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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.