waffles topped in blueberry compote and breakfast potatoes

Squawk Cafe – Wyomissing

Exeterior of Squawk Cafe in Wyomissing

Normally, I try to wait a while before checking out a new restaurant, but when I found out the Squawk Café was opening on January 14, I just couldn’t wait to try it.

Though I have never been, I’ve heard good things about the original Squawk Café at B2 Bistro, and knowing that the new café was being run by the original team, it sounded like a recipe for a great new spot. (Note: the new Squawk Café is in no way affiliated with B2 Bistro or its café by the same name).

The new location is unique, inside the office building that houses Riverfront Federal Credit Union. It’s amazing how the lobby has been fully transformed into a café. What was a reception desk is now the order counter and coffee bar. And off to the left side, a large space has been converted into a dining area with around 30 seats.

Empty tables and chairs in the dining area of Squawk Cafe in Wyomissing

Only about a half dozen seats were taken – a table of four and a table of two – when I arrived and claimed my spot by the wall.

The café was running with a limited menu for their opening day. The breakfast burrito I had seen on the menu was unavailable so I switched it up from savory to sweet and ordered the blueberry waffle stack with a side of breakfast potatoes and a chai tea latte.

First out was the chai tea latte. I was, admittedly, a little disappointed with the chai because there was no sweetener. For straight-up chai tea, it was really good. I’m just used to sweeter varieties. (Next time, I’ll be asking for a little vanilla).

A stack of four waffle triangles topped with blueberry compote

What didn’t lack sweetness was the blueberry cinnamon waffle stack.

The stack was technically two stacks, each with four waffle triangles layered with cream cheese, all topped with blueberry compote.

It was every bit as good as I hoped. The cream cheese and the compote were sweet, but not too sweet to overpower the waffles. It was sweet enough though that I didn’t need the maple syrup that was served on the side.

The only issue was that the plastic knife struggled to cut through the waffles. But that was a minor inconvenience while eating such a delicious dish.

A disposable clamshell filled with potatoes tossed with diced peppers and onions

My side of potatoes was just as satisfying. I opted for the add-on of peppers and onions. The potatoes were about as crispy as any I have ever had. And the peppers and onions were a nice add-on. As a bonus, it comes served with a cup of aioli for dipping. It was good, but like the maple syrup, it was unnecessary.

I definitely over-ordered, though. The blueberry cinnamon waffle stack would have been plenty on its own. I didn’t regret the potatoes, but with them, I wasn’t hungry until long after lunch.

And with as much as I ordered, my final bill was more than $20. I can’t say that any individual item wasn’t worth the price, though.

The best part for me is that the new Squawk Café is only a couple blocks from my house so I’m sure I will be back sooner than later. Maybe then I’ll get that breakfast burrito.

I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: A Little Pricey

Squawk Café
2609 Keiser Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Breakfast & Brunch Cafes & Coffeeshops
Plate of French toast with fresh cut strawberries and blueberries

Cafe Esperanza

Exterior of Cafe Esperanza at 105 W. Greenwich Street in Reading, PA

Of all the new restaurants that opened in 2021, Café Esperanza stands out.

First, the café is a non-profit, first envisioned by the congregation at Hope Lutheran Church on the opposite corner of Front and Greenwich Streets in Reading. And from concept to opening day took a decade of work.

The café and coffee shop has everything you expect – a selection of coffees and caffeinated beverages, breakfast and lunch options, comfortable seating and a cool vibe. It also has off-street parking, a rarity in the city (thanks to Hope’s parking lot). But it’s what’s missing that sets it apart from every other eatery in Berks County.

Cafe Esperanza order counter

Look at the menu board, and you’ll notice that there are no prices. That’s because Café Esperanza is unique among Berks County restaurants – unique among Pennsylvania restaurants, for that matter – as the region’s only pay-what-you-can café.

What does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like. Whether you have $10, $5, $2, or nothing, everyone is welcome to a meal at Café Esperanza. No one is turned away.

Table full of empty water glasses with a sign that reads "Coffee is the Best Idea Ever"

But don’t confuse Café Esperanza with other charities. This is a real café. When I walked in for breakfast on a Thursday morning, there were a couple other patrons there. I walked up to the counter and ordered a chai latte and French toast. (Unfortunately, I was then told they were out of chai, so I settled for a hot chocolate instead).

The only difference was that instead of being told how much I owed, I was asked, “how much change would you like?”.

A white coffee mug with the words "Si Yes Oui" sits on a wooden coffee table next to a planter

I walked back to the front of the dining area and took a seat on a sofa by the window. My hot chocolate arrived a short time later. It was very good, but hot chocolate always is. One thing to note: like all good cafes, customers have a choice of whole milk or non-dairy options for all drinks.

While the drink was good, the French toast was just about perfect. The presentation was better than most restaurants – three thick slices of French toast, dusted with powdered sugar, served on a plate with fresh strawberries and blueberries. The plate, itself, was served on a wooden board with a small cup of syrup.

A plate of French toast dusted in powdered sugar with fresh-cut strawberries and blueberries from Cafe Esperanza in Reading, PA

Best of all, it tasted as good as it looked.

The bread used for the French toast had a nutty flavor to it which I enjoyed greatly, and despite the fact that it required a knife and fork to cut, it was melt-in-your-mouth good. And the fresh fruit on the side made it a healthy meal (right?).

For me, though, it’s not just that it was a great meal, but it is a worthy cause as well. Yes, I probably paid double than what I would have for the same meal anywhere else, but I paid that knowing that one or two others who need a meal can get one.

And you can’t put a price on that.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Excellent
Value: Priceless

Café Esperanza
105 W. Greenwich St
Reading, PA 19601

Breakfast & Brunch Cafes & Coffeeshops

Food News: March 2021

March was a busy month for Berks County restaurants as we saw closings, openings and re-openings, and learned of a few new restaurants coming soon. In case you missed any of it, here’s a look back at the Food News for March 2021:

Restaurant Openings:

10 & 23 Tacos
Morgantown

A new food truck is now serving tacos at the corner of Routes 10 and 23 in Morgantown. 10 & 23 Tacos opened for business on March 18. Currently, the food truck is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays serving tacos, quesadillas, burritos, flan, and more.

Chef David’s Food & Friends
Wyomissing

Chef David’s Food & Friends opened its doors on March 17. The new Wyomissing spot offers grab-and-go meals, made-to-order breakfast, family-style dinners, and more. Chef David’s is located in the former Relish the Deli-sh at 105 Evans Avenue.

Bogey’s Pub at Golden Oaks
Fleetwood

The Pub at Golden Oaks Golf Club – now Bogey’s Pub at Golden Oaks – is now under new management. The pub is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

Restaurant Reopenings:

501 Grille and Tavern
Mount Aetna

The 501 Grill and Tavern in Mount Aetna, which was closed since early 2020 because of COVID precautions, reopened on March 5 with a new chef.

Bally Hotel
Bally

After nearly a year, the Bally Hotel reopened on March 3. During the COVID-19 closure, the owners took the opportunity to renovate the restaurant and give it a clean new look.

Oakbrook Brewing Company
Reading

Oakbrook Brewing Company closed its dining room in December when increased COVID-19 restrictions were placed on restaurants. After three months, the brewpub reopened on March 19. Currently, Oakbrook is open Thursday through Sunday, though the owners said it could and would expand once a few more staff positions are filled.

Restaurant Closings:

Sign reading "Klinger's of Fleetwood Dining Room Entrance"

Klinger’s of Fleetwood
Fleetwood

In early March it was announced that Klinger’s would be closing its Fleetwood location at the end of the month after the owners decided not to renew the lease. Klinger’s on Carsonia and Klinger’s at the Airport were unaffected by the decision and continue to operate as normal.

Exterior of Smokin' Brays BBQ

Smokin Brays
Hamburg

After five years at their Hamburg location, Smokin Brays closed its doors in March 2021. “Keith is retiring and I have been unable to find a cook to replace him,” was the reason stated on the restaurant’s official Facebook page. The building, including the restaurant and attached residence, are currently listed for sale.

Customer ordering at a counter with a sign that says Sunrise Grille

Sunrise Grille
Wyomissing

The Sunrise Grille at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing, which was listed as temporarily closed for several months, is now officially closed. The restaurant’s owners were planning to reopen in March 2021, but instead made an announcement that the restaurant would permanently close. The stand is currently open, and no replacement has been announced as of yet.

Coming Soon:

Fox’s Country Tea House
Stouchsburg
Projected Opening: April 2021

Berks County is getting a new tea house as Fox’s Country Tea House is scheduled to open soon along Route 422 in Stouchsburg. According to their official Facebook page, Fox’s will offer a “variety of teas, home made tea sandwiches, soup, salad and deserts…as well as a variety of simple breakfast selections.” The Tea House will be located in the Stouchsburg Business Center at 4023 Conrad Weiser Parkway. The business’ opening is scheduled for April 10.

Great American Creamery
Reading
Projected Opening: Summer 2021

A new ice cream parlor is coming to downtown Reading in summer 2021. That’s when the Great American Creamery is expected to open at 645 Penn Street. According to the creamery’s Facebook page, Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream will be served. The location near the DoubleTree and Santander Arena is home to multiple businesses, including Cafe de Columbia, Salsa Burritio and the Reading Science Center.

Liberty at Dryville
Mertztown
Projected Opening: Spring/Summer 2021

The Liberty at Dryville is the newest venture from the owners of the Liberty Taproom and Liberty Ale House. The former Dryville Hotel closed in November 2019, with the owners retiring and selling the business to the group behind Liberty. There have been on recent updates on a tentative opening date.

Messy Pig BBQ & Catering Company
Womelsdorf
Projected Opening: Spring 2021

The Messy Pig BBQ is set to open a brick-and-mortar location in Womelsdorf in the coming weeks. Messy Pig has been touring the region as a food truck since 2018. The business belongs to the former owner of Darrylz, which operated in Stouchsburg from 2018 until the summer of 2019. The new location is 109 E. High Street in Womelsdorf. No other information has been shared as of yet.

Sweet Street Baked
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
Projected Opening: Spring 2021

Cafe Sweet Street has announced a new concept, coming soon to the Fairgrounds Farmers Market in Muhlenberg Township. Sweet Street Baked will offer “cookies, breads, sweets, and fresh coffee” according to the official Facebook page. No opening date has been announced as of yet.

News of Note:

  • When it reopens this spring, the Red Plate Diner in Wernersville will be operating under new ownership. No reopening date has been announced yet.
  • Also reopening under new ownership will be the Stonersville Hotel. The sale was announced in February, and the new owners have been posting updates from the restaurant’s renovation on social media.
  • 3rd and Spruce Cafe will also have owners – and a new name – when it reopens this spring as 3rd and Spruce Drafthaus. The restaurant has not yet announced an opening dates, but has indicated they are booking private parties after May 1.
  • The Greshville Inn announced that it is closing April 2 after the owners finalized a deal to sell the restaurant.
  • CJ Hummel’s in Lenhartsville is temporarily closed for renovations and Easter break. The restaurant and line-dancing bar is scheduled to reopen on April 6.
  • The annual Berks Pepper Jam, scheduled for June at the Pat Garrett Amphitheater, has been cancelled for 2021. The event producers announced the event would return in 2022.

Upcoming Events:

West Reading Restaurant Week
April 6 – 17

Thirteen restaurants have been confirmed to participate in the Spring edition of West Reading Restaurant Week, set to kick off April 6. Area restaurants will be offering special menus and prices throughout Restaurant Week. Visit the official event Facebook page for more details: West Reading Restaurant Week | Facebook

Dine Local Photo Contest
April 1 – 30

Zuber Realty is sponsoring a Dine Local photo contest. Visit one of the 14 participating restaurants in the Berks-Mont region and take a selfie and be entered to win up to $100. The contest runs throughout the month of April. Richard A. Zuber Realty | Facebook

Food News
Assorted foods in takeout containers spread on a granite countertop

The 12 Days of Takeout

While dining rooms across Pennsylvania were ordered to close through January 4, Berks County Eats continued to support local restaurants through takeout. During our 12 Days of Takeout, we visited 12 local eateries in 12 days between December 23 and January 3. Follow along below, and be sure to join the conversation by using #BerksCountyEats and #BerksCountyEatsTAKEOUT on Instagram and Facebook.

Day 12 – Russo Food Market

Finishing off our 12 Days of Takeout with lasagna and arancini from @russo_foodnmarket. Takeout lasagna doesn’t photograph very well, but it sure tastes good.


Day 11 – Farmers Market of Wyomissing

Day 11 of our 12 Days of Takeout saw us at the @padutchfmow for stuffed pretzels. The brisket pretzel is outstanding.


Day 10 – The Inn at Centre Park

Wishing you lots of luck in the new year – hoping this heaping helping of pork and sauerkraut (with mashed potatoes and a dinner roll) from @theinnatcentrepark does the trick. I don’t know about the luck part yet, but it was certainly a delicious start to the year. 


Day 9 – Regal Buffet

Styrofoam carryout container with a variety of Chinese food.

Day 9 of our 12 Days of Takeout features a little bit of everything. The to-go buffet at Regal Buffet (formerly Jumbo Buffet) in Muhlenberg has everything you expect from a Chinese buffet and it’s all pretty good.


Day 8 – D&J Sandwich Shop

For Day 8 of our 12 Days of Takeout we visited D&J Sandwich Shop. Shown here is Gerry’s Special – ham, capicola, Provolone and pepperoni baked in the oven. 👍


Day 7 – The Original Mama’s Pizza and Grill


Today I asked my three-year-old what he wanted for lunch. He said pizza and French fries. How could I refuse? This gorgeous slice of holiday pizza with a side of fries came from @originalmamas in Wyomissing. And it’s Day 7 in our 12 Days of Takeout.


Day 6 – Simply BOLD Cafe

On Day 6 of our 12 Days of Takeout, it was #takeout for breakfast from @simplyboldcafe in West Reading. The burrito wrap (eggs, cheddar, salsa, beans, avocado and sour cream) was spot-on, and so was the inspirational quote on my latte.


Day 5 – Aladdin Restaurant

Our fifth day of takeout might be one of the most beautiful (and delicious) takeout meals you will see. Lamb kebabs, tabouleh and baba ghannouj from Aladdin in West Reading.


Day 4 – Andy Pepper’s

Day 4 of our 12 Days of Takeout had us at one of our favorites: @iloveandypeppers. The little place in Limekiln has some of the best food you will find anywhere. Pictured is the Hot Mozz (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto and olive oil on grilled flatbread) with a side of mashed potato bites with ranch dipping sauce. Simply perfection.


Day 3 – Austin’s Restaurant

Merry Christmas from our table to yours! Today’s holiday dinner was a take-and-make meal from @austinsrestaurant and featured ham with apricot glaze, whipped potatoes, green beans almandine and skillet cornbread. A delicious meal from one of our favorite places. 


Day 2 – Dosie Dough

Good morning #BerksCounty! It’s Day 2 of our 12 Days of Takeout and today we are grabbing breakfast at Dosie Dough in Wyomissing. Donuts and an egg sandwich are on our menu on this Christmas Eve.


Day 1 – Dino’s Wings & Things

Today is our first day of 12 Days of Takeout, and we are starting off with a killer steak sandwich and fries from @dinos.wings.things. Thanks to everyone who suggested it after our recent visit to V&S. I definitely need more Dino’s in my life.


Join the #BerksCountyEatsTAKEOUT movement and support your local restaurants. Here’s how you can help:

Skip the chains and visit a local eatery – not only are you supporting a small business owner, but the food is probably going to be better and made with better ingredients.

CALL and order your to-go meals. Online ordering apps cost money and cut into profits.

If you can, go to the restaurant and pick up your order.

  1. It’s going to save you money.
  2. It’s going to save the restaurant money.
  3. A kind word and a couple bucks in the tip jar go a long way.

If you have to do delivery, check to see the restaurant’s preferred delivery partner – or if they offer in-house delivery.

Takeout Uncategorized
An overhead photo of plate with a burger topped with cheese, the top bun next to it with lettuce and tomato, and a pile of fries.

The Berkshire Family Restaurant

A photo of the exterior of the Berkshire Restaurant in Wyomissing

Since starting Berks County Eats, I’ve learned a lot – about food and about the food business.

I’ve also learned that when a new restaurant opens, you have to accept that some things aren’t going to be perfect, but what matters is how you feel when you leave the restaurant.

A photo of the entryway of a diner with a hostess stand with painted black wood that matches the trim on the walls.

One new restaurant that had us feeling good when we left after our first visit was the Berkshire Family Restaurant.

The Berkshire opened in August, starting with takeout only before quickly expanding into table service that includes breakfast (served all day), lunch and dinner.

Its location has been a Berks County favorite for years. Set along State Hill Road in Wyomissing, just across from the Berkshire Mall, the building is still remembered as the former Arner’s, though it was most recently Giannotti’s Berkshire, which closed in 2018.

A counter at a diner with a dessert display case and the phrase "It was all a dream" on the wall.

We made a visit to the restaurant on a recent Friday evening – Julie, her mother (Peggy), Jakob and I arrived a little after 5 p.m. for dinner and were told there was a 15- to 20-minute wait. The benches were full in the main waiting area so Peggy grabbed a seat in the spacious entryway while Julie and I took Jakob for a walk around the building.

After a short walk, we headed inside. I went to the counter to see where we were in line only to see our name had been crossed off the list. The hostess was not at the stand at the time so I mentioned something when she returned and we had a table in short order.

Pumpkins, leaves and assorted fall decor sitting in a basket on an unused salad bar.

We were seated at a table in the middle of the main dining room, near what would be the salad bar (at the time of our visit, it was decorated with pumpkins and other fall décor).

Our waitress was very nice and remained attentive throughout our visit, though there was a slight mix-up early on.

Photo of a cup of soup with ravioli-like pasta floating on top.

Peggy ordered a soup and salad combo with a chicken pasta soup and a Cobb salad with ranch dressing. When the soups arrived – Julie had also ordered a soup – so too, did a house salad with ranch. It was returned to the kitchen, and after this hiccup, the meal was about as good as we could have hoped for.

The chicken pasta soup was very good with large bowtie pasta pieces and plenty of chicken and vegetables.

An overhead photo of plate with a burger topped with cheese, the top bun next to it with lettuce and tomato, and a pile of fries.

I needed something a little more substantial than soup and salad so I opted for one of the seven burgers on the menu – The Frenchy.

The Frenchy is described on the menu as “French onion soup meets the burger.” When it arrived, I could see the melted Swiss cheese on top, just like a crock of French onion soup. With my first bite, the onion and broth started to seep out.

A close-up photo of French fries covered in feta cheese and oregano with a burger in the background.

It really was a delicious burger. The flavor of the soup penetrated into the burger patty and throughout the toppings. French onion soup is on the main menu, and I would definitely order it by itself sometime.

All burgers are served with fries with upgrades available. One of those upgrades is Greek fries. For an extra $2, my fries were topped with feta cheese and oregano. Feta doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor on its own, but the oregano added a lot to it and made the upgrade worthwhile.

A pile of fried shrimp and French fries in a basket lined with red and white checkered paper

Julie had plain fries with her basket of shrimp – 21 shrimp basket to exact. Though she doesn’t order it often, fried shrimp is one of her favorites. The Berkshire’s version filled her fried food craving and her stomach.

Photo of a Cobb salad topped with grilled chicken. Piles of red onions, diced tomatoes and avocado can be seen.

Peggy’s meal – the Cobb salad – was the most healthful of all of our orders. She opted for grilled chicken on top which she enjoyed along with hearty portions of avocado, onion, egg, tomatoes and lettuce. They certainly didn’t skimp on the portions for this salad.

A white plate with two halves of a grilled cheese sandwich and a handful of French fries.

For Jakob, we ordered the grilled cheese (almost three years old, he is now old enough to tell us what he wants when we read the menu to him). We were happy to see him eat his sandwich – all of it except the crust as toddlers will do – and he seemed to really like it.

Jakob’s meal also came with a scoop of ice cream (not pictured). For whatever reason, he wouldn’t eat it. So, daddy got to enjoy some chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Peggy and Julie both ordered dessert – rice pudding – to go. It’s their go-to diner dessert, and a little bit of a splurge that Julie savored in small portions throughout the week.

For all of our food, it was only around $50, in line with what you would expect from a diner.

There were a couple hiccups early on, but those will go away as the staff gains more experience. But we had no complaints about the food. To the contrary, we all left talking about how good our meals were.

And that’s the most important thing for any meal.

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

Diners Lunch & Dinner Soup
A photo of a calzone and French fries on a dark blue plate.

Piero’s Pizzeria

Photo of the exterior of Piero's Pizzeria in Reading, PA

Sometimes it feels like there is an Italian restaurant on just about every corner.

While that is an exaggeration, there is no question that you can find good Italian food wherever you go in Berks County.

Like at Piero’s Pizzeria.

Piero’s is wedged in on the corner of Route 183 and Upper Van Reed Road in Leinbachs, just a short drive north of the Reading Airport and Route 222.

Photo of an order counter in an Italian restaurant. Photos of food are on the wall above the counter while pizza is on display on the counter.

The location has limited parking in the front and on the side of the building, more than enough especially if you’re just stopping in to grab takeout (though Piero’s does have a decent size dining area for those who would prefer to dine-in.)

Our order was prepared quick and was ready to go by the time we made our way from Wyomissing to pick it up.

Piero’s, like many Italian family restaurants, offers a little bit of everything on their menu, including pizza, subs, salads, fried appetizers, burgers and Italian dinners.

I was in the mood for pizza but didn’t want a whole pie so I opted instead for a calzone.

A photo of a calzone and French fries on a dark blue plate.

All of Piero’s calzones are stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella and served with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. I decided to add meatballs to mine, creating something between a pizza and a meatball sandwich.

I was not disappointed. It was really the ricotta that sets the calzone apart. The lighter and creamier cheese adds a different element than just mozzarella (as would have been in a Stromboli).

The calzone was also the perfect size for one, though I couldn’t help but order a side of fries. They were the battered kind, fried to a golden crisp and perfect for eating one after another without thinking about it.

A photo of a tuna sandwich, cut in half, with the cut side facing the camera.

Julie, meanwhile, had a tuna melt – her favorite sandwich order. The sandwich was stuffed with tuna and overflowing with lettuce and tomato. The roll was toasted perfectly. It was a very good sandwich, and Julie gave it her stamp of approval.

A close-up picture of a slice of pepperoni pizza.

And our toddler approved of his slice of pizza. Jakob enjoyed his pepperoni pizza. The thin crust pie was a solid offering, and Jakob even ate the pepperoni slices. (He has been known, in the past, to not eat his pepperoni because it is “too spicy”).

Photo of Piero's Pizzeria's ham puffs - rolled dough with ham and cheese.

We also couldn’t help but order a half dozen of Piero’s ham puffs. Ham puffs are basically pepperoni rolls – rolls of dough filled with cheese and meat – but with slices of ham instead of pepperoni inside. Piero’s uses a very good dough for all of their items and it was just as good in the ham puffs.

Our meal was enjoyable across the board. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but Piero’s delivered on everything that we tried.

For everything we got, it was right around $30, not a bad price at all for so much food.

And good food, at that.

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

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews Sandwich Shops Takeout
A round foil to-go container with baked ziti topped with cheese.

Nino’s Italian Ristorante of Wyomissing

For nine years, Julie and I lived in the Berkshire Heights neighborhood of Wyomissing. We loved the location – close to the highway and within walking distance of all the great restaurants in West Reading.

We also had some great restaurants closer to home. Willoughby’s on Park is one of our favorites for fine dining. Mikura always had delicious Asian-inspired meals. And I had many chai tea lattes from the Park Road Café.

But the one place we had never visited was the restaurant that had been there the longest: Nino’s Pizzeria.

A photo of a brick pizza oven with a door next to it.

Nino’s is in their 26th year of serving Wyomissing and Berks County. When we knew we were going to be moving, Julie and I made a promise that we had to have dinner from Nino’s at least once before we left.

One night after packing boxes all day, we called in an order, and I walked down the street to the little Italian restaurant in the strip mall. On many of our walks, we would see people sitting inside enjoying their meals, but the chairs were all up on the tables when I walked in, a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tight restrictions on dine-in.

A photo of a restaurant with chairs on top of tables and a picture of Italy hanging on the wall

Talking with the owners, it was easy to understand their decision to focus exclusively on takeout and delivery. With such a small space, 25% capacity would only allow them to seat about 12 people. And with the extra protocols around cleaning and sanitizing tables, it just didn’t make financial sense to offer table service.

But the phone-in orders seemed to be coming in at a steady pace. And I was anxious to get the food back to the house to finally try it.

Julie and I had both opted for one of their Italian dinners. Julie went with her personal favorite, baked ziti, while I ordered the homemade lasagna.

A round foil to-go container with a cheesey lasagna slice

Anytime I order from a restaurant that has a large menu – as Nino’s does – I am drawn to anything that says “homemade.” The connotation, at least, is that the dish takes time to make and it is one that the owners are proud to serve.

By the time I got home the lasagna was not much to look at – it shifted around in the foil packaging so it looked like a blob of cheese atop a blob of pasta and sauce – but it sure tasted good.

The menu describes the meat sauce as slightly sweet with a rich flavor, and I can’t describe it any better than that. The lasagna noodles weren’t the thinnest that I have seen, but they weren’t thick either. And there was plenty of cheese on top. It was definitely worthy of the “homemade” distinction.

A round foil to-go container with baked ziti topped with cheese.

Julie’s baked ziti was also very good (and also tasted much better than it looked in the to-go packaging). The tomato sauce was a little sweeter than the meat sauce on my lasagna, probably just because it didn’t have the extra savory element to it.

Both meals also came with a side salad and homemade bread. The side salads were pretty typical – lettuce with red onion, a slice of tomato and choice of dressing. But the bread was much more than typical.

A large loaf of Italian bread on a paper plate.

Normally when something comes with bread, I expect a slice or two. Both Julie and I got – essentially – a whole loaf of bread with our meals. We were happy to enjoy it with several more meals throughout the week.

I can say for sure that Nino’s didn’t skimp on quality or portions. And at around $35, we certainly got our money’s worth.

I’m really not sure why it took us so long to get to Nino’s – perhaps we just took for granted that it was there – but we wish we would have gone sooner.

The good news is, we didn’t move that far away so there’s nothing stopping us from going back again.

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

Italian Lunch & Dinner Takeout Uncategorized
A white bowl filled with orzo in tomato sauce with a large bone-in lamb shank in the center.

Mazi

Exterior view of a restaurant with colorful planters and seating outside

Though I have been doing this blog for more than six years, I still get excited about every new restaurant that opens up. Most times I wait a little bit before I visit, but every now and then there’s a place that I can’t wait to try.

That was the case with Mazi Greek Inspired, West Reading’s new fine dining destination.

Mazi opened in August in the former Bistro 614 along Penn Avenue. We never made it to Bistro 614 before it closed in 2019 so I can’t speak to what the space looked like before, but the new restaurant is beautiful.

Interior view of a restaurant with cream colored benches opposite wooden chairs at marble-topped tables

Creamy gold cushioned benches line the mirrored walls, filling the room with a golden hue. Beautiful stained glass sits above the large picture window, which accordions open to bring an alfresco feel to patrons inside.

It’s an impressive place, for sure, with an impressive menu to match.

Julie and I haven’t had a true date night since February so we came in prepared to splurge. It started with an appetizer: the sesame feta.

A white rectangular plate, half with pita points the other half with two crescent shaped slices of feta

On the plate were two wedges of feta cheese, lightly seared and topped with sesame seeds, a basil leaf and a drizzle of honey. With them were pita points – delicious on their own, but a perfect match for the soft cheese. I’ve found that feta can be overpowering at times, but here it was perfect. Between the sear and the sweet honey drizzle, the creamy cheese almost ate like a dessert.

Two small slices of olive bread next to a rectangular trough of olive oil for dipping

Along with the appetizer, we were also given two slices of olive bread with oil for dipping. The bread was very good, obviously freshly made. The slices were just big enough to give us a good taste without filling us up for our meals to come.

A white bowl filled with orzo in tomato sauce with a large bone-in lamb shank in the center.

For my meal, I ordered the lamb shank yvetsi, braised lamb shank served over a plate of tomato orzo. The lamb was delicious, but it was even better soaked in the juicy tomato sauce from the orzo. I did find it to be a little harder to cut and chew than I was expecting. Later I heard a waiter at another table describe it as fall-off-the-bone. It was delicious, but it certainly didn’t fall off the bone.

A white bowl filled with orzo in tomato sauce with a large bone-in lamb shank in the center.

It was also a lot of food and about half of the shank came home with me (the waitress took the plate, boxed and bagged it up for me, and sat it down between our table and the empty table next to ours to limit contact).

Normally Julie goes for spanakopita whenever she sees it on the menu, but she skipped it this time in favor of the Chilean sea bass. The fish was served over a red pepper feta coulis with a side of tri-color couscous.

A plate with a cut of fish atop a red pepper sauce with green, white and yellow quinoa on the side

I am not a big fan of fish, but I tried some of Julie’s and it was very good. The seabass didn’t have a whole lot of flavor of its own. Instead, it absorbed the flavors from the delicious red pepper sauce. The couscous was also very good, well-seasoned with added spinach leaves for more flavor.

While we both would have been satisfied had we left after our entrees, we had to hear what was on the dessert menu. And when we heard there was baklava ala mode, how could we refuse?

A slice of vanilla ice cream with round pastries on either side and honey drizzled on top

Our waitress dropped off a square-shaped bowl with a large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and two mini rolls of baklava. And everything was drizzled with honey.

This was an indulgence, and a delicious one at that. The baklava was melt-in-your-mouth good with honey soaking through the layers of phyllo dough and just enough of the nutty flavor from the chopped walnuts (I’m pretty sure). We may have left feeling very full, but it was totally worth it.

Our meal wasn’t cheap – an appetizer, two entrees, dessert and a mixed drink for Julie totaled just over $100 – but it was totally worth it, too.

I don’t foresee us becoming regulars at Mazi but for a special occasion or date night, we would definitely visit again.

We were glad we didn’t wait any longer to enjoy a date night, and we were very glad that we chose Mazi.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: A Little Pricey

Dessert Finer Dining Greek Lunch & Dinner
A look at the exterior of Cherry's Jamaican Delight in West Reading

Cherry’s Jamaican Delight

A look at the exterior of Cherry's Jamaican Delight in West Reading

I was very excited when I heard Cherry’s Jamaican Delight was moving to West Reading at the beginning of the year. The new location would expose the restaurant – and the Jamaican culture that inspires the cuisine – to a whole new audience that otherwise may miss out.

Cherry’s shares a wall with Chen Vegetarian House in the 700 block of Penn Avenue. It’s a cozy location, one that previously housed small cafes. There’s limited inside seating – made more limited by current guidelines – with a few more yellow and green picnic tables set up out front.

For those not lucky enough to snag a table or those who prefer to eat at home, Cherry’s also offers takeout and delivery through GrubHub.

We decided to take advantage of the online ordering through the GrubHub app, but being just a short drive away, I opted for takeout and the opportunity to see one of West Reading’s newest restaurants.

I got a text notification that my order was ready for pickup early so I made the quick trip from our Wyomissing home into West Reading. Parking wasn’t an issue as I was able to snag a space right in front of the restaurant.

The restaurant’s renovation still feels fresh. Most of the walls are painted in a bright, vibrant yellow that is made more dramatic by the lack of tables.

My order was waiting behind the counter, and I was in-and-out and back home with my food in no time.

Cherry’s menu features Jamaican comfort food like Pepsi brown stew chicken, curried goat and several seafood options. But I had my sights on the brown oxtail stew.

A styrofoam container with stewed oxtails and rice covered in brown sauce

Oxtail is a unique cut of meat. As the name suggests, it comes from the tail of a cow. It’s a gelatinous meat. The slow-cooking in the stew helps cook it down a bit but it still has a slightly chewy consistency, especially around the bone. But the flavor is rich, and it was enhanced by the brown stew sauce.

The sauce was dark and flavorful. And it was spread across the side of rice and peas (which are actually red beans), as well, adding those deep tones to the whole plate.

A styrofoam container with chicken, rice and plantains

Arguably the most popular Jamaican dish in America – or at least the most familiar – is jerk chicken. And it’s also a favorite of my wife, Julie.

She was excited to try Cherry’s version of the dish and was not disappointed. The jerk spice, a little sweet and salty with a (very) mild heat, permeated through the perfectly cooked chicken.

Each of the meals also came with a nice little side of steamed cabbage and – my favorite – fried plantains.

A styrofoam cup with an orange drink and ice next to a styrofoam container with rice and stewed oxtails

And because every meal needs a little bit of sweet, we both decided to try the Calypso Mango, a delicious tropical lemonade that we haven’t seen anywhere else in our ventures.

In all, our dinners and drinks totaled a little less than $40, which isn’t a bad price when you consider we paid a premium for the convenience of online ordering.

Our first experience with Cherry’s Jamaican Delight definitely made us eager to try more. And hopefully others will be eager to give them a try, too.

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

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Takeout