Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale logo on exterior wall

When you look at the best downtown dining in Berks County, there is no doubt that Boyertown is an up-and-coming destination. Between Philadelphia and Reading Avenues, you’ll find diners, a brewery, sandwich shops, bars and even a vegan cafe. New restaurants have opened and more are on the way.  

And that momentum has continued outside the downtown, as well. The new Barrel & Ale is a great example. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I met my friend and former colleague Joe for lunch and lots of catching up.

Looking at the front of Barrel & Ale restaurant from Reading Road

Barrel & Ale opened in August, taking over the former Pit Stop Tavern, a mainstay since the 1950s just east of town. Now the restaurant is owned by the same group behind  Iezzi’s on Third (a mainstay in downtown for even longer). Much like they did with Iezzi’s, the ownership group completely renovated the tavern – which had just been converted earlier this year from the racing-themed Pit Stop to the short-lived, prohibition-themed Decades Speakeasy.

Black chairs with wooden tabletops on the hardwood floor in the dining room.

Now the building has a rustic chic feel to it from the clapboard exterior to the hardwood floor in the dining room. Black chairs and accents add a modern touch (along with the flat screen TVs, of course).

Barrel-shaped lights hang from the ceiling in the barroom at Barrel & Ale

I also appreciated the barrel-shaped lights hanging in the bar room and the extra-tall menu that features a barrel on the front and back covers.

Beyond the design, one of the things that appealed most to me about the menu was the array of German entrees. Pork schnitzel, wurst and sauerbraten shared the page with steaks, seafood and pasta. And the sauerbraten sounded too good to pass up.

Sauerbraten topped with gravy; spaetzle; and red cabbage from Barrel & Ale

Sauerbraten is a traditional German roast beef that has been heavily marinated in herbs and spices, giving it a slightly soured, pickled taste. It’s a unique flavor combination and Barrel & Ale captured it well in their version of the dish. The light gravy on top enhanced, rather than hid, the flavors of the dish.

Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

The dish was served with a pair of colorful sides: spaetzle (small German noodles) and braised red cabbage. The spaetzle was bright yellow and looked like corn at first glance. The red cabbage had a much deeper, almost wine color to it.

Of the two, the cabbage was my favorite – and probably my favorite thing on the plate. It had bits of beef throughout that added unexpected, but welcomed, savory notes that broke up the vinegary flavor of the braised cabbage. The spaetzle was fine but didn’t have much flavor on its own, but paired well with the sauerbraten.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

Across the table, Joe ordered from the sandwich side of the menu, opting for the grilled chicken. The grilled chicken breast was topped with roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto aioli. Joe found it to be a really good sandwich that was highlighted by the aioli, the primary source of flavor.

The sandwich was served with housemade chips and a pickle. The chips were good, though some of them were a little soft, a little under-done. But they were well-seasoned and had good flavor.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

The pickle, Joe said, was obviously not store-bought. (A Facebook post from when Barrel & Ale first opened showed craft pickles from Tennessee). It was an added touch that didn’t go unnoticed.

At the end of the meal, our total bill was around $35, my meal making up more than half it. (Really, the sauerbraten is a dinner entree, not a lunch, and it’s priced accordingly at $17.95).

We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but it wasn’t full by any means. Lunch doesn’t seem to have taken off yet at the Barrel & Ale, though their Facebook page has been promoting that an expanded lunch menu is coming soon so that could change.

And I would go back to try something new, for sure. It was a good first impression and between the flavorful foods and enjoyable ambiance, Barrel & Ale has the makings of a new long-lasting restaurant.

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

Barrel & Ale
961 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Bars & Pubs Reviews
Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

Beer Wall on Penn

Beer Wall on Penn

Oftentimes, a bar is just a bar. It’s a place to get a drink, eat some fried food and watch a game.

But sometimes, a bar isn’t just a bar. West Reading’s Beer Wall on Penn is not just a bar. In fact, it’s one of the few places in Berks County that can truly be called, “unique.”

Beer Wall on Penn Dining Room

Sure, there’s a bar. And dining room seating. And table service. But then there are the 38 self-serve taps where anyone (over the age of 21) can pour their own beer. Each beer is priced per ounce and customers are in complete control over how much beer they pour. A card is swiped at the tap, adding up your tab as you go.

Beer Wall on Penn Wall of Taps

The taps are a sight to behold – all of them in a single row along a wall (except for a few stragglers located on the top floor – more on that later). I don’t drink, but I brought along my buddy Josh to test out the taps. He lives in D.C. but was back in the area for the week (and who enjoys a good beer or two on his cheat days).

Beer Wall on Penn Taps

“This is cool,” he said. “I can’t believe they don’t have one of these in D.C. yet. It would do really well.” It is a cool concept, and one that actually puts Berks County on the cutting edge.

But the Beer Wall isn’t just about the booze – the restaurant is serving up a unique food menu that includes tacos, burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers and a handful of large plate entrees.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

Josh and I both opted for appetizers. For me, it was the duck fat fries.

For the duck fat fries, Beer Wall takes its thick-cut fries and cooks them in duck fat, topping them with truffle zest, shaved Parmesan and scallions. It also comes with a side of roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

I love the richness of duck and it definitely adds another layer of flavor to fries. I also appreciated the large parmesan shavings. But for me, it was the scallions that really took everything to the next level. That strong, concentrated onion flavor was the perfect addition and paired nicely with the fries and the tangy aioli.

Beer Wall on Penn

Across the table, Josh was enjoying an order of pretzel nuggets. He graciously allowed me to try one of the parmesan and parsley-coated pretzels, and it was delicious. But what really surprised me was the lager mustard dip. I don’t like mustard and I don’t drink beer, but somehow this combination worked so well and made for a perfect complement to the pretzels.

Both our appetizers left a great first impression.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

I passed on the tacos and burgers in favor of one of Beer Wall’s entree plates, the brisket mac-n-cheese. It featured braised brisket, sautéed onions and cavatappi pasta in a white cream sauce, all topped with bread crumbs, chives and parmesan cheese.

This is a case where I thought the individual ingredients were better than the dish as a whole. I really liked the brisket. It had a nice, smoky flavor, but I thought it was masked by the cheese sauce.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-N-Cheese

On the flip side, I thought the bread crumb mixture was a welcome addition and brought out the best flavors of the cheese. It was a good meal, but personally, I would have enjoyed everything just a little bit more if the brisket had been served on top of, or beside the mac. (It was also a lot of food, especially after finishing off the duck fat fries. I took half of it home in a box at the end of the meal).

Josh had decided to go with one of the burger options, the banh mi. It featured an eight-ounce patty of beef and pork (Beer Wall’s standard burger base) topped with pickled vegetables, fried pork belly, seared tomato, cilantro, a fried egg and balsamic reduction.

Beer Wall on Penn Banh Mi Burger

He and I argued over whether pork belly belongs on a banh mi (in my world, it certainly does), but there was no arguing about the beauty of the burger in front of him. Unfortunately Josh is one of the unfortunate souls who suffers from an aversion to cilantro and somehow forgets until he tastes it. That kind of marred what was a good burger.

The prices for food at the Beer Wall are pretty reasonable for the amount and quality of the food. I spent about $25 for my entree, fries and an unsweetened iced tea. For those who enjoy craft beer, you can expect to add 50 to 70 cents per ounce to your tab at the end of the night.

Beer Wall on Penn Arcade

When our meal was finished, we ventured upstairs where Beer Wall not only has additional taps, but also vintage arcade games that you can play for free. Mortal Kombat and the Simpsons are among the machines you’ll find. Before we left, I schooled Josh in a game of NBA Jam, dropping 3s from the corner with Scottie Pippin.

Maybe the novelty of pouring your own beer will wear off. Then again, maybe not.

Either way, Beer Wall on Penn is not just another bar. It’s something different, and different is a good thing for Berks County.

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

Beer Wall on Penn
619 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Bars & Pubs Reviews
Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub

Saucony Creek Franklin Street Brewpub Exterior

One of the most exciting developments in Downtown Reading in recent memory is the reimagining of Franklin Street Station as a brewpub.

Saucony Creek Brewing Company’s Franklin Station Brewpub opened in July to much fanfare. Plans for the restaurant had been revealed in early 2018 but the project was delayed until the proper permits and zoning were in place. Other than a brief stint as an inter-city bus terminal in 2013 and an interactive art installation in 2017, it’s the first life this former passenger rail station has seen since the last SEPTA train rolled out 38 years ago.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We made our first visit on a Saturday afternoon in September, arriving before 5 p.m. for an early dinner. We got the last parking space on the restaurant’s parking lot (there is plenty of additional parking in the adjacent garage – and it’s free if you spend more than $10) and were seated right away.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

The building is impressive inside. It retains the feel of a classic train station with high ceilings and large windows. Rows of benches – like the ones that would have been used by waiting passengers 90 years ago – are the anchors of the dining area. The tables and chairs are arranged to utilize the long benches, creating wide aisles for the wait staff and patrons. In the far end of the room near the kitchen is a small display case filled with model trains, Monopoly game pieces (for the Reading Railroad, of course) and other railroad memorabilia.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We had plenty of time to admire the building, too, because though we were seated promptly, no server stopped by for more than 15 minutes to even bring water. Our toddler was ready to eat so the wait was not very welcomed at our table.

The restaurant seemed to have both not enough and too much help simultaneously. While we were waiting, servers continued to congregate near the host stand (including our eventually server).

Once we ordered, it only took about 10 minutes for our appetizer and Jakob’s kids’ meal to arrive. From there, the meal was much easier.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

For our appetizer, we ordered the avocado tacos. The order consisted of two tacos: corn tortillas topped with beer-battered avocado slices, roasted corn, tomato, onion and cilantro. On the side was a cup of thick salsa that was very good and had a spicy after-taste. The tacos, by themselves, were a little bland compared to a Mexican restaurant, but with the spicy salsa, it was much better. It needed that little kick to bring everything together.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Kids Quesadilla

Jakob certainly enjoyed his food. Their kids menu isn’t huge, but it does have a decent variety. In the end, though, we went with Jakob’s favorites – a quesadilla with corn on the cob. The corn lasted all of about five minutes (at least it felt that way) as he ate through it in a hurry. The quesadilla was a little more work for him but he managed to eat about half of it at the restaurant with us taking the rest home.

Our dinners arrived just a short time later. The menu of large plates – “Masters” as they are called on the menu – features a diverse selection that leaned toward higher-end dishes. For example: my coconut braised beef cheek.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Coconut Braised Beef Cheek

Beef cheek is not found on a lot of menus, probably because it is a tougher cut of meat that has to be slow-cooked. It’s also very rich, as I discovered with my first taste. It reminded me a little of duck – not in flavor – but in the richness. The flavor, though, was very good. It was braised in one of Saucony Creek’s signatures beers so it picked up some of those flavor notes with subtle hints of coconut.

It came served in a bowl of sweet potato puree that added a sweet and savory contrast to the dish. It was also topped with a watermelon radish that served more for garnish than flavor. As I look back on the menu, it also said it was to be served with creamy blue cheese. There was definitely no blue cheese on the plate. I’m not sure how it would have changed what was a very good dish, but now I’m curious.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Franklin Street Burger

Nothing was missing from Julie’s plate. She ordered the Franklin Station Burger which came topped with bourbon bacon jam, Boston Bibb lettuce and Swiss cheese.

It was an awesome burger where the bacon jam really shined. The salty, savory and slightly sweet spread is always a great burger topper. This version had a deeper flavor thanks to the bourbon, and it really shone through on the burger.

The burger was served with fries on the side. As our server described them, they are boardwalk-style fries: skin-on and well-seasoned. They were a little peppery at times, but very enjoyable, especially paired with the homemade ketchup. The ketchup was not as sweet or as thick as the store-bought variety, but it perfectly complemented the already flavorful fries.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Ice Cream

While Julie and I did not save room for dessert, Jakob’s kids meal came with a scoop of ice cream. His generous scoop of peanut butter ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry cheesecake were the other flavor choices) was topped with a mound of whipped cream and a cherry that elicited a loud, “ooooh,” from our son when he saw it.

I think Jakob ate most of the whipped cream while Julie took care of the ice cream that he didn’t finish. It was around this time that we heard the unmistakable air horn of a freight train approaching.

Norfolk Southern trains frequently use the former Reading Railroad tracks and a train’s arrival is a big deal at the bar. Upon hearing the horn, doors were opened and everyone cheered loudly until the engines passed. Jakob, like all young boys, loves trains. He joined in with a loud, “Choo Choo!” as the train rolled past.

If there’s a downside to the building, it’s that the cavernous dining room echoes. It can get loud quickly. That’s a good thing when cheering on a passing train, but it can be a little distracting if you’re trying to have some quiet conversation.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Exterior

We paid our bill – $61.01 – and went outside to watch the tail end of the train from the old station platform. The scene would have looked a lot different 90 years ago when a steam engine would puff into the station to pick up and drop off passengers.

While the hungry diners aren’t at the Franklin Street Station to grab a train to Philly, the historic building is once again bustling with people.

Sure, there are some issues to work out as there are with all new restaurants. But Saucony Creek could keep the passenger benches full at Franklin Street Station for a long time to come.

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub
690 Chestnut St
Reading, PA 19602

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

1787 Brewing Company

1787 Brewing Company

I’m sure I’ve said this before on the blog, but one thing everyone should know about me is that I love bar food. The only problem is, I don’t drink beer.

Because of that, I always feel a little awkward going to bars, especially microbreweries where most of the people coming in are coming for the craft brews.

1787 Brewing Company

Oftentimes, my love of food wins out, which is what happened on a recent visit to 1787 Brewing Company in Hamburg.

1787 opened in May 2018 in the former Miller’s 5 & 10 in downtown Hamburg. The old-time general store was a fixture along Fourth Street in the borough’s business district until it closed in 2015.

1787 Brewing Company

The name 1787 Brewing Company comes from the year the borough was founded, so it’s only right that it now takes up a historic building in the heart of town.

1787 Brewing Company

Julie and I were amazed by how deep the building actually is. The front bar is fairly large, but it opens into a larger dining room overlooking the brewing vats. Throughout the dining room there were nods to Hamburg’s history, including old signs from local businesses new and old, including Spokes Bike Shop, Schlenger Motors and the Windsor Press.

The food menu is certainly not robust, but it is well-curated, featuring a mix of burgers, sandwiches and flatbreads.

In addition, 1787 Brewing Company offers weekly specials. That’s where I found the honey ham flatbread.

1787 Brewing Company Honey Ham Flatbread

It was topped with ricotta, shaved ham, fig puree and cranberries, and it looked beautiful when it arrived with bubbly, slightly darkened cheese.

1787 Brewing Company Honey Ham Flatbread

And it tasted as good as I had imagined – a wonderful sweet and salty blend that was hearty and savory. The ham was (mostly) under the cheese which kept it from getting burnt. The fig puree ensured every bite had a note of sweetness, but the bites with the cranberries were the best. I look forward to trying more flatbreads from 1787 in the future.

Among the main menu selections are two “dietary accommodations.” One veggie burger with cheese and one vegan black bean burger. The latter was Julie’s selection.

1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

The black bean burger was topped with guacamole, salsa, romaine and red onion on a sweet potato bun.

Black bean burgers are a mixed bag. They are flavorful in a very different way from meat, but they don’t hold their shape very well. The patty was definitely soft and started to fall apart, but it had a great flavor, especially with the salsa and guac to complement it. The sweet potato bun was also very good and would be a great addition to any burger.

1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

Neither of us are vegans, but we would definitely order it again.

On the side, Julie upgraded her chips to fries. They were thin-cut and fried to a dark brown, but not burnt. They were a nice side to complete a good meal.

Looking at the restaurant’s website, I knew 1787 had a kids menu, but I had no idea how accommodating they would be. Not only did they have ample high chairs, they offered us a choice of crayons or Play-Doh for our little 15-month-old.

1787 Brewing Company Chicken Fingers

Unfortunately Jakob was more interested in eating the crayons than the chicken fingers from his kids meal. I ended up eating some while we were there – not bad, but they were pretty basic (they are all-natural from Bell and Evans so that’s a definite plus). We took most of it home and Jakob did enjoy the leftovers, without the distractions of the restaurant.

We didn’t order beer – trust me, you wouldn’t want me reviewing beer anyway – but we did order a couple drinks: iced tea for me, soda for Julie. Along with our food, that brought our total bill to a little more than $35.

Truth be told, if Jakob had been more settled, we would have splurged on dessert. Lava cake, specifically.

But that will have to wait for another time. And there will be another time because at 1787 Brewing Company, the food is definitely worth it, whether you are a beer drinker or not.

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

1787 Brewing Company
43 S. Fourth St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

The Angry Anvil

The Angry Anvil

I always appreciate a restaurant that has a sense of place.

There are many restaurants that have a concept first, then force fit that concept into a location. But there are others that naturally flow with their environment and their location.

The Angry Anvil, which opened in Birdsboro at the end of 2018, certainly fits the town.

The Angry Anvil

It’s not just the historic photos and portraits on the wall or cleverly named menu items like the Birdsburger.

The restaurant sits at the end of a strip mall, overlooking the town from a slope on the south side. The spacious dining room – larger than it looks from the outside – features high- and low-top tables made of metal, an homage to the steel industry that once thrived in Birdsboro.

The Angry Anvil

Serving American pub fusion food with American craft beers – with a few imports – the menu isn’t small, but it is focused.

Dinner options include sandwiches and burgers, wraps, flatbreads and salads, with a range of appetizers that includes four kinds of specialty fries. It’s blue-collar food for a blue-collar town, just elevated.

Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

Looking over the menu, I was drawn to the ranch fried chicken sandwich: topped with bacon, spring mix, bruschetta and sweet corn ranch, and served with a side of beer-battered fries.

There was a lot to love about this sandwich. The fried chicken was flavorful on its own. The bruschetta, which seemed to be featured on half of the menu items, was fresh and bright. But what really separated this was the sweet corn ranch.

I’ve had ranch on corn before but never corn infused into the dressing. It’s a great flavor combination that led to a little sweeter dressing, one that paired perfectly with the rest of the sandwich ingredients.

The sandwich was served with a half-pound of beer-battered fries. Battered fries always seem to go down easier, even after I am already full. There wasn’t a piece left by the time I had finished.

The Angry Anvil Balsamic Bleu Burger

Julie opted for one of the Angry Anvil’s burgers – the balsamic bleu burger. It came topped with bruschetta, spring mix, balsamic reduction and bleu cheese spread.

It was another hit. The balsamic was strong without being overpowering and played really nicely with the bleu cheese. If anything was lacking it would be a little crunch from the toppings. But there were zero complaints about the flavor.

On the side, Julie swapped out her fries for an order of the Angry Anvil’s homemade chips. They were very good – crispy and lightly seasoned – in line with what we’ve found of similar offerings elsewhere.

The Angry Anvil

Along with a glass of wine and an iced tea, our total for the night was $33. When the highest-priced food item is $14, it’s easy to splurge on drinks without breaking the bank.

As we were getting ready to leave, the Angry Anvil’s owner stopped by our table (I recognized him from a photo from when the place opened) as he made his rounds. He was surprised that Julie and I had made the trip from Wyomissing to Birdsboro (it’s 15 minutes) but was glad to hear we enjoyed our meal.

We were glad, too. Glad to know that the Angry Anvil has added another quality option to Birdsboro and Berks County, and one that we will happily return to again.

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

The Angry Anvil
200 W. 1st St
Birdsboro, PA 19508

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Liberty Ale House G.O.A.T. Burger

Liberty Ale House

Liberty Ale House Exterior

Recently, I wrote about our second blog visit to an Alebrije restaurant and how it compared to our initial visit five years earlier.

Unintentionally, history repeats itself this week. You see, in 2016, Julie and I visited the Liberty Taproom in Exeter Township. We loved everything about our meal there and we were very excited when plans were announced for a sister restaurant, the Liberty Ale House, to be opened later that year.

Liberty Ale House Interior

The Liberty Ale House sits in a small building along Lancaster Avenue in Reading (the restaurant is within the city limits, but barely). From the outside, it looks more like a house than a restaurant, except for the enclosed porch filled with chairs and the string lights above the outdoor seating area.

When Julie and I visted in December, we were on our own (Jakob was spending some quality time with his  grandparents). We were seated at a high-top table for two just inside the door on what was a quiet Friday evening.

Liberty Ale House Interior 2

The menus at the Ale House and the Tap Room are similar. Both offer a selection of tacos, burgers and sandwiches, but there are noticeable differences. The Ale House menu is a little smaller with no pizza or Stromboli like the sister restaurant has.

One thing both offer is wings, but there are even differences here. During our visit to the Taproom, the standout of the night were the wings. Coated in Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce, they are among the best around.

Liberty Ale House Jerk BBQ Wings

The only BBQ options at the Ale House were sweet jerk BBQ and pineapple Siracha BBQ (there is also a Memphis dry rub, for those who like their barbecue without sauce).

We ordered five of the sweet jerk BBQ wings,  and I have say that I was a little disappointed. That’s not to say that they weren’t good – they were – but they weren’t as good as the Taproom, in my opinion. The sauce was fine, a little less thick, with a little sweet and spicy profile. They were good wings, but I was hoping for great.

Thinking back on our visit to the Taproom, I remembered how much I enjoyed the burger. So when I saw something on the ale house menu called the G.O.A.T. burger, how could I resist.

Liberty Ale House G.O.A.T. Burger

The Angus beef burger was topped with bacon, goat cheese, red onion and cranberry aioli.

It’s definitely not the “greatest of all time” but it’s a good burger. I love goat cheese on a burger – it adds a creamy element that you don’t get from sliced cheese and the tang works well, epsecially with bacon. I was a little let down by the cranberry aioli. It wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t feel like it added as much flavor as it could have.

Overall, though, I was happy with my selection – and with my decision to upgrade to fries. Sure, they are a little greasy, but they are good.

Liberty Ale House Thai Chicken Tacos (w/ Lettuce Wrap)

While my meal packed on the Calories, Julie went the other direction, ordering Thai chicken tacos while opting for the lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla.

The tacos featured tempura fried chicken, sweet Thai chili, shiso cucumber slaw, avocado and cilantro. We were both impressed. The Thai chili sauce was flavorful and it had some heat, but not too much. The slaw was very good. And the lettuce wraps actually added to the flavor in a way that a flour tortilla wouldn’t have. They also made the the order of the three tacos less heavy and more manageable.

In all, we spent about $35 on the night. It was a good meal, though I would add that our server was less than attentive considering how early we were and how few tables she was handling at the time.

Three years ago, our meal at Liberty Taproom set the bar high. My meal at the Ale House didn’t quite reach that bar, but I would definitely go back.

And I’m sure I would enjoy my meal even more the second time.

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

Liberty Ale House
1501 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19607

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Fork & Ale – Return

Editor’s Note: Chef Seth Arnold left Fork & Ale in July 2019 for a position at Terrain Cafe in Devon.

One of the hardest things about doing weekly Berks County Eats blogs is not being able to return to the restaurants that we have enjoyed.

In March 2017, we made our first visit to Fork & Ale – the new gastropub that had opened in the former Tim’s Ugly Mug outside Douglassville just a few months before. We had enjoyed everything we had, especially their take on poutine, but we had no real motivation to return with so many restaurants left to visit.

Then a new chef arrived on the scene.

Chef Seth Arnold started at Fork & Ale at the end of May. By mid-summer, he was tagging @BerksCountyEats on every Instagram post. At the end of July, he sent me a direct message, introducing himself and inviting me out to the restaurant for a visit.

Fork & Ale Menu

Over the next weeks and months, Fork & Ale was always in the back of my mind and at the top of my Instagram feed. Finally, Julie and I made plans for a date night. We found a babysitter for Jakob and headed east for dinner on a Saturday evening in early December.

We arrived around 5 p.m., beating the dinner crowd and taking a table for two. Fork & Ale does not take reservations so we wanted to make sure we had a seat, not knowing how full it would get by night’s end. The dining room looks exactly as we remembered with painted brick walls, Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling and reclaimed wood furniture.

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

One thing I learned through Instagram is that the chef loves introducing creative specials every night. On the specials menu during our visit was an appetizer we had to try – uova da raviolo – egg yolk ravioli.

The pasta pouches were filled with herbed ricotta and egg yolk, topped with smoked bacon, rainbow chard, purple cauliflower and a sage butter sauce.

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

Eating it was quite the experience. Pressing into the ravioli, the egg yolk began pouring out, mixing with the sage butter sauce on the plate. It added a completely different dimension to the dish that I enjoyed. And with the savory bacon and slightly bitter chard, it was full of flavor.

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

The main menu has completely evolved in the 20 months since our last visit (no more poutine). The only common item between the two menus being the Fork & Ale Burger. One new dish that caught my attention was the Moroccan chicken.

The dish featured confit chicken served over house-made Fettuccini with golden raisins, bell pepper, arugula, crispy chickpeas, Marcona almonds and a Moroccan-spiced butter sauce.

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

I absolutely loved it. It was one of the most flavorful dishes that I have had in a long time. The sauce was incredible (for the record, I still have no idea what spices constitute “Moroccan spice”), and there were little surprises throughout. The chickpeas added needed crunch to the plate while the raisins were little bursts of sweetness throughout. I can’t say enough good things about it, and neither could Julie when she had the leftovers a few days later.

For her meal, she went with the warm Brussels sprouts salad. The waitress recommended adding the grilled shrimp (grilled chicken was also an option) and Julie was glad for it.

Fork & Ale Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

The composition was interesting – the sprouts were shaved like cabbage and drizzled with balsamic, always a good pairing. The fatty pork belly was a great addition and made it a truly savory dish. All in all, it was well done.

Being a date night, dessert was almost mandatory. There were two dessert options the night of our visit, a crème brulee that sounded delightful and our selection, the butterscotch lava cake.

Many places will do a chocolate lava cake – chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center. The butterscotch version was similar with a melted butterscotch center that was topped with housemade whipped cream.

Fork & Ale Butterscotch Lava Cake

Neither of us are big butterscotch fans but it sounded too good to pass up, and it more than lived up to our expectations. The cake was dense but flavorful and the filling was perfect. It was sweet but not too sweet, buttery but not overpowering. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal, one of the best meals we have had in many months.

Our total bill for the evening (one unsweetened iced tea included) was around $60. It was a bit of a splurge for us, but with both an appetizer and dessert, it felt like a fair price for an exceptional dinner.

If you haven’t been to Fork & Ale in the two years since it’s been open, or if you haven’t been there since Chef Arnold arrived in May, do yourself a favor and make the trip.

I know we will be back sooner than later.

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

Fork & Ale
1281 E. Main St
Douglassville, PA 19518

Bars & Pubs Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Ganly's Bangers and Mash

Ganly’s Pub & Deli

Ganly's Pub & Deli

Editor’s note: this post was updated to correct an error regarding one of the menu items.

County Eats is not a one-man operation. If you’ve been a long-time reader, you know that my wife Julie – and lately, our son Jakob – has been along for nearly every blog (she even wrote a couple herself recently).

Most times, our experiences are the same. If one of us is happy, the other is happy. If one of us has a good time, the other has a good time.

Sometimes, though, things go a little differently. That’s what happened on a recent trip to Ganly’s Pub & Deli.

Ganly's Pub and Deli

Ganly’s sits at the end of State Hill Road, where it meets Brownsville Road and Reber’s Bridge Road in Lower Heidelberg Township. It’s a beautiful building in a location that’s out of the way for many.

The restaurant had fallen off of my radar for a while, but this year’s Wilson Iron Chef brought it back to the forefront. Not only did Ganly’s impress in the People’s Choice competition with its apple, brie and bacon crisps, Chef Ben Hinkel put in a great effort in the Iron Chef competition, itself.

A few weeks later, we paid the restaurant a visit. It wasn’t our first time dining there, but it was our first time in years and the first time for the blog.

Ganly's Pub and Deli

Ganly’s doesn’t offer reserved seating on the weekends, but Julie was able to call ahead and add our name to the wait list – a 30-minute wait on this Friday evening.

We arrived early, hoping they were overestimating, and were told it would still be 20-30 minutes. It ended up being a full half hour until we were seated in the main dining room – additional seating can be found in the bar area on the opposite side of the building.

Jakob had napped through most of our wait so he was wide awake by the time we sat down for dinner. So even though we had his car seat in a high chair, Julie and I took turns holding him through the duration of our meal.

Ganly's Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

Both Julie and I started with a cup of soup. For Julie, it was French onion. For me, it was fire roasted tomato – the daily special.

The tomato soup was different from any other that I have tried. It was a chunky soup – not with tomato chunks, but with carrots, onions and other vegetables. It was well-seasoned and enjoyable, a good start to the meal.

Ganly's French Onion Soup

Julie’s French onion soup was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. A solid start, but it was after this that her meal went sideways.

The appetizer special of the day was a smoked salmon BLT. When asked, our waitress told Julie that it would be enough for a meal.

Ganly's Smoked Salmon BLT

And it was. The BLT looked beautiful when it arrived, a focaccia roll loaded with smoked bacon, heirloom tomatoes, housemade mayo and smoked salmon.

After her first bite, Julie realized that while she loves grilled salmon, smoked salmon is not her thing. She tried some more but she just did not care for it. It wasn’t Ganly’s fault, but and we were more than happy to pay for the dish, but Julie knew she wasn’t going to eat it and placed an order for another dish.

Ganly's Bangers and Mash

So while she waited for her next meal, I worked on my bangers and mash. Americans would call it sausages and mashed potatoes.

The bangers had a crispy outside and a great flavor that was spiced more like a German wurst than an American-style country sausage. The mash was actually colcannon. Colcannon is mashed potatoes with the addition of cabbage. It was a subtle difference, but it was very good, especially with the gravy.

I really enjoyed everything, but could only finish half of it, partially because my meal also came with a salad that arrived just moments before the bangers and mash.

Ganly's Salad

The salad was your basic mixed greens and choice of dressing. It wasn’t anything special, but it was a hefty salad. Had I known that my entree came with a salad, I may have skipped the soup, but I had already ordered the tomato soup when the waitress asked me what dressing I would like.

Julie handed Jakob off to me once her replacement meal arrived. It was the chicken and smoked gouda sandwich.

Ganly's Chicken and Gouda Sandwich

The gouda was a nice change of pace, and the roll was very good. The house chips on the side was okay, but could have used a little more salt and other seasonings.

By this point, we had been at the restaurant for nearly an hour-and-a-half and all Julie cared about was the eating, not the reviewing, so she hurriedly ate her sandwich.

We received our bill and the BLT had been removed. It wasn’t necessary as they restaurant had done nothing wrong. In total, our bill was a little over $40.

It was a mixed bag for us. For me, it was a great meal. Though the wait was a little frustrating. For Julie, it was a bit disappointing as she really wanted the smoked salmon BLT, but it just wasn’t what she thought it was going to be. And her wait was even longer. If she hadn’t had that soup, I don’t know if she could have lasted until her sandwich arrived.

But I have to give credit to our waitress who handled it well, despite having to work too many tables (she was also serving in the other dining area) and not being at fault at all.

Hopefully next time is a better experience, one that we can both enjoy.

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

Ganly’s Pub
500 Brownsville Rd
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar – Kutztown

Our drive to Kutztown wasn’t planned. Our original destination was Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ in Oley. But this was the day when we first found out that Muddy’s was closed, at least temporarily according to the handwritten sign on the door.

So we took Route 662 north to Route 222, and grabbed the first exit for Kutztown where Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar stands.

It had been more than three years since our visit to Ozgood’s in Robesonia, the first of the two locations for the restaurant. The Kutztown location opened in 2015, occupying the space vacated by TC’s Food and Spirits.

During my college years, I was a regular at TC’s and the Monday night poker games it hosted. It was a dive, but the food was good.

Ozgood’s made a few upgrades. The wrap-around front porch looks much nicer than it used to (it’s enclosed so it can be used year-round). And the overflow dining rooms look much nicer.

The bar still looks great and the main dining room is mostly unchanged – wood booths atop hardwood floors.

We were seated in one of the overflow rooms, off the right side of the dining room, at a table for two with more comfortable, cushioned chairs.

Some restaurants offer a bread basket as a prelude to the meal. Ozgood’s offers veggies and dip. It’s not a lot – a couple pickles, celery stalks and carrot slices – but it’s a nice touch and a welcome change of pace.

Both locations share a menu. It’s mostly bar food fare with burgers, sandwiches, steaks and other comfort food, with nightly specials throughout the week.

We happened to be there on a Sunday – rib night. I was already in the mood for barbecue so I couldn’t pass up a deal on babyback ribs.

The ribs were slathered in Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, the star of the dish. It was sweet and smoky with a distinct aftertaste of the whiskey. It took what were average ribs – not much flavor in the way of a dry rub – and made them something more memorable.

Ribs are one of Ozgood’s “Neighborhood Specialties.” These entrees are all served with two sides. For mine, I chose shoestring fries and the Brutus salad.

The fries were good. I would say they were more of a fast food fry in thickness. I dipped them in the barbecue sauce as best as I could, and that made them even better.

The Brutus salad is Ozgood’s version of the classic Caesar.

I ate mine as an appetizer, and I found it enjoyable. Romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese and dressing. I can’t tell you how the Brutus dressing differs from Caesar dressing, but it hit the spot and that’s all that really matters.

Our visit was late in Julie’s pregnancy, and she was having a mini-craving. She wanted the cobb salad, but she was hungry for steak. Thankfully, the Ozgood’s kitchen was more than happy to customize, swapping out the grilled chicken for grilled steak (for a slight upcharge).

Her cravings were well-satisfied. The steak was grilled to well-done (doctor’s orders during pregnancy) but still flavorful and juicy. The salad itself was fine enough. And she left full, with a little bit of salad to go.

Some of my fries went home with us as well. After adding on my iced tea, our final total was around $35. That felt about right for the amount of food.

And even though it wasn’t our first choice, Ozgood’s felt right, too.

Even if it wasn’t our first choice for dinner on this night.

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

Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
4 Lincoln Rd
Kutztown, PA 19530

Ozgoods Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Indian Fort Inn Jagerschnitzel

Indian Fort Inn

Indian Fort Inn, Hamburg, PA

Most weeks on Berks County Eats, you’ll read about the culinary adventures of my wife (Julie) and I. But from time-to-time, other family members and friends will make cameo appearances, depending on the occasion and location.

Recently, I got together with my brother Matt, his wife Lauren and my friend Dennis for a night out in the Hamburg area.

We made the short drive west of town along Old Route 22 to the Indian Fort Inn.

Dennis and I had never visited before, but my brother and Lauren had been there often as my brother shot pool in the bar room regularly.

Indian Fort Inn

In just a few years, he said, the restaurant had been greatly improved. The food had always been good, but the dining room was always empty while everyone was in the bar.

Outside, it looks like a large stone house with a giant parking lot. There’s a patio out front that looked jam-packed during our visit. Inside, the wood walls, wooden tables and chairs, and dim lighting give the feel of an upgraded hunting cabin.

The meal did not start out well. First, they were out of the meal I really wanted to try: the German lasagna (which was made up of kielbasa, sauerkraut and other German favorites in a mushroom cream sauce).

Then, the salad was a swing-and-a-miss. I was the only person at the table to order an entree and the only person to get a starter salad.

Indian Fort Inn Salad...except they forgot the dressing.

It arrived quick enough, but without the salad dressing. Our waiter disappeared into the back before I realized the mistake so I had wait patiently for him to return to the dining room to wait on our neighboring table to flag him down, then wait for him to reemerge with my cup of ranch dressing.  He may or may not have brought me blue cheese instead.

Otherwise, the salad was unremarkable, standard greens with cherry tomatoes and croutons.

I was already in a slightly sour mood because I couldn’t try the German lasagna; this wasn’t helping things. For my entree, I settled on the Jagerschntizel.

Lucky for me, it redeemed the meal.

Indian Fort Inn Jagerschnitzel

The jagerschnitzel was a weekend special and included two deep fried pork cutlets smothered in mushroom gravy.

It was excellent. The cutlets were fried to a perfect golden brown that peeked out ever so slightly from beneath the mushroom cream sauce. The breading was fantastic and amplified the flavor of the pork. The cream sauce was very good as well, making the dish go down easily.

On the side were “Saratoga chips” and mixed vegetables. Real Saratoga chips are basically potato chips served warm (think Dutch fries, for anyone who visits the Kutztown Fairgrounds), but these were thick cut potato cubes, deep-fried and salted. I have zero complaints about them,  but they weren’t anything noteworthy.

Indian Fort Inn Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger

To my right, Dennis was enjoying his bacon and bleu cheese burger. It was topped with a roasted red pepper aioli that he thought played well with the bleu cheese crumble. Overall, he found it to be a very good burger.

Indian Fort Inn Bacon Cheddar Chicken Sandwich

To my left, my brother was digging into to a chicken sandwich with melted cheddar and bacon. Instead of a sliced cheddar, it was a blend of shredded cheddar. It was a good sandwich, but I know my brother’s favorite thing on his plate was the coleslaw (and I would have to agree, it was a well-made slaw, though I would have a hard time picking out exactly what made it better than most).

While my Saratoga chips were okay, the French fries were exceptional. Both Dennis and Matt ordered a side of fries with their sandwiches. The side of fries was a full basket, one that Julie and I would have needed to split had we been out for a dinner-for-two.

Indian Fort Inn French Fries

The fries were the fresh-cut style with skins still on the edges, and they were cooked perfectly. I got to try one or two of my brother’s fries. Otherwise, he took down the whole basket himself (Dennis left just a few in the bottom of his).

Indian Fort Inn Loaded Fries

Lauren ordered a plate of loaded fries and made it her meal. It was your typical baked potato toppings – bacon, sour cream, chives. Her plate was even larger so she couldn’t finish all of hers, but she did enjoy them.

Our server was kind enough to split the checks for us. I spent about $16 for my meal and glass of iced tea. Most of the dinners were around the same price with some of the steak offerings reaching the low-to-mid-$20 range.

It was a good meal made better by good friends and conversation. And The Fort just seemed like the right place for that.

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

Indian Fort Inn
1343 Hex Highway
Hamburg, PA 19526

Indian Fort Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews