Basil’s Pizza opens in Reading; three restaurants set opening dates

Basil’s Pizza & Grill comes to Stadium District

A new restaurant, Basil’s Pizza & Grill, has opened along Route 61 near FirstEnergy Stadium. The location at 1635 Centre Ave was most recently home to the short-lived second location for Dino’s Wings & Things. Basil’s, which opened earlier this month, features pizzas, wraps, paninis, subs, pasta dinners and more.

Francesca’s delays opening one week

Francesca’s Pizzeria & Restaurant has delayed its opening one week, and is now scheduled to open this Wednesday, March 30. The restaurant, located in the former Arner’s on Howard Boulevard, was originally supposed to open last week, but announced on their Facebook page that they would be taking an extra week to prepare for opening day.

Firefly Cafe opening April 8

The Firefly Cafe, a new vegan restaurant coming to Reading Avenue in Boyertown, is scheduled to open on April 8, according to the cafe’s official Facebook page. The latest post touts the cafe’s passing of its final inspections. The cafe has also announced its hours, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Rice Modern Thai opening April 25

West Reading will have a new restaurant when Rice Modern Thai opens on April 25. The opening date was announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page last week. The restaurant will be located in the former Papillon Brasserie at 615 Penn Avenue.

Food News

Yellow House Hotel

yellow-house-hotel

In August 2014, we made our first trip to Emily’s. We’ve been there twice more since then and never had a bad meal.

So when we had a chance to visit Emily’s sister restaurant, the Yellow House Hotel, we had high expectations.

Yellow House is a small village at the crossroads of Routes 562 (Boyertown Pike) and 662 just north of Douglassville. The hotel came first, built in 1801, and the community took its name from the distinctive yellow building.

yellow-house-hotel-menu-cover

The Yellow House Hotel doesn’t look very yellow anymore. In the fading afternoon sun, it looked cream or off-white. A painting inside the door showed the building with a more vibrant coat of paint.

Inside our dining room (there were at least three distinct rooms), the 215-year-old hotel has a distinct 18th century feel. Two large crystal chandeliers hung above the tables. Gold-framed mirrors hung on the white walls. And every table had a candle burning beneath a small beaded shade.

While the sun was still shining, the room was brightened by the light coming through the front windows. By the time dinner arrived, the sun had begun to fade, and the room held a more dim glow.

As we looked over the menu, both Julie and I were eyeing up the barbecued spare ribs. Lucky for us, Yellow House Hotel offers a rib sampler for an appetizer.

yellow-house-hotel-rib-sampler

The rack had six perfectly sized, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs glazed in a tangy barbecue sauce. Like the entree, the ribs were served with a side of sweet potato fries. I’m not sure how much more food comes with an entree, but if this were dinner, I would have left satisfied.

yellow-house-hotel-salad

After our ribs, we still had a starter salad to bridge the gap until our dinner arrived. It was a basic salad, though it was lacking onions, my favorite part of any starter salad.

yellow-house-hotel-rolls-and-muffins

While we were enjoying our starters, our waiter dropped off a basket with two rolls and two fresh muffins. The rolls were exceptionally soft, and the spiced miniature muffins were excellent.

Choosing an entree wasn’t easy. Yellow House had a robust menu with a lot of delicious-sounding options. In the end, I couldn’t resist the sound of the prime pork tenderloin.

yellow-house-hotel-pork-tenderloin

The pork was coated in jerk seasoning and served with mango chutney over a bed of rice pilaf.

The jerk seasoning was what sold me on the pork, and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was tender with a flavorful crust of seasoned salt and spices.

I loved the pork, but the pilaf was a little boring until mixed with the mango chutney. Mango makes everything better, and the soft bites made for sweet flavor bursts.

A side of snap peas, the vegetable of the day, was also on the plate. There wasn’t much to them, but I really didn’t need much after the ribs and the pork.

The restaurant had two entree specials for the weekend, including the brie, asparagus and fig stuffed chicken.

yellow-house-hotel-stuffed-chicken

Served atop a bed of whipped potatoes (Julie’s choice of side), the plate was covered in spring onion cream sauce. The chicken was good, but it was the sauce that made this dish so enjoyable. It blended so well with everything on the plate, especially the sweet filling.

We would have loved to have tried to dessert (we heard our waiter run off the list to the table next to us, and everything sounded amazing), but we both were stuffed after finishing our plates.

Our total for the evening was $55, right in line with what we spent for our meal at Emily’s two years ago.

We had certain expectations going in to our meal at Yellow House Hotel, and we were not disappointed. The hotel has a different vibe than its sister restaurant — it felt a little older without the added ambiance of additional creekside outdoor seating.

But the food was everything that we had hoped it would be. And that’s what really matters.

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

Yellow House Hotel
6743 Boyertown Pk
Douglassville, PA 19518

Yellow House Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finer Dining Reviews

Back Forty Bar & Grill – CLOSED

back-forty-bar-and-grill-sign

The Back Forty Bar & Grill is now closed. The restaurant closed for ‘vacation’ in the summer of 2017, but never reopened.

The year 2014 was a tough one for diners in western Berks County. Both of Stouchsburg’s two restaurants, Risser’s Family Restaurant and the Black Dog Cafe, shut their doors for good.

It took more than a year, but both locations are once again thriving. Risser’s is now the Blue Star Family Restaurant. And in August, 2015, the Black Dog was transformed into the Back Forty Bar & Grill.

While the Blue Star sits right along busy Route 422, Back Forty is located in the heart of the village of Stouchsburg. An oversized sign points passersby to the restaurant from the highway. It’s easy to find, but it can be a little challenging crossing Main Street to get to the restaurant and its parking lot.

back-forty-interior-1

The place is divided in two, one room is the dining room, the other is the bar (with a few extra seats for overflow). Pigs and chickens are stenciled on to the multi-colored chairs around every table. A license plate sculpture depicts a pig on one of the walls.

All of these depictions are a reminder of the restaurant’s promise: to use locally sourced proteins whenever possible. That means farm-to-fork meats in many of Back Forty’s signature dishes.

back-forty-farmhouse-chili

One of those dishes is the Back Forty Farmhouse Chili. The chili includes two meats: smoked pork and cubed steak, and it’s topped off with cheddar and sour cream.

It was a hearty chili, but not too spicy (the vegetarian Dragged through the Garden Chili was advertised as the hotter option). It was still a very enjoyable start to the meal.

back-forty-bread-butter

Also enjoyable was the bread and house made garlic butter. Normally, I don’t talk about the bread and rolls at restaurants (and the bread, here was thicker and heavier than I would have cared for), but the garlic butter was just too good to ignore. It was packed with herbs, a little salt and plenty of garlic. And I loved it.

While I enjoyed my chili, Julie’s meal came with a house salad with “fresh spring greens, hand-picked garden vegetables and house made croutons.” The salad was good, but we both agreed that whatever ranch dressing they were using had a salty taste to it that we didn’t care for.

When it came time for the main courses, our waitress apologized to me. I had ordered the pappardelle pasta and asked to add chicken, but she had forgot to add the chicken to our order.

back-forty-pappardelle

The pappardelle can be served as a vegetarian dish, and that’s how mine started. The pasta was tossed in brown butter and sage with kale, green and yellow peppers, and yellow squash. It was very good, though the brown butter settled to the bottom of the bowl, not sticking very well to any of the ingredients.

back-forty-grilled-chicken

My chicken appeared a short time later (I had more than half of my pasta left). It was coated in herbs and grilled perfectly. It had lots of flavor, but I felt like it didn’t blend as well with my pasta. Maybe it was because it hadn’t been tossed together; or maybe because both the pasta and the chicken were flavorful on their own. Either way, I enjoyed them more as two separate dishes.

Being St. Patrick’s Day weekend, all of the restaurant’s specials were take-offs on Irish dishes, like the smoked pulled pork and brisket shepherd’s pie that excited Julie.

back-forty-shepherd-s-pie

This was one hearty meal. The bowl was overflowing with potatoes and gravy. It was packed with pork and brisket, with peas and carrots. But it was also very wet, soup-like at times thanks to a generous amount of gravy hiding beneath of the top layer of potatoes.

It was also hard to get used to the pulled pork and brisket. Eating them with gravy and mashed potatoes is very different than eating them with a sweet barbecue sauce, which is how we usually find both of those meats.

Neither of our meals left us with room for dessert, but we had a lot of family with us, and between the eight of us, we figured there were enough mouths to manage an order of the chocolate raspberry truffle tortes.

back-forty-chocolate-raspberry-truffle-torte

The tortes consisted of layers of chocolate cake, mousse and ganache, topped with raspberry puree and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

It was a heavenly dessert. All of the chocolate layers were incredible, especially the ganache. The raspberry was highly concentrated and gave a jolt of sweetness. It really did taste like you were biting into a rich chocolate truffle.

Everyone was in agreement that this was the best part of the meal.

The dessert was $9, but as the waitress said, “you get what you pay for.” The rest of our meal — two entrees and a cup of chili — was around $40.

While we ate, all of the tables in the dining room filled up around us. It’s clear that Back Forty has already become a very popular place in the seven months since it opened.

Stouchsburg has its two restaurants back, and it looks like that’s how it’s going to stay.

Closed Reviews

Francesca’s sets opening date; Old San Juan location and opening revealed; more food news

Francesca’s to open March 23

Francesca’s Pizzeria & Restaurant will open for the first time next Wednesday, March 23. The announcement was made on Facebook last week. The new restaurant, located in the former Arner’s at 2101 Howard Boulevard in East Reading, has already posted their menu. It will include pizza, Italian dinners, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers and more.

Old San Juan eyeing mid-April for second location

The second location for Old San Juan Cafe should be open by the end of April, according to a representative of the restaurant. Work is underway at the new West Reading location, located at 36 N. Sixth Avenue. The location, which actually fronts Reading Ave, was most recently home to Taste of India.

Chef Alan’s now managing the Abe Lincoln

The Abraham Lincoln Hotel’s food service is now under new management. According to an article in the March 12 Reading Eagle, Chef Alan’s is taking over the Abe Saloon restaurant and all catering at the historic downtown hotel. The new Abe’s by Chef Alan restaurant will celebrate its reopening on April 1.

New life for former Big John’s restaurant?

A new restaurant may be coming to the former Big John’s on Schuylkill Avenue, according to the March 10 Reading Eagle. The following appeared in a Reading zoning board brief:

Sonia Camacho for a variance for the relief of off-street parking requirements for a property at 1316 Schuylkill Ave. Camacho plans to renovate a mixed-used structure into a first floor restaurant, with two dwelling units on the upper floors.

Big John’s restaurant closed in 2012 when owner John Ulrich retired.

Food News

Pretzel Revolution and Creamery – CLOSED

pretzel-revolution-window

Editor’s Note: Pretzel Revolution & Creamery closed on December 31, 2016.

Last fall, when Berks County Eats visited Blind Hartman’s Tavern, a new sign was going up across the street, announcing the arrival of Pretzel Revolution and Creamery to Route 12 just north of Reading.

It was exciting news. Years ago, long before Berks County Eats came into existence, I made a couple visits to the original Pretzel Revolution in Kutztown and fell in love with the savory, greasy stuffed pretzels.

Though the new location serves the same recipe pretzels, it is serving a very different clientele. The Kutztown location is open until 3 a.m. three nights a week. On Route 12, it closes at 8 p.m. daily.

pretzel-revolution-interior-1

On our visit, the main dining room, with three booths along the wall, was empty. But the private room behind the counter was packed with a Brownies troop and their moms.

Bringing in ice cream and making it a family-friendly experience was the right move for a location that doesn’t have 9,000 college students in its backyard.

If you’re looking for a meal, Pretzel Revolution has seven flavors of stuffed pretzels to fill you up: Buffalo chicken, chicken bacon ranch, ham and cheese, Italian, pizza, pretzel, and steak and cheese. There are also traditional pretzels (though even these come in six varieties, like garlic, sesame or banana Nutella cinnamon). French fries stand as the only hot food item that isn’t a pretzel.

Julie and I both opted for a stuffed pretzel and fries combo meal. I went with a pizza pretzel; she opted for a steak and cheese.

pretzel-revolution-pizza

The pizza pretzel is stuffed with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. The pretzels are wrapped so that they have one layer of dough on the bottom and two on the top.

If I had sliced the top off, you would have never known that it was a pretzel and not a pizza. It was a little too saucy, but the pretzel was so good that it made up for it.

pretzel-revolution-cheesesteak

Mine was good, but I was envious of Julie’s steak and cheese pretzel. It was packed with steak meat and just a little cheese. It worked really well with the pretzel, especially the salt on top.

pretzel-revolution-fries

The fries arrived a few minutes into our meal, piping hot after their bath in the fryer. The thick, fresh-cut beauties were delicious, though Julie and I probably would have been fine sharing a single order with as filling as the pretzels were.

It is called Pretzel Revolution and Creamery, so we couldn’t leave without dessert.

This is the only place in Berks County, that I know of, that is serving Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream. And Pretzel Revolution has two freezers full of the famous frozen dessert.

pretzel-revolution-orange-vanilla-sundae

My choice was the orange vanilla sundae, orange sherbet swirled with vanilla ice cream. On an 80-degree day that felt more like summer than mid-March, it was a refreshing, summery treat.

pretzel-revolution-mallo-cup

Julie, meanwhile, was enjoying a scoop of mallo cup, a chocolatey treat with marshmallow and coconut shavings. I’m not much for coconut, but I would have eaten all of her ice cream if she had let me.

Two pretzels, two orders of fries, two fountain sodas and two ice cream cones later, and we were as stuffed as the pretzels. And all of that food only cost us a little more than $25.

Pretzel Revolution and Creamery takes the brand in a new direction, and that’s not a bad thing. The franchise location stands on its own as a kid-approved, family-friendly place to grab lunch or dinner.

Pretzel Revolution and Creamery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews

Old San Juan opening new location; Leesport Diner open; more food news

Old San Juan Cafe opening second location

The Old San Juan Cafe is set to open a second location in West Reading, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The post says that the restaurant is now hiring and expects to open this spring. No further information on the location is available at this time. Berks County Eats recently visited Old San Juan’s 9th Street location. Read the review here.

Leesport Diner now open

The new Leesport Diner is now open. The restaurant opened for the first time on Sunday, February 28. Though no official announcement was made, customers have been posting reviews of their meals since the beginning of last week. The restaurant, located at the intersection of Routes 61 and 73, is open 24 hours.

Brook’s Cafe coming to Douglassville

A new breakfast and lunch spot is coming to the Douglassville area. Brook’s Cafe is coming soon to the Benjamin Franklin Court Shopping Center along Route 422 West. The sign is up above the door of the former Don Julio restaurant and crews have been working inside for the past few weeks. No open date is available yet.

Correction: In a correction from last week’s Food News recap, the Bloomin’ Lotus Cafe is not closed. The building is for sale, but the business is still open.

Food News

Sofrito Mohnton – CLOSED

sofrito-mohnton-sign

Editor’s Note: Sofrito Mohnton is now closed. In late 2018, the owner decided to reconcentrate efforts on the original location in downtown Reading, closing the Mohnton location as a result.

Two years ago, I visited the ill-fated Maniaci’s Italian Bistro.

The restaurant had gained fame after appearing on Restaurant: Impossible in 2013. But one year later, just a few short weeks after my visit, Maniaci’s closed for good.

My review of Maniaci’s is the most-read review in the history of Berks County Eats, continuing to receive hits every day.

While Maniaci’s was buzzworthy for all the wrong reasons, a new restaurant has taken over the space and created a buzz all its own.

Sofrito Mohnton opened in the spot in February. The restaurant is the second location for the Chef Hector Ruiz, who runs Sofrito Gastro Pub on Douglass Street in Reading.

East Wyomissing Avenue is a long way from Douglass Street, but the new location tries its best to capture the vibe of the original.

sofrito-mohnton-1 IMG_3433

The walls have been painted in a bright reddish-pink, replacing the dull grays and greens. The shelves are more sparsely populated with just a handful of stylized martini glasses replacing the potted plants and herb jars that Chef Robert Irvine had decorated Maniaci’s with.

sofrito-mohnton-3 IMG_3435

It’s a more polished look than the eclectic Douglass Street location, but while it falls a little short on ambiance, the menu includes all of the Sofrito’s favorites plus a few items you’ll only find in Mohnton.

One of the carry-overs is the Centre Park Urban Salad, a spring mix with tomatoes, purple onions, Spanish olives and roasted red peppers with a rosemary garlic and brown sugar vinaigrette.

sofrito-mohnton-urban-salad

The Urban Salad is my favorite starter at Sofrito. I usually prefer creamy dressings, but I love the sweetness that comes through from the brown sugar in the vinaigrette. Onions were scant, and I would have liked to have seen a few more of those, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

Among the additions to the menu is the picadillo stuffed poblano pepper.

sofrito-mohnton-stuffed-poblano-pepper

The pepper was stuffed with ground beef, potatoes, onions and cheese with ranchera sauce, cotija cheese and a dollop of sour cream on top.

Poblanos are mild peppers, but it had a little bit of a kick on the back end. The pepper wasn’t stuffed evenly so some bites had more ground beef, others more potato. Eventually, I just mixed everything on my plate including the rice and beans.

The yellow rice and black beans are another hallmark of Sofrito. The addition of vegetables like celery, carrots and onions add more depth and color and ensure the rice and beans are not just an afterthought.

sofrito-mohnton-crabcake-sandwich

Another carry-over to the new restaurant is the plantain-encrusted crab cake sandwich. Though we have visited the original Sofrito multiple times, Julie had never tried the crab cake until our meal in Mohnton.

The fried plantains provided a nice change from a traditional crab cake, giving it a little sweeter crust. The cake was also meaty with very little filler, making it rich and filling. The ciabatta bread that it was served on held up well, but the crab cake fell apart easily so it was hard to eat as an actual sandwich.

Finally there are the fresh-cut fries. A must-have accompaniment for any meal at Sofrito, the fries are among the best in Berks. And Sofrito Mohnton has the same slightly crispy, golden brown treats as the original.

Like the original, the prices at Sofrito Mohnton are very reasonable. We spent just shy of $25 for the two of us (including one iced tea).

Sofrito Mohnton is a worthy second act for the celebrated Reading restaurant. Just as importantly, it’s a great addition to the dining scene south of the city.

And for a location that has an infamous history, it’s a restaurant poised to create a positive future.

Closed Reviews

Two restaurants close; a BBQ joint opens in Hamburg

Ray’s Original O’Grady’s closes

Ray’s Original O’Grady’s in Muhlenberg Township is now closed. A group that had reservations for Monday, February 29, was told that Sunday, February 28, would be the last day for the restaurant. Nothing has been posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page since January 1, and no other information is available at this time.

West Reading restaurant close

Slim Pickens Cafe has closed, according to the February 27 Reading Eagle. The article cited increased traffic congestion as the cause of decreased business at this and other restaurants in the borough.Traffic on Penn Avenue in West Reading has increased since July when the Buttonwood Street Bridge closed, forcing a detour through downtown.

New BBQ restaurant opens in Hamburg

A new barbecue restaurant is now open in downtown Hamburg. Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine opened in January, according to an article in the February 27 Reading Eagle. The Fourth Street location was most recently home to Hometowne Restaurant which closed last year.

Updated March 8: Bloomin’ Lotus is still open. The building is for sale, but the business has not closed as previously reported. 

Food News