Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Brocmar Smokehouse’s West Reading location is now closed as of October 10, 2019. Brocmar continues to operate at the Shillington Farmers Market, its arena and stadium locations, and its mobile food truck and catering business. B2 Bistro, which Brocmar shared the space with, is continuing to offer barbecue with the newly opened BBQ Smokehouse at B2.

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

Closed

Signatures by Angell Cafe – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace closed at the end of March 2019, just a few months after opening. Signatures by Angell continues to operate as a catering and meal prep business in Delaware.

In early November, a newspaper story caught my attention. It wasn’t in the Reading Eagle, but in LNP, Lancaster’s local paper.

The article announced the arrival of the Morgantown Farmers Marketplace, a 25-vendor market located behind the Dollar General and Kog Hill Winery – just over the border in Lancaster County.

What caught my attention more than anything wasn’t the farmers market, itself, but the paper’s mention of a stand selling Southern comfort food.

A couple months later in early January, Julie, Jakob and I made the drive down I-176 and the Morgantown Expressway to check it out.

The Marketplace is an eclectic group of vendors. There were hemp products, sports figures, soaps and vintage arcade games, all under one roof. It’s not much of a farmers market, though.

There’s a small produce stand and a deli. And then there’s Signatures by Angell Cafe.

Chef Angell is a celebrity chef from the Greater Philadelphia area, teaching classes and hosting cooking demonstrations around southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware – where her catering business is based.

The Morgantown cafe is an extension of the catering, a place to get her “signature” soul food every Thursday through Sunday. It features a limited menu that rotates weekly, but two items that seem to be on the menu every week are fried chicken and southern smothered chicken.

Smothered chicken is slow-cooked chicken served in sausage gravy. It’s a simple dish, but Angell does it very well. It’s fresh chicken, not processed strips, and there was plenty of it. The sausage gravy was heavy but good. I was surprised by how well the sausage and chicken worked together. And the potato roll hiding underneath the gravy – while a small touch -added a mild sweetness to the dish.

I would definitely order it again.

For my two sides, I ordered the braised collard greens and sweet potato soufflé. The collards were tossed with smoked turkey, giving it a savory and salty flavor to go with the bitter greens. The soufflé was excellent: sweet and hearty.

Julie was really hoping to try an order of fried chicken, but they were sold out for the day by the time we arrived. (When she didn’t see a fryer in the open kitchen, she was ok with not having any).

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – Julie also ordered the smothered chicken. She also doubled on the sweet potatoes (the cafe has a very limited menu of three entrees and three to four sides each week) but for her second side chose the macaroni and cheese.

The idea was to share the mac and cheese with our one-year-old son Jakob, but he was too busy watching everything going on around him to eat. The Hunger Games  was playing on the TV behind us, just what we wanted him to watch.

Julie enjoyed it, though. Because mac and cheese is one of Jakob’s favorite dishes, Julie has also eaten a lot of macaroni lately. This was one of the better ones that she has had recently.

The only real negative we had about our meal is that we had to hold Jakob throughout the meal. There was plenty of seating – picnic tables and cafe seats – but no high chairs and no chairs with backs where we could secure his portable chair we carry with us. That’s on the market, though, not the cafe.

Everything about the Cafe was very good – even the $35 price tag felt reasonable for the quality of the food that we received.

The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace could use a little work yet, but Signatures by Angell Cafe is a great anchor to have. Our meal certainly makes me want to go back.

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

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews

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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Best meatball parm around. #BerksCountyEats

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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

Kathryn’s Grille – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Kathryn’s Grille is now closed. The restaurant originally cut back its hours before closing in early 2018.

Great restaurants have an identity. That’s the case everywhere, including Berks County.

Willoughby’s on Park is a high-end steakhouse. Tomcat Cafe is creative breakfast. Nonno Alby’s Wood Oven Pizza is…wood oven pizza.

For all of these, you know what you’re getting before you go. But there are many restaurants where, at first glance, it’s a little harder.

Kathryn’s Grille, one of Berks County’s newest restaurants, falls into the latter category.

The Douglassville restaurant is located just off westbound Route 422 in a small shopping center formerly home to Amity Ice Cream and OVO BYOB.

It’s a cozy spot with mostly tables for two and a few four-seaters. It’s also one of the nicest dining rooms around: minimalistic in its decor with soft grays and blacks that give it a slightly upscale feel.

But something about the menu just doesn’t seem to fit. It features fried appetizers and wings (50 cents on Sunday), assorted burgers and sandwiches, and eight entree options.

The entrees themselves are an interesting mix. There’s a New York strip steak, seafood options including crab cakes and grilled salmon, and a couple Italian specialties (chicken Parmesan and chicken marsala).

Meanwhile, the sides – fries, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, apple sauce, etc. – scream diner.

For my entree, I decided on the filet beef tips over egg noodles. They were tossed with a blend of mushrooms (cremini, shiitake and domestic, according to the menu) and caramelized onions.

At first, I wasn’t really into it. The noodles on top were very dry. But as I dug deeper, I found increasingly vibrant flavors as the onions and mushrooms soaked into the dish. The steak was fine, but it needed those other flavors to really elevate it.

On the menu, it listed that the meat and mushrooms were in a caramelized onion beef gravy. While the onions were present, there was no gravy. It wasn’t until I was writing this review and looked at the menu again that I realized that gravy was advertised. No wonder the noodles were dry.

None of the sides really paired well with the meal, but being forced to choose one, I went with the day’s special, a vegetable medley of roasted peppers and squash.

Even while we sat there, I joked with Julie that “vegetable medley” is code for vegetables that need to be used before they go bad. The peppers were actually very good, and it was certainly an interesting mix, but not something that I would order again.

I suppose I could have done a side salad, but then I would have preferred that as an appetizer, not a side.

Among the appetizers available is the French onion soup – the only soup with a permanent place on menu. It sounded like a good way to start the meal.

Our waitress asked if I would prefer it in a crock or a bread bowl. I had no choice but to go with the traditional crock.

The soup was topped with a combination of Swiss and Provolone cheeses. The soup itself was good if a little salty, but I thought the cheeses didn’t work as well with it as a more traditional gruyere. They didn’t melt very well and didn’t complement the flavors of soup in the same way.

Provolone cheese was a key ingredient in Julie’s entree, the “Dip It” prime rib sandwich. It was a typical French dip with a glass of au jus for dipping.

It was a good sandwich. The roll was excellent, soaking up the au jus well. I wouldn’t call it the best French dip around, but Julie enjoyed it.

Sandwiches are served with house-made chips. These were excellent. The small waffle-cut chips were well-salted, bite sized and perfect for snacking.

Toward the end of our meal, the owner (I assume) came around and stopped at every table to ask how their meals were. He then dimmed the lights slightly “I don’t want it to feel like a cafeteria.”

I guess “cafeteria” is one thing that Kathryn’s is not.

But I’m still trying to figure out what it is.

Here’s what I do know about Kathryn’s: The sandwich was good and so were the chips. The beef tips needed that gravy. The French onion soup left something to be desired. And it was $40 for our meal.

So where does that leave us? Conflicted. It’s a restaurant with potential, but it’s lacking something. Hopefully they can figure out what that is.

Kathryn’s Grille
1 Park Ln
Douglassville, PA 19518

Kathryn's Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Cosa's ragu bolongese has layers of flavor from the sauce, homemade pasta and herbs

Cosa Pizzeria & Restaurant – CLOSED

Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant opened in May in the former Basil outside Sinking Spring.

Editor’s Note – Cosa Pizzeria & Restaurant closed in fall 2017 after less than a year operating in this location.

Restaurants close and restaurants open. There have been more than a few times on Berks County Eats where I have visited the same location more than once to try a new restaurant that has taken the place of one that went away.

Early in 2017, Basil Restaurant and Pizzeria outside Sinking Spring closed its doors for the last time. In stepped in Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant, giving us the opportunity to return to a familiar place for a new experience.

The dining areas look much the same as they did when Basil Restaurant and Pizzeria operated at the same location.

