this Weekend: July 17-19

Celtic Oyster Festival

The annual Celtic Oyster Festival returns to Willow Glen Park this Saturday. Konopelski Katering will be serving some Emerald Isle favorites all day, including oysters and clams on the half shell, bangers and mash, Guiness dip beef sandwiches, fried oyster sandwiches and more. In addition, festival-goers can browse through Celtic craft and gift stands and enjoy live entertainment throughout the day. The festival runs from 12 noon to 9 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

Breakfast Buffet at Joanna Furnace

The Hay Creek Valley Historical Association is serving a breakfast buffet this Saturday at Joanna Furnace. The homemade buffet includes sausage, bacon, scrapple, cream chipped beef, pancakes, French toast, scrambled eggs, fruit, toast and beverages. A flea market and tours of the historic property are also part of the day. The event runs from 7 to 11 a.m. Admission is $9.00 for adults and $4.50 for children ages 5 to 11. Kids 5 and under are free.

Antietam Valley Street Fair

The Antietam Valley community is coming together this Saturday for the annual Street Fair. The fair is held on Friedensburg Road between Bixler’s Lodge and the Lower Alsace Township Building. Be sure to stop by the “Pork for the Park” contest area. For a $10 donation, you can sample pulled pork from participating vendors and vote for the winner of the Pig Trophy. The donation is toward improvements at Carsonia Park. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes more than 50 vendors, music and pony rides for the kids.

Food Festivals & Events

Woogies BBQ coming to Exeter; Dragon 21 closes; and more news

Woogies BBQ to open in Exeter

IMG_7778

Woogies BBQ is coming to Exeter. The restaurant is set to celebrate its grand opening on July 21, according to a post on its official Facebook page. Woogies currently operates a location on High Street in Pottstown and is also working on an undisclosed third location.

Dragon 21 closes

dragon-21-sign

Fleetwood’s Dragon 21 has closed its doors. The restaurant shut down last week, on or around July 7. This is the culmination of a long legal battle over an eminent domain ruling that saw the property pass into the hands of the Berks County Redevelopment Authority. You can read the full story in our review from July 5.

Mimmo’s still closed for renovations

The renovations at Mimmo’s Restaurant and Pizzeria are taking longer than expected and the restaurant remains closed, according to a post on its official Facebook page. The original timeline for renovations was to be June 29 through July 12, reopening on Monday, July 13. Delays in the process have forced the restaurant to remain closed indefinitely.

Red Plate Diner planning Niko’s at Night

Wernersville’s Red Plate Diner will be introducing a new dinner service, according to the restaurant’s official email newsletter. Niko’s at Night will begin this fall and offer patrons a BYOB casual fine dining experience at Red Plate. Currently, the restaurant is open daily for breakfast and lunch only.

Soggie Bottom Grill takes top honors at BBQ Fest

IMG_7787

Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grill earned top honors at the PA BBQ Fest over the weekend. The food truck was voted best among eight participating restaurants. Berks County Eats will have a full review of the event later this week.

Several restaurants closing for vacation

As is always the case in July, many area restaurants are taking brief vacations. Here are a few that will be closed in the coming weeks:

The Grill Shop, Boyertown – July 21-22
Spectators Bar and Grill, Kutztown – July 14-21
Stonersville Hotel, Birdsboro – July 15-22

Food News

The Cafe at Maple Springs – CLOSED

cafe-at-maple-springs-door

As of summer 2017, the Cafe at Maple Springs is now closed. The building is now home to a second location for Dino’s Wings & Things

Like all good Dutchmen, I am always looking for a good deal. So when I was able to get a $100 Restaurant.com voucher for $10, I couldn’t pass it up.

Unfortunately, Restaurant.com’s inventory is very limited. Three years later, I’ve only used one coupon, that was at Christine’s Creekside Inn.

But I made myself a promise that I would use it this year, so I went on a spending spree and picked up a variety of certificates to use throughout the summer.

One of those that I picked up was for $25 off at the Cafe at Maple Springs. Looking at the dinner menu listed on Restaurant.com, I was confident that we would have no trouble hitting the $37.50 minimum purchase to use it.

So a few weeks ago, Julie and I set aside a Thursday night to drive to Birdsboro and enjoy dinner.

The Cafe at Maple Springs is set inside a strip mall along Route 724, inside the borough limits but just west of downtown.

The dining room was smaller than I was expecting. Less than 20 tables—mostly wooden booths—were draped with black fabric tablecloths.

The bigger surprise was when we were handed the dinner menu, which included only sandwiches, burgers and salad and none of the dinner entrees and pasta dishes I had seen on the menu online. Instead, they offered a handful of “homestyle” options like stuffed peppers and pot pie.

It was only then that I looked on their Facebook page (the restaurant does not have a website) and saw the fine print on the dinner menu: “Served Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. until close.”

cafe-at-maple-springs-dinner-menu

So we ordered a couple sandwiches and resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to return.

This time, I made sure that our return visit was on a Friday. We were anxious to try items like brown butter crab and chicken picotta.

But when we arrived, we were once again disappointed to find that there was still no dinner menu. A few homestyle options were all that were available.

I decided to order off the homestyle menu, and in my frustration I said “meatloaf” when I actually meant “shepherd’s pie.”

In a feeble attempt to reach our $37.50, we decided to order six Chesapeake wings to start.

cafe-at-maple-springs-salad

Before they arrived, we got our side salads, which came with our homestyle meals. The salad was hearty, a bountiful pile of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, carrots and cucumber. After polishing it off, the wings seemed completely unnecessary.

cafe-at-maple-springs-chesapeake-wings

I saved the last of my ranch from the salad to use for dipping my wings. As the name implies, the wings were doused in Old Bay with some additional herbs tossed in. The Old Bay made them just a little salty, but overall they were very tasty.

When my main course arrived, two slabs of meatloaf were piled atop each other with a mound of mashed potatoes, all drowning in gravy.

cafe-at-maple-springs-meatloaf

The meatloaf was a little spicy and a little salty, a product of just a little too much garlic salt in the mixture. Otherwise, it was very good and very filling. The mashed potatoes were also good, but I could have done without the corn because it didn’t add much except some color.

Julie ordered chicken pot pie and was happy to see that it was “real” Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie, not the kind that’s served in a shell.

cafe-at-maple-springs-chicken-pot-pie

It was actually very good, one of the better versions I have tasted at a restaurant. And they certainly gave plenty of it as half of it went home with us that night.

Our waitress brought a box for Julie’s leftovers, along with our check. For all of our food (and a soda), it was still only $25. It would have taken at least one more person to hit our minimum, and for the first time ever, I was actually upset about a restaurant having low prices.

I didn’t bother asking whether they actually have a dinner menu at all anymore because it no longer mattered to me; I already sold my coupon back to Restaurant.com for credit so we can try somewhere else.

Everything we had in our two trips to the Maple Springs Cafe was very good.

But I just can’t shake the fact that I was left wanting something more.

Closed Reviews

PA BBQ Fest is this Saturday

ribs-windy-acres

Windy Acres Barbecue is one of eight pitmasters who will be at the PA BBQ Fest.

Eight of the region’s best barbecue restaurants and caterers will be on hand for the first annual PA BBQ Fest, this Saturday at the Leesport Farmers Market. The event, which is being held in conjunction with the annual Summer Craft Fair, aims to bring together foodies from across Berks County.

Festival-goers can purchase a Pit Masters Sample Card which grants them access to samples from some great eateries, including:

  • It’s Just Barbecue
  • Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grill
  • Windy Acres BBQ
  • Hill Billy BBQ
  • Johnny & Hons Smokehaus
  • Woogies Wood Fired BBQ
  • Hometown Restaurant and Catering
  • Quali’s Nest Restaurant and Bar

There will also be a vendor area with more food and drinks for sample and purchase. Access to the vendors area is free. More than 35 vendors will be set up, including:

  • Penn Werner Hotel
  • Big Dave’s Cajun Grill
  • The Hawg House
  • Peters Brothers Meats
  • The Perk Up Truck

Live music, a beer and wine tent, barbecue equipment sales, and plenty of desserts can also be found at the PA BBQ Fest, which runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 11 at the Leesport Farmers Market.

Berks County Eats will be at the event on Saturday with plans to do a live broadcast on Periscope. Be sure to follow @MrZachBrown on Twitter and Periscope so you don’t miss it.

Food Festivals & Events

New restaurant cafe and deli for West Reading; Farmers market stand reopens; and more

Bloomin’ Lotus coming to West Reading

bloomin-lotus-2

West Reading’s vibrant dining scene will be getting a new addition soon with the addition of the Bloomin’ Lotus Cafe & Deli. The restaurant is taking over a vacant storefront on the 400 block of Penn Ave. No further information about the business is available at this time.

Scott’s Hot Spot reopening

Scott’s Hot Spot, a sandwich stand inside the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, is reopening after a long absence. July 9 is the first day of business for the stand after nearly a two-month absence. The restaurant owner had been forced to temporarily close for health reasons in May.

Chef Alan’s closed for renovations

Chef Alan’s American Bistro is closed for renovations. The West Reading staple will be closed through July 10, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Flying Dog gets new owners

Douglassville’s Flying Dog has been sold, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The change ocurred early last month. The post names Rich and Tracey Mackey as the new owners.

Food News