On A Roll Grill

On A Roll Grill Exterior

This summer was one of the busiest that I can remember for new restaurant openings in Berks County.

Some received a lot of hype as they were preparing to open, others opened with little fanfare. Wernersville’s On A Roll Grill fits into the latter category.

On A Roll Grill Interior

The restaurant opened in late June in the Westgate Shops, a small strip mall along Route 422 on the eastern edge of Wernersville borough. It’s the first restaurant to occupy a space in the strip and they did a nice job turning it into a welcoming space.

There are plenty of tables and a handful of counter seats in the restaurant. When we arrived for our first visit it was shortly after 5 p.m. on a Friday night. There was a younger couple finishing their meal at the counter and another gentleman waiting for his takeout order to be completed. We grabbed a table in the middle of the room and waited to be served.

On A Roll Grill Interior

There was only one person working – a woman who I assume is the owner. She apologized for making us wait, though it had really only been a few minutes and it gave us a chance to look over the menu.

On a Roll’s menu is exactly what you expect: burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. That’s not to say there wasn’t variety. There are a dozen varieties of burgers and even more hot dog choices. There are also fries and tots along with pig wings (pork shanks) with 10 dipping sauces to choose from.

On A Roll Grill Coney Island Hamburger

I ordered one of my favorites, a Coney Island burger with a side of crab (Old Bay) fries while Julie ordered a pig-in-a-blanket hot dog with tater tots.

We were surprised by how quickly the food arrived. Despite only one person running the kitchen, our food was at our table in about 10 minutes.

My burger looked great as the caramelized onions were falling out the sides of the bun. The burger patty is not much to speak of – it was smaller than the bun and very thin, McDonald’s sized (and no, not the quarter-pounder) and kind of bland. But at least there was plenty of Coney sauce and onions. I actually really liked the sauce – the beanless chili had just a hint of spice to it – which is good because I would not want to eat the burger plain.

The fries were doused in Old Bay – probably a little too much as they were very salty. The fries, themselves, were the fresh-cut variety and good on their own. And I definitely wasn’t cheated on the portions as the fries easily filled the plate.

On A Roll Grill Pigs-in-a-blanket Burger

Julie’s pig-in-a-blanket burger was what she expected – a variation of the dish where the hot dog is served with a strip of bacon and cheese instead of being wrapped in it. There was a part of her that hoped for the real thing, but for what it was, it was good. The bacon didn’t fit very well into the bun but she managed, and she would have liked a little more cheese, but it was a good hot dog.

Where I ordered one of the specialty fries, Julie had ordered plain tater tots. Like the fries, the tots covered the plate and we were not cheated on portions. But where my fries were overly salty, Julie had to pour salt and pepper on the plain tots to give them a little flavor. But a little S&P went a long way.

On A Roll Grill Chicken Tenders

Jakob was along for our visit but was having one of those fussy eating days (as toddlers do) where all he wanted to do was use the chicken tenders we ordered for him as a spoon for eating ketchup.

The tenders were fried to a dark brown which is actually how I prefer them. I ate one (since he wasn’t) and enjoyed it. They were nice and crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside, just the way I like them. We took two tenders home for later (the fourth in the order was the one we cut for him that he never ate).

I will say this for On A Roll Grill, the prices are right. For all of our food and two bottles of water, we spent $20. Sure, the burgers and hot dogs aren’t gourmet, but a Coney Island burger is $2.25 so I’m not expecting to be blown away.

And despite being short on staff, the service was excellent, which is a big plus.

It may not be my favorite meal that I have ever had, but there is a definitely a place for restaurants like On A Roll Grill. The food won’t blow you away, but if you’re looking for a fast, cheap meal without the drive-thru, On A Roll fits the bill.

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

On A Roll Grill
600 E. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Diners Reviews
Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

Gourmand Cafe – West Reading

Gourmand Cafe West Reading Exterior

By now, most Berks County residents know the name Gourmand. It started with the food truck that introduced the county to “artisan street food.” That was followed by multiple brick-and-mortar locations (some that have already come and gone).

The Gourmand brand has truly been everywhere around Berks County.

In March, Gourmand expanded their empire again, this time opening a cafe amid the busy dining scene in West Reading.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 2

The Gourmand Cafe sits on the 700 block of Penn Avenue in the former Relish, a cafe and coffee shop that operated for about two years.

I visited on a Friday afternoon in July and found a much quieter place than I was expecting. Only one other table was filled  as a mother and daughter enjoyed lunch by the front window.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 1

The menu written on the chalkboard behind the counter didn’t match the printed one. The burgers advertised on the chalkboard, I was told, were no longer available. Unfortunately a chalkboard artist had not been brought in yet to scroll the new menu.

What was left on the menu was mostly light fare like avocado toast, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and salads. A few sandwiches were available and ultimately I settled on a veggie panini.

It was a surprisingly hearty vegetarian entree consisting of (as listed on the menu) pressed sourdough with hummus, cucumber, mushroom pate, avocado, arugula and balsamic reduction.

Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

The hummus was easily my favorite part. It has a great flavor (read Julie’s review of the other Gourmand Cafe for more on their hummus) and it is an excellent base to start a sandwich. The cucumber, especially, mixed really well with it, and avocado is always a hit with me. It’s not the gut-busting Berks sandwich, but it was very good.

With no fryer, there are no fries. Instead, all sandwiches are served with Gourmand’s seasoned pretzels. The broken hard pretzels are coated with ranch flavoring for a simple, but good side.

On a whim, I also ordered a strawberry bubble tea to accompany my meal. It was refreshing and a nice change of pace from my usual unsweetened iced tea.

Gourmand Cafe Strawberry Bubble Tea

I certainly enjoyed my meal, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Gourmand’s West Reading location doesn’t really fit with the brand. My past Gourmand experiences have included a fried sweet bologna sandwich, pastrami and cheese-topped fries, and an Italian steak sandwich. The West Reading menu is the complete opposite.

It doesn’t help that the updated menu (sans burgers) isn’t available online. The only menu posted on Gourmand’s Facebook page is from the restaurant’s opening and includes four burger options. Gourmand’s website only features the menu for the Berkshire Cafe with items like truffled goat cheese fries and ahi ceviche fish tacos. 

The food was very good. The cafe had a nice vibe to it. Even with the bubble tea my meal was less than $15. And I can’t complain about the service, but I still felt a little disappointed.

As I finished up my meal, I heard the manager tell someone that the Cafe is Gourmand’s healthy alternative.

I guess I’m just more of an “artisan street food” kind of guy.

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

Gourmand Cafe
715 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Cafes & Coffeeshops Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019

The crowd packed the streets of Hamburger on August 31 for the annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival.

The borough of Hamburg played host to the 16th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival on Saturday, August 31. Record crowds estimated in excess of 40,000 packed the streets (according to the Reading Eagle) to taste some of the best, most creative hamburgers around.

As has been our custom for the last five years, we spent our Labor Day Saturday in search of a great burger.

Going into the event, we combed the list of vendors looking for new burgers to try. We kept coming back to places we have visited in the past – Hamburg’s own 1787 Brewing Company (which we reviewed earlier this year), Brocmar Smokehouse (another favorite of ours), Spuds (one of our early reviews) and Dawn’s Deli.

The Taste of Italy burger from Dawns Deli was topped with their homemade bruschetta and mozzarella cheese, served on garlic bread.

We discovered Dawn’s during a visit to the festival in 2016. Julie was the one who ordered the Taste of Italy Burger, that year’s Grand Champion for restaurants. It was so good we made the trip to Lenhartsville just a few weeks later for second helping of Dawn’s burgers. Here’s what I wrote about it the Taste of Italy Burger at the time:

The Taste of Italy burger featured mozzarella, pesto mayo and homemade bruschetta on a garlic bread bun.

Why was it so great? The homemade bruschetta, for starters. It was as good as any Italian restaurant, with just the right amount balsamic. I could have eaten just the bruschetta with the bun and been happy. But add the pesto and mozzarella, and it turned into a hamburger masterpiece.

It’s one of the best burgers that I have had anywhere.

Read Full Review Here

This year, we decided it was time to go back and try two more of Dawn’s festival creations.

The fastnacht burger from Dawns Deli - a burger served on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and cheese.

The one that caught my eye was the Karen Haak Fastnacht Burger. The program described it as an “all-beef patty on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and powdered sugar.” Yes, please.

It was a beautiful sight to behold – the powdered sugar giving it a little panache. Everything about it was good, but I was left wanting a little more meat. Fastnachts are heavier than the glazed doughnuts that have become popular replacements for hamburger buns (see the line annually for the Deitsch Eck’s Luther burgers at the festival) so it was a little overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great fastnacht, but I would have loved a bigger burger patty. It was good, but didn’t live up to the Taste of Italy.

The Dutchie Burger from Dawns Deli - topped with lettuce, hot bacon dressing, hard-boiled egg, red onion and smoked Gouda cheese.

The Dutchie burger, on the other hand, exceeded our expectations. Julie ordered this one because it featured lettuce and hot bacon dressing (it also included a hard-boiled egg, chopped red onion and smoked gouda on a traditional sesame seed bun).

I am not nearly the fan of lettuce and bacon dressing that Julie is, but this burger was a masterpiece. The bacon dressing added a little vinegar base that soaked into the patty and made it extra moist. The smoked gouda added even more depth to the dish.

I can’t say with conviction that it was better than the Taste of Italy burger, but it is definitely on its level and probably the best we’ve had at the festival since.

Drinking milkshakes at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019
Never ask a toddler to smile for the camera when he has hamburger in his mouth.

After weighing our options, Julie and I both decided that instead of another burger, we indulge in the perfect burger go-with, a milkshake. And not just any milkshake – the famous PA Farm Show milkshakes from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

The soft ice cream-based shakes are always very good, but what I love is that you can order them “black-and-white” style with half vanilla and half chocolate. It’s like three milkshakes in one – the best part is halfway through when the vanilla and chocolate blend beautifully together.

Also while the burger lines were getting longer, the Dairymen have serving shakes down to a science so there was zero wait time.

Next year, we will spread the love, but this year was about rekindling our love of Dawn’s Deli.

Festival Results
*From Facebook.com/TasteofHamburger

Restaurant Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Kooper’s Chowhound
Appearance: Spuds
Taste: Kooper’s Chowhound
Originality: Spuds

Organization Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Salem Church
Appearance: Boy Scout Group #184
Taste: Leesport Odd Fellows
Originality: Salem Church

Mobile Food Trailer Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Appearance: Blazing Swine BBQ
Taste: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Originality: WOW Wagon

Newbie Best Burger
Lucky Penny Burger Co.

People’s Choice Best Burger
First Place: Deitsch Eck
Second Place: Dawn’s Deli
Third Place: Lucky Penny Burger Co.
Fourth Place: Christ Evangelical Free Church

Food Festivals & Events

Works at Wyomissing

The Works at Wyomissing isn't just a restaurant, it's an entertainment destination that also includes a ball pit, go-karts, trampoline park and arcade (pictured).

When we were still in college, Julie and I started going regularly to the Works at Wyomissing for their Tuesday night trivia games. For years, it was our place. The service could be hit or miss, but the food was good and it was always a great time with friends.

One by one, our friends started moving away, or having kids, or both. The routine got monotonous, and it was harder to find players. Eventually we stopped going altogether. It had been at least two years since our last visit to the dining and entertainment destination, but now that we have our own toddler, it seemed like the right time to go back for some food and fun.

It was a Thursday night around 5 p.m. when we arrived. The hostess was on her phone and seemed inconvenienced to have to take us to our table. She never smiled and barely said a word as she took us to our table. We weren’t even sure she was going to bring the high chair because instead of saying “I’ll be right back with your high chair,” she said, “enjoy your meal” as she walked off. (She did bring it).

Our waitress was much more pleasant with us and our little Jakob, who always seems to bring out a smile from our servers.

The spacious dining room - highlighted by this large stone fireplace - was mostly empty during our visit.

There weren’t many people in the dining room – a few families, one couple and a group of college students were all that were found in the spacious dining room.

Our orders were taken quickly, which was good because Jakob was hungry and restless. We wouldn’t have felt as awkward about him acting up if there had been more people, but in the near-empty cavern of the dining area, every little noise echoed louder around the room.

Caesar salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Thankfully my Caesar salad arrived quickly and Jakob was occupied with a couple croutons. The salad was pretty hefty for a starter, but it was good, your typical Caesar.

A cup of French onion soup from the Works at Wyomissing.

Julie had ordered a cup of French onion soup for an appetizer. It was always a favorite of our friend Mike during our trivia days, and it was still good. Ordering a cup meant that it wasn’t the typical presentation – cheese covering the top of a crock. But the smaller portion was still good with plenty of gruyere on top and a nice amount of onions inside.

Because we were also tending to Jakob, it took us a little longer to finish our appetizers, and our food arrived while I was still finishing up my salad.

Steak frites with French fries and asparagus from the Works at Wyomissing.

For my entree, I ordered the steak frites. The 10-ounce sirloin was sliced thin and served atop a bed of crispy Parmesan fries. The steak was good but didn’t have a whole lot of flavor to it.

As I write the blog, I’m looking back at the menu and realize that it was supposed to be served with garlic butter and a spicy aioli. I had neither, which probably explains why the steak was a little underwhelming. It was still a good cut of meat, but the garlic butter would have been nice.

The fries were very good. They were thick-cut and tossed with plenty of Parmesan cheese. There was just a lot of them, especially considering the entrees are also served with two sides. I ended up eating only a small portion of the fries and taking the rest home.

Corn on the cob from the Works at Wyomissing.

Not wanting to be a complete pig, I ordered asparagus and corn on the cob for my sides. The asparagus was fine, but they were cooked a little past al dente and were a little softer than I normally like.

The corn on the cob was good, but I was honestly expecting it to be cut in half like I see at many restaurants. Instead, it was a full cob. Thankfully, Jakob has all of his front teeth that he needs to bite into, and enjoy, corn on the cob so he helped me with it. It was good and tasted fresh so I had no complaints there.

The barbecue chopped salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Because she really wanted the soup, Julie decided to get an entree salad for her main meal. The barbecue chopped salad featured chicken, chopped lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, avocado, corn, tortilla strips, black beans and ranch dressing.

The grilled chicken was tossed in barbecue sauce. We’ve always been fans of the Works’ barbecue sauce and it was good on the salad. The avocado was a nice touch and the ranch dressing went well with the mix – just like eating it with barbecue wings.

Like all things at the Works, the portions are huge and was stacked high on the plate. It’s definitely a filling salad.

From the Works at Wyomissing's kids menu: chicken fingers and mandarin oranges.

With the Works being such a kid-friendly place, the children’s menu is large – both in the amount of food and the physical size – four pages that kids can color with a four-pack of crayons that are provided.

We went with a safe bet: chicken fingers with Jakob’s favorite fruit, mandarin oranges. The orange slices were gone in what seemed like seconds. He was a little slower with the chicken, but then he dipped it in Julie’s ranch dressing and it went a lot faster.

All three of us left the table full after a $50 meal. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we’ve ever had, but it also isn’t bad given the portions.  (We also had a $30 gift card, which is always helpful).

Ballocity - located upstairs at the Works at Wyomissing - is like a cross between a ball pit and a giant obstacle course.

The real fun began after the meal. While I waited to take care of the bill, Julie and Jakob went off to the game area where she won him a new bouncy ball from the claw machine. From there, we headed upstairs to Ballocity, the Works’ indoor ball pit.

When it first opened, we were very disappointed to find out that adults could only enter if accompanied by a child. Having Jakob along meant it was our first time to experience the attraction. Toddlers are free with paying adults – $3.95 after using the $1 off coupon that was on the kids menu.

Jakob and Julie had a great time while I waited outside. They played for about a half-hour before we headed home.

While the service could have been better – and that has always been the case at the Works – it was still a great night out. And for $65, we had three meals, played games and took a turn through Ballocity. It sure beat a rainy night at home.

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner

Allgyer's BBQ Corner features two warming tables full of meats and sides.

A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food stands that the crowded market offers.  But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half the market.

When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals from the past and checking off more places on my list.

One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.

Chipped meats, roasted potatoes, and baked beans are among the items available at Allgyer's.

Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and sides.

I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their dinner entrees – beef cubes.

Allgyer's served its beef cubes in a Styrofoam cup.

The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).

Meals at Allgyer's are served with a dinner roll. They also offer fresh-brewed sweet tea.

It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides, a roll and a drink.

For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.

The barbecue carrots were were rolled in aluminum foil to keep them hot.

The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.

Instead of the standard fries or wedges, Allgyer's serves potato skins .

Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.

Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.

Allgyer's pulled pork sandwich was topped with their homemade BBQ sauce.

The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.

It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.

The sweet potatoes aren't much to look at, falling apart in the aluminum foil, but they were delicious.

But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it. While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.

The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands, is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined were less than $20.

Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to get back to the office.

Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would enjoy again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: A Bargain

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

PA Ice Cream Trail – Patches Family Creamery

Ice cream cone-shaped stone welcomes customers to Patches Family Creamery

When it was announced in May that Visit PA was bringing back the Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream trail – a program that highlights cow-to-cone creameries throughout the state – I was thrilled. Last year, Julie and I had started on the trail but life got in the way and we never finished. This year, we are determined to get the free t-shirt that comes with five stamps on our passport.

The trail celebrates cow-to-cone creameries across the state, there are two Berks County creameries on the list – Way-Har Farms in Bernville and the Nesting Box in Kempton. While we will visit them later, we wanted to start with a bit of a road trip.

Our first stop this year was Patches Family Creamery. Located just south of Lebanon, Patches is about an hour’s drive from our house. We had found it as part of last year’s tour and couldn’t wait to go back and blog about it this year.

Patches Family Creamery Front Porch

The wooden building that houses the creamery and farm market still looks new. It features a small number of tables inside with larger picnic tables and benches on the shaded front porch.

In addition to ice cream, Patches offers a variety of dairy products and some baked goods.

Inside Patches', the menu shows 20 flavors of ice cream available.

Patches had more than 20 flavors of ice cream available when we visited including all of the standards: vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, etc. – and a few originals like the candy scramble (think a candy store in an ice cream tub) and cow tracks, their version of moose tracks.

They also offer an assortment of sundaes. Rhubarb was in season so I decided to give a rhubarb sundae a try.

A pair of ice cream sundaes

It was one of the best ice cream treats I’ve had in a long time. The sweet vanilla ice cream was the perfect complement to the tart rhubarb while the granola/oatmeal crumble added crunch and flavor to every bite. The ice cream itself is rich and creamy. Really, it was a perfect blend.

Julie also went with a sundae. Her fruit of choice was strawberry, but she went with chocolate ice cream for a delicious combination. The bowl was filled with fresh strawberries. The fruit and ice cream combined for a decadent chocolate-covered strawberry flavor – sweet, indulgent and delicious.

Tables inside Patches

We also ordered a kiddie cup of ice cream for Jakob. For whatever reason, our son is not a big ice cream fan and only ate a couple tiny scoops. I ended up finishing it in about three bites. His loss is my gain.

I was surprised that our two sundaes and kiddie cup was less than $10. It felt like a very good deal for quality all the way around.

Patches' playground features a tire climb, swings and two large slides.

Not only does Patches serve great ice cream, it’s also a great place for young kids to get out and play on a playground that caters to kids big and small. There’s also a petting zoo with goats and other farm animals (fun for most kids, scary for ours).

Patches is a great little spot out in the country that’s worth a visit if you’re in the Lebanon area or worth a drive if you are trying to earn a free t-shirt.

BCE Rating
Ice Cream: Excellent
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: Very Reasonable

Patches Family Creamery
201 Fonderwhite Rd
Lebanon, PA 17042

To learn more about the Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream Trail, check out VisitPA.com

Dessert Reviews

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant – 5th Street Highway

The exterior of Alebrije Mexican Restaurant's 5th Street Highway location.

With three locations in Berks County, Alebrije is obviously doing something right.

Our first taste came five years ago at their Exeter Township location. Then, earlier this year, we visited their Wyomissing restaurant, the largest of the three.

In our blog from Wyomissing, I promised I wouldn’t  wait five years to complete the trifecta. On a Tuesday afternoon in June, I made good on that promise when Julie and I paid a visit to the Alebrije along the 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg Township.

The restaurant shares the Plaza 222 strip mall with Harbor Freight Tools (who was having an “urgent blowout” sale, in case anyone is in the market for tools), Mattress Warehouse and a Subway. The new Jersey Mike’s Subs is near the front entrance to the strip while the new Popeye’s is toward the back.

The interior of Alebrije is made to feel like a cozy street in Mexico.

I actually think this location had the best interior of the three. The walls were painted to look like a street scene in Mexico, brightly painted with faux-tile awnings over the windows and doors.

A mural in the style of "alebrije" art celebrates Pedro Linares Lopez, the creator of the colorful, fantastical art form.

An accent wall was painted with a mural of a stylized snake and bird with the words “Alebrije artesania inventada por Pedro Linares Lopez en 1936,” a tribute to the Alebrije style that lends its name to the restaurant.

We were seated quickly but had to wait a few minutes for our server to arrive – not what you want during a weekday lunch when you have a limited amount of time.

Chips and salsa are a must at any Mexican restaurant.

As expected, the complementary chips and salsa were first to arrive. It was pretty consistent with what we have experienced in the past, though it was maybe a little thinner than others. It tasted just as good, though and we didn’t leave much when finished.

We had ordered food and drinks at the same time to cut down on the wait and my horchata arrived a short time later.

My glass of horchata was light but creamy - and refreshing.

I love horchata, but haven’t ordered it for a blog since our visit to Let’s Taco Bout It in West Reading. It was really good. Julie mentioned that the milky, cinnamon-spiced drink reminds her of a chai tea latte. I never thought of it before, but I can see it the similarities (and I do enjoy both). My only complaint is that I asked for a horchata and a glass of water and never got the water.

It was about 20 minutes from the time we ordered until our lunch arrived. It felt like twice as long. Because of it being lunch, I was hyper sensititve to the time it took.

The Burrito Alebrije was stuffed with ground beef and topped with tomato sauce and cheese, and served with rice, refried beans, and lettuce with sour cream.

When it did arrive, my food looked amazing (as always at Alebrije). It also looked huge. The stuffed burrito was the length of the oversized square plate, flanked on one side with rice and refried beans. A simple chopped salad sat on the other side.

The burrito Alebrije was stuffed with ground beef and topped with tomato sauce and cheese crumbles. The seasoned ground beef was delicious and the tomato sauce was light and complemented it very well. It was also hearty and filling to the point where I couldn’t finish all of the sides.

The tacos de carnitas (pulled pork) came three to an order and were served with cups of spicy salsa and guacamole.

Julie enjoyed an order of tacos de carnitas (pork). They were topped with onions, tomato and cilantro and served with guacamole, pico de Gailo and spicy salsa.

Guacamole is always Julie’s topping of choice with tacos. And it really went well with her carnitas. The pulled pork was nice and flavorful, though not as much as the ground beef. Still, the tacos were very good, and again, very filling.

The lunch menu at Alebrije featured both the Burrito Alebrije and tacos de carnitas, but we were served and charged for the full dinner portions.

It was then that we realized that she was only supposed to get two with the lunch version, not the three that was on our plate. When the check arrived, we realized that while we both thought we were clearly ordering the lunch specials, we each had been given – and charged for – the dinner portions. That put our lunch around $30 (with my horchata).

We didn’t raise a stink about it as the difference in price isn’t that much, but it was a little frustrating. The lunch service also wasn’t as quick as I would have liked – there was a lengthy wait for our check after the meal, as well.

Would we go back to the 5th Street Highway location? Sure. But next time, it will be for dinner.

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

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant
3225 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading

In January 2018, we made our first visit to Brocmar Smokehouse at the Shillington Farmers Market. By this time, the local barbecue company was already running a stand at the Santander Arena.

The Farmers Market was their second location and featured an expanded menu that included the Brocmar Taco – the dish of smoked meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce atop a corn cake that made our list of Favorite Entrees for 2018.

And Brocmar’s stand at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened for the 2018 season, has become my go-to for ballpark foods.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2019 and Brocmar Smokehouse is now four locations strong with the opening of their first full-service restaurant at the Lofts at Narrows in West Reading. The new Brocmar shares a space with the B2 Cafe – the grab-and-go breakfast side of B2 Bistro. Under the partnership, B2 continues serving coffee and breakfast while Brocmar takes over for lunch and dinner service.

Two weeks ago,  I was invited to the friends and family opening. So Julie, Jakob and I stopped in last Friday evening for a first taste of the new Brocmar.

While the restaurant is attached to B2, Brocmar has fully taken over the space. From the Brocmar sign painted on the brick outside to the high-top tables made out of barrels in the dining room. Honestly, it feels more at home with the industrial salvage motif than B2 does.

This was only the second night of table service for a business that has never done it before so there were hiccups to work out. We were seated promptly and we put in our drink order quickly but were told that Jamie would be taking care of us after that. Jamie never came so it was obvious that they’re still learning who is responsible for which tables, but things were smooth after that.

For the friends and family event, we were encouraged to order a lot of food and to try some of the new offerings along with the old. After we ordered, it wasn’t long before a large tray filled with sample dishes arrived at our table.

The friends and family preview menu was “limited.” About the only thing that wasn’t available was my beloved Brocmar taco. But that just meant an opportunity to broaden my horizons – appropriate since that’s exactly what Brocmar was doing as well.

(Gary, the owner and pitmaster, offered to have one delivered to us anyway, but we declined. If you want to read about the Brocmar taco, click here).

Brocmar offers eight different sauces, and I’ve tried just about all of them now. Preview night was my first exposure to the Mississippi Comeback sauce – listed as a “classic southern dipping sauce for fried foods.” Appropriately, it was drizzled atop my order of fried catfish.

Long time readers know that I am not a fan of seafood but I was pressured into trying the catfish. I have to say, I actually enjoyed it. There wasn’t much of a fishy taste to speak of. Instead, most of the flavor came from the combination of the breading and the sauce. The comeback definitely had a kick to it – not as much as the cayenne-based Moonshine sauce – but enough to get your attention. And both Julie and I really enjoyed it. I would actually order it again sometime.

My favorite among Brocmar’s sauces is still the Cripple Creek. Made with bourbon and brown sugar, the Cripple Creek sauce is a dark, thick sauce with deep flavor and just enough sweetness. It works on everything, but I especially enjoyed it on our loaded tots.

The golden brown tots come topped with cheese sauce (we had it on the side) and choice of meat – for us, brisket. All of the ingredients are good, but it was the addition of the sauce that made it great for me. Adding that rich, smokey flavor to the tots and brisket was perfect.

Among the other samplers we got were the smoked wings. Unlike the fried version, these had a nice char around the outside. Julie found it to be a little too well done, but I thought the char from the smoker added some excellent flavor.

I thought the same about the ribs. They were charred on the outside but the meat still came off the bone easily. And with a few drops of sauce, they were very enjoyable.

Both Julie and I also ordered sandwiches (to be fair, we thought we were getting half-sandwiches, not whole sandwiches cut in half) with our favorite barbecue meats – brisket for Julie, pulled pork for me.

There’s nothing I can say about Brocmar’s smoked meats that I haven’t already said. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it right.

I did, however, use the opportunity to try out a couple new sauces. The Moonshine sauce – Brocmar’s hot sauce – was way hotter than I expected. I was a much bigger fan of the Red Dirt Road sauce, a black pepper-based sauce that went really well with the pulled pork. I also found the Hokey Pokey sauce to be a good pairing too. It’s described as “mild and sweet with a little twang.” It’s a classic ‘cue sauce that I enjoyed, for sure.

Like his parents, Jakob is also a big fan of Brocmar. Our 19-month-old loves Brocmar’s mac and cheese. We knew that going in to the meal. What we didn’t know was how much he loves Brocmar’s baked beans.

I don’t blame him either. The baked beans are unique in that it’s a blend of black and red beans. The sauce is just sweet enough.

None of us needed anything else, but there was “Nanner Pudding” waiting.

Thankfully it was a small sample, but it was more than enough to get a taste of the delicious dessert – sweet pudding topped with fresh cut bananas. The only problem is that I have never had room for dessert after a Brocmar taco.

But maybe the opening of the new location will get us to broaden our horizons a little more when it comes to Brocmar Smokehouse. We certainly tried more on this night than in all of our previous trips to the Shillington Farmers Market combined.

And all of it was delicious. If they can nail the service – again, this was their second night of running a full-service restaurant – the new location will become a mainstay in the crowded West Reading dining scene.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading
10 S. Summit Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Aaron’s Tacos

We saw the red wagon being towed north on Route 61 that morning. “They must be setting up at the Fiesta,” I said to Julie.

The red wagon is distinct around Berks County. It’s the center of operations for Aaron’s Tacos, a mobile food business that has been making the rounds in Berks County for the last several years.

The Fiesta was the Spring Fiesta, held at Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township on June 8. The event is hailed as having Berks County’s Best Tacos (you may remember our recent visit to the Berks County Taco Fest – a completely unrelated event with a couple overlapping vendors). Aaron’s was one of about 15 food vendors schedule to take part in the event.

Aaron's Tacos is probably Berks County's smallest mobile restaurant - the little red wagon is barely big enough for the two employees who were running it.

We were at the festival early. It was shortly before noon and the lunch crowd was still rolling in while we were there. There was no line at Aaron’s when I walked up to the window to order my three tacos – one each of steak, chicken and chorizo.

As I waited, two things were clear to me.

1. Aaron’s needed one more person.

2. One more person couldn’t fit inside the wagon.

The flat-top grill was between myself and the woman taking my order. She was very nice and went through the full list of proteins available. But she was also responsible for cooking them while a colleague stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her while pan-frying pastelillos and Jamaica beef patties.

She was also the one accepting the money, and with so little room, she had to walk outside the wagon to a table with a cash box. Eventually, a third person came and was on the grill, at least some of the time, which helped the process.

And while I appreciated that my meat was being cooked to order, it felt like an eternity as I watched sevreal people come through and get their ready-made fried meat pies while my tacos remained unfinished on the cook-top.

Fifteen minutes later, they were finished and I paid my $10.50 before joining Julie and Jakob at a table nearby.

(Julie and Jakob enjoyed a meal from Tlacuani Mexican Restaurant in Temple, a restaurant we visited in 2015).

All of Aaron's tacos are served on corn tortillas with the traditional onions and cilantro plus sliced radish and lime wedges for garnish.

My tacos looked great and – like all tacos from Aaron’s – were prepared in the traditional Mexican style with onions and cilantros. The only additional embellishments were radish slices and limes. The former added a splash of color; the latter, a little DIY citrus flavor.

I enjoyed all three. The corn tortillas were also grilled on the flat-top and were served hotter than any other tacos that I have been served, but they also stayed together better than any other corn tortillas so maybe that’s the trick.

With all of the toppings the same except the proteins, they became the only differentiator between the three. The chorizo was at the top of my list because the spiced sausage has more built-in flavor. The chicken and the steak were both good, as well. I would gladly eat all three again in the future.

But I don’t know that I would wait for them again, at least at an event like the Spring Fiesta where there were 14 other places to get tacos that are just as good without the wait.

Maybe I caught them at a bad time – and I hope that’s all it is – but it just seems like the little red wagon isn’t quite big to do the job as well as it could.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Circle S Ranch House

The Ranch House is recognizable for its A-frame roof, faux fencing and neon orange sign.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

The dining room looks tired and worn with green cushions and cream curtains accenting worn-out wooden booths

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

The Wagon Wheel hamburger is served plain with no toppings (cheese optional) but does come with a boat load of fries.

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

The grilled pretzel sandwich is the most expensive sandwich on the menu at $8.19. It's served with fries and coleslaw. (Cheese is a 75-cent up-charge).

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt.  Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

The Bull Dog - a four-scoop ice cream sundae - is one of Ranch House's signature desserts and is only $5.

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

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

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews