Introducing: Food Blogger vs. Fat

The Bad News

Berks County Eats is making me fat.

OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but my love of food and my lack of self control has led to me ballooning to my heaviest weight in more than 10 years.

On a recent wellness visit to my doctor, my official weight was 194. That may not seem too bad to a lot of people. But I was in the mid-170s just a few years ago. The doctor also told me that I had high blood pressure, this for someone two months shy of 32 years old.

With that reality check, I knew it was time to make a lifestyle change before my weight and blood pressure continued to trend upward.

Hitting the stationary bike in the man cave, surrounded by my NASCAR collection.

The Good News

Good News: Berks County Eats isn’t going anywhere.

Better News: I’m bringing my readers along for the ride, whether you like it or not.

My goal is to lose 30 pounds in 30 weeks. And in order to hold myself accountable, I’m going to be doing weekly check-ins here on the blog in a new feature: Food Blogger vs. Fat.

I’ll share everything, including my weight and weekly caloric intake.

But I’ll also share fun stuff, too. This is an opportunity for new experiences in and around Berks County. I’ll take you with me on hikes, let you ride along on my mountain bike and hit the links for a round of golf (or disc golf). Julie’s even threatening to take me to a yoga class.

My new diet and exercise regimen has already begun. On Saturday, Julie and I went for a 2-mile walk through Wyomissing. And on Sunday, I dusted off my stationary bike for a 30-minute ride.

The view from the top of Berkshire Heights on our regular walking route.

The Weekly Check-In

Admittedly, my home scale weighs significantly less than the doctor’s office. But in order to track my weight every week, I have to base it on my home scale. So here’s my official starting weight:

189.4

This is my first full week of calorie counting so next week’s blog will feature the first full check-in.

Look for my next weekly check-in on Tuesday, April 4.

Food Blogger Vs. Fat

Wilson Iron Chef 2017

The fourth annual Wilson Iron Chef competition was held on Sunday, March 26. The event pitted three of the area’s top chefs against each other in a timed competition. Chef Josh Haines of Jimmie G’s Beverly Hills Tavern earned the victory over Chef Tim Twiford of the Crowne Plaza and Chef Mike Rauenzahn of the Bernville Eagle Hotel. Each of the chefs had to incorporate four ingredients in their dish: sausage, red cabbage, Greek yogurt and cheese curls.

In the People’s Choice competition, nine restaurants were competing for two spots in next year’s Iron Chef competition. All nine competitors had to incorporate cheese into their featured dish. Don’s Food Products & Melanie’s Medley’s earned first place with its Champagne and Gouda bisque. Second place went to Ganley’s for its smoked bacon and Gorgonzola stuffed dates with spicy Jameson glaze.

Also part of the day again this year was vendor row with more than 20 vendors offering samples of their foods and products. Check out our photo gallery to see some of the highlights of this year’s competition:

Food Festivals & Events

La Cantina Italian Restaurant & Pub

Sometimes, the most interesting part of a restaurant discovery story is how you find them in the first place.

La Cantina, located along New Holland Road in the village of Knauers, is a place that I’ve passed countless times without ever giving it a second glance.

Now I’m a regular.

I started frequenting La Cantina on Thursday nights after a friend told me it was a venue for the Riverchasers Poker Tour – a free poker league that hosts events in bars and restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

The weekly poker events are held in the Pub, a smaller room located behind the main dining room. The Pub features a full bar and an assortment of four-seat tables and high-tops.

In the months since I have been going to La Cantina, I’ve tried many of the items on the menu. I am a big fan of La Cantina’s pizza. If you’re looking for a gourmet pie, this isn’t the place. If you’re looking for something with a little more greasy goodness, this is your place.

Of course you can get a full-size pie, but the pizzas are also available by the slice (always appreciated) and in personal 12″ versions.

Also among my favorites is the meatball sub. It seems like such a simple thing – every Italian restaurant in the county has one – but I just really enjoyed La Cantina’s version.

Four large meatballs topped with cheese and sauce, lightly toasted: not much different than anywhere else. But these meatballs were well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After weeks of pre-poker handheld meals, I asked Julie to join me for a sit-down meal.

The restaurant features two dining rooms. On the right is the smaller of the two. One wall is completely covered in family photos.

On the left side is the main dining room. There were only a few tables claimed on our visit and the two of us had room to spread out at a table for four.

La Cantina’s entrees are served with a starter salad. It was nothing remarkable, except for the fact that I found a tiny ice cube in my salad. I’m not sure what ingredient was on ice before arrival, but safe to say I wasn’t expecting it.

A more redeeming dish is the homemade tomato soup. It was a creamy tomato soup that had just the right amount of herbs (basil chief among them). I would have gladly traded my salad for more of this delicious soup.

For my main entree, I went with the boring dish of spaghetti and meatballs with La Cantina’s homemade marinara sauce.

One look at it and I knew I would never be able to finish the whole thing. Three large meatballs topped the oversized bowl of pasta. A smattering of greens were scattered across the top of the dish for garnish – a nice touch to give a little character to the dish.

I have no complaints about the dish, though I found that I enjoyed the meatballs much more in the sandwich than on the pasta. I can’t say for sure what the difference was, but I could tell that it wasn’t quite the same.

The marinara sauce was good. It was thick and chunky, still holding the texture of the crushed tomatoes. With sauces like this, it sticks to the pasta in weird ways so some bites had plenty of sauces, others not enough.

Julie’s eggplant Parmesan was definitely a highlight of the meal. The breaded eggplant was tender and light. There was lots of cheese and plenty of sauce to compliment it.

Again, like my dish, there was no way that Julie would be able to finish this in one sitting so both of us had leftovers to take home after the meal.

On this night, our total bill was $36. When I’m on my own, I generally spend a little more than $10 for my sandwich, fries and iced tea.

Poker brought me into La Cantina for the first time. Good food and an attentive wait staff keeps me coming back every week.

You’ll know where to find me on Thursday nights.

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

La Cantina Family Restaurant & Pub
4312 New Holland Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

La Cantina Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Italian Reviews

The Pike Cafe

We’ve spent a lot of 2017 visiting restaurants that are new to Reading and Berks County.

I couldn’t wait to visit highly anticipated restaurants like Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn and Fork & Ale.

But sometimes, you have to also experience the classics that we’ve neglected, places like Reading’s Pike Cafe.

The “World Famous” Pike Cafe is a true gem in the city. The corner of Pike and Moss isn’t exactly in a part of the city that sees a lot of outside traffic – except for those coming to the Pike.

One of the best parts about the Pike is that it has one of the largest parking lots in the city. And it needs it. We arrived at about 5:15 p.m. on a Saturday night and got the last available table.

Take my advice and make a reservation, especially for the weekend dinner rush.

We were led around the U-shaped bar and into the back corner where they packed in the two-seat tables.

It was our first time at the Pike so we had to try the wings – a perennial contender in every “Best Of” competition.

After my first bite, I get it.

The wings are advertised as Bell & Evans organic wings. Anytime you are ordering an organic protein, you can expect it to be smaller – without the growth hormones, the animals are a more natural size.

But what the organic wings lacked in size, they made up for in flavor. It’s everything that chicken should taste like, and without the excess meat, there’s a crunch to every bite. The wings were also able to absorb more of the flavor from the Montreal dry rub we chose.

Sauces and dry rubs aside, these are the only wings in Berks County that I would order naked (the wings, not me).

I got another taste of Bell & Evans chicken with my entree, the chicken bruschetta sandwich.

The sandwich featured a grilled chicken breast with house-made bruschetta, asiago cheese, balsamic drizzle and a bun branded with the Pike logo, just so there are no doubts where the sandwich came from.

First, the chicken was excellent. It was juicy, flavorful and clearly not processed. The bruschetta was very good, though I would have preferred smaller pieces of tomato (the large chunks tended to fall out of the bun). The asiago cheese was the perfect choice for the sandwich, and it had just the right amount of balsamic.

Toasting the bun didn’t just add branding, it added a crunchy texture that the sandwich needed to make it truly feel like bruschetta.

I almost forgot to mention the fries. Hand-cut, skin-on, golden brown – this is how fries are supposed to be. I wouldn’t call them the best in town, but I definitely enjoyed them.

Julie went with another Pike Cafe original dish, the pepperoni cheesesteak supreme wrap.

Ribeye chipped steak, pepperoni, mushrooms, caramelized onion, marinara and Provolone were combined in a flour wrap.

It tasted exactly as I imagined it would. While the steak was the base, the pepperoni came through strong. In the one bite Julie allowed me to have, I could pick up the onion and mushrooms, and the melted Provolone helped pull everything together.

Skipping the fries, Julie opted instead for the potato chips – Sweet Maui onion flavored. If you like onions, you’ll appreciate this as a refreshing change from a typical kettle chip. If you don’t like onions, get the fries.

We were comfortably full after our entrees, but I couldn’t leave the Pike without dessert, or more specifically, the Pike Crème Cafe.

The crème cafe features deep-fried ice cream with whipped cream, honey and chocolate syrup served on a powdered sugar tortilla. Admit it, you couldn’t pass that up either.

We probably would have been more than satisfied with the fried ice cream. The addition of a crisp outer shell is always welcome with vanilla ice cream. The tortilla was good – a fried tortilla shell like you would get in a taco salad – but it was almost too much fried food for dessert.

Still, I didn’t regret it.

That was more than enough for us to leave the Pike Cafe satisfied. Our total was just shy of $40 (one iced tea was also included in that). All told, it felt like a reasonable price for everything that we had.

I don’t know if the Pike Cafe really is “World Famous,” but it’s definitely famous in Reading and Berks County for good reason.

Once you visit for the first time, you’ll get it, too.

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

Pike Cafe
930 Pike St
Reading, PA 19604

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

Bars & Pubs Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Fork & Ale

fork-and-ale

The opening of Fork & Ale in December was a holiday gift to Berks County.

Reimagining the space that housed the popular Tim’s Ugly Mug took nearly two years, and the result isn’t just another bar. It’s a true gastropub.

Bars are places where you sit at the counter and order a Yuengling and some wings. Gastropubs are more than that. Gastropubs feature craft beers and cocktails with a more robust, chef-inspired dinner menu.

Fork & Ale definitely earns its place as a gastropub.

The dining area gives off the vibe of a modernized speakeasy. The Edison bulbs hung in strings above the booths and tables are both retro and contemporary. One wall is covered entirely with mirrors. The wood floor has been stained dark, the wood grains popping against the neutral colored walls.

fork-and-ale-menu

And the menu is presented on a simple sheet of paper beneath Fork & Ale’s slogan: “Eat | Drink | Gather.”

It’s a limited menu, a characteristic shared by all of the best restaurants. Owing to the “gather” portion of the restaurant’s motto, much of the menu is made up of appetizers and shareable plates.

We started with one of the more unique shareables: poutine.

fork-and-ale-poutine

For those who have never ventured north of the border, poutine is a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy.

At Fork and Ale, the dish gets a South Philly makeover as Italian sausage “gravy” replaces the brown gravy. And it works.

With mozzarella curd and a thick tomato gravy, the poutine becomes more like a pasta dish, the fries serving as a spaghetti stand-in. The sausage gave the gravy an enjoyable heat while also making it more filling.

fork-and-ale-poutine-deconstructed

My only complaint would be that the mozzarella curd melted into one large piece of cheese. And that piece ended up on Julie’s plate, not mine.

After we finished our appetizer, we had a long wait until the rest of our food arrived.

It wasn’t as long of a wait as we had at ViVA Castle Pub, but it was still a full 40 minutes between when the poutine arrived and when our entrees were delivered to the table.

My meal was simple enough: a cheesesteak and fries.

fork-and-ale-cheesesteak

I wasn’t going to get the cheesesteak, but it was listed as a ribeye cheesesteak with sautéed onions, wild mushrooms and aged Provolone sauce.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sandwich, but it felt like a bit of a letdown after the poutine. There were plenty of mushrooms but I tasted few onions.

But I think my biggest complaint would be the cheese sauce. Aged Provolone is one of my favorite sandwich additions. The sauce had none of the characteristics of Provolone, lacking both the sharpness and saltiness that I expected. Maybe it’s just me, but I would have much preferred a couple slices in place of the sauce.

Julie wholeheartedly disagrees. She thought the cheese sauce was the best part of the sandwich, and when I couldn’t finish it, she was more than happy to eat the second half for lunch the next day.

In my haste in ordering, I had failed to make a connection between the fact that my side would be yet more French fries. They were certainly good – though they were a little cold which tells me that the fries were done long before the rest of our food – but I had my fill already with the poutine.

fork-and-ale-grilled-tuna

If you follow along with Berks County Eats every week, you may have noticed that Julie is now a big fan of fish (I, on the other hand, still will not eat things that live underwater).

Her newfound dedication to fish continued with her order of grilled tuna with roasted carrot, spaetzle, broccoli rabe and mussel buerre blanc.

The tuna steak was grilled to a medium rare with a nice char on the outside. The buerre blanc – white butter sauce – was very good.

Having never had mussels before, it was hard for her to tell how much of the mussels flavor carried through, but she enjoyed it. And she loved the spaetzle.

Not to be forgotten were the vegetables. Both the broccoli rabe and the carrots were excellent. The carrots most closely resembled the barbecue carrots that we both love from the Farmers Market of Wyomissing. And the little bit of bitterness from broccoli rabe just added another dimension to the plate.

Because we couldn’t live without poutine, we had to live without dessert. That left us with a total bill of nearly $50.

Again, this isn’t bar food. Don’t expect 50-cent wings or $8 burgers.

It’s a gastropub. It’s finer food and drinks, and it’s going to keep bringing people to Fork & Ale.

Fork & Ale
1281 E. Main St
Douglassville, PA 19518

Fork & Ale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews