DarrylZ Hometown Grille

I’ve written this story before: a restaurant closes and a new one takes its place. Generally, one of two things happens.

The new restaurant can try to be the old one or the new restaurant takes a different direction.

In Stouchsburg, at Berks County’s western edge, we’ve seen the former. When Risser’s Family Restaurant closed, a new diner, the Blue Star Family Restaurant, took its place. The only real difference was the dropping of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties. Otherwise, it went from one diner to another.

It started off well for Blue Star, as I wrote about in the blog. But it was never Risser’s, and the restaurant has greatly dropped off in popularity.

DarrylZ Hometown Grille occupies the former Back Forty Bar & Grill location in Stouchsburg.

Not far from the Blue Star was the Back Forty Bar & Grill. Back Forty, itself, had taken the place of a long-standing restaurant, the Black Dog Cafe. Back Forty did elevated bar/pub food, and was very good at it. But the Back Forty closed late in 2017, and a new restaurant has taken its place.

DarrylZ Hometown Grille has taken a whole new direction, offering value priced lunch and dinner with a menu that more closely resembles a diner than the former bar that it replaced.

Julie, Jakob and I visited on a Saturday night where we were joined by my brother, his wife Lauren and daughter Leah, as well as my parents.

Our first impression wasn’t great. We had made reservations for six plus two infants. When we arrived, there were only four chairs. Whoever took the reservation apparently had written four plus two infants.

Two more chairs were brought in and it was no big deal – the round table was plenty large enough for all eight of us – but there were also no place settings. So when salads and appetizers arrived, we had to ask for silverware.

I don’t normally look too closely at the silverware (except to make sure that it’s clean) but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone had a different size steak knife wrapped in their napkins.

But things definitely got better, starting with the appetizers, which arrived very quickly.

Julie and I ordered the fried mozzarella. The four mozzarella sticks were served with a cup of marinara on a bed of a single lettuce leaf.

I can’t say that there was anything out of the ordinary, but it was very good. The mozzarella was fried to a nice crisp. The marinara was chunky and flavorful. It was just well-executed mozzarella sticks.

Being out with the family, there was a chance to try another appetizer – the corn nuggets that my parents ordered.

Corn nuggets are nothing exciting, but these were dusted with powdered sugar and served with cup of syrup. The end product was somewhere between a funnel cake and pancakes.

Our entrees  didn’t take very long, either. DarrylZ menu is very diner-esque with a lot of burgers and sandwiches, like the hot roast beef and fryz (DarrylZ, like Sheetz, uses the “z” for its French fries).

I had low expectations for the sandwich, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Roast beef sandwiches are hit-or-miss depending on how they definite “roast beef.” At some places, it’s heated up deli meat slices. At DarrylZ, I was happy to find the roast beef done pot roast-style with tender chunks of meat that pulled apart easily. The whole sandwich was smothered in a good beef gravy.

The fries – sorry, fryz – were very well done. They were thick-cut and very lightly seasoned.

I ate as many as I could, but after having the mozzarella sticks, I just didn’t have room to finish mine off.

Julie had an even larger pile of fryz with her hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. The sandwich is normally served with chips, but Julie upgraded. She would have liked a little more seasoning on them. I tend to agree, especially with so many, they could have used a little something more.

The ham and cheese was also very good. Both the ham and American cheese were pouring out the sides. And with a fresh roll, a hot ham and cheese on a pretzel bun is hard to beat.

DarrylZ also has a nice selection of desserts, but none of us had room for any (though my dad got a slice of peanut butter cream pie to take home).

Jakob’s dinner

One other note: while we were waiting for our meals to arrive, Jakob started to get hungry so we asked for a bowl of hot water to heat up his bottle. The staff happily obliged us and Jakob enjoyed his meal as well. (The restaurant doesn’t have a changing table, though).

DarrylZ prices are also a big plus. For Julie and I, our appetizer and two entrees (including the fryz upgrade) was $25. It would have been under the $20 mark if we hadn’t splurged on the mozzarella sticks.

DarrylZ is definitely not the Back Forty, and it doesn’t try to be. That’s probably the best thing that the new restaurant could do is take the location in a new direction.

And other than a few hiccups before the meal even started, it seems like it’s on the right path.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Poor Preparation, Good Service
Ambiance: Good
Price: Very Reasonable

DarrylZ Hometown Grille
116 Main St
Stouchsburg, PA 19567

DarrylZ Hometown Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

The Steak Shack

Some restaurants take a while to figure things out – they go through changes in management, update their menus, redesign the dining room.

On rare occasions, restaurants move, getting a fresh start in a new location. But I only know of one restaurant in Berks County that has made three moves in less than a decade.

Steak Shack is a well-traveled restaurant. The Lancaster Avenue location is the fourth where I have enjoyed their signature steak sandwiches.

The first was a small stand along Route 61 in Leesport – a frequent stop of mine during the four years I worked in the area. (The only other lunch options – and therefore the only others in my rotation – were Andali’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and Sheetz).

One of Steak Shack’s previous locations was inside Body Zone in Spring Township.

The second was inside Body Zone in Spring Township. I wrote about this experience in 2013, before Berks County Eats evolved into what it is today. The third was another roadside stand, this one in the parking lot of what is now Tractor Supply in Spring Township.

The inside of the new Steak Shack location

It’s new home may be the nicest of all four. Yes, it’s a gas station, but Steak Shack’s area is nicely carved out with plenty of seating – mostly mismatched tables for four with a counter overlooking the parking lot.

Steak Shack’s new location also has a larger kitchen, which has led to an expanded menu that includes salads, wraps, wings and New York thin crust pizza.

I stopped in on a Wednesday night on a whim. There was one gentleman sitting at a table when I got there and placed my order. By the time I left, a steady stream of phone-in orders had come and gone.

My wait was between 15 and 20 minutes (next time I’ll call ahead). From the restaurant, it’s just a short drive home so everything was still hot when I arrived.

I ordered a Shack Pack, Steak Shack’s meal deal that includes a cheese steak, fries and a soda for $8.75. I like my steaks the Berks County way with marinara sauce. It also was topped with mozzarella cheese and fried onions – pan fried, not deep fried.

This was everything that I remembered from my last Steak Shack visit. The meat was juicy and tender and the roll was perfectly suited to hold it. The right amount of cheese, sauce and onions made for an amazing sandwich.

One of the things that has changed as the restaurant has evolved is the fries. I can remember the “race track” fries at the original location. They were fresh-cut, short and thick. After a bath in the fryer, they were crispy, golden brown and as good as any around.

At the Body Zone location, the fries were still fresh-cut, but much thinner, more along the lines of a fast food restaurant. Good, but not the same.

Today, the fries are similar to the latter, but I found them to be a little less flavorful. Maybe they needed a few more seconds in the fryer. Maybe the oil has changed. But I felt a little let down because I can still taste those fries from nearly a decade ago.

Only nine more to go…

Still, less than $10 for a cheese steak, fries and a soda is a great price and Steak Shack is still delivering on the namesake steaks.

And even better than that, it feels like Steak Shack has finally found a home that will work out in the long term.

At least, I hope so.

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

The Steak Shack
1235 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19607

Steak Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Sandwich Shops

A&M Pizza and Grill – CLOSED

 

Update: A&M Pizza in Wernersville is now closed as of October 2018. No official word was given by A&M but the restaurant went dark starting in early October.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can never go back again?”

The idea is that no matter how good things were, you can’t replicate the success years later.

Ironically, this exact thing happened twice last year with Berks County restaurants. Dino’s Wings & Things reopened a second location in Birdsboro. And A&M Pizza returned to Berks County and to its former location in Wernersville.

Dino’s is closed less than a year after it reopened.  As for A&M? The Wernersville location is still going. Again.

A&M was a staple of my adolescence in western Berks County. I remember many stops at the old freight-station-turned-restaurant just off Penn Avenue in Wernersville.

All good things must come to an end, however. A&M moved out and the old station was home to a rotation of less-than-successful restaurants including The Trolley Stop, Feliciano’s, and DiCarlo’s.

The only way to satisfy a craving for A&M’s food was to make a road trip to Lebanon. The Cumberland Street location became a go-to for me, and eventually, Julie.

A highlight of every visit was listening to the owner mumble the order numbers over the restaurant’s PA system.

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But the other highlight was always the food – especially the sandwiches. A&M has a signature roll that’s flatter and more rectangular than a standard hoagie roll. The shape of the roll means that the sandwiches are almost always overflowing.

I love their meatball parm sandwiches. The meatballs and sauce are both very good (though I wouldn’t call them the best), but mixed with the roll, it is one of my favorite sandwiches.

As loyal A&M customers, you can imagine how excited we were when the Wernersville location reopened in 2017. An old favorite, back where it belonged.

It’s hard to remember what the restaurant used to look like inside, but the new incarnation of A&M is a cute little spot with a surprising amount of seating. There’s a TV on the back wall, a few assorted pictures and wall hangings, and a Coke dispenser with a sign asking to limit refills to one per customer.

We stopped in to pick up a couple pizzas to take to my parents’ house in Robesonia. And while take-out is probably the majority of the business at A&M, it’s certainly a place where you can sit down and enjoy a meal.

One pie was an old stand-by: pepperoni. The other was a little different, the Caprese.

The pepperoni pie was standard fare for a pizza place. The cheese was nearly covered with mild pepperoni. And it was greasy. This is what childhood dreams are made of.

As an adult, however, I much prefer the Caprese pizza. It most closely resembled a margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella instead of shredded cheese and fresh basil leafs on top. The biggest difference is the use of tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes that would be found on margherita pies.

The basil is what really makes this pizza. Bites that had leaves of the herb were sweeter and more rich in flavor than those that didn’t. More than anything, it accented the tomato sauce, making it taste sweeter than those bites without it.

Our two medium pies cost about $25. We didn’t place the most cost-effective order, but with six of us sharing the two pies, we had exactly enough slices for everyone. And $25 split six ways isn’t bad at all.

So, is the old adage true? Can you truly never go back again?

In our case, it’s not true. There’s no question that we will be going back to A&M again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Fair
Value: Reasonable

A&M Pizza and Grill
10 W. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

A & M Pizza and Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews

HillBilly BBQ

Driving along Route 422 east toward Douglassville, the smoke rises from HillBilly BBQ. The trailer sits in a small parking lot in front of D&S Elite Construction.

There have been many roadside barbecue joints in and around Berks County over the years – Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ, Stampede Smokin’ BBQ and Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grille come to mind. And while others have either moved into permanent locations, closed or both, HillBilly still remains as a true roadside eatery.

I visited HillBilly BBQ for the first time in 2015. I only had a pulled pork sandwich, but I was impressed. I couldn’t wait to take Julie for a meal and a Berks County Eats review.

Three years later, that visit finally happened.

We stopped in on a cool Saturday afternoon – too cold to sit outside but too warm to sit inside our car to eat. The only real option was to order our lunch and take it back home to Wyomissing.  Thankfully, there’s a driveway connecting the restaurant to Monacacy Creek Road and the traffic light that leads to westbound 422.

Less than 20 minutes after getting our meals, we were unboxing them at our kitchen table. I couldn’t wait to dig into my half rack of ribs.

The ribs looked beautiful, dark in color from hours in the smoker and a heavy dry rub that I immediately fell in love with. It was simple sweet, salty and mildly spicy rub that was laid on thick.

At the counter, I was given the choice of adding “sweet sauce” to the ribs. There wasn’t much to the sauce – it was a little runny and pooled at the bottom of the box – but it really did add to the dish. If nothing else, it softened the texture and helped the meat soak in even more of the delicious rub.

The half rack was sliced in half with three-to-four bones in each. Each piece was unique. The top was fall-off-the-bone good. The second rack was the end piece and was more well done. It was no less flavorful, but the tips were crispy, bordering on burnt.

On the side, my coleslaw balanced out the meal. The creamy slaw was very good and did much to counterbalance the spice of the ribs.

When it comes to barbecue, Julie loves beef brisket. It’s her go-to whenever we go out. Her brisket sandwich from HillBilly BBQ featured a Kaiser roll overflowing with meat.

The brisket featured the same rub and was topped with the same sauce as the ribs. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of sandwich, smooth and flavorful. The Kaiser roll helped to soak up some of the juice and sauce – a traditional hamburger roll would have probably fallen apart by the time we got home. It also differentiated itself from similar offerings at other restaurants, and that’s never a bad thing.

For her side, Julie chose the mac and cheese. It was made with small shells in a gooey yellow cheese sauce. When we first got in the car, the shells were still smoking. They hadn’t cooled off much by the time we arrived at home. They were good, but not anything special.

One thing I love about barbecue is that it’s almost always priced right. At $25 for our two entrees and two sides (we didn’t order drinks because we were taking it home. That would have brought it closer to $30), HillBilly BBQ definitely priced its food right.

A note to those concerned about the divided highway: don’t be. Unlike some restaurants along that stretch of Route 422, HillBilly BBQ is actually easily accessible from both directions thanks to the Monacacy Road entrance.

That’s a big advantage, but the location isn’t without drawbacks. It’s still an unpaved parking lot with limited seating – and Route 422 isn’t exactly the most desirable backdrop for dining alfresco.

But the barbecue is hard to beat. And for a little roadside stand, that’s all that really matters.

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

HillBilly BBQ
908 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

HillBilly BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews