Basin Street Hotel

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Kutztown will always have a special place in my heart.

I don’t make it back there as often as I would like since graduating from KU in 2013. When it’s time for blogging, I try to time my visits so school’s not in session.

It’s not that I have anything against college students, but the summer months (and winter break) are slower times for many of the local restaurants. That means less crowds, shorter waits, and better service.

That’s why Julie and I waited until a Thursday night in June to pay a visit to the Basin Street Hotel. Two months from now, when class is back in session, I wouldn’t suggest going anywhere in town on a Thirsty Thursday night.

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But the Hotel was calm and quiet when we arrived. Only one other booth was taken, though there were a few people hanging at the bar and a couple enjoying dinner outside on the cloudy evening.

During my time in Kutztown, I had never visited Basin Street. It’s almost on the wrong side of the tracks for college students, facing out to the train station and the Allentown and Auburn Railroad line.

Restaurants and inns have been operating on the location at the corner of Main and Willow Streets (ironically, there is no Basin Street) for more than 100 years, and the hotel maintains a certain old-time charm inside with high wooden booths, decorative ceiling tiles and historic photos of Basin Street and the town.

The only thing I really knew about Basin Street before arriving is that they are known for their wings, or at least, that’s what they tout on Twitter and Facebook so I knew where our meal was starting.

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There are 22 flavors to choose from on the menu ranging from standard hot, mild and BBQ to original creations like the red pepper parm and drunken varieties.

We went with two of the more original flavors: enchilada and spicy lime.

The enchilada wings were tossed in oil and taco seasoning. Unfortunately, much of it ran off the wings so I had to continually dip it in the run-off on the plate to get that Mexican flavor I was looking for. It took some work, but I got. I just wish it had been stronger.

On the spicy lime, I got spice and very little lime. It was basically Buffalo sauce with a little after taste of citrus. (Unless I was accidently given hot wings and just imagined the lime). For Buffalo wings, they were really good.

The wings were also very meaty and filling, definitely more than we needed when we saw the size of our dinner.

Basin Street’s menu is all pub food: apps, salads, burgers and sandwiches. There are no entrees, no meals. But that’s OK. There are more than 40 burgers, wraps and sandwiches to choose from on the robust menu.

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On the “Collegiate Corner” part of the menu, all of the sandwiches were given KU-themed names, like the Golden Bear.

The Golden Bear is Basin Street’s take on a Primanti Brothers sandwich – roast beef with coleslaw and French fries served on top of the meat.

This is a sandwich that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, it’s average fries, good roast beef and tasty slaw, but together, it was a hearty, enjoyable sandwich.

From being between the hot roast beef and fries, the coleslaw warmed up quick so there was never a cold bite. The fries got a little soggy, but the thick French bread roll held up deliciously well. I probably shouldn’t have finished the whole thing, but I did anyway.

Julie went with something a little bit different as well, the turkey French dip.

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French dip sandwiches, as you probably know, are generally made with roast beef and served with a cup of au jus (light gravy) on the side. The turkey French dip just substituted the meat on the sandwich and in the gravy.

It was a nice change of pace. Julie especially enjoyed it with the Provolone cheese she ordered on top. She also finished off everything on her plate, except a few chips that she left in the bag to take home.

The only downside to visiting Kutztown in the summer months is that a lot of the restaurants are running with short staffs. There was only one guy working as both server and bartender, and while he did well at taking our orders and bringing our food, we had to go up to the bar to get and pay our $30 check.

I’m sure there aren’t many nights when the Basin Street Hotel is as quiet as it was for our visit. But that’s why we went when we did.

I like to enjoy Kutztown – and its restaurants – at its best.

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

Basin Street Hotel
42 E. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Basin Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gatsby’s at Sunnybrook Ballroom

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Editor’s Note – Gatsby’s at the Sunnybrook Ballroom is closing September 1, 2019. The restaurant will be converted into a secondary event space for the Sunnybrook Ballroom.

It’s not often that I have dinner with international travel writers.

Through my day job, I had a unique opportunity to enjoy dinner at the recently opened Gatsby’s at the Sunnybrook Ballroom. There I joined Dan, a co-worker of mine, and Isabel, an award-winning travel writer from Ireland.

Of course I had to blog about this experience.

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The Gulati family, who also operate Stokesay Castle here in Reading, took over the management of the historic property along High Street in Pottstown late last year, renovating the restaurant and turning it into Gatsby’s.

