For all the wonderful restaurants that Berks County offers, there are very few that can be called “fine dining.”
Sure, there are places that offer higher cuisine than others, but fine dining is more than steak entrees or table linens.
It’s a true experience that encompasses the menu, the atmosphere and the service. One restaurant that has earned a reputation for its fine dining is Dans at Green Hills.
Dans (there is no apostrophe) began in 1989 as one of the city’s only fine dining establishments, serving patrons from the small cellarette at the east end of Penn Street.
A new ownership group took over in 2006, and in 2012, they purchased the Green Hills Inn along Route 10 south of the city, creating the new Dans at Green Hills inside the 200-year-old building.
Like many restaurants in historic buildings, the dining area is spread across multiple rooms. The walls in ours had a hint of green in the soft light. Flames crackled in the stone fireplace, giving off some much-needed warmth on a cold January evening.
The tables were draped in white linen with black napkins and preset with wine glasses at every setting (the wine and mixed drink list is extensive, and many diners arrived with drinks in hand, having stopped at the bar on their way in).
Our meal started with a little taste, compliments of the chef. Julie and I were each brought a tiny crostini topped with sharp cheddar, basil pesto and walnut.
It seemed so simple, but the two bites that mine lasted were incredible. The cheddar was spread thin like butter and was perfectly sharp. The pesto had that nice sweet basil flavor, and the walnut was just the right flavor and texture to top it off. It was a great little tease for what was to come.
We both started our meals with a bowl of soup. I opted for the daily special, a potato and leek soup garnished with bacon, pesto and croutons. This is how potato soup should always be. It was thick and creamy with an undertone of sweet and salty.
Julie, meanwhile, was enjoying the sweet potato soup. With a dollop of whipped cream in the middle and add-ins like apples, pretzel dust and sunflower seeds, it was both familiar and unexpected, but wholly delicious. Sweeter than most soups, but not too sweet that you would confuse it with dessert.
Our options for entrees were equally exciting: steaks, filets, duck breasts, scallops — all of the dishes typically associated with fine dining.
I had a hard time deciding, but the description of the New York strip steak had the magic words, “truffle butter.”
For me, there is nothing better than a perfectly prepared steak with a smattering of rich truffle butter. Mixed with the creamy, sweet and earthy concoction, the steak just melted away. Every bite was savory and smooth.
The steak was served atop a bed of rutabaga Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe with a balsamic glaze that seemed like enough food for a meal of its own. The potato and rutabaga mixture was superb. Yukon Gold potatoes are naturally sweeter and the rutabagas add a rich flavor of their own. This was counter-balanced perfectly by the more bitter broccoli rabe.
A good rack of lamb was too tempting for Julie to pass up. The Dijon-encrusted ribs were served on a bed of autumn ratatouille with rosemary reduction.
Dijon is not one of my favorite flavors, but it works really well with the fatty lamb. The rosemary reduction also helped cut through the distinct mustard flavor, creating a meal that hit on several flavor notes.
The autumn ratatouille was also delightful, consisting of several types of squash with potatoes and tomatoes. It just tasted fresh, with the natural flavors all shining above the sauce.
At this point, neither of us had room for dessert, but we decided to force it anyway. And instead of sharing (which would have been the sensible thing), we each got our own treat to end the meal.
Julie really wanted to try the chocolate bread pudding. Bread pudding can be rich on its own, but this was even richer with chunks of Godiva dark chocolate and a dollop of caramel ice cream on top. It was a dessert both heavenly and sinful.
I had my heart set on the warm apple crisp topped with caramel ice cream. The base was mixed with granola for more crunch (and granola makes it healthy, right?). I found the sauce with the apples was almost too sweet, and I had to use the ice cream to help cut through it. I still managed to clear my plate, however.
Three courses as Dans is a great way to celebrate a special occasion. We were celebrating Julie’s birthday so we had no problem splurging. But with a price tag that came to nearly $150 (that includes the tip for our attentive server who was never far away), we probably won’t be going back until we have another milestone to celebrate.
Dans at Green Hills lived up to its title as a fine dining restaurant. We enjoyed one of the best meals we have had in more than 100 stops around Berks County.
The food, the service, the ambiance. It was everything a fine dining restaurant is supposed to be.