Restaurants We Lost in 2018

A new year is upon us, but Berks County Eats is taking one more look back at 2018, paying tribute to 17 restaurants that Berks County lost in 2018.

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

A&M Pizza & Grill

There were high hopes across the board when A&M Pizza returned to its former location in Wernersville. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed less than a year after the Lebanon County-based restaurant made its return, with the lights going dark in late fall, the latest in a series of short-lived restaurants that have come and gone in that location in the past decade.

Relish

Named for the gourmet hot dogs that it served at lunchtime, Relish lasted for a year along Penn Avenue in West Reading before closing in 2018. The breakfast and lunch spot also served specialty coffees and baked goods. (Note, don’t confuse this for Relish the Deli-sh in Wyomissing, the local deli that’s still going strong).

Inside the Green Bean Cafe in Wyomissing, PA.

The Green Bean Cafe and The Meat-Up Delicatessin

It’s rare that the same restaurant closes twice in the same year, but that’s what happened with the Green Bean Cafe and The Meat-Up Delicatessin in Wyomissing. Originally opened in 2017 as an all-organic cafe, the Green Bean closed less than a year later when ownership transformed it into a New York deli. The new concept didn’t last long either. In the fall, Park Road Cafe opened in the location.

Bar-B-Q Delight

Bar-B-Q Delight took over the former Aashiyana Indian Cuisine on South Sixth Street in Reading early in 2018, but the restaurant unfortunately didn’t last through its first year.

Blue Star Family Restaurant

After the iconic Risser’s Family Restaurant closed in 2015, the Blue Star stepped in and was popular from the start. Unfortunately, things went downhill and the number of cars in the parking lot along Route 422 in Stouchsburg got smaller and smaller. The restaurant changed hands in 2018 with the new owners operating it as Blue Star for a short time before creating a new start under the name Rocky Family Restaurant.

Hamburg Diner

One of the longest-running restaurants to close in 2018, the Hamburg Diner had been serving customers in dowtown Hamburg for more than 50 years before closing in May.

The Outside In

A long-time favorite in downtown Reading, the Outside In closed its doors in August 2018 after 20 years in business. The restaurant served breakfast and lunch daily while also opening for dinner before hockey games and concerts at Santander Arena.

Dino’s Wings & Things – Birdsboro

The bad news: Dino’s Wings & Things’ second attempt to open a second location in Birdsboro didn’t work out with the location closing in the spring. The good news: Dino’s opened another location in Leesport shortly afterward and the flagship Temple location is still going strong.

Kathryn’s Grille

The short-lived Kathryn’s Grille opened in Amity Township in 2017 before closing in early 2018. The restaurant took the place of the former OVO BYOB. A new restaurant, Oliviero’s Pizzeria opened in the location in the summer.

Tiger Lily Cafe

Robesonia’s Tiger Lily Cafe was one of the first restaurants we lost in 2018, closing on January 6. A new restaurant called Whoo’s Cooking took over the space in 2018, moving from Wernersville.

Gourmand Cafe at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market

Gourmand is a brand born in Berks County that has enjoyed tremendous success and growth in the last five years. Unfortunately it has not come without growing pains. As the food truck start-up has expanded to brick-and-mortar locations, it has struggled to find the right balance, closing its stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market earlier this year in favor of a new location on Court Street in downtown Reading. (The food truck and the Wyomissing cafe also have continued to thrive).

Abe’s by Chef Alan

The conversion from hotel to apartments wasn’t the only change at the former Abraham Lincoln in downtown Reading. The building also lost its on-site restaurant, Abe’s by Chef Alan, in January.

Sofrito – Mohnton

This was one of the more interesting stories of 2018. In October, it was announced that Sofrito Gastro Pub – one of Reading’s most popular restaurants – was closing until further notice. Two months later, the Reading location is back serving the community as it always has while the Mohnton location – which was added in 2016 – is now closed. While we are sad that the expansion didn’t work out, we’re glad that the Reading location is the one that will go on and bear the flag for Sofrito moving forward.

Go Fish

In March, a fire destroyed the Go Fish seafood and sushi restaurant in West Reading. The business continued to operate its stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market. The West Reading location will not reopen, but they did open a cafe inside Body Zone in Spring Township and in October announced on Facebook they were renovating a building in Sinking Spring borough.

Lavigna & Sons

The Philadelphia-style hoagie shop Lavigna & Sons in Sinking Spring closed in July after the building and neighboring lawn and garden store were sold. The site is being redeveloped as an Ace Hardware.

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17 Restaurants Berks County Lost in 2017

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

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

Joey Peeps

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

Basil by Chef Gianluca

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

Rocco’s Wood-Fired Pizza

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

Virginville Hotel

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

East Wok

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

Gourmand Cafe at Body Zone

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

Ronie’s Home of the Steak

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

Back Forty Bar & Gril

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

Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ

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

Speedy Sandwich Shop

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

The Cafe at Maple Springs

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

Rocky’s Pizza

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

Fields Kitchen by ViVA

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

ViVA Castle Pub

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

OVO Bistro

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

Panevino

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

Reggie’s Place

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

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Texas tenders and fries from Austin's: delicious, but not fine dining

Reading Eagle Winner’s Choice Award Winners Announced

The Reading Eagle released its annual Reader’s Choice Award results on September 17. The people got a lot of things right, came close on a few more, and had a few whiffs. Here’s my take on this year’s winners:

The People Got It Right

Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

Best Burger: Billy Burger & Bakery

There are a lot of supporters for Frank & Diannah’s Arbor Inn – I’m one of them. On burger night, I agree. The rest of week, give me Billy Burger & Bakery in Morgantown.

Mikura was named Best Chinese in Berks.

Best Chinese: Mikura Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar

I could make a case for Zhuang’s Garden or China Penn, but Mikura is excellent so I’m not going to argue this one.

Best Diner: Exeter Family Restaurant

Best Diner: Exeter Family Restaurant

It’s close between Exeter and Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery but Exeter gets the nod for two reasons: a larger menu and 24-hour service. Also, Wyomissing won Best Family Restaurant so both get credit in the end.

Best Italian: Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette

It’s the oldest Italian restaurant in Berks County and it’s still the best.

Crave Cafe gets my vote, partially because of the cool ambiance

Best Lunch: Crave Cafe

The only other place that comes close for me is Cafe Sweet Street. Sweet Street has the edge on flavor. Crave has the edge on ambiance, location and healthful options.

Best Outdoor Dining: Jimmy G’s Beverly Hills Tavern

It’s the best beach in Berks County.

Best Pizza: Nonno Alby's

Best Pizza: Nonno Alby’s

Rocco’s was better, but it closed earlier in the year. That puts Nonno Alby’s back on top until someone can knock them off.

Best Seafood Market: Adelphia
Best Seafood Restaurant: Coastal Grille
Best Sushi: Mikura Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar

I don’t eat seafood so I’m going to assume the people got it right.

Good Choice, but Not Mine

Best BBQ: Mission BBQ

I like love Mission BBQ. It’s a great concept with great food. I’ve purchased two commemorative cups – one supporting local first responders and one for the USO. But I don’t think that it is the best in Berks. I would probably still give my vote to Muddy’s, though both of Hamburg’s offerings (Backwoods Brothers and Smokin’ Brays) are excellent, too.

Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery won best breakfast

Best Breakfast: Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery

If you’re looking for a traditional breakfast or a good buffet, Wyomissing is the winner. I like it, but I love creativity. For me, Tom Cat Cafe in Sinking Spring or Letterman’s Diner in Kutztown rank higher.

Best Mexican: Plaza Azteca

Julie will tell you that her favorite item on any Mexican restaurant menu is the enchilladas rancheros from Plaza Azteca. I like it, but not as much as I like La Abuela or Alebrije.

PJ Whelihan's is Chickie's and Pete's kid brother

Best Sports Bar: P.J. Whelihan’s

The wings are fine. The fries are the kid brother of Chickie’s and Pete’s Crabfries. But P.J Whelihan’s does have lots of sports. The Pike Cafe was the runner-up, and it would have made a better winner.

Best Subs & Sandwiches: Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop

I still need to get to Screpesi’s. Not having been there yet, I can’t argue it. I do love Lavigna & Sons though.

Best Wings: The Pike Cafe

Close, but Dino’s Wings & Things still gets my nod. Too many great flavors to choose from.

What Were You Thinking?

Texas tenders and fries from Austin's: delicious, but not fine dining

Best Fine Dining: Austin’s

Austin’s is amazing. Their Texas tenders and shoestring fries are a guilty pleasure of mine. But any menu that includes chicken tenders and shoestring fries shouldn’t be considered fine dining. Dans at Green Hills deserved this one.

Best Ice Cream: Way-Har Farms

I’m not arguing that Way-Har Farms has good ice cream, but it’s not the best. I’m also admittedly biased toward Lori’s Candy Station.

Best College: Alvernia University

Go KU! #ItsGoodToBeGolden

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5 Favorite Entrees of 2016

Every December, we take a look back at our favorite dishes of the past year. This week, we’re ready for the main course. Here are our five favorite entrees we tried in 2016.

Andy Pepper’s – The “Thin Lizzy”

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Andy Pepper’s is among the top rated eateries in Berks County, and earlier this year, we found out why. My “Thin Lizzy” sandwich was easily among my favorite things of the year. It was simple: baby spinach, provolone, tomatoes, pesto and guacamole on a grilled flatbread. But it was fantastic. Read Review

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine – Smoked Sausage

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When it opened in 2014, Backwoods Brothers was a welcome addition to Berks County. I’ve returned since our review, and still can’t get over how good the smoked sausage is. (Don’t forget the fried okra on the side). Read Review

Dans at Green Hills – New York Strip Steak

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Want the recipe for a great dinner? Perfectly cook a New York strip steak, then add truffle butter. “Savory and smooth” was how I described it in my blog, and I don’t think I could describe it any better. Read Review

Firefly Cafe – Vegan Pulled Pork

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Three words I never thought I’d use in the same sentence: vegan pulled pork. But then I tried it at Firefly Cafe, where they use jackfruit as the meat substitute, and it was every bit as good as the real thing, and better than at some barbecue places. Read Review

Rocco’s Wood Fired Pizza – “Bee Sting” Pizza

roccos-bee-sting-pizza

Opened in spring, Rocco’s Wood Fired Pizza is one of Berks County’s newest pizza places, and after tasting two of their unique offerings, I’m ready to declare it among the best. The “Bee Sting,” featuring San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopresatta, raw honey (the bee) and crushed red pepper oil (the sting), it was absolutely delicious. Read Review

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5 Favorite Desserts of 2016

Every December, we take a look back at our favorite dishes of the past year. This week, we’re skipping dinner and going for dessert. Here are the five most decadent desserts we tried in 2016.

Back Forty Bar & Grill – Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Tortes

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Our dinner at Back Forty Bar & Grill was OK, but our dessert was fantastic. The chocolate raspberry truffle tortes were amazing with layers of chocolate cake, mousse and ganache topped with raspberry puree and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Did we need it after a big meal? No. Were we glad we got it? Absolutely. Read Review

Dan’s at Green Hills – Chocolate Bread Pudding

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The chocolate bread pudding that Julie enjoyed during her birthday dinner at Dan’s at Green Hills was definitely a highlight. Start with a delicious bread pudding, add chunks of Godiva dark chocolate and a dollop of caramel ice cream and you’ve got a recipe for a memorable dessert. Read Review

Gatsby’s at Sunnybrook Ballroom – Tiramisu Crepe

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When your dessert menu is made up almost entirely of crepes, you better do them well. Gatsyb’s does them well. My tiramisu crepe was perfect. The crepe was filled with coffee mascarpone and topped with chocolate sauce and cocoa powder. I absolutely loved it. Read Review

Stony Run Inn – Apple Strudel

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When you eat at a restaurant that specializes in German cuisine, how can you pass on the apple strudel? You can’t. And at the Stony Run Inn, they do apple strudel right. The dough is so thin and flaky, the apples were seasoned to perfection and the whole dish was enjoyable from first bite to last. Read Review

Sweet Ride Ice Cream – Ice Cream Sandwich

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There’s nothing wrong with simple. Sweet Ride’s ice cream sandwich is as simple as it gets: two cookies and a big scoop of ice cream. But everything about it is great. The soft, fresh-baked cookies melt in your mouth just like the Nelson’s ice cream. It’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients. Read Review

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5 Favorite Appetizers of 2016

Every December, we take a look back at our favorite dishes of the past year. We’re starting off with our favorite starters. Here are our five favorite appetizers we tried in 2016.

Gatsby’s at Sunnybrook Ballroom – French Onion Soup

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On a roadtrip to Gatsby’s, there was much to enjoy, including the French onion soup. In my review, I called it some of the best French onion soup that I have ever tried. I still hold to that statement and have not found any better since. Read Review

Let’s Taco Bout It – Holy Guacamole and Cheeps

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I love guacamole. Julie loves guacamole. We all love guacamole. Especially the “Holy Guacamole and Cheeps” from Let’s Taco Bout It in West Reading. The perfect blend of avocado, cilantro, onion and red peppers, our only complaint was that we were left wanting more. Read Review

Liberty Taproom – Dr. Pepper Wings

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Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce is my weakness. OK, I have many weaknesses, but that doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely love Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce, especially on our wings at Liberty Taproom. It was a great start to a surprisingly good meal. Read Review

Van Reed Inn – Chipotle Ranch Wings

van-reed-inn-chipotle-ranch-wings

Van Reed Inn touts some of the best wings in Berks County. They’re meaty and delicious, especially the chipotle ranch version that Julie and I tried on our visit earlier this year. For us, they struck the right balance between the heat of the chipotle and the creaminess of the ranch. Read Review

Windsor Inn at Shillington – Meatballs

windsor-inn-meatballs

It wasn’t just that the meatballs were delicious (they were) or that the sauce was as good as any pasta sauce around (it was), but it was the addition of the fresh Parmesan cheese and housemade red pepper flakes that put this over the top. Read Review

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5 Favorite Entrees of 2015

December is a time to look back and reflect on the year that was. Berks County Eats is taking a look back at the best of the best from more than 50 restaurants that we visited in 2015. This week: Our Top Five Favorite Entrees. 

Appetizers and dessert are great, but there’s a reason the main course is called the main course. Here’s five entrees that stood out from 52 Berks County Eats meals this year:

Heirloom – Bison Steak

bison-heirloom

Heirloom is the only restaurant to appear on all three of my “Best of 2015” lists, and it earned every spot. Because of the ever-evolving menu, you probably won’t find it on the menu when you go, but the bison steak was one of the best meals I have eaten anywhere. It was roasted like pot roast, easily pulling apart with my fork. Read Full Post

Jukebox Cafe – Cinnamon Roll French Toast

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I love cinnamon rolls. I love French toast. I am in love with the cinnamon roll French toast from Jukebox Cafe. Two cinnamon rolls grilled like French toast and topped with strawberry syrup: what’s not to love? While I don’t advise eating this for breakfast every day, I do advise trying it the next time you’re in Boyertown. Read Full Post

Chen Vegetarian House – Mango Chicken

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There is no chicken in Chen Vegetarian House’s mango chicken, but that’s not important. Replacing the tofu with real chicken couldn’t have made this dish any better. The fresh slices of mango, the citrus sauce that coated the whole dish and just the fact that it was served in a hollowed-out mango shell made this one of my most memorable meals of the year. Read Full Post

Basil – Spinach Ravioli

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Pasta is one of my favorite dishes for dinner. Basil’s spinach ravioli was my favorite pasta dish that I have tried in a long while. Mixing the spinach into the dough in addition to the filling was a great choice, and the red sauce, complete with plenty of basil, was perfect for the dish. Read Full Post

Romano’s  – Chicago Style Pizza

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Every year I celebrate National Pizza Month (October) by visiting as many pizza joints as possible. This year, I had four exceptional meals, but Romano’s was the best. I’ve been to Geno’s East in Chicago for authentic Chicago-style pizza; Romano’s doesn’t quite reach that level, but it is very close. Read Full Post

 

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5 Favorite Desserts of 2015

December is a time to look back and reflect on the year that was. Berks County Eats is taking a look back at the best of the best from more than 50 restaurants that we visited in 2015. This week: Our Top Five Favorite Desserts. 

Dessert is the part of the meal worth waiting for. No matter how much food you eat, there’s always room to squeeze in something sweet at the end. Especially when dessert is as good as these five that I found this year.

Heirloom – Homemade S’more

s-more-heirloom

Apparently S’mores are not just something to eat around the campfire. They are a gourmet dessert, at least at Heirloom, where they made everything from scratch, including the marshmallow. That marshmallow sat atop a base of chili-infused chocolate ice cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup and dusted in graham cracker. Don’t try this at home. Read Full Post

Salute – Almond Parfait

salute-almond-parfait

Our Valentine’s Day dinner at Salute was certainly memorable, but nothing stood out quite like the Almond Parfait. It started with almond ice cream — I could eat a scoop of that any day — that was topped with chocolate syrup and crushed almonds. And they didn’t cheat on the portion size either. Read Full Post

Anthony’s Trattoria – Angel Food Cake

anthony-s-trattoria-angel-food-cake

Angel food cake is boring, right? Not when it’s layered with chocolate mousse and chocolate cake, and iced with a smooth chocolate shell. It may not have resembled the light, airy cake that is so familiar, but it was certainly heavenly. Read Full Post

Plein Air – Angel Food Cake and Pistachio Sorbet

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This was more like the angel food cake you expect, but it was kicked up a notch by the strawberry reduction drizzled on top. The real star though was the pistachio sorbet. It was so sweet and creamy. My only wish was for there to be more of it. Read Full Post

Cafe Sweet Street – Turtle Bundt Cake

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When you visit Cafe Sweet Street, you should get dessert. And by dessert, I mean you should get the turtle Bundt cake. The rich chocolate cake is topped with crushed pecans, a gooey glob of caramel and a chocolatey shell. With dessert this good, who needs lunch? Read Full Post

 

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5 Favorite Appetizers of 2015

December is a time to look back and reflect on the year that was. Berks County Eats is taking a look back at the best of the best from more than 50 restaurants that we visited in 2015. This week: Our Top Five Favorite Appetizers. 

Appetizers are the perfect answer when you just can’t wait for dinner. Whether it’s a light salad, a fried snack or a hearty soup, a great app is the best way to start any night out. Here are our favorite appetizers we found in 2015:

Heirloom – Red Quinoa Salad

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When I visited Heirloom, I described the red quinoa salad as “Hands down, this was the best salad I have ever eaten.” That was eleven months ago, and I haven’t found anything that comes close. Every ingredient was fresh and worked well together, but it was the creamy chèvre that brought the whole thing. Read Full Blog

White Palm Tavern – Pretzellas

white-palm-tavern-pretzellas

Mozzarella sticks are usually nothing special, but White Palm Tavern put a memorable twist on theirs, using crushed up pretzels as the breading. The salty snacks were a great way to start our meal. Read Full Blog

Tavern on Penn – Fried Cheese Curds

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Another cheesey favorite from this year were the fried cheese curds at West Lawn’s Tavern on Penn. Instead of marinara, the fried pieces were served with roasted red pepper sauce that was just about perfect. Read Full Blog

Plein Air – Beet Soup

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Soup is one of my favorite starters, but chilled beet soup is one that I hadn’t tried before my visit to Plein Air this summer. With its bright purple color, the beet soup was one of the most vibrant looking dishes I tried all year, and it had the flavor to match. The dill helped sweeten the slight sourness of the beets in what was a creamy, smoothie-like dish. Read Full Blog

La Abuela – Flautas

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One of Berks County’s newest restaurants delivered a memorable dish on my first visit. The flautas at La Abuela in West Reading were superb. The fried tacos were topped with homemade salsa, queso fresco, Pico de Gallo and sour cream. I could have eaten them as the main course and been fully satisfied. Read Full Blog

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As American as Shoofly Pie

as-american-as-shoofly-pie

A little over a year ago I was browsing through the local interest section of a Lancaster-area bookstore when a title caught my eye.

As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Folklore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine wasn’t just coming home with me, it was moving to the top of my reading list.

I indulged my appetite for learning while discovering the history of dishes I hold dear like chicken pot pie and schnitz und knepp, as well as some that have fallen out of favor through the years, including hairy dumplings, and catfish and waffles.

It was engaging and enlightening, so when I found out that author William Woys Weaver would be making an appearance at the Ephrata Public Library, I made sure I cleared my schedule.

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Weaver is a food historian who has traveled the globe, but remains deeply tied to his Pennsylvania roots as the leader of the Keystone Center  for the Study of Regional Food.

His talk, like his book, traced the history of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking from 18th Century farms to 21st Century restaurants.

The title of the book, As American as Shoofly Pie, is important to note as Weaver stressed that Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is not German, it’s American. Much like America is a blending of cultures, so too is Pennsylvania Dutch cooking a blending of cultures.

Shoofly pie, for instance, is a distinctly Dutch dish that consists of old-style breakfast cake poured into an Anglo American pie shell. It’s just one example of two cultures coming together to create something unique.

Even among the Dutch, there were deep divisions based on class. The Buckwheat Dutch were the poor country-dwellers. With little money, they lived off the land, eating poverty dishes like gribble (a mix of hot water and buckwheat flour mixed to create something resembling bread crumbs). Groundhogs and pigeons would have been delicacies to people who would often use dumplings as meat stand-ins.

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On the other end of the social scale were the Hasenpfeffer Dutch. Named for the braised rabbit dish that was a favorite of the well-to-do, they enjoyed a meaty diet with rich sauces.

It was this type of high-class Dutch cooking that inspired restaurants like Reading’s Kuechler’s Roost. Located along the Mount Penn Gravity Railroad, Kuechler’s Roost served locally made wine with foods like hasenpfeffer, pig roasts, and chicken and waffles. Unfortunately for Berks County foodies, the Roost burnt down on July 4, 1919.

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Along with lamenting the loss of the Roost, Weaver lamented the loss local heirloom vegetables. The Keystone Kitchen is heavily involved in preserving and repopulating heirlooms, many of which are down to a handful of seeds that are still known to exist. Slides showed unique squashes, red carrots and 18th Century potato varieties.

After the talk, I got my copy of As American as Shoofly Pie signed (and it is now the most legible autograph in my collection), and I’m not ready to put it back on the shelf.

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In the back of the book is a collection of recipes that spans the full history of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Some are familiar favorites (schnitz und knepp, pot pie), others are uniquely intriguing (lemon-rice pie, chicken gravy with ham waffles), and others sound less-than-appealing (browned flour soup, stewed squirrel with steamed dumplings).

At the end of his talk, Weaver said he is working on a new project: a book of Pennsylvania Dutch baking. I am already anxiously awaiting its release. In the meantime, the recipes in As American as Shoofly Pie should provide plenty to keep me busy.

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