With a 1920s theme, Gatsby’s harkens back to the ballroom’s glory days, when the biggest acts in music began packing the house.

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Vintage posters hang on the walls of the hallway, with names like Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and Duke Ellington all promoting shows at Sunnybrook.

The wait staff are dressed in their best throwback attire, with striped shirts and suspenders for both the guys and gals.

Our waiter tried to push us on Gatsby’s cocktails, crafted by world-renowned mixologist Brian Van Flandern.

He was unsuccessful in persuading any of us, but it did earn him a new nickname from Isabel, Hunter Van Potts.

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This was always going to be a three-course meal for me, and it began with some of the best French onion soup that I have tried anywhere.

Gruyere cheese bubbled over the rim of the crock, served atop a wooden serving plate in what was a beautiful presentation. It tasted as good as it looked. The broth had plenty of onion slivers, making it feel light and hearty at the same time.

My soup made me even more excited for the main course, the most exotic item on the menu: wild boar.

I had to wait just an extra minute after it was delivered. On his first day as a waiter (he had been working more than a month as a bartender), Hunter couldn’t tell the difference between my wild boar and Dan’s veal chop. After calling in for backup, it was confirmed that our entrees had been switched.

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There was no confusion over Isabel’s 12 oz. New York Strip Steak with au poivre sauce. She raved about it, though she could only finish a little more than half (the rest went home with Dan, supposedly as a treat for his dog, Parker, but I can’t confirm who actually ate it).

The boar was again beautifully presented with garlic mashed potatoes, a bundle of seasonal vegetables and a purple flower for garnish.

Wild boar ribs are leaner than a traditional pork rib and necessitate a knife and fork. It was delicious, tender and cooked to perfection.

It was even better with the peppercorn sauce. Though some bites were a little heavy on the pepper, I thoroughly enjoyed the mild heat of the sauce as it added depth to the game meat.

The sauce came in handy with the potatoes, which were just a little dry, and with the carrots and beans that came bound in an edible tie.

Though not the largest portion on the menu, I would definitely recommend giving the wild boar a try. Especially because it left just enough room for dessert.

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Gatsby’s has one of the most unique dessert menus that I have seen. There are three flamb├ęs, but after that, everything is crepes.

Two years ago, I reviewed Taste of Crepes in West Reading, the place that kindled my love of the French specialty. Gatsby’s reignited that love with its tiramisu crepe.

Filled with coffee mascarpone and topped with chocolate sauce and cocoa powder, heavenly is the only way to describe it. The crepe was light and airy, and the filling and toppings gave it that distinct tiramisu flavor. I loved it. And even though I was getting full, I had to finish every bite.

Tiramisu, along with strawberry mascarpone and chocolate raspberry, is one of three signature crepes. In addition, the restaurant offers a build-your-own option with 10 fillings and 10 toppings to choose from.

The total for my three courses was about $50, and around $200 for the three of us with tip.

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When our meal was over, Isabel cornered Hunter and asked him for more information on the history of the Sunnybrook. He spoke about Pottstown’s heyday and how his grandparents used to spend their Friday nights in the ballroom.

Sunnybrook Ballroom may never be what it once was. But Gatsby’s may help bring the site into a new heyday.

It certainly earned high marks with me.

And it earned high marks from our Irish judge as well.

Reviews

WOW Wagon

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One of my favorite events every year is the Garden Party at the Reading Hospital.

In addition to benefitting a great cause, the organizers always bring in some of the best in local eats. This year, they brought in some of the area’s best food trucks, including Gourmand, the Potato Coop, Scott’s Hot Spot and the Gilbertsville-based WOW Wagon.

Julie and I made our way through the sea of people, trying to decide where to go. The WOW Wagon was at the end of the row, and with no line, it was an easy choice for two people who were ready to eat.

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I first tried the WOW Wagon a year ago at the VF Outlet Center Food Truck Festival. That day’s menu featured artisan pizzas, like the white pizza with broccoli, green peppers and sun-dried tomatoes that I got to enjoy.

But the menu is ever-changing, and at the Garden Party, there were no pizzas to be had.

Instead, they offered a six-item, limited menu that included an item called Pig Dippers that sounded too good to pass up.

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The fair food-inspired treats featured candied maple bacon, rolled in funnel cake batter and deep-fried (topped with obligatory powdered sugar).

Pig Dippers are also sometimes referred to simply as cholesterol. Delicious cholesterol.

Biting into one is a truly unique taste experience. First, you have that familiar funnel cake flavor. Then you get the bacon, with strong maple overtones. It’s a sweet and savory explosion. Together, it was almost reminiscent of breakfast.

They came in orders of two. I thought when I finished that I would need something else to eat. I didn’t. I felt great after eating one. The second one was almost too much, too heavy (but I finished it anyway).

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Also on the menu during our visit was something completely different: lobster rolls.

The New England specialty was meaty and delicious. The roll was overstuffed with chunks of lobster meat and one lone slice of lettuce to add a bit of crunch.

It wasn’t quite like getting a fresh lobster roll in Maine, but it was darn good for Pennsylvania.

During the Garden Party, all purchases are made in tickets, but our total worked out to be around $20 (this did not include drinks, which had to be purchased from another stand).

The WOW Wagon definitely brought a wow factor to its items on this day.

I don’t know that my heart could take another order of Pig Dippers, but I will definitely keep an eye out for the WOW Wagon at future events.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Giannotti’s Country Manor

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Two weeks ago we visited Giannotti’s Italian Kitchen in Robesonia. It was an alright meal, but we were certainly hoping for something better.

I always feel guilty about writing less-than-stellar reviews because that’s not why I write these blogs. I know that there are items on the menu that I would love, but I can only write about what I ate and the experience that I had.

On the same weekend that I visited my old hometown, I made a visit to another Giannotti family establishment: Giannotti’s Country Manor.

Giannotti’s Country Manor is just a short drive north of the city along Route 12, right next to Chatty’s, another restaurant that we’ve visited, and almost across the street from the original Muddy’s location.

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It was a beautiful Friday night so we decided to enjoy our meal out on the patio. The dining rooms were empty as it seemed everyone who came in either grabbed a seat at the bar or took their meal outside.

The traffic on Route 12 wasn’t too loud to bother us. The only time that we wished to be inside was when a guy pulled up in a bright yellow, 1930s-era pickup truck that was spitting exhaust across the patio.

One thing that’s clear right away is that Giannotti’s Country Manor is not an Italian restaurant. Sure there are a few pasta dishes and pizzas, but the menu highlighted their steaks and seafood.

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While we waited for our meals, the first thing to arrive was our bread basket, a nice sized loaf of Italian bread. It was excellent. I always appreciate good bread before the meal, especially on a night when we were both extra hungry.

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Both of our meals came with starter salads, but we could have easily done without them. A pair of cherry tomatoes, some croutons and a little bit of red onion were the only additions to the lettuce.

I had a hard time making a decision for my entree, but finally settled on Giannotti’s “often imitated, never duplicated” prime rib (which is only available Thursday through Sunday).

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The prime rib is available in two sizes – 16-ounce and the King size 24 ounce. I wasn’t feeling very regal so I stuck with the one-pounder.

It looked massive compared to the cup of au jus that shared the plate. It was also really moist, to the point where the plate was wet all around.

I sliced off my first piece and dipped it in the au jus, and have to say that it tasted better than it looked. It was on par with a good French dip sandwich. Not the best prime rib I have ever eaten, but solid.

My only problem was that there was just so much of it. Even without touching the fatty chunks, there was a half-pound of meat on the plate.

Plus all entrees come with two sides so I had a plate of steak fries and a cup of applesauce to get through as well. At this point the salad seemed completely unnecessary.

The steak fries were good, but nothing special. I’m guessing they’re not homemade, but I still made them disappear.

Normally I wouldn’t even mention applesauce when I get it, but I really enjoyed it here. It had a sweeter, almost caramel flavor to it that was better than the typical side.

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While I went turf with my dinner, Julie went surf with hers, ordering the 8-ounce lobster tail, the smallest of the three sizes available.

Julie reminded me that she had lobster on the beach in Malibu once. This wasn’t the same, but she enjoyed it for what it was: a seafood dish served in the hills of Berks County.

Neither of us had any thoughts of dessert when we were finished. We were more concerned with divvying out what we were taking home with us.

The bill for the day came in at around $50 for the two of us (the lobster is market price so it could be more or less on any given day).

Giannotti’s Country Manor had its share of really good and okay items. That’s to be expected at a restaurant that has such a large menu.

The trick is to find something you enjoy. Because the only thing that matters is whether you enjoyed it.

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

Giannotti’s Country Manor
Giannotti's Country Manor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews