If you don’t live in northwestern Berks County, you may not think of Shartlesville as much of a destination.
But between the miniature village at Roadside America and the demolition derbies and rodeos at Mountain Springs Arena, thousands of people visit the village every year.
For many of those passing through, it means a meal at one of Berks County’s oldest restaurants: Haag’s Hotel.
The business, which has operated in its current building since 1915, is located in the middle of the village at the corner of Main (Old Route 22) and Third Streets. If you’re coming from the south along Wolf Creek Rd, you can’t miss the twin hex signs and “HAAG’S” scrawled across the roof.
Haag’s property is extensive, and includes seven hotel rooms, a large banquet hall, full dining room and a separate bar. It also includes a collection of at least 200 ducks.
The ducks are everywhere. Stuffed. Wooden. Plastic. Rubber. From the moment you walk through the door, you can’t escape them. They’re on the wall. They’re on the window sills. There are even wicker napkin holders shaped like ducks on every table.
At one end of the room is the duck pond, a great mural of a mountain stream at twilight. In front of it is a waterfall, flanked by a flock of ducks (plus a mother goose with gosling and a rubber frog) perched on the rocks.
Oddly enough, there are no ducks on the menu.
Instead, Haag’s offers “classic dishes to satisfy the hardiest appetite,” according to its menu, which features Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired dishes and American comfort food.
That Pennsylvania Dutch influence is found in unexpected places. The pierogis are one example.
While most pierogis are filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, I have never before found some that are filled with Dutch potato filling.
The two main ingredients in potato filling are mashed potatoes and onions, and with the addition of some cheddar cheese, the result was not that far off from a traditional pierogi. I double- and triple-dipped mine into the garlic sauce of garlic butter on the side.
The pierogis would have been better if they had just spent another 30 seconds in the fryer. The filling in the middle was still a little cold, especially the cheese. But the flavor was spot-on.
I struggled to select a main course until my eyes found the Haag’s Dutch Burger. Less a sandwich and more of a monster, the Dutch burger consists of a meatloaf patty that is surrounded in potato filling, then breaded and deep-fried.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anything more Dutchy than a deep-fried ball of meat and potatoes. Somehow I was able to pick up this creation and eat it as a burger, ladling more gravy on with every bite.
It was a lot heavier than I expected, “hardy” as Haag’s would describe it. I really enjoyed the filling, but the meatloaf was lost inside of it. I could have pulled it apart and ate it like a meal, but then I may as well have ordered it as a platter.
With my Dutch burger, I got two sides: French fries and dried corn. The fries were good, but like our pierogis, they could have used a little more time in the fryer. Another minute would have crisped them up nicely. Instead, they were still flavorful, but a little floppy.
The dried corn was not at all what I was expecting. Dried corn normally has a sweet flavor that is amazing when baked. This dried corn was bathed in vinegar. Maybe some old Dutchies like it sour, but I was not a fan.
Julie’s entree was the ultimate in American comfort food: fried chicken. Haag’s version features a “secret blend of breading” that was heavy on the pepper, but quite enjoyable.
On the side, Julie also got the dried corn (and had the same reaction as me) and chicken pot pie. The pot pie was done in true Dutch style with chunks of potatoes and dough (plus a little celery and carrots) mixed in with the chicken. It can’t compare to a good pot pie dinner from your local fire company or church, but it was a nice side dish.
The two of us managed to finish off a lot of food for just a little more than $25. Haag’s initially gained fame for its family-style dining, which is still offered for $18 per person, if you and your party can agree on three entrees to share.
Haag’s has a long and storied history that dates back more than a century. The menu may have been updated since 1915 (and a few more ducks have been added to the dining room), but it still provides familiar meals to those living in and traveling through Shartlesville.