Cosa opened in the space on Fritztown Road in May, picking up where Basil had left off. And while the restaurant looks much the same as it did when it was Basil, subtle changes have already begun. Lunch service was ended and the restaurant now opens at 4 p.m. daily.

The menu is all-new. There’s a strong focus on pizza, but Cosa also offers 10 entree options and a selection of sandwiches.

Also new was the pairing for our complimentary bread. Along with the olive oil was a bowl with a mix of potatoes, tomatoes, herbs and oil.

Bread, olive oil, and a potato and tomato salad made for an interesting appetizer.

It was an interesting combination with the thick, airy slices of bread, but it worked. It felt like an Italian potato salad more than a bruschetta because there was no crunch of the crostini or strong balsamic overtones. The potatoes were soft and created a unique taste and texture. Julie and I both tried it and liked it, but left most of it because it was too heavy for us to finish without ruining our appetites.

Cosa offers the standard house salad with mixed greens, cucumbers, carrots, onions, cherry tomatoes and croutons.

Our house salads were next to arrive a short time later. It was your basic starter salad with mixed greens, sliced onions, cherry tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, topped with a handful of croutons. It was presented beautifully, and everything was fresh. It was everything I look for in a salad, setting the tone for a good meal to come.

Both Julie and I picked from the selection of entrees. My choice was the ragu alla Bolognese.

Cosa's ragu bolongese has layers of flavor from the sauce, homemade pasta and herbs

It featured house-made pappardelle pasta and a traditional ragu with ground veal, sofrito, red wine, crushed tomato and cream.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of veal, but I was a big fan of this dish. The meat added a richness that was perfect for the slightly creamy tomato sauce. The sauce was thick enough and the pasta cooked well enough that that sauce stuck, never sliding off to pool at the bottom of the bowl.

There was a depth of flavor to the dish as well with just enough seasoning to bring out the best in the ingredients.

Cosa's ricotta gnocchi is served in brown butter with pancetta and parmigiano reggiano.

Julie’s ricotta gnocchi was another excellent dish.

We have had gnocchi served many different ways. This was our first taste of ricotta gnocchi, using the rich cheese as a base instead of potatoes. It was tossed in brown butter with pancetta, fresh sage and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Brown butter is a favorite of both of ours – a guilty pleasure because a big pool of butter is not the healthiest sauce – and it worked really well with the ricotta gnocchi here. The fresh sage mixed in really shined through and gave a bright, herby flavor to the whole dish. And the pancetta added salt to the dish while giving it a savory element.

Both of our meals were very well done, and we took half of each home for later meals.

Our total bill was about $35, but we only had to spend about $10 because Cosa accepts gift certificates from the former Basil, including our $25 gift certificate that had gone unused.

We certainly did not want to see Basil close, but Cosa is proving to be a worthy replacement, carrying the mantle and providing delicious Italian food to the Sinking Spring area.

Hopefully others enjoy it, too, so we won’t be returning to review another new restaurant anytime soon.

Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant
776 Fritztown Rd
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Julie's blueberry-banana smoothie bowl with almond milk and granola.

The Green Bean Cafe – CLOSED

The Green Bean Cafe Wyomissing

Editor’s Note: The Green Bean Cafe is now closed. The owner reopened the location as a new concept, The Meat Up Delicatessen, in May 2018 before closing less than two months later.

I always get excited when a new restaurant opens up, but the Green Bean Cafe was a different level of excitement for me.

It’s not just that Berks County would be getting an all-organic cafe, but that the all-organic cafe would be just blocks away from my house.

Having walked past the Park Road strip mall that now houses the cafe (the same one where you will find Mikura Asian Bistro and Nino’s Italian Restaurant), we had peeked in at the renovations and watched as the mural came to life behind the counter.

Inside the Green Bean Cafe in Wyomissing, PA.

So we decided to make the short walk to the cafe for Saturday morning breakfast during its opening week.

It was a little before 9 a.m. when we arrived, and there was only one other customer – a lone woman seated at one of four tables on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Animated vegetables adorn the walls of the bathrooms at the Green Bean Cafe

We walked in and picked up a menu, browsing the list of breakfast bruschetta power toast – five different choices including the “Stress Buster” (hazelnut spread with bananas and coconut flakes) and the “Tummy Tower” (avocado, black pepper, sea salt and housemade hummus).

The owner, who was behind the counter to take our order, told us that it had been a good first week, but that lunch was definitely more popular than breakfast.

Lunch options at the cafe include salads, paninis and vegetable noodle dishes – spiralized sweet potato, butternut squash or zucchini roasted with olive oil, sea salt and pepper (additional proteins optional).

The dining area of the Green Bean Cafe

The cafe also offers waffles, egg sandwiches, and a dish called the sweet potato nest: sweet potato noodles filled with an egg, accompanied by sliced tomato, avocado and toast.

But both Julie and I were looking for a sweeter morning so we decided to create our own smoothie bowls.

Green Bean’s smoothie bowls are completely customizable with your choice of base – vanilla yogurt, milk, coconut milk or almond milk), fruit, vegetables, sweeteners (almond butter, peanut butter, honey or sugar) and toppings (like chia seeds, granola or coconut flakes).

A strawberry-orange smoothie bowl with almond milk and sliced almonds.

My bowl consisted of an almond milk base with strawberries and oranges. It was sweetened with honey and topped with sliced almonds.

While it is essentially a smoothie, it is served in a bowl like a chilled soup. It took about 10 minutes for our bowls to be delivered to the table, and they certainly looked every bit as appetizing as they sounded.

The strawberries gave my smoothie its distinct red speckled coloring, but the oranges definitely shone through in the flavor. There was just enough honey to add another layer of sweetness.

While the almonds were listed as a topping, many of them had sank into the smoothie so every bite also had a nutty crunch. The almonds also helped make it more hearty, adding healthful fats that were also filling.

Julie's blueberry-banana smoothie bowl with almond milk and granola.

Julie’s bowl, like mine, started with almond milk. But that’s where the similarities ended. she added blueberries and bananas as her fruits, a little almond butter to thicken it, and topped it off with granola.

The blueberries were front and center, but you could taste all of the ingredients – the bananas and the almond butter both came through. Like the almonds in my dish, the granola added some needed crunch to the dish.

Looking at our two bowls next to each other, Julie felt like I had a little bit more. And she unfortunately was still a little hungry at the end so she grabbed a muffin to go.

Julie taking her gluten free muffin to go.

The gluten free muffins, ironically enough, were also blueberry and banana flavored. They weren’t very large, but it was a needed addition to fill her up until lunch.

With the muffin added on (plus a bottle of water to drink), we spent a total of $25. Organic is not cheap, and the smoothie bowls at $9.95 each were actually among the most expensive items on the menu, breakfast or lunch.

Being so close to the cafe, Julie and I both agreed that we would go back, but we would definitely order differently. If we ordered the smoothie bowls, we would also get one of the power toasts or waffles to split. It would be a little more expensive, but it would be more filling. Or we would each get our own toast and split the smoothie bowl.

Either way, we will be back. It’s too close not to give it another try.

The Green Bean Cafe
840 N. Park Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

The Green Bean Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Breakfast & Brunch Closed Reviews
Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

Billy Burger & Bakery – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Billy Burger & Bakery is now closed. The restaurant closed in February 2019 after initially announcing that they were going to make changes, but not close.

Morgantown is an area that I have not explored nearly enough on Berks County Eats.

Every day, I get on and off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Morgantown exit, but my destination is always in the opposite direction.

So I decided to do something about it. And while browsing ideas for dinner in the area, one restaurant stood out: Billy Burger and Bakery.

Billy Burger is located along Route 23 heading east from Morgantown toward Elverson, Chester County, in the Morgantown Crossings shopping center.

The building is distinctly fast food, a former Dairy Queen that still maintains the profile of its former tenant.

Inside, you would never recognize it. The DQ menu boards have been replaced by handwritten chalk boards. At the counter, a display case of tantalizing baked goods beckons.

Desserts include black cherry blondies, carrot cake sandwich cookies and an assortment of gourmet cupcakes: peach cobbler, chocolate mountain, Boston cream and cookie dough to name a few.

But bakery is just part of the name. You can’t overlook the burgers.

Billy Burger offers four burger choices: the Billy with ketchup, mustard and pickle; the Truck Stop, with coleslaw and waffle fries on the burger; the Twin Valley, featuring pepper jack, lettuce, tomato and horseradish; and my choice, the Ranch Burger.

The Ranch Burger starts with mesquite seasoning on the patty and the standard lettuce and tomato. Then it gets crazy with the addition of a grilled poblano pepper and buttermilk peppercorn ranch dressing.

I was expecting spicy, but was pleasantly surprised to find that, while flavorful, the poblano pepper was not mouth-burning hot. Instead, the de-seeding and grill had made it quite pleasant with all of the flavor and just a hint of the heat.

The ranch dressing and veggies were cool and refreshing providing depth of flavor and texture. Overall, it was a great burger that I would be happy to enjoy again.

I would also enjoy the fries again. They were fresh-cut, served fresh out of the fryer and easy to eat.

Julie went with the build-your-own option for her burger, topping it with lettuce, tomato, American cheese and bacon. The bacon was well-done, and the American cheese was melted nicely onto the patty.

And her waffle fries were delicious as well. There was a hint of extra seasoning added to the golden brown fries making them quite addictive.

Not wanting leave without the full experience, we needed to take at least one baked good home with us to try. Our cashier talked us into the freshly made strawberry shortcake.

What sold it for us was that it was truly a “from-scratch” dish. Not only was the cake baked onsite, but the whipped cream is also made in-house at Billy Burger.

Tasting it for the first time the next day, I was a fan. The shortcake was light and airy. The whipped cream was fluffy and sweet, but not too sweet.

I will definitely be back to try more from the bakery.

For dinner and dessert, our total was about $30. I thought that was very reasonable for the amount and quality of food that we got.

One thing to note, while Billy Burger is located in a former fast food restaurant, it is not fast food. Everything is cooked to order so there is a wait until it is delivered to your table, inside or out on the patio.

Billy Burger is a new addition to my short list of favorite burger places in Berks, one that I’m excited to visit again.

All I have to do is go the extra mile – literally – into Morgantown.

Billy Burger and Bakery
650 Crossings Blvd
Elverson, PA 19520

Billy Burger & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gourmand Cafe at Fairgrounds Farmers Market – CLOSED

The Gourmand Cafe at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market is now closed. The location closed in late 2018.

It’s the last week in April, and that means this is our last stop (for now) on our tour of the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

We still had several places we wanted to visit, and the decision wasn’t easy, but we decided to go to someplace both familiar and new.

Gourmand has built a mini empire around its unique eats. It started with the Gourmand Artisan Street Food truck. That led to two cafes – one inside Body Zone and one in Wyomissing. In December, they added a third cafe, this one inside the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

It’s one of the larger food stands at the market today with counter seating for 20.

We stopped in on a Thursday evening just after 6 p.m. Many stands were closing up or already closed (the market officially closes at 7). Even at Gourmand, the clean-up process had already begun, but the lone employee behind the counter was more than happy to take care of us.

The menu features many of Gourmand’s greatest hits like the Berks (the grilled sweet bologna, cream cheese, apple butter and potato chip sandwich I tried at the food truck) and their signature loaded fries.

For my entree, I went with another Gourmand classic – the Burgh.

If you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh (and even if you haven’t), you most likely have heard of Primanti Brothers and their famous sandwich. The Burgh is Gourmand’s take on the classic.

The Burgh starts with pastrami and melted provolone. Like a Primanti Brothers sandwich, it’s topped with three things: tomatoes, coleslaw and French fries.

It’s an odd mix to be sure, but Pittsburgh is an odd city.

The contrast between the hot and cold elements is interesting. The fries cooled off with the tomatoes and coleslaw while the meat and cheese stayed warm.

My one wish for the dish would be to have the bread toasted. As it was, the bread got soggy from the greasy pastrami and the juice from the slaw.

If you’re into the Primanti Brothers, you’d probably be into the sandwich. I liked it, but I wouldn’t have to get it again.

Julie’s sandwich was more my speed.

