Haiku Hibachi & Sushi

haiku-hibachi

Late in 2015, a new restaurant appeared on the scene that was quite…different.

Located in a former fast food restaurant along the Fifth Street Highway – directly across the street from Jumbo China Buffet – Haiku Hibachi & Sushi brought something completely new to Berks County: drive-thru hibachi.

A drive-thru hibachi is certainly a unique concept, a one-of-a-kind experience in our region, if not beyond.

There is a dining room at Haiku, but it’s the window — a leftover from the Taco Bell that once occupied the space — that sets this apart from Berks County’s many Asian inspired restaurants.

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Anyone who wants to take advantage of the drive-thru service has two options: order in line or place it  ahead of time and use the window for pick-up. We decided to use the online ordering system to place our order.

It’s a very convenient system. The entire menu is available and customizable. For example, if you order steak, you can choose how you want it prepared. You can choose the type of roll for your sushi. You can ask to hold the onions (though why anyone would do that, I have no idea).

At the end of the process, it asks for your payment method. Haiku doesn’t accept online payments. The options are cash and credit upon pick-up or a phone call for a credit card. This saves the customer money because there’s no commission or online processing fees tacked on to the bill.

Once finished, a message flashed on the screen saying my order would be ready in 15 minutes.

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Then I was given the option to boast on Facebook about placing my order.

I drove from my home base in Wyomissing to the restaurant along the Fifth Street Highway with no problem getting there before the 15 minutes were up.

My biggest problem was finding the entrance to the drive-thru lane. In an inherited design quirk, the drive-thru lane is surrounded by curbs on either side so it’s completely inaccessible from the dine-in parking.

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I pulled up to the microphone and menu board, told them my name and that I was here to pick up an order and was ushered around to the window where I had just a short wait while the car in front of me, who obviously had not ordered ahead, sat idling while the driver’s food was prepared.

After getting my order, I brought it home and opened up the to-go bags. I have to give it to Haiku because the presentation was outstanding.

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Our hibachi dinners were compartmentalized. For mine, my chicken, fried rice and vegetables were all separated. There was nothing to do but dump everything onto one plate and dug in.

It was delicious. This was not fast food, this was a real hibachi-cooked dinner. The sauce for the chicken was thick, sweet and salty. The rice was done perfectly. And the vegetables were a beautiful al dente.

It all worked. I couldn’t believe that this came from a drive-thru window.

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Julie took full advantage of the order customization for her dinner, choosing steak (and opting for well-done) and an upgrade from rice to noodles.

It was the same delicious sauce, this time with perfectly cooked steak meat. The noodles were nicely done as well for a complete, enjoyable meal.

But Haiku doesn’t stop with hibachi. As the name suggests, there’s also sushi.

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Neither Julie nor I are willing to take the plunge into raw sushi, but there are plenty of cooked sushi rolls to enjoy from haiku. We ordered two: shrimp tempura rolls and sweet potato rolls (don’t judge me, I’m still very much Pennsylvania Dutch).

Both were fantastic. At Haiku, all of the sushi is rolled to order so all of the flavors are fresh and vibrant. The rice-covered slices were the perfect size for an appetizer or side dish and we had no problem finishing off all 11 of them.

One of the great things about Haiku’s concept is the price. By skipping the tableside hibachi presentation (once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all) and focusing strictly on food, the price comes down dramatically. Our total dinner cost came in at about $25.

By comparison, our meal at Tokyo Hibachi two years ago cost $44.

There’s room in Berks County for both concepts, but for this frugal eater, give me the convenience, value and quality of Haiku Hibachi & Sushi.

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

Haiku Hibachi & Sushi
3215 N. 5th Street Highway
Reading, PA 19605

Haiku Hibachi & Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

ViVA Castle Pub – CLOSED

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Editor’s Note: In December 2017, the Reading Country Club terminated ViVA’s management contract, effectively closing the pub in its current incarnation.

Valentine’s Day is an annual occasion that is made for a memorable meal.

Julie and I have experienced some of our favorite Berks County Eats meals on Valentine’s Day. Over the past three years, we visited Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette, Salute Ristorante Italiano and Heirloom.

This year, we were looking forward to another unforgettable experience, this time at the ViVA Castle Pub at the Reading Country Club.

The castle at the Reading Country Club is one of the most beautiful and recognizable structures in the county. The towering structure overlooks one of the county’s premier golf courses just off Route 422 in Exeter Township.

Two years ago, the club’s management made a switch in caterer from Chef Alan’s to ViVA, giving the restaurant it’s new name: ViVA Castle Pub.

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We have visited the original ViVA multiple times – it’s just a short walk from our home base in Wyomissing – with mixed results. When we went for a review in 2014, it was an excellent meal.

That meal, like our Valentine’s Day reservation at the Castle Pub, was a four-course meal for two. So we had high expectations for a romantic dinner.

We arrived a little early and were seated promptly. The room was dimly lit with candles at every table – excellent ambiance, but terrible lighting for food photography.

As mentioned, our meal was four courses, including a shared flatbread, two soups or salads, two entrees and two dessert shooters.

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Our meal started off well enough with a nice mushroom and arugula flatbread. Cut in fours, the flatbread was loaded with the two namesake ingredients plus chevre cheese and black truffle essence. It was enjoyable and hearty.

Things started to take a turn with course number two. I ordered the French onion soup while Julie ordered the Caesar salad.

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First, the soup. While there was cheese melted over the top, it didn’t look like French onion. The cheese wasn’t bubbly enough and neither was it darkened as it should be.

Salty, filled with plenty of onions and bread chunks, it tasted fine, but nothing special.

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Julie found her Caesar salad to be uninspired as well. Instead of tossing it all together, the Caesar dressing was served on the side. While it tasted fine, that’s not how you serve a traditional Caesar salad, especially when the customer is expecting a special meal.

The real disappointment came from our entrees, once we got them. Twice our waitress stopped by to apologize about how long it was taking for our meals. I would have assumed they were forgotten if not for hearing every waitress making similar apologies throughout the dining room.

How the Castle Pub is on a regular night, I can’t say. But they were definitely not on their game on this night.

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I ordered the herb-encrusted chicken served with fettucine alfredo, grated Parmesan and sautéed vegetables.

What they called herb-encrusted looked more like Shake’n Bake. But it had less flavor. The entire dish was dry. I tasted no herbs in the bread-crumb coated chicken breasts. And I tasted very little alfredo in the fettucine alfredo (Julie didn’t even realize there was a sauce).

The vegetables were mostly fine, but the cherry tomatoes that were part of the dish were tossed in later so every few bites I had a cold tomato with my hot food.

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Julie’s dish was better, but only by comparison. She ordered pasta ala vodka with shrimp.

The sauce was good, it was definitely more flavorful than my alfredo. But the shrimp still had tails on them so every time she wanted a taste, she had to remove the tails and mix it back into her pasta. (Not to mention, the shrimp were burnt).

At that point, the shrimp may as well have been served on the side because it had no opportunity to soak up the flavors of the sauce.

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Thankfully, we had dessert coming and could end the meal on a more pleasant note. For our shooters, we went with tiramisu and key lime pie.

Both were enjoyable. The light, airy desserts were packed with flavor, especially the key lime pie. However it was essentially a pudding, and we longed for a little crust crumble to add some texture. The tiramisu was very good, but again could have used some texture.

To save room for dessert, we packed up most of our dinner to take home (though in all honesty, it’s probably not going to get eaten).

On this night, the four-course dinner was $50 per couple. If we had ordered everything ala carte, it would have been closer to $60. For the amount of food, I suppose it could be called a good deal. For the quality, I felt like we had been cheated.

We had high hopes for our Valentine’s Day meal this year. Unfortunately, sometimes a meal just doesn’t meet expectations.

Next year, we’ll just find someplace better.

ViVA Castle Pub
5311 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Reading Country Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews

Klinger’s at the Airport

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Every great movie franchise is built on the trilogy. Think Lord of the Rings, the Dark Knight and Star Wars (the originals, obviously). That formula apparently works for restaurants, too.

With the opening of Klinger’s at the Airport at the end of 2016, the Klinger’s trilogy is now complete.

Berks County Eats has already visited the original Klinger’s on Carsonia, and last year, we visited the new Klinger’s of Fleetwood.

If I were starting a restaurant, the Reading Regional Airport would not be my ideal location. The airport hasn’t had regular passenger service since 2004.

But with the closing of Malibooz early last year, the space was open and Klinger’s stepped in.

The lights were mostly off in the terminal when we arrived, but Klinger’s was alive and well, tucked in a corner on the left side of the building.

It looks like a hole in the wall, but the dining area opens up from the entrance. To the right is a 360-degree bar. A large mural dedicated to aviation history decorates the wall behind it.

The rest of the dining room is filled with booths and tables, definitely the largest dining area of the three Klinger’s restaurants.

Our table was by one of the windows overlooking the airstrip. During our visit – a Tuesday night where we played Challenge the Pub trivia – we saw exactly one plane out the window, though whether it was coming or going, I couldn’t say.

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Klinger’s is known for their bar food and for me, their wings are some of the best around. So we had to start our night with a basket – five Old Bay and five Jameson Whiskey BBQ.

Both flavors can be found at Klinger’s other restaurants, the Jameson Whiskey BBQ being the signature flavor. It’s sweet, and a little bitey. When I’ve had the wings at Carsonia, the sauce is laid on much thicker. This was lighter, but the flavor was still there. And the Old Bay is exactly what it sounds like, wings rubbed down in the classic seasoning, Julie’s favorite.

The menu looks similar to the other two locations, though each one has its own unique offerings. For instance, all three feature different varieties of chili. I had an opportunity to sample the habanero chili during the chili cook-off at this year’s Fire & Ice Festival and loved it. It was a little sweet with enough heat to make you take notice, but not enough to overpower everything else.

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Another twist comes with the sandwiches. All three locations have a section for steak sandwiches, but only Fleetwood and the Airport have the Lone Star Style steak sandwich featuring sautéed onions, barbecue sauce, beer cheese and bacon.

It is a phenomenal mix of ingredients. The steak meat – real cuts of meat, not Steak-Ums – is a great base. The beer cheese and the barbecue sauce blend together really well for a sweet and smoky flavor. The thick-cut bacon adds a salty note and more smokiness. And the sautéed onions are the perfect finish.

This is no Philly cheesesteak, but it is one of the best sandwiches that I have tried in more than three years of Berks County Eats.

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One of the only-at-the-airport menu additions is Stromboli – seven varieties made with beer dough. Julie decided to try the Classic – pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, mozzarella and marinara.

Klinger’s did a good job with this. The doughy shell is very good, though I couldn’t taste anything uniquely “beer dough” about it. What really stands out though is the sauce. It’s a thick, deep red sauce that is quite enjoyable for a place that doesn’t qualify as an “Italian restaurant.”

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We were joined on our visit by our friends Matt and Hannah, who were very excited to see a cookie sundae on the dessert menu.

I have to say, after the meal, the sundae was a bit of a letdown. The chocolate chip cookie, though it looked cute with a faux face made of chocolate chunks – was disappointing. It was hard so it was difficult to cut and share. We finished off the ice cream and chocolate syrup but left some of the cookie behind.

For Julie and I, our total bill was around $30 (that included our two entrees, wings and an iced tea as Matt and Hannah picked up the tab for the cookie). Good luck coming in under $30 for dinner at PHL.

The new Klinger’s, despite its location, should prove successful. It follows a similar formula as its two sister restaurants: a cool atmosphere, rotating craft beers for the bar crowd, and great food.

Now that they have the three-peat, will Klinger’s try for four?

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

Klinger’s at the Airport
2385 Bernville Rd
Reading, PA 19605

Klinger's at the Airport Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn

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In my time doing Berks County Eats, there has been no more highly anticipated restaurant than Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn.

In February 2013, the Reading Eagle reported that the new restaurant would open that summer.

It was 45 months later, November 2016, when the doors finally opened to the public.

Nothing builds anticipation like a four-year wait.

We waited just a couple months after the official opening before making our first trip to the Hampden Boulevard landmark, just north of the Reading city limits.

Look for the barn with the giant crab hanging off the front. You can’t miss it.

Having never been to the original, I had no frame of reference for what to expect.

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Walking in, I was impressed. The main entrance opens to the lower-level bar and waiting area. A boat propeller and other nautical memorabilia hung on the wooden walls (the Goldfish crackers for bar snacks were a nice touch).

As we were led upstairs to the dining area, I was even more impressed.

It’s very hard to combine rustic barn and nautical theming, but the Crab Barn does it. A painted on American flag takes up much of the roof. The far wall is painted to resemble a vintage barn-side advertisement, but instead of Mail Pouch tobacco, it beckons you to chew “Male Crabs.”

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There’s also a swordfish, the back half of a boat, oars and two mounted elk heads (one of these things doesn’t belong).

Clearly a lot of work went into the building. One thing that could still use a little work is their system of seating customers. The hostess is downstairs. The dining room is upstairs. Staff came and went while we waited. Then, after we were led upstairs, we waited again while they fixed a table for us.

Service was a lot better after we were seated.

At this point, I need to mention that I don’t like crabs (or anything, generally, that swims). I have tried to like them. Not happening.

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Julie, on the other hand, loves crabs. On her business trips to Seattle and Portland, she especially grew to love Dungeness crabs.

Though she was a little worried about having them 3000 miles away, she couldn’t help herself.

And she was very pleased. The meat came out in nice chunks, and there was plenty of it to enjoy as she cracked open every leg and claw.

To go with the crabs and the other entrees, the Crab Barn offers nine side choices, many of them unique to the restaurant, like the tomato cucumber salad.

It was a light side, a good change of pace, served in a nice lemon basil dressing. Julie’s second side, the basil redskin mashed potatoes were also quite flavorful.

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So, what does a land lover do at the Crab Barn? Well, they are prepared for customers like me with several turf options to go with the surf.

My choice was the marinated beef tips.

The small sirloin pieces were marinated in Sriracha bourbon marinade. There was only a hint of heat from the Sriracha, but it picked up rich flavors from the bourbon. I really enjoyed it, though the half pound portion felt small.

For my sides, I went with fried plantains and Island cilantro rice. I loved the plantains (if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know there was never any doubt). The rice was good, too, but I would have liked a little more cilantro.

Several of the items on the menu, including the Dungeness crab, are listed as market price on the menu. That was about $25 on our visit. With my beef tips and iced tea, our total for the two of us was about $45.

It was a four-year wait to get crabby at Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn. Judging from the full dining room, we weren’t the only ones who were anxious to try it.

Now that we’ve been there, we’re excited to go back.

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

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn
2613 Hampden Blvd
Reading, PA 19604

Gettin' Crabby at the Crab Barn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews