Cafe Sweet Street

cafe-sweet-street-from-street

If you live in Berks County, chances are you’ve indulged in a Sweet Street dessert at least once.

Sweet Street’s cheesecakes, pies, cakes and other tasty treats are well-known around here, and with distribution in more than 60 countries, it’s safe to say that they’re known worldwide.

But what is less well known is Cafe Sweet Street.

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The Cafe is attached to Sweet Street’s corporate office building on Hiesters Lane. While the parent company is all about the sweets, the cafe is more in-tune with savory foods, offering a range of hearty options for breakfast and lunch.

That doesn’t mean it escapes its roots altogether. Just inside the front door, you are bombarded with the desserts that have made Sweet Street famous. In addition to serving fresh-prepared meals, the cafe serves as a retail store, with tables full of temptations.

We saw dozens of customers come through the door while we were there, and the vast majority of them were passing through simply for the desserts.

But we were there for something more, and when it comes to lunch, there are plenty of options to choose from.

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The menu is scrolled across the entire wall, only broken up by a tall TV screen that displays the weekly specials. The wall was filled with burgers, sandwiches and salads, each one sounding more tempting than the next.

It was hard to know where to begin until we saw a sign on the counter telling of the in-house flavored sodas. The first decision was made.

While Julie grabbed a high-top table by the window, I watched as our cashier became a barista of sorts. Our drinks were not pre-made but mixed on the spot. After scooping a full cup (16 oz.) of ice, she poured in the flavored syrup. Then she sprayed in the unflavored soda and stirred it with our straws.

cafe-sweet-street-sodas

I was a little put off when I saw the cups full of ice, especially after paying $3.00 ea. for the sodas, but I was actually glad to have it once I started drinking. The sodas were a little too syrupy at first, but once the ice began to melt, it helped tone it down. By the end, the flavors were just right and only a few ice cubes were left sitting at the bottom of my cup.

After a short wait, my food was the first to arrive. I had decided on the lamb gyro with a side of fries. It was something completely different for me—I had never so much as thought about eating a gyro before—but yet it seemed like the right thing to order on this day.

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The pita was packed with grilled lamb, tomatoes, and a mound of onions. And the whole thing was oozing with tzatziki, the white Greek sauce that I mistakenly took to be melted cheese when I first saw it.

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Instead I found that tzatziki is actually a yogurt-based sauce that is quite refreshing, especially given the hints of mint that work so well with lamb. It was a messy meal for sure, but one that I happily devoured.

The fries were much more familiar, but Cafe Sweet Street put a unique twist on it. The menu touted them as world famous, hand-cut, double-fried and seasoned to perfection. While I don’t know about “world famous” (I had never heard about them), they were certainly seasoned to perfection and quite addicting.

As much as I loved eating them, I was still happy that I only got a “baby” order because the regular order is a full fryer basket.

Julie munched on a few of my fries while we waited for her Caprese salad. After a few minutes, she went back to the cashier to check on it and was told “they are still working on it.” That’s restaurant code for, “sorry, we forgot to make it.”

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When it arrived, it looked beautiful: red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices and a balsamic drip. There’s no denying that it was delicious, but we were both expecting something a little bit more for the money ($9.00).

The one saving grace about having such a light lunch was that she had more than enough room for dessert.

Ordering dessert was another cause for confusion as there was a dessert counter (sparsley filled) with individual servings plus all of the aforementioned desserts at the entrance: the whole pies, cakes and sheets. In between is the cash register which had a list of the week’s featured desserts.

As it turns out, the featured desserts are the latter, not the ones meant for consumption at the table (though it would have been quite entertaining to watch us open an 8-inch square box of the salted caramel stack and dig in).

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Once we got this figured out, we ordered a turtle Bundt cake to share. All previous grievances disappeared with the first bite.

The cake was topped with pecans and caramel and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The molten center was rich and gooey. In a word, it was divine.

Cafe Sweet Street, like the desserts they serve, is an indulgence. Our lunch was more than $30.00, certainly not a bargain by Berks County standards.

But there’s no denying the quality of the cafe, the same quality that goes into every goodie that rolls off the assembly line next door.

Besides, it’s good to indulge sometimes.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: A Little Pricey

Cafe Sweet Street
722 Hiesters Ln
Reading, PA 19605

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Cafes & Coffeeshops Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Two restaurant openings and many foodie events on tap for Berks County

Haiku Hibachi opening August 31

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Haiku Hibachi & Sushi will be celebrating its grand opening August 31, according to the restaurant’s official Facebook page. Haiku is located in the former Taco Bell on the 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg, and the restaurant will be utilizing the drive-thru lane for to-go orders.

Woogies BBQ moving to Douglassville

Woogies BBQ is relocating from downtown Pottstown to Douglassville. Woogies announced on its Facebook page that it has signed a lease to operate out of the former Lubrano’s restaurant along Route 422. Woogies, which opened its Pottstwon restaurant last April, also offers catering and operates a food truck, which particpated at the PA BBQ Festival in Leesport earlier this summer.

International Festival at Jim Dietrich Park this Saturday

The annual International Festival returns to Jim Dietrich Park this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event features ethnic food from local vendors, including Vietnamese Delights. Live music, a beer garden, children’s games and crafters will also be part of the day’s activities.

Crab Barn to host cooking demonstration at ReStore

While Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn isn’t open yet, a select few will be able to sample some of the restaurant’s offerings when it hosts a special cooking demonstration on September 19. The free event, which is RSVP only, will be held at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Muhlenberg Township from 1 to 2 p.m.

Ce-Gee’s hosting car cruise

Ce-Gee’s Drive-In is getting back into car cruises. The Blandon-area restaurant is partnering with the Fleetwood Recreation Board to host a car cruise in Fleetwood Park on October 3, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. Ce-Gee’s will be providing the concessions for the event. Ce-Gee’s formerly hosted weekly cruise nights at its location, but was forced to stop last year because of an issue with neighboring Dollar General.

Pourhouse American Grille begins breakfast service

The Pourhouse American Grille in Ruscombmanor Township is now open for breakfast, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. The Pourhouse hosted its first breakfast buffet on Wednesday and was successful enough that it will now be offered every Thursday through Sunday from 7 to 11 a.m.

Food News

Road Trip: The Chocolate Avenue Grill – Hershey

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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 west of Reading to Hershey, PA. 

For those of us living in Central Pennsylvania, Hershey is a favorite destination in summer.

A day in Hershey usually includes an afternoon of roller coasters and water rides. A stop at Chocolate World to ride The Ride and get your free candy sample is a given.

But if your trip to Hershey never takes you outside the entertainment complex, you are missing out.

Earlier this month, Julie and I decided to take a day off together and make a road trip to Hershey. But instead of doing “the usual,” we took the opportunity to explore parts of town we had never been before.

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We started our day with a morning stroll through Hershey Gardens. The gardens sit high upon the hill overlooking town, tucked between the Hotel Hershey and the Milton Hershey School’s Catherine Hall.

The one-mile trail takes you through the rose garden, the arboretum, the Japanese garden and the butterfly house on a floral world tour.

Our afternoon took us downtown to the Hershey Story Museum. The family-friendly attraction chronicles the life and work of Milton Hershey and his chocolate company through interactive exhibits, like hand-wrapping Hershey kisses (I failed miserably) and the Chocolate Lab, where visitors can create their own sweet treats (for an extra fee).

In between stops, I wanted a true taste of Hershey. Passing over the Chocolate World food court and seeking something a little heavier than the museum cafe, we pulled in to the Chocolate Ave Grill.

The Chocolate Ave Grill opened in 2007 in what was once a fast food restaurant, though you wouldn’t know it if not for the distinctive layout of the dining area that wraps around what was once the counter.

It would be easy for a Hershey restaurant to go overboard with a chocolate theme, but the Grill is more subtle. The wall lamps at each table, vaguely shaped like Hershey Kisses, are the only real reminders of where you are (except for the chocolate-colored restrooms).

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Needing a little sugar rush to get through the afternoon, we both decided to treat ourselves to a sugary drink—peach lemonade for Julie and mango iced tea for me.

The full menu is quite impressive. Dinner options include blackberry BBQ chicken, beef brisket flatbread and lobster risotto. At lunch, the menu is more narrowly focused, but still offers plenty of options including eight signature sandwiches, 10 different wraps and a collection of Philly Hoagies.

There is also a section of burgers, chicken and portabellas where you get your choice of a half-pound hamburger, portabella mushroom patty or chicken breast in one of six combinations.

Some are familiar, like the smokehouse with BBQ sauce, bacon and cheddar, but others were a little more creative.

One of those was the Tuscan: fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil pesto on garlic herb focaccia bread. As much as I would have liked to have tried it on a burger, the chicken breast sounded a little more manageable on this day.

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I made the right choice. The chicken breast—not a chicken patty but a whole breast—was the perfect base for this delicious sandwich. It soaked up the flavors of the pesto so that every bite was seasoned beautifully. And the Roma tomatoes were juice and fresh, but what really made the dish was the mozzarella.

Even though it said fresh mozzarella on the menu, part of me was still expecting to see pizza cheese melted over my sandwich. Instead, it was as advertised: fresh cut chunks of mozzarella layered on top of the sandwich to provide a creamy texture and a little bit of sweetness to a wonderful sandwich.

The only thing I was wrong about was my thought it would be more manageable. It wasn’t. The chicken breast was just as big and equally filling, leaving me with half the sandwich to take home.

Julie did the same thing with her sandwich as well, cutting it in half and saving it for later. Also opting for chicken, Julie went with the Italiano: grilled onions, tomato sauce, provolone and pepperoni on a white bread roll.

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Her toppings were exploding from the sides of the sandwich. Tomato sauce dripped over the edge, grilled onions and pepperonis fell onto the plate.

It ate like chicken Parmesan on a sandwich, with excellently seasoned chicken serving as the base. And the addition of pepperoni was perfect because pepperoni makes everything better.

Both of our sandwiches were served with a side of fries. They were very good, done Boardwalk style with skins left on for a little extra flavor. If that’s not to your liking, you can substitute chips, pasta salad, coleslaw, fruit or a side salad instead.

In addition to being a little healthier than hamburgers, chicken sandwiches are also a little cheaper (about $1 less than the burger or portabella). Together, they were just a little more than $20 plus another $5 for our drinks. Not a bad price considering we essentially got four sandwiches.

Hershey is a road trip worth making, no matter what you have planned for your day. But next time you make the drive west to the Sweetest Place on Earth, remember that there is much more to Hershey than the park.

And there is so much more to eat than chocolate.

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Diners Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Plein Air

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Al fresco dining is a tradition as old as the restaurant business.

On a beautiful day, no one wants to be constrained to a dining room. And whether it’s a full patio or just a handful of seats, many of the area’s most popular restaurants have expanded their seating area into the open air.

But there’s one Reading restauranteur that has taken the concept and created a whole dining experience around it.

The 300 block of Cherry Street is the domain of Judy Henry. She opened her first restaurant, Judy’s on Cherry, in 2002. Next came the Speckled Hen Cottage Pub & Alehouse, located in the historic log cabin on the corner of 4th and Cherry Streets.

The third piece of the puzzle came in 2009. That’s when Plein Air was born.

Located in a narrow alley adjacent to the cottage, Plein Air is an outdoor extension of the Speckled Hen. The alley is decorated to feel like a garden terrace in Europe, with a large pergola hanging over the bistro seats.

Plein Air’s location creates unique challenges. First, it’s weather dependent (though there are a handful of seats inside). It’s also small, with only a few tables and seating for 20 outside.

The alley is also uneven so they have to get a little creative in balancing the tabletops: a handful of coasters under one leg, a piece of stone under another, just to keep your plates from sliding off.

Both Plein Air and the Speckled Hen serve out of the same kitchen. And for those dining outside, the Speckled Hen menu is also available (I would imagine that this also works in reverse, though I can’t say for sure).

The two menus are vastly different. The Pub side was big on comfort foods—pot pie, shepherd’s pie, wings and the signature Scotch egg. Plein Air’s menu  is more fully developed, with tartines (single-slice sandwiches), salads and entrees, all of which feature fresh, seasonal ingredients.

One of the specialties at Plein Air is chilled soup. Gazpacho is a permanent fixture on the menu, but the standard tomato-based version had been replaced by beet for our visit.

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Looking more like a smoothie than a soup, it was a vibrant purple with white creamy swirls and strips of basil on top. The basil helped sweeten the slightly sour soup. It was a delicious and refreshing way to start our meal.

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Along with my soup, the waitress delivered our fresh-baked bread, quartered and served with a dollop of butter.

While Plein Air’s menu is quite a bit larger than the Speckled Hen, there are only a handful of large plate dinner entrees. One of those is the flat iron steak.

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The seared steak is topped with garlic herb butter and served with fingerling potatoes and a side salad. The butter melted quickly, coating both the steak and potatoes in a blanket of white. With the steak, it was very good. The herbs really came through and added to the seared-in flavors of the meat. With the potatoes, it was even better, turning them into miniature baked potatoes that melted in your mouth.

The side salad was topped with a citrusy vinaigrette dressing that felt right on a warm August night.

Another large plate offering is the crab cake. The rich entree is topped with a choice of lemon pesto, avocado lime butter or tomato basil corn relish, which is what Julie decided on.

plein-air-crab-cakes

Fresh was the word we kept coming back to when describing our food to each other, and that was the case with everything on Julie’s plate. The crab cake, the relish and the skewer of zucchini that accompanied the dish.

Everything at Plein Air is well-portioned, and though we would have walked away happy after dinner, we decided to splurge for dessert.

Angel food cake is not normally my dessert of choice, but when our waitress told us that it was topped with strawberry reduction and served with whipped cream and pistachio sorbet, it immediately climbed to the top of my list.

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Everything was delicious, especially the sorbet. I wish I could have eaten a whole bowl of it, but I was happy enough to enjoy the other sweet delights on the plate.

Our total food bill came to $42, but being thrifty, I had purchased $30 gift certificate for $15 on LocalFlavor.com when I saw it in June so we really only paid $27 for two entrees, an appetizer and dessert.

Enjoying a meal outside is a great way to enjoy a beautiful summer night, but it is even better with great food, like what Plein Air is serving during the spring, summer and fall.

Don’t waste these beautiful days and nights sitting inside, get out and get yourself something to eat.

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

Plein Air
30 S. 4th St
Reading, PA 19602

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

New restaurant openings around Berks and more

Tack’s Pizza opens in Shillington

Tack’s Pizza Shop is now open in Shillington, according to an article in the August 8 Reading Eagle. The restaurant is in the former Rosa’s Place in the Shillington Shopping Center (502 E. Lancaster Ave.). Tack’s Pizza Shop is owned by Charles Kondraski, who also owns Tack’s Sandwich Shop in Reading.

Pho House opens in Wyomissing

The Pho House is now open in Wyomissing. According to a post on the restaurant’s official Facebook page, Pho House had its soft opening last month and is now open for regular hours. The Vietnamese restaurant is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sundays for dinner. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.

TommyBoy’s renovation

TommyBoy’s Pizza and Cafe in Kutztown is undergoing a renovation. According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, the restaurant will be closed through August 12 until the work is completed. TommyBoy’s opened in September in the former Main Street Cafe at 313 W Main St.

Red Plate closed for vacation

Wernersville’s Red Plate Diner is currently closed for vacation. The restaurant will be closed through Sunday, August 16, according to its official Facebook page. Red Plate will reopen on Monday, August 17.

Food News

The Tavern on Penn

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There are so many places we drive by everyday without giving them a second thought.

My commute is the exception—45 minutes, all highways—but Julie’s is more typical. She travels less than five miles daily from Wyomissing to Sinking Spring, but she drives past more than 10 restaurants.

One of those along her route is the Tavern on Penn in West Lawn. But after three years of passing it by, Julie suggested we check it out.

The Tavern on Penn opened in February of 2012 in what was once the Penn Cecil Hotel.  The hotel had closed a decade before, but looking inside the restaurant, you’d never known it had sat vacant for more than 10 years.

The Tavern is split into three distinct areas: the dining room is a mostly sterile room with high ceilings a flat screen on one wall. The bar area pops with a beautiful wooden bar, large mirror along the wall and seating for 20. Finally there is the outdoor patio, where a handful of lucky diners can enjoy their meals in the open air.

We had hoped to sit outside, but everyone on the patio was enjoying the cool summer evening and in no hurry to leave. So Julie and I, along with our friend Nicole, grabbed a table at the far end of the dining room.

Every time I go to a place labeled a “tavern” or “bar,” I expect typical pub food, but they always seem to deliver so much more.

Creativity thrives in these joints, and the Tavern on Penn is no exception.

Take our appetizer, for example. Fried cheese curds is not something you see on many menus, and it’s even more rare with a roasted red pepper dipping sauce.

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Mozzarella sticks are expected. Fried cheese curds are pleasantly unexpected. Though similar in taste, cheese curds are much smaller, bite-sized pieces. And as a lover of roasted red peppers, I thought the sauce was outstanding. It was like marinara, but with a red pepper base instead of tomatoes, giving it a very different flavor.

Among the traditional bar food on the Tavern’s menu are burgers. A lot of restaurants offer a handful of burgers to choose from, but the Tavern on Penn just has two options. One is a build-your-own with 20 different toppings to choose from (all at additional cost). The other is the Penn Avenue Burger.

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The Penn Avenue Burger comes on a brioche bun and is topped with provolone, a mozzarella half-moon (a crescent-shaped, deep-fried mozzarella stick), roasted red pepper pesto (the same as our early dipping sauce), and balsamic reduction.

Burgers at the Tavern begin with a mix of ground chuck and beef brisket, and you can taste the difference immediately. It’s a much more flavorful meat to start. The red pepper pesto mixed with the mozzarella worked just as well on the burger as it did in the app.

Along with my burger, I upgraded to a side of beer-battered onion rings. There were only three of them, but it felt like seven or eight as two of them were big enough to encircle my burger. They were very good, a little wet from the fryer, and there was no mistaking that they were beer battered.

The sandwich board featured more typical offerings, but with a unique twist. Julie’s crispy chicken chipotle fell into this category.

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Served as a wrap, it featured chicken fingers, lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheddar jack and chipotle aioli. It was a little spicy, but not too much (the avocado helped cool it off a little). It wasn’t quite as crispy as expected, only because the tasty chipotle had made the breading a little wetter. Still, it was a great sandwich.

One disappointing thing was that Julie had upgraded to fries instead of the house made tortilla chips and salsa, which I wished I could have tried.

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Fortunately, we did get to taste the Tavern’s homemade potato chips, as Nicole got those with her buffalo steak wrap. The chips were served warm, fresh from the fryer. If they were sitting in front of me, I would have snacked on them all night.

The three of us polished off $51 worth of food (less than $15 per person, plus our $8 appetizer). I can speak for all of us when I say we could not have eaten another bite.

After passing it by for three years, our first trip to the Tavern on Penn did not disappoint. It delivered a memorable meal that ranks among the best that I’ve had this year.

I would say that it was certainly worth stopping.

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

The Tavern on Penn
2601 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

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Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Gourmand Food Truck

Gourmand Artisan Street Food

Gourmand Food Truck

The food industry is all about trends. Fads come and go.

Berks County has seen it many times in recent years. We are just coming out of a boom period for barbecue where it seemed every other restaurant that opened was serving smoked meats.

We saw the same thing with fro-yo. Just the other year, Berks County saw a half-dozen or more frozen yogurt spots open up around the county.

But while the industry ebbs and flows, its the innovators that thrive.

One of the hottest culinary trends today is food trucks. The restaurants on wheels have become increasingly popular in the last two years.

And the truck that truly started the revolution in Berks is Gourmand.

Advertising itself as “artisan street food,” Gourmand wasn’t the first food truck in Berks County, but it is arguably the most recognized. Its success has spawned two brick-and-mortar locations: one inside Body Zone in Spring Township and another on Berkshire Boulevard in Wyomissing.

The Gourmand Food Truck at West Reading Farmers Market

It seems like the distinctive two-tone truck with the gray hex sign is at every major outdoor event or concert.

Though the Gourmand truck makes its rounds across the county, we found it close to home, set up along Penn Ave in West Reading for the West Reading Farmers Market where the truck is a regular fixture.

One of the great things about food trucks is that the menus are ever-evolving. Menu boards are erased every day, allowing for daily innovation and creativity. And creativity certainly describes Gourmand’s menu on this day.

Gourmand Food Truck Menu

The day’s menu included a lot of things that you won’t see anywhere else in Berks County, like truffled goat cheese fries, lobster tacos and The Berks, one of Gourmand’s signature sandwiches.

The Berks Sandwich

The Berks is a work of pure genius. It starts with fried sweet bologna on a toasted hamburger bun. Then it’s topped with cream cheese, apple butter, and potato chips.

It’s a delicious combination of savory, sweet and salty. Fried Lebanon bologna will always be a favorite of mine (thanks to the Kutztown Fair), but cream cheese and apple butter add a layer of creaminess. And who doesn’t love putting potato chips on their sandwich?

Gourmand Fries

Another of Gourmand’s signature concoctions is the Gourmand fries. The truck’s standard fries are tasty, fast-food-style fries, but this takes them to a whole new level.

The standard fries are topped with fried pastrami, crispy bacon, provolone, pico de gallo and chipotle aioli. Pastrami sounds like the odd-man-out in this dish, but it makes a great substitute for a more expected meat, like pulled pork. It’s a side dish that eats like an entree, and a very good one at that.

Gourmand Trio Cheese

Everything on Gourmand’s menu gets turned up a notch, even their take on grilled cheese. The “Trio Cheese” sandwich featured mozzarella, provolone and gruyere on Italian bread. It was grilled to perfection and the three cheeses blended perfectly together. Unbeknownst to Julie, her grilled cheese sandwich also came with fries, but we happily added them to our other pile, half of which went home with us.

In French, gourmand literally means glutton or gluttony. And that’s pretty much how we felt when our meal was over.

Gourmand’s sandwiches are all less than $10 apiece (both of ours were priced at $7) so a meal won’t break the bank. Even with our additional fries and a pair of drinks, our total was less than $25.

The food truck craze is still going strong in Berks County, but it’s hard to say for how long it will last. Fads come and go; it’s just the nature of the business.

One thing I can say with confidence: when food trucks are no longer the talk of the town, you’ll still be able to find artisan street food at Gourmand. It’s just too good to go away.

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Reviews