The Outside In – CLOSED

oustide-in-dining-room

Editor’s Note: The Outside Inn closed in August 2018. No additional information is currently available and no new tenants have been announced for the space.

As an avid hockey fan, I try to make as many Reading Royals games as I can every season. I love everything about the experience at Santander Arena, but lately I’ve been wanting something more out of the dining experience.

Food at the arena can get expensive. It’s hard for two people to eat for less than $25, and for that you’re getting a cardboard tray to take back to your seats, which are not quite big enough to accommodate both you and your food.

That’s the struggle we’ve gone through in nearly every game we have attended in recent years. Finally I decided it was time for something different.

We drove into town early, nearly an hour before the doors opened. We were the first car on the parking lot, picked out the perfect pull-through space and headed a block west of the arena for dinner at the Outside In.

On the second floor of the Santander Building, overlooking Penn Street on one side and the lobby on the other, the Outside In has carved a niche as a breakfast and lunch spot for those living and working downtown.

Normally, the restaurant only opens its doors between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, but it makes exceptions when there’s an event at the Arena (all additional hours can be found on the events tab of the Outside In’s website).

The dinner menu is very similar to the usual lunch menu with the addition of a handful of entrees like crab cakes, coconut breaded shrimp and the smokehouse chicken grill (chicken tenders topped with ham, barbecue sauce and Jack cheese).

outside-in-salad-bar

Just like at lunch time, Outside In offers the “Souper Salad Bar,” both as an all-you-can eat dinner option or as an add-on to your sandwich or burger.

The salad bar includes two soup options, salad greens and all of the toppings, six different dressings and rolls. I grabbed a cup of beef and rice soup to go with my salad of lettuce, onions, green peppers and cucumbers.

outside-in-beef-rice-soup-salad

The soup reminded me of a beef barley soup, but with rice as the grain. There were chunks of tomato and other vegetables in a broth that the rice helped to thicken. Between that and my salad, it definitely hit the spot and helped stave me over until my main course arrived.

It was a tough choice, but I decided on the taco burger my entree. It is exactly as it sounds: a hamburger topped with taco meat, lettuce, tomato, olive, onion, cheese (which I passed on) and southwestern sauce.

outside-in-taco-burger-with-fries

The crumbles of taco meat barely stayed on the burger before I took a bite. Afterward, bits rolled all across my plate. It would have been a little less sloppy if the hamburger patty had been dusted in the taco seasoning instead of adding the taco meat, and it probably could have used a little more southwest sauce to really add some kick. Overall though, it was a very good burger.

All burgers are served with your choice of fries, but there really is only one option at the Outside In, and that’s the Brew City fries. These beer-battered delights are the perfect addition to any meal. I made it through all of mine and a handful of Julie’s as well (for the record, she offered them to me).

For her main dish, Julie went with the English pub ciabatta, one of four hot ciabattas on the menu. Her sandwich was built with just four ingredients: ciabatta bread, roast beef, onions and cheddar cheese sauce.

outside-in-english-pub-ciabatta

Julie was a little worried about ordering the sandwich, fearing that it would just be lunch meat on a roll. While the roast beef was essentially lunch meat, it was grilled and very tasty, especially when paired with the cheese sauce. The ciabatta roll made it even more enjoyable. In the end, she was very pleased with it.

In the end, we spent about as much at the Outside In as we would have inside the arena, but it felt better paying $25 for a sit-down meal with made-to-order food. The service was certainly better and we didn’t have to stand in line for 20 minutes just to place our order.

I’m sure that I have plenty more Royals games ahead of me this season. And while I know that I will continue to look for new places around the Arena, I’m sure that I will be back at the Outside In before too long.

 

Closed Reviews

La Abuela Mexican Restaurant

la-abuela-exterior

A few months ago, Julie and I were walking through West Reading during the annual Fall Fest on the Avenue. As we made our way down Penn Avenue, we paused outside La Abuela Mexican Restaurant, the newest restaurant in town at the time.

The owners were standing outside, handing out photocopied versions of the menu to everyone walking past. I was intrigued, but I always like to give a restaurant some time before making a visit.

Fast-forward to a Friday night in November, in need of a place for dinner that was close to home. I dug through our pile of menus and came across the La Abuela menu I picked up two months ago. My decision was made.

La Abuela is located in the old Van’s Cafe, next to Subway on the 400 block of Penn Avenue. It has a major advantage over many of the other restaurant’s along West Reading’s main thoroughfare: a row of customer parking spaces on a private lot behind the building.

la-abuela-1

The most notable change in the building since the new restaurant took over the space is the floor-to-ceiling map of Mexico. Bright shades of orange, yellow, purple and green highlight the country and neighboring Guatemala, home to one of the restaurant’s co-owners.

In English, La Abuela translates to “Grandmother.” A picture of an elderly grandmother adorns the menu, which is filled with traditional Mexican dishes.

la-abuela-jarritos

It also includes 10 flavors of Jarritos, a brand of Mexican soda. I enjoy these sodas so much more than American soda because they are made with real cane sugar (and a lot of it. A two-serving bottle contains more than 50 grams).

But what I love more than the soda is the food. I couldn’t wait for our meal so I ordered an appetizer of flautas, fried tacos filled with chicken and topped with homemade salsa, queso fresco, Pico de Gallo and sour cream.

la-abuela-flautas

The crispy tortillas ate like an egg roll with more flavor coming out of every crunchy bite. The sour cream and queso fresco helped temper the spices in the salsa. I probably could have gone through a couple plates of flautas and left very happy.

Instead I finished off my share and waited for my tacos al pastor to arrive. Normally, I go for something heavier like enchiladas or fajitas, but marinated pork with pineapple, sautéed onions and cilantro sounded too good to miss.

la-abuela-tacos-al-pastor

I was not disappointed. The meat was so tender and flavorful. With the sautéed onions, it ate more like fajitas than tacos.

Three different salsas accompanied the dish, including a cup of fresh-made guacamole. It was so smooth with the right mix of cilantro and mild heat. The other two salsas — one a Pico de Gallo, the other a tomatillo sauce — were good in their own right (the Pico was probably my favorite of the two), but the guacamole was perfect.

While I was enjoying my tacos, Julie was digging into her enchiladas verdes. Like me, she opted for something a little out of her comfort zone as she normally enjoys her enchiladas with a red sauce, but she greatly enjoyed this change of pace.

la-abuela-enchiladas-verdes

The chicken was juicy and spicy, but not hot. The cheese was melted inside the tortillas as well as sprinkled on top.

Her favorite part of the meal might have been the refried beans, which she called the best she has ever eaten. I would tend to agree.

The beans were made using black beans so they looked more appealing than the brown beans we get at most restaurants. The black beans also gave it a richer flavor.

After we had our fill, Julie asked our waiter for a box for her last enchilada. Our waiter, one of the co-owners, tried to talk us into dessert, saying it was better than dinner. Unfortunately we had no room left in our stomachs to confirm his claims.

We had arrived early for dinner, about 5 p.m., and there were not many others in the restaurant with us. By the time we were finished an hour later, it had begun filling up for dinner so it took our waiter a little longer to take our check (about $35) and see us on our way.

After a delicious, and quite filling meal, I was glad that I found the menu earlier that day. La Abuela was definitely the right choice.

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

La Abuela
448 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Restaurants reopen after renovations, rebrandings

ViVA opens Castle Pub at Reading Country Club

The new ViVA Castle Pub at Reading Country Club is now open. The refreshed restaurant opened on Monday under new management. It was announced over the summer that ViVA would take over as the official caterer of the Reading Country Club, replacing Chef Alan’s which had operated the site. In addition to regular dinner service, the restaurant is offering Sunday brunch in the Grand Ballroom and a hot and cold lunch buffet on Wednesdays.

Folino Estate Italian restaurant and winery opens

Folino Estate, the combination Italian restaurant and winery, is now open. The restaurant held its soft opening last week, and will hold its grand opening on Wednesday, Nov. 18, according to an article in the Nov. 11 Reading Eagle. The restaurant, located on Old Route 22 in Greenwich Township, is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday with Sunday brunch and lunch service.

Willoughby’s readying for reopening

The renovated and rebranded Willoughby’s on Park is set to open next week, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant, formerly Willoughby’s Bar and Grill, will be a fine dining, upscale steakhouse. An exact date for the opening has not yet been announced.

Van’s Cafe opens in new location

After several delays, Van’s Cafe is is now open in its new location. The West Reading restaurant moved one block west to 504-506 Penn Avenue. The restaurant was originally scheduled to open in August, but renovations on the former shoe store took nearly three months longer than expected. Van’s officially reopened last Wednesday, November 11.

Haute Chocolate is now Dolce de Zabala

Now under new ownership, the former Haute Chocolate in West Reading is now known as Dolce de Zabala. According to an article in the November 6 Reading Eagle, the name change reflects a change in ownership to pastry chef Johanna Zabala, who will also serve as pastry chef for the new DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.

Food News

Road Trip – Phamous Phil’s BBQ – CLOSED

phamous-phil-s-sign

Editor’s Note: Phamous Phil’s is now closed.

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 45 minutes east of Reading to Collegeville, PA.

I have talked often in this blog about my love of barbecue, especially the great options we have here in Berks County.

But the barbecue boom is alive and well outside our borders, too. In neighboring Montgomery County, Phamous Phil’s BBQ is doing southern-style barbecue a little differently, but as well as anyone else.

The restaurant gained some notoriety in 2013 when it appeared on the short-lived Food Network series Restaurant Divided.

On the show, co-owners Phil and Robin Schmidt had competing visions for the restaurant. Phil wanted a barbecue joint. His wife wanted a chophouse.

In case you were wondering who won, the sign above the door now says “Phamous Phil’s BBQ.”

The address says Collegeville, but Phil’s flagship restaurant is actually located in the village of Evansburg, just west of the state park of the same name.

Driving from Berks County, it’s best to keep your eyes peeled. If not for the large parking lot next to the building and the small sign out front, there’s not much to distinguish Phamous Phil’s from the houses along the road. The two-story building, complete with vinyl siding and blue shutters, blends in with the residences on Germantown Pike.

phamous-phil-s-map

Inside, Phil’s looks like — if there is a such a thing — a typical barbecue restaurant. The walls are adorned with things like old license plates, antlers and antique machinery. There’s also a push-pin map asking “How far did you come for great BBQ?”  with at least one tick in most of the 48 states plus some in Canada and Alaska.

Feeling very much in the barbecue spirit, I decided to order a glass of the fresh-brewed iced tea (for those who prefer something a little harder with your BBQ, Phamous Phil’s is a BYOB).

phamous-phil-s-sweet-tea-and-lemonade

It came served in a mason jar with a second glass of simple syrup to sweeten it to your taste. As someone who has ripped through sugar packets to sweeten iced tea in the past, I gladly took advantage of this easy alternative (and probably used a little too much, if that’s even possible).

Like all great barbecue restaurants, Phamous Phil’s serves all of your favorite smoked meats like ribs, brisket and chicken, but the menu also includes some originals, like the Sloppy Phil, a sloppy Joe made with rib ends, and my choice, the smoked meatloaf.

phamous-phil-s-meatloaf-sandwich

The meatloaf is crafted in-house with Phil’s own barbecue seasoning then smoked to give it the beautiful pink smoke rings around the outside.

Phamous Phil has three unique sauces available to pair with your meal. The Inphamous sauce is the original sweet, mild barbecue. The Jacked Up barbecue is a hotter version of the original. And the Phired Up hot sauce is exactly as it sounds.

phamous-phil-s-sauce

I poured some Jacked Up sauce on my meatloaf sandwich and dug in. The sweet-hot flavor of the sauce was perfect with the smoky meatloaf. The meat was very tender, almost melting in my mouth with every bite.

phamous-phil-s-potato-casserole

While sandwiches are all served with a side of chips, I decided that I needed just a little more and ordered some potato casserole. The blend of chunky potatoes and just the right amount of cheese was a great addition to the meal.

phamous-phil-s-chicken-salad-sandwich

Another one of the unique menu items at Phamous Phil’s is the chicken salad sandwich. While you can find this at a lot of delis around the area, Phil’s puts a unique spin on it by using smoked chicken as the base.

The smoked chicken is mixed with mayo, celery and a spice blend to create a chicken salad sandwich unlike any other. Having the smoked chicken gave it an added flavor depth that Julie really enjoyed on her sandwich.

After having our fill of barbecue, we made the drive back to Berks County full, satisfied and only a little lighter in the wallet — our total bill came in under $25.

I always love good barbecue, no matter where I find it. And I found it at Phamous Phil’s.

Phamous Phil's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews

Crave Cafe

crave-cafe-counter

There is always a buzz around a new restaurant when it opens. The trick, however, is keeping the buzz going weeks and months after the opening.

We have seen a lot of new restaurants open in Berks County in the past few years, but none have been able to sustain the buzz quite like Sinking Spring’s Crave Cafe.

Crave Cafe opened at Green Valley Nursery last September, in the strip of stores off Route 422 behind the Charlotte Shoppe. It’s nearly invisible from the road, but that doesn’t stop the dining room from filling up every day at lunch.

The ambiance is truly unique. In fact, every table is unique. Each one has its own set of chairs, different styles, different colors and different sizes.

crave-cafe-fireplace

A pair of parlor chairs sit in front of a large stone fireplace. Highly sought-after, they are, at the same time, the most appropriate and most out-of-place chairs in the cafe.

Orders are placed at the counter where the cashier is set up with an iPad that’s connected to a cash drawer and credit card machine. We took our number and retreated to our little table for two (we made sure to save one before ordering, just in case).

It wasn’t long before our drinks arrived. Normally I don’t spend the money (or the calories) for a drink, but being at a cafe, I felt obligated.

crave-cafe-frozen-hot-chocolate-and-mango-smoothie

But instead of coffee or tea, Julie and I both went for frozen: a mango smoothie for me and a frozen hot chocolate for her.

Mine was good, but I was a little disappointed to see the syrup flavor going in when I was hoping for fresh fruit. Julie’s frozen hot chocolate did not disappoint, however. She happily slurped it down and was nearly finished by the time that our food arrived.

Both of us opted for the soup and sandwich combo. For me, it was a bowl of chili and an Italian chicken panini.

crave-cafe-chili

The chili thickened as the shredded cheese on top started melting. It had a good balance of flavors: not too spicy, a little sweet and plenty meaty. A bowl of it with some bread would probably make a nice meal on its own.

crave-cafe-italian-chicken-pannini

My sandwich was excellent. The Italian chicken came with grilled chicken breast, spinach, sun-dried tomato, mozzarella and basil pesto aioli.

Chicken and spinach poked out the sides of the sandwich along with the mozzarella that melted mozzarella that was oozing onto the plate.

The meat wasn’t the most flavorful I have had, but it didn’t need to be with the strong flavors it was paired with. I love pesto anything, especially when paired with sun-dried tomatoes. The mozzarella did well to keep everything together and hold most of the sandwich inside the grilled pita.

crave-cafe-soup-and-sandwich

Julie’s chicken and basil soup was the soup of the day for our visit. With little pastas and chunks of tomato, it looked like a pasta e fagioli, but there were no beans. Instead, the brothy soup was lighter with the basil providing light notes to go with the chunky ingredients.

For her sandwich, Julie went with the turkey bacon avocado. Turkey doesn’t have a lot of flavor to start which allowed the bacon, tomatoes and chipotle aioli to shine through. Likewise, the avocado took a back seat to the stronger flavors it was paired with. Overall, everything blended well together for a hearty and filling sandwich.

The soup and half-sandwich combos are very reasonably priced, but with the addition of our frozen drinks, our total came out much higher than it normally would for lunch at about $25.

Crave Cafe continues to generate buzz more than a year after it first opened. The relaxed atmosphere helps set it apart from other go-to lunch spots in the Sinking Spring area.

But it’s the food that keeps filling the tables at lunchtime.

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

Crave Cafe
4600 Penn Ave
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Cafes & Coffeeshops Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Michael Martino wins Iron Chef Hamburg; Reading Eagle announces Readers Choice Awards; More

Chef Michael Martino takes title at Iron Chef Hamburg

IMG_9150

Chef Michael Martino of Melanie’s Medley’s & Don’s Food Products earned top honors in this year’s Iron Chef Hamburg competition. Chef Martino topped two-time defending champion Chef Tim Twiford of the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Pitmaster Jeff Stumpf of It’s Just Barbecue (The Pink Pig).

The competitors had to create a plate that included an entree, side and salad using four secret ingredients: sausage, apples, frozen waffles and pickles. The winning plate featured sausage-stuffed pumpkin dough ravioli with asparagus and side salad.

Chef Martino will return next year to defend his championship against the top two vote-getters in the People’s Choice competition. The Penn Werner Hotel and Lake Wynonah Lodge were the restaurants earning top honors for their pumpkin-infused dishes. The Penn Werner did pulled pork with pumpkin barbecue sauce; Lake Wynonah Lodge created a salmon roll with pumpkin.

Roby House reopens after renovations

The Roby House is open again after more than two weeks of renovations. The Robesonia restaurant reopened on Sunday, according to a post on its Facebook page. Originally scheduled to reopen on October 23, the renovations took longer than expected, delaying it more than a week until November 1.

Reading Eagle announces annual Readers Choice Award winners

The Reading Eagle announced its Reader’s Choice Award winners on Sunday, November 1. The winners were chosen by online voting and featured 96 total categories. Twenty-six of them are food-related in some way.

Several restaurants earned back-to-back honors in their respective categories: Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ (Best BBQ), Tomcat Cafe (Best Breakfast), Exeter Family Restaurant (best Diner), Judy’s on Cherry (Best Fine Dining), Boehringer’s Drive-In (Best Ice Cream), Alebrije Mexican Restaurant (Best Mexican), and the World Famous Pike Cafe, the only restaurant to repeat in two categories (Best Sports Bar and Best Wings).

It’s hard to argue with most of the choices, but Best Burger is a point of contention after once again going to a chain restaurant. Last year it was Five Guys taking the honor. This year, it was Elevation Burger (Five Guys was runner-up). This is not a criticism of Elevation Burger, but there are many non-chain restaurants offering better, more original burgers.

Also of note, Super Duper Delicious Seafood earned Best Meat Market honors, but finished second to Adelphia Seafood in the Best Seafood category.

Best Bar: Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
Best BBQ
: Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ
Best Beer Selection: The Liberty Taproom
Best Breakfast: The Tomcat Cafe
Best Burger
: Elevation Burger
Best Catering: Wegman’s Deli & Catering
Best Chinese
: Tokyo Hibachi and Bar
Best Diner
: Exeter Family Restaurant
Best Entertainment Bar: Mountain Springs and Captain’s Cove
Best Family Restauarnt
: Austin’s Restaurant & Bar
Best Fine Dining
: Judy’s on Cherry
Best Happy Hour: ViVA Bistro & Lounge
Best Ice Cream
: Boehringer’s Drive-In
Best Italian
: Victor Emmanuel II
Best Lunch
: Isaac’s Restaurant & Deli
Best Meat Shop
: Super Duper Delicious Seafood
Best Mexican
: Alebrije Mexican Restaurant
Best Pizza: Victor Emmanuel II
Best Seafood Market: Adelphia Seafood
Best Sports Bar: World Famous Pike Cafe
Best Steak: Austin’s Restaurant & Bar
Best Sub & Sandwiches: Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop
Best Sushi (Tie): Mikura Restaurant and Tokyo Hibachi and Bar
Best Wings: World Famous Pike Cafe

Individual Awards

Best Bartender: Bobby Wertz, Paradise by the Slice
Best Chef: Eric Senkovich, Super Duper Delicious Seafood
Best Server: Keith Thomason, Wyomissing Family Restaurant

Food News

Bertie’s Inn

bertie-s-inn

I had a craving for a burger last week.

After a month of pizza, I was ready to move on to another comfort food favorite. I have had some great burgers during my Berks County Eats journey, but I’m always looking for something new.

So I did a quick Google search for “Best Burger in Berks County,” and found Berks County Living’s Best of Berks award page and their description of Bertie’s Inn.

The country inn is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, along Old Friedensburg Road in Exeter Township.

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived. I knew two things about Bertie’s Inn before we arrived. One, that the restaurant and bar hosts an annual belt sander race. And two, that I was going to get one of the award-winning burgers.

When we pulled up, we didn’t even know where to enter. Neither did the couple behind us who also had never been to Bertie’s before. After a miniature game of Let’s Make a Deal, we chose door number 1 which led us into the bar room.

The bar ran the length of the building with high-backed, wide-based wooden stools lining the counter. Two staff, one young lady and a jovial gentleman who invited us in and put our minds at ease.

He could sense that we were first timers by the lost looks on our faces as we asked about table seating. He pointed to the darkened room behind us and gladly flipped the light switch and led us in.

We pulled up a couple chairs at a corner table and took a look around the room. The room was very plain, sterile even. The walls were white with little color and a single piece of artwork, a painting of Bertie’s Inn on a piece of wood, hanging on the wall opposite us.

bertie-s-inn-motley-burger

Scouring the menu, I found the burger options. There was a build-your-own option with about a dozen toppings to choose from, but I wanted to try the burger that earned Bertie’s the Best in Berks title: the Motley Burger.

The name is unique, but you can find versions of the Motley at other restaurants around the county. The burger is topped with pork BBQ, your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and green pepper (which is actually the most surprising topping).

Our server informed us that all of Bertie’s burgers are made to order so we could expect a longer wait than at your larger restaurants.

When it arrived, it was easy to see that this was made in-house. the burger was plump and juicy, not flattened like a pre-processed patty. The toppings were also  cut fresh, including a whole slice of onion (my favorite) and two thick slices of green pepper.

I tried my hardest to take the two halves and turn them into a single burger, but it was a daunting task. Fully constructed, the burger stood at least six inches tall.

Making matters more difficult was the juiciness of the patty. The bottom bun became soggy as it soaked up all of the drippings from the patty. I tried turning the whole creation upside-down, but it was too late to salvage it.

As thick as it was, it was impossible to get a little bit of everything in a single bite, but I did get a good taste of everything on the bun.

The pulled pork was OK, but it probably couldn’t stand on its own as a sandwich. That said, it worked perfectly on a burger that was already flavorful. The green peppers were an interesting addition, though I would have enjoyed them better if they had been more finely chopped to better fit.

bertie-s-inn-motley-blue-burger

In addition to the Motley Burger, Bertie’s also offers a Motley Blue. The Motley Blue features all of the same ingredients as the original but with the addition of blue cheese dressing.

Julie was anxious to try the Motley Blue and taste how the blue cheese dressing mixed with the burger. She was afraid it would make the burger too wet. Of course the burger was already wet so it didn’t matter. The dressing actually gave more of a blue cheese flavor than cheese would have.

bertie-s-inn-fries

We also grabbed a large order of fries to share as a side. The fries were good, but nothing truly special. The thick-cut spuds were more like fast food fries than fresh-cut, but still enjoyable as a change of pace to the burgers.

When we were finished, we headed over to the bar to pay our tab. For our two burgers, an order of fries and two bottles of water (Bertie’s does not offer tap water), our total came to $28. You can find cheaper burgers in Berks, but I certainly did not feel cheated.

I’m not ready to call them the Best in Berks, but the burgers at Bertie’s Inn were certainly very enjoyable.

And now I’m craving another one.

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

Bertie’s Inn
160 Old Friendensburg Rd
Reading, PA 19606

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews