Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery

folino-estate-exterior

The end of January is a time of celebration in our house.

Every January 27, Julie knows I’m going to take her out for her birthday dinner. Each year I try to find a new place for my wife and I to enjoy a romantic evening in her honor.

This year, that place was the Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery.

Folino Estate opened in the fall of 2015 on a sprawling tract along Old Route 22, just off the Krumsville exit of Interstate 78 in northern Berks County.

Pulling up to the building for the first time, you would never know that it is just a little more than a year old. It was built to resemble a historic estate in Tuscany, and it accomplishes that.

folino-estate-interior-1

Even the lobby, the Piazza Folino, feels like something out of an Italian street scene, complete with sidewalk-style tables and chairs.

The restaurant, though, feels exceptionally modern. From the large fireplace in the middle of the dining room to the open kitchen, Folino Estate does well to avoid clichés.

The menu is distinctly Italian, but it is definitely not clichéd either. Folino Estate features some wholly unique offerings that you won’t find on the menus at Berks County’s other Italian restaurants.

folino-estate-italian-onion-souop

Italian onion soup is just one example. I’ve enjoyed many a cup of French onion soup, covered in melted gruyere cheese. But this was different.

For one, there was no melted cheese on top. Instead, mozzarella and fontina cheeses were melted on toasted Italian bread pieces that took the place of croutons in the soup.

Did it remind me of French onion? Of course. But it was different, and I enjoyed this Italian twist. The soup, itself, was a little salty, but I enjoyed it, especially the addition of the mozzarella.

folino-estate-mozzarella-and-tomato

Julie’s appetizer was the tomato and fresh mozzarella, a typical caprese salad with the unexpected addition of a mass of olives.

For most guests, pairing dinner with a glass of Folino’s own wine is a highlight. For me, a non-drinker, I decided to take my wine in my food.

folino-estate-drunken-pasta

Drunken pasta sounded like nothing that I have ever tried. The tagliatelle pasta was infused with red wine, giving it a purple hue. It was also cooked in red wine, with olive oil and roasted garlic. Our waitress made sure to ask, “Do you like red wine?” because the flavor was going to be ever-present in this dish.

And it was. The pasta was delicious, holding the distinct flavors of red wine throughout. I also especially enjoyed the shaved pecorino Romano cheese that topped the dish, adding a sharp, salty note to the dish.

I added chicken to the dish only so that I would have a protein. It didn’t add much except to make it a little more filling.

folino-estate-italian-soda-and-wine

Julie is not one for wine pairings, either. She orders whatever wine she likes, and she really liked her glass of moscato, fruity but slightly dry so it wasn’t too sweet.

folino-estate-crab-cakes

Her meal was a pair of crab cakes with Brussels sprouts and red potatoes.

The crab cakes were almost all meat with just enough filler to hold them together. The red wine dijonaise sauce perfectly complimented the fresh cakes, one of which she saved for later.

In my opinion, the best thing on her plate was the Brussels sprouts in pancetta jam. They featured big chunks of salty pancetta (almost bacon) and a sweet jam that was just perfect.

folino-estate-baklava

We couldn’t stop there – we were celebrating, after all – so we took a look at the dessert menu. Our waitress suggested to order off the specials because they are always incredible. Among the specials was baklava, Julie’s favorite. So there was no doubt what we were getting.

The baklava was served warm and the nuts and honey filling oozed out from the start. Dark chocolate shavings were a nice addition to the dish, melting in your mouth with the flaky pastry.

It was a memorable ending to a memorable birthday meal.

At the end of the evening, our final total was $70, a very reasonable price for three courses and a glass of wine.

Folino Estate provided quite an experience, exactly what we were hoping for on this special occasion.

Happy birthday, Julie.

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

Folino Estate Winery & Vineyard
340 Old U.S. 22
Kutztown, PA 19530

Breweries & Wineries Dessert Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Sebastiano’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

sebastiano-s-exterior

You could divide all of the restaurants in Berks County into two categories: those that strive to attract out-of-towners and those that cater to the locals.

My goal with Berks County Eats is to find the best of both. And one place that kept popping up as a local favorite is Sebastiano’s in Reiffton, a small Italian restaurant in a strip mall along Perkiomen Avenue.

I had heard good things about Sebastiano’s, but had also heard about the limited parking and seating. The parking lot was almost full when we arrived, but there was spaces.

There were no tables, however, but thankfully there was only one other group ahead of us. Because of the lack of space, there’s no hostess stand. Instead, a clipboard hung on the wall with a sign above that said “sign in.”

This was a first.

sebastiano-s-interior

It honestly didn’t take long to be seated, only a few minutes before we were sat at one of about 15 tables.

Sebastiano’s could not fit another table in the room as space was tight between myself and the gentleman sitting at the table behind me.

Our waitress took our orders and offered us either a cup of soup or the salad bar with our meals. We both went salad bar (New Year’s resolutions).

sebastiano-s-salad-bar

Salad bars feel like they belong more in a diner than an Italian restaurant, but I rolled with it. There was a nice selection, not overwhelming that included all the standards plus a few surprises like roasted red peppers.

While Julie and I worked through our salads, our waitress dropped off our garlic bread – six small slices of an Italian roll (the Conshohocken Italian Bakery boxes gave away the source). One of the slices was a little burnt, but the rest were good.

sebastiano-s-garlic-bread

Our wait to be seated hadn’t been long, but the wait for our food felt like an eternity for two hungry eaters. It was about 45 minutes from the time that we ordered until our entrees arrived.

In that time, we watched several tables empty and fill up and countless people come through to pick up their takeout orders. (Our waitress had stopped by once to top off our drinks).

When they did arrive, they were piping hot (a relief because for a brief moment we were afraid our dinners were just sitting on a table in the back waiting for someone to find them).

sebastiano-s-pasta-ala-sebastiano

For my entree, I chose rigatoni with sauce ala Sebastiano’s, a red sauce with ground beef, bacon, mushrooms and cream.

I liked it, but I think it would have been better with a little more bacon. Every bite with the bacon had a nice smoky flavor that I thought really added to the dish. Without it, it was good, but essentially a rosé sauce with a few add-ins.

sebastiano-s-meatballs

Not wanting to stop there, I had also ordered a side of Sebastiano’s “famous” meatballs. This was easily the best thing that either of us ate. The meatballs were well seasoned and cooked perfectly. I wouldn’t say they were the best that I have ever had, but I would definitely get them again.

sebastiano-s-egglpant-parmesan

For her meal, Julie opted for eggplant Parmesan with angel hair pasta. The eggplant was very good and very tender. It was sliced lengthwise so as to create long slices and instead of smaller, rounder ones.

The red sauce, the same as what used on the meatballs, was good – better with a little Parmesan cheese.

One thing that I have to say, Sebastiano’s does not skimp on the portions. Our meals left no room for dessert, and we each took half of our dinners home with us. And our total bill was only $25.

Sebastiano’s definitely has a loyal following among locals. There were many times when the waitress or the counter workers stopped talked to customers like family. Customers greeted each other as long-time friends, too.

They were friendly to us as well and served us a good meal. It’s not high-end Italian, but that’s not really the point. It’s a local pizza place and Italian restaurant with good food.

And that’s all it needs to be.

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

Sebastiano’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
3227 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Sebastiano's Italian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews

Smokin’ Brays BBQ

smokin-brays-exterior-night

One of the reasons that I try to hit all of the food events and festivals around the county is so that I can try things that are new (or new to me).

Oftentimes, I end up seeing the same old restaurants serving the same old samples. But it’s always exciting when a new place pops up.

At the Iron Chef Hamburg event in November, I sampled pulled pork from Smokin’ Brays BBQ in Hamburg and was immediately a fan.

I had already visited Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine earlier in the year, but had no idea there was now a second barbecue restaurant, this one across the street from The Westy.

smokin-brays-interior-2

The restaurant opened in April after the owners closed the original Smokin’ Brays in Dale City, Virginia, and moved to Hamburg to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Our Virginia restaurant was open seven days a week,” I was told by our hostess, who I later found out was Betty Bray, co-owner with her husband Keith.

“We’re only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s almost like retirement.”

smokin-brays-interior-1

After we were seated, a woman came in with a little girl, dolly in tow. “I guess we need a table for three,” she joked.

But to their surprise, a high-chair was delivered to the table and dolly was strapped in for dinner, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

That’s how you do customer service.

The wait for our food wasn’t as long as it felt. I realized that the only noise – other than the two other diners that joined us – was coming from a radio in the corner.

So many restaurants today have at least one television in the room that I found myself looking around for a distraction that wasn’t there.

When the food arrived, it was the feast that I had expected.

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-1

Nearly every barbecue restaurant that I have ever been to has offered some sort of sampler platter. And I guess it’s because there are enough people like me who will order it every time.

At Smokin’ Brays, the smallest sampler is three meats (promising at least 3/4 pounds of meat). I got babyback ribs, beef brisket and pulled beef.

I haven’t found pulled beef on any other menus locally so I had to try some. It may look like pot roast, but it sure didn’t taste like it. There was no sauce, just a spice rub that had absorbed into the meat during cooking.

The flavor was great on its own, though I couldn’t stop myself from adding some of Smokin’ Brays classic barbecue sauce. A sweet sauce with just a little tang and no heat (there was also a hot version, plus a vinegar sauce, for those with differing tastes).

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-2

I really enjoyed the brisket. It was well-flavored, sliced thin and melt-in-your mouth good. The ribs were not my favorite. They were too fatty for my taste. I like my ribs leaner and more heavily seasoned.

Not that I needed anything else, but the meal also came with two sides and choice of roll or cornbread. I really only wanted something light so I went with baked beans and applesauce. The beans were alright but I was too full from my meal to really enjoy them. I did really like the cornbread, though it fell apart when I tried to butter it.

smokin-brays-smoked-sausage

Julie’s meal consisted of smoked sausage with mac and cheese, lettuce with hot bacon dressing and cornbread.

The sausage was excellent, a little smoky but not too much. And it wasn’t smoked to the point that the outside was too crispy. It was done very well.

The lettuce with hot bacon dressing was among the best that Julie has had with no skimping on bacon. She also enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese.

After all that food (Julie had to take half of hers home), there was definitely no room for dessert. That said, I actually thought about trying to force some banana pudding after I saw it on the menu board.

Instead, we called it a night. While paying our $30 bill, we saw the Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame, adorned with photos of all those who have attempted the “Big Pig Challenge,” five pounds of food and a 30-minute time limit.

“You want to try the ‘Big Pig’?” the owner asked after I questioned her about the challenge.

“Not tonight,” I said.

I’m sure it will make an entertaining blog someday.

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

Smokin’ Brays BBQ
278 W. State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Smokin' Brays BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Say Cheese Restaurant & Cheese

say-cheese-exterior

The great thing about living in Wyomissing is the amazing selection of restaurants we have between our town and neighboring West Reading.

The downside about having a food blog is that I have to spread out my visits to the closest places in order to cover the entire county.

I hadn’t visited a West Reading restaurant since October and our National Pizza Month visit to Georgio’s.

Three months is about as long as I can stay away, especially with a gift card to Say Cheese burning a hole in my pocket.

Of West Reading’s abundance of restaurants, Say Cheese has one of the most desirable locations, sitting on the corner of Penn and Sixth Avenues. In the summer, outdoor seating adds to the ambiance, but that feels like an eternity away.

say-cheese-interior

Five years ago, if you would have told Julie that I wanted to go to a cheese-themed restaurant, she would have laughed in your face.

At the time, I thought I hated cheese. As it turns out, I don’t hate cheese. I just hate American cheese, and anything made by Kraft.

There’s definitely no Kraft Singles at Say Cheese.

In addition to the restaurant, Say Cheese serves as a fine cheese shop, with a wide selection of artisan cheese from around the world to take home with you.

This allows for creative cuisine, and, with the marketplace right inside the door, a unique set up to the dining area. Our table was at the very front of the building in what would have once been the window display for a retail store.

say-cheese-reading-draft-soda

For those who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, Say Cheese has plenty of options to pair with your meal. For those, like me, who prefer something a little softer, they have Reading Draft Soda.

The closest I got to ordering alcohol was my cup of cheddar beer soup, the day’s special.

say-cheese-cheddar-beer-soup

It was simple but good, with the namesake ingredients shining through. Thick croutons and bacon were added to the creamy soup, adding much-welcomed texture and a little bit of salt. All in all, it was a great first impression.

Our entrees arrived shortly after I finished my soup. For me, it was braised short ribs and hominy grits.

say-cheese-braised-short-ribs-hominy-grits

The boneless short ribs were pull-apart tender (no knife needed) and the demi glace wasn’t bad, but what really made the dish was the herb mascarpone chevre (goat’s cheese). It was creamy and sweet and really complemented the demi very well.

Hominy grits aren’t my favorite side, and these were ok, a little buttery for my taste, but I enjoyed the vegetables – Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and tomatoes.

say-cheese-salmon-mac-and-cheese

Julie was a fan of her smoked salmon mac n’ cheese. According to the description, it was a six-cheese blend with smoked salmon, white wine and chives topped with asiago bread crumbs.

We both expected to taste the salmon more than we did, but instead what we got was the nice smoky flavor of the meat, always a great addition to mac and cheese. And the bread crumbs added a much needed crisp texture to the creamy dish.

A small portion of the mac and cheese came home with us. I left nothing on the table.

Our final total was just under $50. I had a $30 gift card to help (otherwise, I probably would have let the Pennsylvania Dutch in me come out and not ordered the soda or the soup).

Say Cheese is certainly among the best that West Reading has to offer. It was a very good meal. I just wish I could have gone sooner.

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

Say Cheese Restaurant & Cheese
600 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Say Cheese! Restaurant & Cheese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finer Dining Reviews