The Liberty Taproom

On my laptop is a list of more than 500 Berks County restaurants. Every week, it’s my responsibility to look through the list and find a new place to try and review for the blog.

Except this week.

This week, I left it to Julie to find us a place on-the-fly as we drove back from a trip to the Philly suburbs.

After searching review sites for a few minutes, she suggested the Liberty Taproom. It was an interesting choice. Two non-beer drinkers heading to the Mount Penn area to try the multi-time Best in Berks winner for best beer selection.

Neither of us had ever seen the Liberty Taproom before, inside or out. So we were in the dark (literally, which is why I couldn’t get a picture of the building’s exterior) until we stepped inside.

Despite it being, first and foremost, a bar, we were surprised by the number of families. It was definitely a family friendly place, even on a busy Saturday evening.

It was also loud. With only a partial wall separating the bar from the “dining room,” voices carried and the noise level was high. Add to it the live music that started at 6 and conversations got louder. It wasn’t overbearing, but it was noticeable.

The menu is all pub food, with a beer and drink menu that equaled the size of the food menu. Among the options were pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, wings and oversized pretzels.

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We started with an order of wings, tossed in Liberty’s Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce.

I discovered Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce years ago with a homemade recipe. I love the extra sweetness (and the addition of Dr. Pepper’s 23 flavors). It worked especially well with Liberty’s meaty, breaded wings.

These were definitely among the best in Berks.

In the car on our way to dinner, Julie and I were talking about the best burgers that we’ve had around the county, including those at the nearby Frank and Diannah’s Arbor Inn.

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There was no doubt I was going to get a burger. And once I saw the duck confit burger, there was no doubt which one it would be.

Liberty’s duck confit burger features a patty cooked in duck fat, topped with duck sausage, smoked gouda, “haystack” onions, lettuce and tomato.

It was quite a burger.

First, the burger itself was cooked to a perfect medium-well, just the slightest remnant of pink in the center.

Then there was the duck sausage. I was not expecting that. It was richer than pork sausage, with a much brighter flavor. The gouda added a sweetness, especially in bites that didn’t include the sausage (which were few).

Haystack onions are Liberty’s take on fried onion strings. Loaded high atop the burger, the onions were ever present, just the way I like them on my burgers.

On the side, I had a cup of fries. With such a heavy burger, I didn’t mind the smaller portion of fries. They were good, the thick-cut type though nothing outstanding.

liberty-taproom-chicken-sandwich

Feeling the need for something slightly lighter, Julie built her own sandwich with grilled chicken as the base.

She topped it with gouda, lettuce, tomato, haystack onions and mayo.

The chicken breast was hefty, definitely just as robust as my half-pound burger. Not having it on mine, the mayo really stood out on her sandwich.

Along with her sandwich, Julie splurged on a side of sweet potato fries (with caramel dipping sauce). I thought they were much better than the regular fries, but that may have been the caramel talking.

That was all we could handle for the night, leaving with a bill of $40 for a very satisfying meal.

Maybe I should let Julie pick the next restaurant, too.

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

The Liberty Taproom
237 N. Prospect St
Reading, PA 19606

Liberty Taproom Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Firefly Cafe

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For all the great diversity in Berks County’s restaurant scene, there is always room to grow. The key is opening a restaurant that is different, that isn’t serving the same food as the place down the street.

Find the right niche and serve great food and drinks, and the eatery is likely to be a success.

A vegan/vegetarian cafe in downtown Boyertown? Now that’s a niche.

Open since April, the Firefly Cafe is a place unlike any other in the county.

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Specializing in breakfast and lunch, it’s one of just a handful of meatless restaurants in the region (along with places like Chen Vegetarian House in West Reading and the iCreate Cafe in Pottstown).

In addition to its normal hours, Firefly opens up for dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s when we made our trek eastward for a taste.

Two warm fireplaces greeted us inside. One, a large video screen above the restrooms. The second, a faux fireplace, one of the smallest I have ever seen, was sitting near our table giving off a charming glow.

There was one couple leaving with a to-go package when we arrived with a few more groups coming and going during the 45 minutes we spent at the cafe.

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Our table was by one of the front windows where we could enjoy the nightscapes of Boyertown. Our server – one of the owners – dropped off a pair of menus and some infused water (cucumber for me, orange for Julie) and told us she would take our orders at the counter when we were ready.

I had perused the menu before we arrived so I was feeling good about my decision – the vegan pulled pork sandwich.

firefly-cafe-vegan-pulled-pork-sandwich

What’s a vegan pulled pork sandwich? Well it looks a lot like the real thing, but jackfruit (a fruit in the fig family, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia) takes the place of the meat. It was topped by vegan tri-color slaw (carrots and cabbage in a plant-based cream).

It was a delicious recreation. The barbecued jackfruit made for a much sweeter sandwich, but the phenomenal multi-grain roll helped balance it out. The slaw was great, adding more flavor with a crunchy texture.

Could you tell it wasn’t meat? Yes. Did I care? No.

All dinners come with a side of greens and choice of house-made dressings. I went with the carrot ginger.

It was a light, chunky dressing with lots of carrots and pinch of ginger. Easily one of the best salad dressings that I’ve tried in my Berks County Eats adventure.

firefly-cafe-vegan-lasagna

For her meal, Julie went for the vegan lasagna, whole wheat noodles with tomato sauce, vegetables and vegan cheese.

Again, it wasn’t the same as eating true Italian lasagna, but it was enjoyable. Among the vegetables inside were carrots and olives. The tomato sauce was definitely fresh. The vegan cheese was tasty. And it had a nice crumbly top layer that added texture to the dish.

And it was surprisingly filling for a meatless dish.

On her side of greens, Julie opted for the lemon miso-tahini dressing. It had a vibrant citrus flavor and was much creamier than mine (thanks to the tahini). It was another winning creation.

We felt so good about having eaten a health-conscious meal that we skipped the dessert (though chia pudding is about as guiltless as you can get) so our final total was right around $25.

The Firefly Cafe is different from anything else in Berks County, and that’s a great thing.

And whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore or carnivore, it’s definitely worth trying.

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

Firefly Cafe
12 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Firefly Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Klinger’s of Fleetwood

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It’s a common story: a successful restaurant sees an opportunity to grow and opens a second location.

A second location is always a risk because it means trying to replicate the old in a new location with a  new staff.

When it works, though, it’s a great thing.

The owners of Klinger’s of Fleetwood are trying to replicate the success of Klinger’s on Carsonia in Mount Penn.

The new Klinger’s, is in a prime location in the heart of Fleetwood borough, along Route 662 (East Main Street). It’s the site of the former Simmeria Cafe and Fleetwood Grille, which closed abruptly at the beginning of the year.

When it opened in spring, it was called Klinger’s Fleetwood Grille. In September, it was rebranded to Klinger’s of Fleetwood with a new menu and management.

klinger-s-fleetwood-bar

The restaurant’s building is just a little awkward. It’s actually two narrow buildings that are connected. We entered off the parking lot and were led around the corner, through the dining area and to a high-top table in the bar area.

Around the room are various pieces of Cadillac memorabilia, commemorating the old Fleetwood Body Works that was once located in town.

I was happy to see that the menu was not a carbon copy of Klinger’s on Carsonia. I spent many Monday nights playing sports trivia and eating my way through that menu so new is good.

One of the only-in-Fleetwood items is the chicken and broccoli Parmesan.

klinger-s-fleetwood-chicken-broccoli-parmesan

This wasn’t a typical chicken parm. First, the chicken was grilled, not fried (fine by me). Second, the sauce wasn’t a typical marinara. Instead, it was much creamier, closer to a rosé sauce.

Finally, there were two big florets of broccoli on top.

I was definitely a fan. It was a very different dish than I expected, but I really liked the sauce choice. I thought it went well with the grilled chicken. And the broccoli, while unnecessary, was a nice touch.

The description was a bit deceiving though as it said the dish was served atop a bed of smashed potatoes. There were smashed potatoes on the plate, but they were on the side.

Smashed potatoes are trendy right now. The potato skins are left on, and the potatoes are not whipped as smooth as mashed . Klinger’s version was good, but nothing remarkable.

What was remarkable was the broccoli slaw, served as the vegetable of the day on our visit. I loved the broccoli in the creamy base, and the bacon on top was a nice touch.

klinger-s-fleetwood-dirty-burger

Julie went with one of Klinger’s burgers, available at both locations. It’s called the “Dirty Burger” and it comes topped with peppered bacon, American cheese and a fried egg.

It was her first time trying a burger with an egg on it, and she enjoyed it.

Klinger’s knows pub food so the burgers are always good. This was no exception. Bacon and eggs always go well together. Throw them on a burger and it’s hard to go wrong.

The side of fresh-cut fries were perfect, too.

I would have loved to have tried a dessert. Caramel apple bread pudding and s’mores crème brulee were tempting, but there was just no room left at the end of the meal.

So we closed out our $30 check and called it a night after dinner.

Klinger’s of Fleetwood is a successful sequel, but like any great franchise, you have to go for the trilogy.

That’s exactly what Klinger’s is doing as they prepare to open their third restaurant, Klinger’s at the Airport.

Personally, I can’t wait to try it.

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

Klinger’s of Fleetwood
24 E. Main St
Fleetwood, PA 19522

Klinger's of Fleetwood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Iron Chef Hamburg 2016

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David Shefter, Sr., Food Service Director for the Hamburg Area School District helps organize the Iron Chef event every year.

For the past three years, I have taken every opportunity to attend Berks County’s two Iron Chef competitions at Wilson and Hamburg School Districts.

Today (November 6) was the sixth annual Iron Chef Hamburg, and another opportunity to sample some great local eats.

One of my favorite parts of these events is the live auction, specifically the bidding for the final judge’s seat. Every year I try, and every year I get out-bid.

I tried again this year. And after bidding up to $360, I finally won.

I was whisked backstage with my fellow judges for a briefing about the scoring and rules of the day. I was, by far, the least qualified of the four who would determine the winner.

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Just some of the additional ingredients available in the pantry

We were split into two tables of two. At the first table was Chef Genaro Delillo, chef at the Downtown Lounge in Lebanon and contestant on the current season of Hell’s Kitchen. With him was Chef Brittany Mattison, former contestant on Food Network’s Chopped Teen Challenge, current high school student at Boyertown, and future student at Johnson & Wales University.

Joining me at my table was Gangi E. Cucciuffo, middle school principal in the Fleetwood School District and the son of a classically trained chef who grew up in the food business.

Then there was the food blogger.

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Best view in the house.

The real stars on this day were the three competing chefs: Chef Michael Martino from Melanie’s Medleys and Don’s Food Products, Chef David Shefter, Jr., from the Penn Werner Hotel, and Chef Troy Vance Woytovich from Lake Wynonah Lodge.

One of the coolest parts about being a judge is having the freedom to walk around the stage during the 35-minute competition to watch the chefs in action, ask them questions and get an up-close look at the dishes coming together.

As in many cooking competitions, there were several mandatory ingredients. Each chef had three things that had to go into every plate: fresh sausage, apple butter and Brussels sprouts.

The toppings for a delicious taco.

The toppings for a delicious taco.

Chef David made the boldest choice, creating sausage tacos with apple butter Fireball whiskey reduction and slaw, with a Brussels sprouts, carrot and onion medley on the side.

No one would ever accuse the Shefter family of underseasoning a dish. I wish the taco had just a little less heat to it, though. While delicious, the sausage was lost and we all felt that he could have substituted any protein in it and it would have been very much the same.

Chef David Shefter, Jr.'s, plate.

Chef David Shefter, Jr.’s, plate.

The vegetables added color to the plate, but beyond that, the plating was very simple (tacos just aren’t the prettiest entree) and that inevitably hurt in the final scores.

On the opposite end of the stage, Chef Troy presented a lovely little plate with sausage, pork tenderloin and topped with an apple butter-based sauce atop a bed of Chino Cubano polenta. On the side were pan-seared Brussels sprouts and a pear salad.

Masterpiece in progress: Chef Troy working on his dish.

Masterpiece in progress: Chef Troy working on his dish.

Everything was very good. The meat and the sauce went very well together. The sprouts were cooked well. The pear slaw was excellent.

Chef Troy's final plate.

Chef Troy’s final plate.

Our biggest criticism was that the Brussels sprouts were just there. They weren’t incorporated into anything and there was little extra done to them. Talking with my fellow judges, we also felt that the tenderloin was unnecessary. Adding a second protein to the plate took away from the sausage, which was the feature ingredient.

Then there was Chef Michael Martino. Chef Michael was the defending champion of the event and appeared every bit the seasoned competition veteran throughout.

Chef Michael Martino hard at work.

Chef Michael Martino hard at work.

While his competitors were at times scattered and rushed, Chef Michael and his sous chef always appeared calm, taking their time to craft what was easily the most beautiful plate that we were presented.

I was too excited to dig in to take a picture before I started eating.

I was too excited to dig in to take a picture before I started eating.

The sausage was in what Chef Michael called Hunter Sauce. It was incredible, transforming the sausage into a dish worthy of a high-end steakhouse. Mushrooms and pearl onions added to the composition.

An incredible Brussels sprout salad.

An incredible Brussels sprout salad.

On the side, we were given a dollop of smashed redskin potatoes that was very nice and an incredible Brussels sprout salad with an incredible vinaigrette.

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This is how you score all the points in the presentation category.

You may also notice the dusted fork and spoon outlines, made with Porcini mushroom flakes. By not cooking the Brussels sprouts, Chef Michael had extra time to garnish the plate. It just added to the overall experience.

Chef Michael Martino: two-time champion.

Chef Michael Martino: two-time champion.

Though it was a close match-up, it was unanimous among the judges that Chef Michael had earned his second consecutive Iron Chef championship. We were split on second place, but Chef Troy earned the runner-up spot with Chef David finishing third.

I thoroughly enjoyed every dish that was presented and wish I could have just sat there all evening and finished them (I came close).

It was the most expensive meal(s) that I have ever had with Berks County Eats but worth every penny. Not only did I get to eat some of the best food that I have ever tried, I got to meet some incredible people (I’ve already promised Chef Genaro that I’ll be making a trip to Lebanon in the near future).

And the money goes to the Hamburg Area Education Foundation. Any time I can give back to local schools, it feels good.

This time, it felt really good. And I feel very full.

 

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