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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.