Afghan Chicken & Gyro

What’s in a name? Specifically, what’s in a restaurant name?

For some restaurants, the name is simple and direct. Chicken Supreme, Taste of Crepes and Spuds all come to mind as places that take their name from their signature dishes.

So when Afghan Chicken & Gyro opened in late 2017, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Afghan Chicken & Gyro is located along Lancaster Avenue in South Reading. The small storefront shares a building with the Smokes Outlet & Vapor Shop. It’s not the most attractive location, but it does have off-street parking, and that always helps.

Inside, the restaurant is clean, but it feels sterile. This is, first and foremost, a take-out space. There are some booths and a few tables, but it was clear that there is not a lot of sit-down meals taken here.

Julie, Jakob and I arrived during what should have been the dinner rush and were the only customers (another person arrived later and sat at one of the tables while he waited for his take-out order). The television set in the corner was turned off, and the only ambient noise was from the kitchen where the staff had their own TV set turned up a little too loud.

We placed our order at the counter before grabbing a booth and waiting for the food to arrive. The good thing – and bad thing – about arriving on a dead night is that the warming table was empty so our food was prepared from scratch. That left us with a wait of about 15 to 20 minutes.

Everything was delivered on a bright red cafeteria tray, but conveyance aside, the food looked great.

I had ordered the lamb gyro. It was prepared with the traditional components – shaved gyro meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce.

There is no denying that this was a very good gyro. It was a little overfilled, but I’ll take that over one with a lack of filling. The lamb meat was flavorful. The pita was thick but airy. It all worked very well.

Guests can order just a gyro or make it a meal with fries and a can of soda. I made mine a meal, but I could have probably done without the fries. There was nothing special about them, just standard fast food fries. Yes, they filled me up, but I probably would have been full enough with the gyro.

The restaurant’s name, of course, is Afghan Chicken and Gyro. Julie has always been a fried chicken aficionado so that’s what she chose for her meal.

Her two-piece dinner was small – the drumstick didn’t have a lot of meat on it – and the flavor didn’t really stand out, but it was a solid fried chicken.

Chicken combos at the restaurant are served with a yellow rice. The rice was excellent with hints of multiple spices. If the chicken had been mixed in with the rice, Julie said she might have enjoyed everything even more.

I can’t help but feel that something was backward with their combinations. Rice feels like it would have worked well as a side for the gyro while the two fryer dishes could have been served together. Instead, things just felt a little mismatched.

The best part about a meal at Afghan Chicken & Gyro is the price. We got two meals for less than $15. It’s quite the steal for what was a very solid meal.

Afghan Chicken & Gyro certainly hit on the chicken and gyro, but I have to say that I would have liked to have seen a little more focus on the Afghan part. Yes, the meat is halal. But otherwise there’s no real connection to the middle east for the gyros, burgers and fried chicken.

If you’re looking for an alternative fast food take-out on your way home, then you should absolutely check out Afghan Chicken & Gyro.

But it’s not a place for your next date night and not a place to try a uniquely Afghan dish.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Poor
Price: Bargain

Afghan Chicken & Gyro
444 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19611

Afghan Chicken & Gyro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

The Farmhouse Kitchen

Let me paint a picture for you: there’s a newer restaurant nearby. Lots of people in your network have checked in there and posted photos of their meals. It sounds great and you finally go.

You go. It’s good, but there’s something about it that’s just not for you.

That’s the best way I can describe my recent visit to Farmhouse Kitchen, an organic cafe and juice bar in West Reading.

Farmhouse Kitchen is part of a recent trend of cafes offering wholesome breakfast and lunch options that use locally sourced and organic ingredients. Coffees, teas and juices are also offered.

Berks County has its share of similar spots, including the Green Bean Cafe in Wyomissing, Hive Local Food in Kutztown (which is also vegetarian), and Wild Sage Coffee & Kitchen in Reading.

Like many cafes, Farmhouse Kitchen is only open for breakfast and lunch (though they do offer extended hours for many West Reading community events). The menu consists mostly of items that work for both meals – like the seasonal brunch bowls and sandwiches that can be “brunched up” with your choice of egg.

We were visiting at lunchtime on a holiday Monday and the place was packed. Thankfully we saw someone that we knew – thank you, Brittni – and were able to grab two of the few seats available (Jakob and his car seat took their place atop the table).

I ordered at the counter while Julie guarded the coveted seats. A short time later our drinks arrived. For Julie, a pineapple ginger mocktail; for me, kombucha.

This was my first taste of kombucha, the fermented tea that is all the rage right now. If you believe the hype, kombucha is a superfood that can prevent disease and work to support a healthy digestive system, among other benefits.

All of these things may or may not be true, but as an actual drink, it’s an acquired taste that I clearly have not acquired yet. I love tea of all kinds – sweetened, Southern sweet, unsweetened, black, green – but to me, kombucha tasted nothing like tea. And the fermentation process gave it the texture of a sparkling cider.

I gave it a try, but kombucha is definitely not for me. Julie’s pineapple ginger juice cocktail was much more my speed. It was sweet, but not too sweet thanks to the addition of the ginger.

Lunch arrived a short time later.

I ordered the “Don’t Fly the Coop,” a chicken patty sandwich topped with garlic-herb jack cheese, maple-bacon aioli, crispy sweet potato bits, greens and tomato on sourdough.

There’s just something about even the best chicken patty that takes me back to elementary school lunches. Even when made with the best ingredients, the consistency and texture make the patty feel processed. I think I would have loved this sandwich if it had been a cut of chicken breast.

All of other components were very good, but I didn’t think the patty allowed them to shine.

Sandwiches are served with your choice of side – salad, house pickles or hummus with vegetables. Additional options – like the cornbread that I ordered – are availble for an added charge.

Though the portion was relatively small, the cornbread was excellent. It was obviously homemade – with whole kernels of corn and plenty of flavor.

Julie originally told me that she wanted the chorizo curtido burrito before changing her mind and opting for one of the Farmhouse Trough bowls, the #sweetpotatohashtag.

Unforuntately, I am a man so I don’t always remember – or listen – so she got the burrito. (Next time, I will sit with Jakob and she will order for me).

The breakfast burrito was stuffed with scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, curtido cabbage slaw, lime aioli and pepper jack cheese.

Her order not withstanding, Julie loves chorizo sausage in any dish, and this was no exception. The eggs helped tone down the spice – chorizo is about as spicy as Julie cares to eat. The slaw was good, too, but I don’t know that I would want that with my breakfast. For lunch though, everything worked.

For her side, I ordered her the vegetables with hummus. It was a very good hummus – simple and somewhat more composed than other hummus that I have tried at other restaurants. We would have liked some more veggies for dipping. The two baby carrots and two slices of cucumber were just not enough.

Going into the meal, we knew that we would be paying a premium for organic ingredients so I wasn’t surprised when our bill for lunch and two drinks was $42. Still, I would have liked just a little larger portion size – at least as far as the sides – for the price.

All of that said, I can see why Farmhouse Kitchen Organics is a popular stop, especially given the location in West Reading where people are used to paying a little bit more than in other places of Berks County.

It’s a cool little place and it has plenty to offer, particularly for those who want to live and eat better (they even offer classes around those topics).

Maybe it’s just not my kind of place.

BCE Rating:
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Slightly Overpriced

The Farmhouse Kitchen
426 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

The Farmhouse Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafes & Coffeeshops Reviews

Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant – MOVING

Editor’s Note: Castaneda’s Mexcian Restaurant is moving. The location at 141 West Penn Avenue closed at the end of July. A new, larger location will be opening this fall on the other side of town at 225 West Penn Avenue.

My childhood home of Robesonia has undergone a lot of changes over the years, oftentimes in ways that I would have never expected.

For example, 25 years ago, I would have never imagined a Mexican restaurant would open in town. But that’s exactly what happened in August 2017 when Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant debuted.

The location doesn’t have a great track record – restaurants have come and gone over the years. Most notably, Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ occupied the space for about two years. Castaneda’s is trying to turn that around.

Visitors may recognize owner James Castaneda as one of the business partners who began La Abuela Mexican Restaurant in West Reading.

Castaneda’s menu is smaller with a greater emphasis on lighter fare – tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos and salads.

We visited on a Saturday evening in December, and the dining room was about half-full. Castaneda’s has a handful of tables for four in the small storefront. There was also a steady stream of customers picking up take-out orders while we – Julie, Jakob, my parents, and myself – sat at a table by the front window.

With a relatively small menu, it didn’t take long to decide on our meals. Before our meals were delivered, we were served our complementary chips and salsa.

The salsa is pureed, not chunky, making for easier dipping and more consistent flavor in every bite. It was good, though I don’t think I could ever complain about free chips and salsa.

Our meals arrived a short time later. Looking for more of a meal than a snack, I ordered the enchiladas Verde – three hefty beef enchiladas in homemade green sauce and queso fresco.

Verde isn’t normally my go-to, but I wanted to switch it up from my usual order of enchiladas with mole sauce.

The sauce gets its distinct green color from the tomatillos. It had a very mild spice, but was full of flavor. The ground beef was also well-seasoned, and the two worked very well together. And the cool creaminess of the queso fresco added a nice finish.

Enchiladas at Castaneda’s are served with yellow rice and refried beans. I have always preferred black beans to refried – the texture of refried beans leaves a lot to be desired – but these were fine. I found myself scraping for as much of the salsa Verde as I could get to mix with the rice and beans to give them some of the great flavor that the enchiladas had.

Julie also ordered enchiladas, but for her it was enchiladas Suizas, one of several daily specials advertised on the menu board.

Enchiladas Suizas literally means “Swiss enchiladas.” The name comes from the dairy used to make the creamy white sauce (thank you, Google).

Choosing chicken as the protein, Julie really enjoyed the dish. It was a heavier sauce (Julie had to bring one of the three enchiladas home with her because they were so filling).

Suizas sauce was also out of her comfort zone (ranchero sauce is her favorite), but this dish got her approval, and she said she would definitely order it again.

My parents each enjoyed their meals as well – my mom had a quesadilla with a side salad while my dad had the chile rellano – a stuffed pepper also served with rice and beans.

But despite all of us being full, we couldn’t leave without trying the fried ice cream. By that, I mean Julie couldn’t leave without trying it. We just had to help her eat it.

The vanilla ice cream was coated in a corn cereal, and deep-fried. It was served with cinnamon tortilla chips and whipped cream, and topped with chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

It’s probably the highest calorie menu item in western Berks County, an indulgence that is great once every five years or so. But it’s so good. The contrast in texture and temperature between the hot, crunchy shell and cold, smooth ice cream never gets old. Everything else is unnecessary (but delicious) window dressing.

It’s also a lot of food, especially after a full meal. We all left feeling way too full. But while we certainly packed on pounds, our wallets didn’t lighten much. Castaneda’s is reasonably priced. The four of us were able to eat for less than $50, even with the dessert and some sodas.

It’s still crazy to think that there is a Mexican restaurant within walking distance of my parents’ house, but Castaneda’s is here. And based on what I saw – and tasted – it might just be hanging around for a while.

BCE Rating:

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

Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant
141 W. Penn Ave
Robesonia, PA 19551

Castaneda's Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Where to Eat at the Reading Fire + Ice Festival

This Friday and Saturday, downtown Reading hosts the fourth annual Reading Fire + Ice Festival. The weekend features ice carvers, fire performers, live music and of course, great food.

Want to know where and what to eat this weekend? Here’s our guide to all things edible at the Reading Fire + Ice Festival:

Outside-In: Pancake Breakfast

On Saturday morning from 8 to 11 a.m., the Genesius Theatre is hosting a pancake breakfast at the Outside-In (6th and Penn Streets). In addition to a great breakfast, the event includes some of the stars of Genesius Theatre’s productions will be on hand to sing Broadway hits while you dine.

The Abe Lincoln: Chili Cook-Off

On Saturday afternoon (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Abe Lincoln hosts one of the weekend’s most anticipated events: the chili cookoff. Each year, Berks County’s best restaurants and home chefs compete to take home the top honors. Both a Judged Winner and People’s Choice Winner will be chosen.

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe

One of the city’s best restaurants, Mi Casa Su Casa brings its food to the festival’s concessions area. We love everything at the Cafe, but we really hope they bring some empanadas to the event.

Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels

Uncle Paul’s is one of the most awarded mobile concessions in the region, recognized with “Best” awards at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in each of the last five years. Their stuffed pretzels have also been featured on Spike TV’s Frankenfood and Food Network’s Carnival Eats.

The Smith Homestead

If you have Instagram, you have to follow the Smith Homestead. You can get lost scrolling through photos of their cinnamon rolls. Or you can try one at the concessions area at the Fire + Ice Festival.

Helmut’s Strudel

Like Uncle Paul’s, Helmut’s Strudel serves stuffed street food, this time with a German twist. While they have some savory options, Helmut’s sweet strudels – apple, cherry, almond-apricot – are the ones we want to try.

Bountiful Feast

We’ve never had a chance to try anything from the Bountiful Feast food truck, but the menu sounds fantastic. Their website lists chicken and pineapple kabobs, as well as a Costa Rica Chicken Sandwich (with imported salsa). Yes, please.

Sammy’s Steaks and French Fries

Sammy’s is synonymous with mobile concessions in Berks County. Name a fair or festival and you’ve likely seen the Sammy’s Steaks wagon serving their signature steak sandwiches.

Local Restaurants

Venture outside the festival to find some of downtown Reading’s best dining. There’s Marvel Ranch, the quintessential greasy spoon restaurant. Bar-B-Q Delight, a new Indian restaurant recently opened on South Fourth Street. For a more upscale meal, Cheers American Bistro at the Doubletree is a great choice. And of course, there’s the Peanut Bar, a true area landmark.

So what are you eating? Share your Fire + Ice photos with using #BerksCountyEats and tag @BerksCountyEats on Facebook and Instagram.

Food Festivals & Events

Brocmar Smokehouse – Shillington Farmers Market

One of the bigger stories in Berks County’s food scene last year was the sale of the Shillington Farmers Market.

Julie and I had visited the market about three years ago and were so disappointed in the offerings that we never went back.

But there’s a renewed energy around the market. New stands are opening, and old favorites like Betty’s Salads are returning.

Among the new stands to arrive is Brocmar Smokehouse. The barbecue business opened in the market in December after spending the summer building its brand at events around Berks County.

Reading Royals fans may already be familiar with the Brocmar name. Before opening their Shillington location, Brocmar got a head start, operating a small stand at the Santander Arena during Royals home games.

But the Farmers Market takes the business to another level, giving the business a physical location, regular hours and a greater potential reach.

The Farmers Market hours make it difficult for us to get there for dinner, but an underwhelming snowstorm was enough to close my office and allow us to make it to Brocmar long before the market’s 6 p.m. closing time.

While the Farmers Market is certainly a step forward for the business, it doesn’t allow for much of a dine-in experience. There are only two round tables – enough to seat eight at the most.

As Julie and I looked over the menu board, a woman sitting at one of the tables said “everything here is good.” She was waiting for a take-out order, her third in three weeks from the Smokehouse, she said.

A father and son stood in front of us in line, a written order in hand that seemed to include one of everything on the menu. That was fine with us as it gave us plenty of time to settle on our choices.

Julie and I pulled up chairs at one of the tables with Jakob in the stroller next to us. Fifteen minutes or so passed before our food was delivered and we got our first taste of Brocmar.

Passing on turkey, sausage, chicken and ribs, I instead went with my favorite barbecued meat – pulled pork – topping it with the Cripple Creek sauce, one of Brocmar’s six housemade options.

The sauce is a bourbon and brown sugar that’s bold and sweet, but not spicy. It really brought out the best in the pulled pork, which was tender with crispy charred ends that gave it a slightly crunchy texture.

It was a beautiful blend, and together the meat and sauce were a great combo.

On the side, I enjoyed an order of hush puppies and a cup of slaw.

While we were waiting for our food, we saw an order of hush puppies being carried across the market and back. I asked about it later. “The number one question we got when we opened was, ‘What are hushpuppies?’ but we now we sell them every day.” It turns out, Brocmar doesn’t have a fryer. Instead, they fry up the hush puppies at the cafe across the market.

That’s only part of the work that goes into one order of hush puppies. The deep-fried corn fritters are hand-rolled with fresh green onion. It’s all worth it though for what is a perfect accompaniment to the main course.

The coleslaw was also very good, but it was even better as part of the Brocmar taco, Julie’s entree choice for the evening.

Barbecue is one of those foods that just seems to work well as part of a more comprised dish. The Brocmar Taco is one of those dishes. It starts with a cornbread cake, then it’s topped with your choice of meat (brisket, for Julie), slaw and sauce.

There were a lot of flavors coming together. The cornbread – the taco “shell” – had a rich corn flavor. The brisket was tender and juicy. And the creaminess of the coleslaw soaked into every layer.

To top it off, Julie added the honey bee barbecue sauce, which added a sweetness and mild spice throughout. It all came together to create an excellent dish.

It was also a hearty dish that we were both surprised that Julie was able to finish. But for a reasonable $23, we weren’t too upset that there were no leftovers for later.

As a whole, Brocmar Smokehouse delivered. It was some very good barbecue that left us wanting to try even more.

And because of Brocmar, we will be back to the Shillington Farmers Market soon.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse
The Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Brocmar Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

17 Restaurants Berks County Lost in 2017

A new year is upon us, but Berks County Eats is taking one more look back at 2017, paying tribute to 17 restaurants that Berks County lost in 2017.

Note: This is not a complete list. If you have other restaurants that closed that you are sorry (or glad) to see go, let us know in the comments below.

Joey Peeps

Joey Peeps was located inside the T&C Gas Market at the corner of Route 183 and West Leesport Road. With the demolition of the market to make way for a Wawa, Joey Peeps was forced to close.

Basil by Chef Gianluca

Basil by Chef Gianluca closed in early 2017. We visited in 2015 and were very impressed. The space didn’t stay empty for long, though as Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant opened in the space just a few months later.

Rocco’s Wood-Fired Pizza

Of all the restaurants that closed in 2017, this one was the most disappointing. We tried Rocco’s shortly after it opened in 2016 and fell in love with the pizza (the bee sting, featuring raw honey and crushed red pepper was inventive and delicious).

Virginville Hotel

While Rocco’s was disappointing, the Virginville Hotel was just sad. A Reading Eagle interview with the owners cited a slowdown in business, but more than anything, a lack of available help in the northern Berks community as the reason for the closing. On our 2015 visit, we had enjoyed their mix of traditional and creative dishes.

East Wok

East Wok was located in Berkshire Square, the Wyomissing shopping center that is home to Wal-Mart, Redner’s, LA Fitness and more. We never ate at East Wok, but we did visit Nirvana Indian Bistro, the restaurant that opened in its place in May.

Gourmand Cafe at Body Zone

Gourmand closed its Body Zone location in early 2017, but the news isn’t all bad. You can still get all of your favorites from the mobile food truck, at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market or at the Wyomissing cafe. The latter is now open for dinner three nights a week.

Ronie’s Home of the Steak

Ronie’s was a Reading institution that I unfortunately never was able to visit. Ronie’s was one of those “Old Reading” favorites, neighborhood restaurants that are slowly fading away.

Back Forty Bar & Gril

Back Forty Bar & Grill was a standout restaurant in western Berks County, offering inspired and unique dishes that weren’t seen on other area menus. We visited in early 2016, and while the service was a little questionable (my chicken and pasta came out separately several minutes apart), the food was on-point.

Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ

This is another former favorite of mine that I was sad to see go in 2017. Health was cited as a the reason for closing the Oley restaurant this fall, but truth be told, Muddy’s was just not the same after closing the original trailer along Route 12.

Speedy Sandwich Shop

This one was a bit of a surprise. Speedy didn’t really have much of an online presence, so there was never an outside indication that it was going to close, but that’s what the sign on the door says.

The Cafe at Maple Springs

We visited the Cafe at Maple Springs in 2015. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The biggest disappointment wasn’t the food, itself, but the fact that the cafe advertised a weekend dinner menu, but in reality, there was none. The stripmall storefront is now the second location for Dino’s Wings and Things, the second time Dino’s has opened in the same place.

Rocky’s Pizza

The Blandon restaurant got new owners and a new name – Hometown Pizza – in 2017. Rocky’s had mixed reviews during its run. As for Hometown, we visited in October and we liked it well enough, but it’s definitely a spot for take-out, not a place for a sit-down meal.

Fields Kitchen by ViVA

Fields Kitchen by ViVA, formerly known as ViVA Good Life Bar and Lounge, closed as a result of the Reading Country Club debacle (ViVA also ended its catering operation at Green Valley Country Club for the same reason). At the same time, the rebranding of the restaurant was a sign that things were not going well as ViVA had gone downhill since our visit in 2014 – a look through Yelp Reviews tells that story very plainly. But if you want to know what it was like at its best, read our review.

ViVA Castle Pub

This is one restaurant I am not sorry to see go. We spent our Valentine’s Day evening at the Pub. It was a long night with mediocre food that took way too long. ViVA was managing the restaurant until November when a legal dispute arose between the company and Exeter Township, who owns the Reading Country Club.

OVO Bistro

I never had a chance to eat at the restaurant in Amity Township before it closed, but I wish I had. The reviews were great, and it seemed like a great place. We visited the restaurant that replaced it, Kathryn’s Grille, in November. It has potential, but it’s not there yet.

Panevino

Panevino was one of the first restaurants that I visited as part of the blog so it holds a special place to me. I even returned for a second review in 2016. The restaurant continues – sort of – as a special event venue. It also still hosts dinners on select dates throughout the year, but it’s no longer open for daily dinner services.

Reggie’s Place

Downtown Reading saw a change in 2017 as Reggie’s Place, the cafe in the M&T Bank Building, closed in June. But the restaurant was quickly replaced by Rooster’s Deli and Bakery, which opened in August.

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