The Chicago style Italian is reminiscent of a French dip – it’s served with a side of au jus – but does stray a little bit with the use of shaved Parmesan cheese and the addition of banana peppers.

It was a nice sandwich where the meat was able to really be the star. The au jus makes it go down a little easier and adds a little salt to the dish. I can’t speak to the banana peppers because Julie had already picked them off the sandwich by the time she offered me a bite (though I’m sure they add a pleasant kick to it).

I can’t talk about our meals without mentioning the potato chips.

Gourmand fries their own potato chips, and they are a highlight of any meal. Lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, the chips are beautifully crunchy. I would have eaten any amount that they put in front of me. Thankfully, they portioned it well to save me from myself.

Our two sandwiches were less than $20 – a bargain in our estimation, especially given that Julie took half of hers home. That’s the great thing about the Fairgrounds Farmers Market. Everywhere you go, you can find a great meal at a great price.

And the Fairgrounds Farmers Market is the perfect fit for Gourmand’s quick and quirky food, the perfect place to continue to experiment with the menu on a weekly basis.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Gourmand Cafe
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. Fifth Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

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

Closed Reviews

ViVA Castle Pub – CLOSED

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Editor’s Note: In December 2017, the Reading Country Club terminated ViVA’s management contract, effectively closing the pub in its current incarnation.

Valentine’s Day is an annual occasion that is made for a memorable meal.

Julie and I have experienced some of our favorite Berks County Eats meals on Valentine’s Day. Over the past three years, we visited Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette, Salute Ristorante Italiano and Heirloom.

This year, we were looking forward to another unforgettable experience, this time at the ViVA Castle Pub at the Reading Country Club.

The castle at the Reading Country Club is one of the most beautiful and recognizable structures in the county. The towering structure overlooks one of the county’s premier golf courses just off Route 422 in Exeter Township.

Two years ago, the club’s management made a switch in caterer from Chef Alan’s to ViVA, giving the restaurant it’s new name: ViVA Castle Pub.

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We have visited the original ViVA multiple times – it’s just a short walk from our home base in Wyomissing – with mixed results. When we went for a review in 2014, it was an excellent meal.

That meal, like our Valentine’s Day reservation at the Castle Pub, was a four-course meal for two. So we had high expectations for a romantic dinner.

We arrived a little early and were seated promptly. The room was dimly lit with candles at every table – excellent ambiance, but terrible lighting for food photography.

As mentioned, our meal was four courses, including a shared flatbread, two soups or salads, two entrees and two dessert shooters.

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Our meal started off well enough with a nice mushroom and arugula flatbread. Cut in fours, the flatbread was loaded with the two namesake ingredients plus chevre cheese and black truffle essence. It was enjoyable and hearty.

Things started to take a turn with course number two. I ordered the French onion soup while Julie ordered the Caesar salad.

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First, the soup. While there was cheese melted over the top, it didn’t look like French onion. The cheese wasn’t bubbly enough and neither was it darkened as it should be.

Salty, filled with plenty of onions and bread chunks, it tasted fine, but nothing special.

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Julie found her Caesar salad to be uninspired as well. Instead of tossing it all together, the Caesar dressing was served on the side. While it tasted fine, that’s not how you serve a traditional Caesar salad, especially when the customer is expecting a special meal.

The real disappointment came from our entrees, once we got them. Twice our waitress stopped by to apologize about how long it was taking for our meals. I would have assumed they were forgotten if not for hearing every waitress making similar apologies throughout the dining room.

How the Castle Pub is on a regular night, I can’t say. But they were definitely not on their game on this night.

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I ordered the herb-encrusted chicken served with fettucine alfredo, grated Parmesan and sautéed vegetables.

What they called herb-encrusted looked more like Shake’n Bake. But it had less flavor. The entire dish was dry. I tasted no herbs in the bread-crumb coated chicken breasts. And I tasted very little alfredo in the fettucine alfredo (Julie didn’t even realize there was a sauce).

The vegetables were mostly fine, but the cherry tomatoes that were part of the dish were tossed in later so every few bites I had a cold tomato with my hot food.

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Julie’s dish was better, but only by comparison. She ordered pasta ala vodka with shrimp.

The sauce was good, it was definitely more flavorful than my alfredo. But the shrimp still had tails on them so every time she wanted a taste, she had to remove the tails and mix it back into her pasta. (Not to mention, the shrimp were burnt).

At that point, the shrimp may as well have been served on the side because it had no opportunity to soak up the flavors of the sauce.

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Thankfully, we had dessert coming and could end the meal on a more pleasant note. For our shooters, we went with tiramisu and key lime pie.

Both were enjoyable. The light, airy desserts were packed with flavor, especially the key lime pie. However it was essentially a pudding, and we longed for a little crust crumble to add some texture. The tiramisu was very good, but again could have used some texture.

To save room for dessert, we packed up most of our dinner to take home (though in all honesty, it’s probably not going to get eaten).

On this night, the four-course dinner was $50 per couple. If we had ordered everything ala carte, it would have been closer to $60. For the amount of food, I suppose it could be called a good deal. For the quality, I felt like we had been cheated.

We had high hopes for our Valentine’s Day meal this year. Unfortunately, sometimes a meal just doesn’t meet expectations.

Next year, we’ll just find someplace better.

ViVA Castle Pub
5311 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Reading Country Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews

Giraldi’s Italian Eatery & NY Style Pizza – CLOSED

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Editor’s Note: Giraldi’s Italian Eatery & NY Style Pizza, which at the time of this post was known as Pete’s New York Style Pizza, is now closed. A new restaurant – Chicho Bella Pizza & Subs – is now in the location.

October is my favorite time of the year.

I spend my summer months anxiously looking forward to our annual celebration of National Pizza Month and four weeks of blogging Berks County’s best pizza shops.

Choosing which places to visit is the hardest part because there are dozens of great pizzas that I haven’t tried yet. So every year I rely on review sites to help me find them.

One of the names that kept appearing among the best was Pete’s New York Style Pizza on Lancaster Pike in Shillington.

In a past life, I spent a summer working next door at the Speedway (then a Hess). Pete’s was not yet Pete’s, and Berks County Eats wasn’t even an idea yet.

I don’t remember the name of the restaurant that was there previously, but I remember we ordered dinner from there once and it being nothing memorable.

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Pete’s still doesn’t look like much from the outside, but I was impressed by the interior. There’s not a lot of space in that little building, but they managed to squeeze in two rows of booths, some high-top tables and a counter along one of the windows. It’s probably more than enough seating for what is mostly a take-out business.

We went in with no clue what we were getting, but the pizzas sitting behind the counter were enticing. So we decided to order a couple slices.

Let’s get this out of the way now: Reheated slices are never as good as a fresh-made pizza. The crust gets harder. The toppings can get a little dry.

That’s exactly what happened with our slices.

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I had a supreme with pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushroom and sausage. It was a solid slice, no skimping on the toppings, but that second trip through the oven wasn’t kind to the crust, drying it out significantly.

Julie’s stuffed chicken bacon ranch stuffed slice was much the same. There were plenty of toppings, including lots of bacon with a nice ranch dressing drizzle on top. She never eats her crust anyway so the over-done dough at the edge didn’t bother her much.

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Both slices were good, exactly what we expected. Next time we’ll have to try a fresh pie.

We knew that slices probably weren’t going to fill us up so we got 10 wings to help with that. Above the counter were listed Pete’s new wing flavors, and we were really excited to try the zesty orange. Unfortunately, we were told that it was unavailable.

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So instead we got the sweet red chili. The sauce on the breaded wings was more chili than sweet. It wasn’t a burning hot, but it was enough that I went through my drink faster than I had expected.

In hindsight, slices were not the smartest decision. It’s not just because of the leftover nature of them, but because the stuffed and specialty slices are pricy ($3.60 for a specialty, over $5 for a stuffed) so our total bill was north of the $20 mark.

What we should have done was ordered a fresh pie. It would have been a better gauge of Pete’s pizzas at a better value.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do. Hopefully before we get to next year’s National Pizza Month celebration.

Pete’s New York Style Pizza
2342 Lancaster Pike
Shillington, PA 19607

Petes Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews