When it was announced in May that Visit PA was bringing back
the Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream trail – a program that highlights cow-to-cone
creameries throughout the state – I was thrilled. Last year, Julie and I had
started on the trail but life got in the way and we never finished. This year,
we are determined to get the free t-shirt that comes with five stamps on our
The trail celebrates cow-to-cone creameries across the state, there are two Berks County creameries on the list – Way-Har Farms in Bernville and the Nesting Box in Kempton. While we will visit them later, we wanted to start with a bit of a road trip.
Our first stop this year was Patches Family Creamery. Located just south of Lebanon, Patches is about an hour’s drive from our house. We had found it as part of last year’s tour and couldn’t wait to go back and blog about it this year.
The wooden building that houses the creamery and farm market
still looks new. It features a small number of tables inside with larger picnic
tables and benches on the shaded front porch.
In addition to ice cream, Patches offers a variety of dairy products and some baked goods.
Patches had more than 20 flavors of ice cream available when
we visited including all of the standards: vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter,
etc. – and a few originals like the candy scramble (think a candy store in an
ice cream tub) and cow tracks, their version of moose tracks.
They also offer an assortment of sundaes. Rhubarb was in
season so I decided to give a rhubarb sundae a try.
It was one of the best ice cream treats I’ve had in a long time. The sweet vanilla ice cream was the perfect complement to the tart rhubarb while the granola/oatmeal crumble added crunch and flavor to every bite. The ice cream itself is rich and creamy. Really, it was a perfect blend.
Julie also went with a sundae. Her fruit of choice was strawberry, but she went with chocolate ice cream for a delicious combination. The bowl was filled with fresh strawberries. The fruit and ice cream combined for a decadent chocolate-covered strawberry flavor – sweet, indulgent and delicious.
We also ordered a kiddie cup of ice cream for Jakob. For
whatever reason, our son is not a big ice cream fan and only ate a couple tiny
scoops. I ended up finishing it in about three bites. His loss is my gain.
I was surprised that our two sundaes and kiddie cup was less
than $10. It felt like a very good deal for quality all the way around.
Not only does Patches serve great ice cream, it’s also a great place for young kids to get out and play on a playground that caters to kids big and small. There’s also a petting zoo with goats and other farm animals (fun for most kids, scary for ours).
Patches is a great little spot out in the country that’s
worth a visit if you’re in the Lebanon area or worth a drive if you are trying
to earn a free t-shirt.
BCE Rating Ice Cream: Excellent Service: Very Good Ambiance: Excellent Price: Very Reasonable
Patches Family Creamery 201 Fonderwhite Rd Lebanon, PA 17042
To learn more about the Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream Trail, check out VisitPA.com
Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has
undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.
At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the
day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a
giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.
I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.
Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and
tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but
change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch
And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele
skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu
is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest
is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.
My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road
when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even
more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no
cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which
also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the
menu at Schell’s).
I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I
ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties
are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only
thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was,
but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.
The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or
anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But
there was plenty of them for the money.
Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled
pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham
or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at
almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced
sandwich on the menu).
Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception.
Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt. Enjoyable, but unremarkable.
One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie
and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly. They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees
and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no
problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.
Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it
arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It
allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets
impatient in his high chair.
On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone
Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things
that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because
he can’t finish an entire meal yet.
Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going
to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few
minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats –
the Bull Dog.
Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog
is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with
crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry
on top, of course.
When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size
of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we
original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.
(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he
filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).
There was no question that this was the best thing we ate
during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the
fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping
and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.
It was a very satisfying end to our meal.
Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was
only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.
The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40
years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a
Service: Very Good
Price: Very Reasonable
Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609
Summer feels like it has arrived early in Pennsylvania. With
sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the right time for
summer foods and cool treats.
One place that offers a little of both is Just Mom’s Ice
Cream, Deli and Grille.
Just Mom’s is located along Route 23, between Morgantown and Elverson (but still inside the border with Chester County) and is basically next door to one of our favorite finds on Berks County Eats – Morgantown Coffee House.
The restaurant sits in a strip mall where it takes up three
storefronts – one for each of its primary businesses: restaurant, deli and ice
Opened in 2017, the Morgantown/Elverson location is the
second for Just Mom’s. The original still operates a few miles south in Honey
Brook, Chester County.
Julie, Jakob and I stopped in for an early dinner on a
recent Saturday afternoon and placed our orders at the counter before grabbing
a table near the deli stand. There are more than enough seats with a
combination of booths and tables throughout the main dining room.
The ice cream parlor, which occupies the right hand side of
the building, has its own unique vibe with a checkerboard floor and stainless
steel tables and high-tops.
Just Mom’s menu doesn’t stray far from a typical pizza and
sandwich shop, though they have a few items that you won’t find too many other
places. Of course that’s what we were drawn to.
The sandwich that caught my eye was the
“parmageddon,” breaded chicken, breaded eggplant, fried mushrooms and
meatballs with marinara sauce and mozzarella. The sandwich, like many of their
hot sandwiches, was toasted to melt the cheese and create a harder roll.
I liked many of the individual items that made up the
sandwich but they didn’t go together very well. Only the chicken and eggplant
were thin enough that you could reasonable get them together in the same bite.
There was only one or two meatball halves in the sandwich. And the breaded
mushrooms were a little much. The marinara was pretty good and there was just
enough cheese, but they were both lost in the shuffle with so many strong
If I had to do it over again, I would have ordered an
eggplant parm sandwich because the eggplant was my favorite part of the
sandwich. Or I would have tried one of their cheesesteaks.
Julie opted for their unique French dip cheesesteak that was
advertised on their dry-erase board at the counter. The beef steak meat was
mixed with fried onions, French onion crisps, Provolone and Swiss. Instead of
marinara, it featured a sweet French dip.
I actually enjoyed my taste of it. It wasn’t far off the
flavor of a French dip sandwich, though both Julie and I were expecting – and probably
would have preferred – to have a cup of au jus for dipping instead of having it
mixed in with the sandwich. Still, it was a pretty good change of pace from a
typical Berks County cheesesteak.
There’s a limited kids menu where your choice of chicken
tenders, hot dog, cheeseburger or grilled cheese comes served with fries and a
fountain soda. We decided to order a hot dog for our 18-month-old only to find
out that they were out of regular hot dogs and only had quarter-pound dogs
left. We decided to go with it, knowing that he would never finish.
It was a good hot dog, split open and grilled (the best way
to make one in my opinion). Because of its size, it was served on a hoagie
roll. We cut up both for Jakob and he enjoyed it with a little ketchup. The
fries were battered and very good.
Normally, Julie and I would have split an order of fries,
but we were saving room for dessert.
The ice cream parlor has both hand-dipped and soft-serve ice
cream and serves a variety of sundaes, twisters and other sweet treats. I went
with one of my personal favorites, the black and white milkshake.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than a little vanilla and
a little chocolate in the same shake. The soft serve shake was just what I
needed to cap off my meal.
Julie tried one of the more unique hand-dipped ice cream
flavors available: French toast. There’s not really a better way to describe it
than to say it tasted like a really good French toast but sweeter. It even had
actual pieces of French toast inside the ice cream. It’s a flavor that doesn’t
seem like it should work, but it did.
Of course we had to get a little dish of soft serve for
Jakob as well. He loves ice cream (we try not to give it to him often) but he
had filled up by eating a good portion of his oversized hot dog so he was done
after a few spoonfuls.
Our dinners cost around $25 while our dessert was about $10.
For $35 total, we certainly didn’t feel cheated.
Really, we had no complaints about the meal and the service
we received was excellent and accommodating. We had two servers – one behind
the counter and one who brought us our food. They were both very nice and
helpful, especially with our little guy. I don’t know if either one of them
were the “mom” in Just Mom’s, but they made us feel at home during
With so many options closer to our home in Wyomissing, we
probably wouldn’t make a special trip to Just Mom’s, but the next time we find
ourselves at the southern tip of the county looking for a quick bite – and
maybe a little treat – we would stop in again.
Ambiance: Good to Very Good
I will admit that before last week, the Heritage Restaurant
in Morgantown was not high on my list of places to visit.
I’ve passed the Heritage Restaurant many times and have
never felt the urge to stop. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a
relic from the times when I-176 and the Turnpike didn’t connect and drivers
were funneled along Route 10. The motel behind the restaurant certainly doesn’t
make it look any more appealing.
But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.
The restaurant has clearly been updated inside with simple
decor in the dining room. The walls are painted gray and are adorned with
photography while the seating is made up of wooden tables with darker wooden
chairs. While there were only a handful of tables occupied in the dining room,
the bar area – which has a separate entrance – was full, which explained the
jammed parking lot.
I was invited by fellow writer (and Heritage regular) Cathy
Cuff-Coffman to a prix fixe dinner at the Heritage, a new concept for the
restaurant but one that they were excited to try out and potentially make a
part of the regular offerings.
Our meal was being hosted in their new private dining area.
What was formerly the billiards room has been redone to host private functions.
One wall features exposed stones while the other three are decorated simply
with historic photos that capture the construction of the highways that connect
A single long table was set with six chairs on each side.
Five couples had won their seats through drawings in the restaurant and on
social media, having their names drawn from more than 166 entrants. And then
there were the two writers at the end of the table, reporter’s notebooks in
Before our meal service began, we were introduced to owner
Tamara King. King has owned the restaurant since December 2017 and during that
time has made several upgrades to the dining area and hired Chef Brandon Pennypacker
to update the menu. The idea for the prix fixe meal is to give Chef Brandon an
opportunity to flex his creative muscle and put together a five-course meal
with a cohesive theme. For this meal, the theme was spring: spring flavors,
spring colors and spring-inspired foods.
Chef Brandon introduced each course as it was presented, and
spring colors were on full display with the arrival of our first dish – a corn
soup with fresh pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema with lime.
What a great way to start the meal. The corn was reduced down
to form a base that was creamy but textured. The mix-ins took it to another
level. The fresh pico was my favorite part – especially the bits of tomato that
burst with a perfect sweet flavor. The salty, crunchy pork added a completely
different, but no less enjoyable, flavor and texture to the meal. Throughout
the dish, the avocado crema added a sweet and creamy flavor, with a little sour
lime thrown in.
It was a very impressive start and just a preview of the
great food still to come.
Our second course was a strawberry salad. It featured
spinach and kale topped with a basil poppy seed dressing, fresh strawberries, dragon
fruit and candied pecans, served with fried goat cheese.
The salad was excellent. I loved the addition of the mildly
sweet dragon fruit and the earthy indulgence of the candied pecans. The goat
cheese croquette was also good, but I didn’t care for it as much as part of the
salad. I didn’t care for how the molten cheese blended with the chilled greens.
Separately though, it was good and something that no one else in Berks County
Chef Brandon has a diverse culinary background. Since
graduating from the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts, he has worked in 17
restaurants in greater Reading and Lancaster city. Stops have included the
Hitching Post, Virginville Hotel, Blackjax and Billy Burger. For the last 10
months, he has been the lead at the Heritage Restaurant and has worked to remove
canned and prepacked items in favor of creating more in-house.
All five courses highlighted what can be done when a
talented chef is given an opportunity to experiment with different styles,
techniques and ingredients. Nowhere was that more evident than our third
course: three scallops each served with its own unique accompaniment.
Chef Brandon introduced them from right to left. First, the
mint pea was a thick puree that was reminiscent of the best pea soup with just
a touch of mint to add a little brightness. In the middle was a sun-dried
tomato pesto (more on this in a moment). And on the left, a saffron orange
aioli. I appreciated the tanginess but I have never been a big fan of aioli.
But the sun-dried tomato pesto may have been the best thing
I have tasted in a long time. Instead of pistachio, it featured crushed
almonds. It had a wonderful smoky flavor throughout, and it worked so perfectly
with the buttery scallop (which were all cooked perfectly, nicely seared
without being burnt). I have never been a fan of seafood of any kind, but I
would gladly order scallops every day if they came with that pesto.
Tamara had told us that in his quest to put together the
perfect menu, Chef Brandon had gone through 15 iterations of the menu and tried
many different items. One of those, a blueberry venison sausage sounded amazing
but was “awful.” Thankfully, that didn’t make it onto our plates as
Instead, we were treated to wagyu steak with lemon-lime finishing salt and
chimichurri sauce, served with a couscous and quinoa mixture that was also
topped with lemon-lime seasoning.
Wagyu beef, as Chef Brandon pointed out, is a type of beef
from Japan known for its high marbling and richness. A meat with high marbling
has more fat in the lean cuts, creating a more flavorful meat. It was clear
from the first bite that the meat was high quality. I would normally order my
food a little less pink than what was presented, but it was so good that I
didn’t mind at all.
What really set the dish apart was the lemon-lime finishing
salt. There was enough on the meat to give a taste, but there was even more
dusted in the corners of the plate. And adding that little bit of extra salt
turned this into an A-plus dish. It managed to bring out even more flavors from
the meat and was the perfect compliment.
I enjoyed the chimichurri sauce with the beef as well. It
added a tangy layer to the dish. But honestly, I would have been content with
just the sweet salt.
When there is so much flavor on the plate, the quinoa and
couscous just couldn’t compare. It had a light seasoning, but the grains felt
boring compared to the other items on the plate and those we had already tried.
Four courses in and we were anxious to see what would be
coming for dessert. We had tried a lot of food, but the portions had been
perfect so there was still just enough room for the special treat that would
complete the meal.
The dessert course was a sight to behold. Each plate
featured a sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries, chocolate mousse,
chipotle raspberry sea salt, another layer of sponge cake, banana whipped cream
and a strawberry sugar dust.
I don’t think there was anyone in the room that didn’t love
this. With just the chocolate mousse and perfectly baked sponge cake, the dish
would have been a winner. But the addition of the sea salt and the sugar put it
over the top.
First, the chipotle raspberry sea salt hit in so many ways.
The added salt enhanced all of the sweet flavors while the chipotle gave it
just the slightest bit of heat that was surprising and wonderful.
Then there was the strawberry sugar dust. Chef Brandon
described it as a homemade Pixie Stick. He took dehydrated strawberries and ran
them through a food processor before blending them with sugar. It really did
taste like a candy topping, a concentrated sweetness that helped highlight the
natural sweetness from the fresh fruit.
I don’t think there could have been a better way to end the
The prix fixe dinners are a new concept for the Heritage.
Everyone received comment cards and were asked to rate every part of the meal –
but from the table talk, it sounded like rave reviews from all those in
Now that I have experienced the Heritage for the first time,
I am looking forward to returning and bringing Julie and Jakob along. I’m sure
I won’t be getting wagyu steak or a strawberry salad, but I’m confident that I
will love the burgers, sandwiches and entrees found on the regular menu.
After my meal, the Heritage is now at the top of my list of
places to re-visit.
BCE Rating Food: Excellent Service: Excellent Ambiance: Good Value: N/A
Heritage Restaurant 6016 Morgantown Rd (Route 10) Morgantown, PA 19543
It was hard to ignore the signs. On seemingly every corner in West Reading and Wyomissing, signs proclaimed the arrival of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food. Then the Instagram posts and stories started arriving, and it was even harder to ignore.
Mecca celebrated their grand opening in September 2018. That’s when the signs started appearing.
I’ve wanted to go ever since, but hadn’t had a chance until a recent Thursday night. On my way home from work, I took a detour through West Reading to the corner of Second and Franklin Streets to get a taste of Mecca.
The location is a little off the beaten path, a couple blocks off Penn Avenue. Like most of West Reading, finding a place to park can be a challenge. I got lucky and got the last spot on the block so I didn’t have to walk too far.
I walked in around 5 p.m. and was the only customer. I’m not going to lie: it was a little worrisome. But it actually worked out to my advantage because I was able to get great customer service and an explanation of all of the dishes that were on the warming table.
There were between a dozen and 15 items between the warming table and the heat lamp (where the fried chicken and other fried items were found) and most sounded like things that I would enjoy, but I had to narrow it down.
I ordered two Mecca meals, essentially they are sample platters where customers get their choice of main and sides to fill the large Styrofoam box. Dessert is also included in the meal. (I also ordered a separate bowl of mac and cheese for my 15-month-old son).
The first box – mine – included ribs, rice and beans, collared greens and candied yams.
The ribs were more like riblets – small pieces that had a decent amount of meat on them. The sauce was super sweet, but I liked it. There was more fat on the ribs than I would have liked, but I enjoyed all of the meat that I ate off the bone.
The barbecue sauce from the ribs also made a great topping for the rice and beans. It was my server’s suggestion to drizzle some over the rice and beans. It was a great combination and I ended up pouring the rest of the sauce over them.
But the best thing on my plate was the candied yams – I believe the Instagram post that day called them butterscotch yams. They were more like a dessert than a side dish, the yams having been reduced into a sweet puree.
The only downer for me were the collard greens. They weren’t bad, but I have had better (Signatures by Angell comes to mind).
Julie’s box, which I picked out for her, included jerk chicken, mac and cheese, cilantro white rice and more of the yams.
The chicken was very good but definitely on the spicy side (as jerk chicken should be). The white rice was pretty good on its own, but I preferred the yellow rice from my dish.
Both Julie and Jakob enjoyed their mac and cheese – Jakob cleaned his plate while Julie saved a little of hers for later.
Dessert was pumpkin pie. There were no options, but I wasn’t mad about it. I enjoy pumpkin pie, and this was a very good version of the southern staple. It was a sweet with a good amount of pumpkin spice and a nice crust. No complaints about the way the meal finished.
Honestly, I have no complaints about the meal at all. There were a couple truly great items and everything else was good enough. I thought my $30 was well-spent.
Mecca may be a little off the main drag, but it’s still a convenient place for a good grab-and-go meal, one that I will take advantage of again in the future.
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611
In the first five years of Berks County Eats, we have taken 19 road trips to select restaurants around Pennsylvania – some near, some far; some good, some bad – but all of them notable.
We’ve done less road trips recently – only two in 2018 – but there are a select number of noteworthy restaurants still worth traveling for and writing about.
One of those is Lancaster’s Belvedere Inn.
The Belvedere was recently ranked as one of the Top 100 most romantic restaurants in the country by users of OpenTable so it seemed like the perfect place for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner.
Among the growing downtown dining scene in downtown Lancaster, The Belvedere is the elder statesman. The Victorian-style mansion was converted to a restaurant in 1998, long before the city’s recent restaurant Renaissance.
The restaurant sits on the corner of Queen and Lemon Streets, and while it doesn’t offer private off-street parking, there’s a public garage right behind the restaurant (we spent $4 to park).
Candlelight and mirrors add glow to the dining areas. Highlights of the dining room – really two or three rooms that have been opened up to create a space that spans the depth of the building – include a stunning chandelier, a large fireplace and the leopard print carpet (still trying to understand that one).
The Belvedere’s menu is fitting of a romantic restaurant: higher end entrees with a range of appetizers and desserts and a robust drink list.
As we were celebrating, Julie ordered a roasted vanilla pear. The mixed drink was made with vanilla vodka, St. Germaine, roasted pear puree, pineapple and citrus soda with a ring of sugar around the glass for even more sweetness, which is what she was looking for.
I had been to the Belvedere once for a business meeting so I knew all about their famous grilled Caesar salad, and I was thrilled to see that they had a petite version on the dinner menu so we could both order it as an appetizer.
Caesar salads are always enjoyable, but the Belvedere’s grilled Caesar is on another level. First, grilling the Romaine just adds such a different feel to it and somehow enhances the flavor that’s already there. The dressing is excellent, and it’s topped with plenty of croutons and cheese.
On my first visit six months ago, I had the full version as a lunch entree (with grilled chicken). I thought I had overhyped it for Julie, but she was not disappointed. It’s an excellent start to a meal – or a meal in and of itself.
Getting it as an appetizer allowed us to try some of their other entrees. I decided on the four-hour braised short ribs, served with red wine demi, green beans and three cheese macaroni gratin.
The meat was excellent with enough fat to make it flavorful but not too much to take away from the meat. The demi was semi-sweet and really helped highlight the flavors of the meat. It was very well done and very satisfying.
I enjoyed the macaroni gratin – a grown-up mac and cheese with a flavorful crust on top. The green beans were fine and made better by the fact that they were also sitting in the red wine demi. Overall, I was very happy with my choice.
Julie was also happy with her decision to order the crab-stuffed lobster tail, a special of the day.
It was one of the best lobsters she has ever had. The crab and lobster were both very good and neither overpowered the other. And she was thrilled to not find any crab shell in the filling.
It was served with fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Both were simple but enjoyable.
As is usually the case when we enjoy a romantic night out, we couldn’t leave without sharing dessert. All of the options sounded decadent, but we decided on the layered chocolate mousse.
It featured chocolate mousse, vanilla cake, Grand Marnier, orange zest and raspberries. It was sweet and satisfying. The mousse was chilled, making it much denser and more solid. The cake was nice, but my favorite part were the bites with raspberry. The fresh berries just added a nice flavor note.
The meal was close to perfect. The only real hiccup was that the assistant server didn’t bring the rolls and butter around until after our entrees. Honestly, though, we could have done without the rolls. It’s not that they weren’t good, but we had more than enough food with what we had ordered.
On special occasions like Valentine’s Day, we always expect to spend more than we would for almost any other meal, and that was the case here. Our final total was $120, and while we won’t go out of our way to spend that on a meal, we don’t mind it once or twice a year.
Between the food and ambiance, it is easy to see how a restaurant like the Belvedere could make it onto anyone’s list of most romantic restaurants.
After our visit, it certainly makes our list.
Service: Very Good
The Belvedere Inn
402 N. Queen St
Lancaster, PA 17603
West Reading has the most crowded dining scene in Berks County. As the number of restaurants continues to climb, Penn Avenue continues to evolve.
A recent loss in West Reading was Taste of Philly (formerly Mike’s Taste of Philly), which occupied a space just off Penn along Fifth Avenue. The space wasn’t vacant for long, though, as a new restaurant, Tony’s al Taglio, took root in late 2018.
The red awning that once featured the Philadelphia skyline has been painted black. The only marking for the new restaurant is a small sign on the door with the Tony’s al Taglio logo.
Inside, the only changes were to remove the Philly memorabilia from the wood-paneled walls. The tables, which feature artist renderings of The Beatles, are (I assume) leftover from when the Yellow Submarine occupied the space. (Mike’s always had tablecloths – Phillies red – on every table).
Every great restaurant has something that differentiates them. For Tony’s, it’s the Roman-style pizza, rectangular thin-crust pizzas that are served by the cut, not the slice. Customers can walk in, point to the pizza they want, choose how large of a slice, and the counter worker will use a shears to cut the pizza to the customer’s specifications.
I asked for a variety, and so the server cut a strip off each of the eight varieties and into the oven they went for a reheat. Each strip was then sliced into four squares, making them perfect for tasting all eight flavors without feeling guilty.
I was getting the order to go, taking eight different style pizzas home for Julie, Jakob and I to try.
The best one, in my opinion, was the Grandma Rita – a margherita-style pizza with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan, olive oil, basil and light tomato sauce. What separated it from other margherita pizzas was the addition of garlic. It just worked really well – the light, fresh flavors with the strong garlic. I would order this every time.
A close second for me was the Picante. The spicy slice started with tomato sauce and mozzarella, then heated up with hot capicola, hot soppressata and Calabrian chili oil. In addition to being spicy-hot, the meat was flavorful. I loved it, even after the heat creeped up on me at the end.
The second trip through the oven didn’t do any favors for the meatball pizza. The thin-sliced meatballs were a little tough, and I didn’t find them to be overly flavorful.
Similarly, the Bionda – white pizza – didn’t hold up well to the reheating. Topped with garlic, EVOO, Parmesan, mozzarella and fresh mozzarella, it was hard and chewy after its reheating. The flavor was good, though, and I would certainly try it fresh.
I did like the funghi trifolata, however. Starting with a Bionda base, it had the addition of local mushrooms, truffle cream sauce and parsley. I appreciated the use of fresh mushrooms. I thought it worked better with the white pizza base than with a red sauce, but I especially enjoyed the richness of the truffle sauce with the mushrooms.
Mushrooms were featured on two other pizza styles – the “4 Seasons” and the “Run it through the Garden.”
The garden pizza featured red sauce and mozzarella topped with mushrooms, bell peppers, olives, spinach and red onion. I loved the thick pieces of onion and the sweetness they added.
The 4 seasons wasn’t as big of a hit for me. A mozzarella and tomato sauce pizza topped with black olives, mushrooms, prosciutto and artichoke, the 4 seasons was one that I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately I found the olive to be overpowering, hiding the other flavors instead of enhancing them.
Our eighth and final strip was the cheese pizza – traditional pizza sauce, grated Parmesan, mozzarella and oregano. Not to sound like a broken record, but this was another one that didn’t fare too well in the reheat – the toppings on other styles really did keep the cheese from drying out during reheating. Otherwise, I thought it was good. Jakob did too as he ate half a strip of it himself.
Looking at Facebook before our visit, I was drawn to another menu item that I had to try: rollatini. Looking like pinwheels of meat and cheese, the rollatini were filled with prosciutto and crescenza strachino cheese, topped with a pistachio pesto.
It was delicious, the best thing I ate. The meat and cheese were a mix of sweet and salty that was enhanced by the nutty pesto. The side of marinara dipping sauce didn’t hurt but it wasn’t necessary. These were that good.
There was also homemade tiramisu in the case, and I couldn’t pass on that. I was told that it was made that morning and that tiramisu gets better the longer it sits. I was also told there was no judgment if we couldn’t wait to eat it. Most can’t.
Full disclosure. I’m not much of a coffee person. That said, I’ve also enjoyed tiramisu. But I’ve never tasted one with as much coffee as this one. It was a little much for my tastes, but it might have been because I had my slice from the end. Julie enjoyed her slice and didn’t seem to taste as much coffee as I had.
When I was picking out everything, I was getting nervous about the final bill. When I found out it was only $22 and change, I was thrilled.
In addition to pizzas, Tony’s al Taglio also serves arincini (deep-fried risotto balls) that I am anxious to try. There are also an assortment of Philly-style sandwiches, including cheesesteaks, Italian hoagies and a chicken cutlet sandwich.
And I hope I have the opportunity to try them all because Tony’s will definitely be in my takeout rotation going forward.
Food: Good to Very Good
Price: Very Reasonable
Tony’s al Taglio
449 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Fork & Ale
1281 E. Main St
Douglassville, PA 19518
In October 2018, Arby’s tested a very unique sandwich at one of its Berks County locations. The Arby’s in Spring Township sold – and sold out of – the one-time-only duck sandwich.
It was a very different concept, especially for a national fast food chain. But it was met with positive reviews, and the line that morning when Arby’s opened up said there was a demand for it.
That’s where the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville comes in. They saw opportunity and capitalized on it, introducing duck on their menu in November.
While duck is normally found on finer dining menus – five-spice duck breast at Savory Grille and ravioli with duck ragu at Salute come to mind – it’s not the first time I’ve had it in a more casual setting.
But fast food is a different story. Walking into the Kwik Shoppe – a quintessential drive-in with hexagonal tile floor, booth seating and a claw machine behind the door – duck just doesn’t seem to fit.
The Kwik Shoppe has three different duck items on their menu: the pulled duck sandwich, duck fries and a duck sausage sandwich. All of them sounded good, but a photo of the pulled duck sandwich on the restaurant’s Facebook page had me sold before I got there.
The sandwich was topped with an onion ring and pineapple papaya sauce (barbecue sauce was also an option).
Before diving into the sandwich, I tasted the meat on its own. It was similar to a pulled pork but fattier with a deeper flavor. I was impressed.
On the whole, the sandwich was very good. There wasn’t a lot of sauce, but there didn’t need to be. It added some sweet and tangy notes that came through after the meat. The onion ring was a reminder that I was eating fast food. It wasn’t necessary, but I certainly didn’t mind it either.
I would go back for another.
Julie went with the much less exciting cheeseburger. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not going to win any best burger contests. It was also around $2 so we’re not going to complain.
Both of us did enjoy our fries. They weren’t anything special, just a really good fast food-style French fry. They were cut small so you could pop several of them at a time. I think their small size allowed them to retain more flavor from the fryer. After adding a little salt and pepper, they were just what we hoped they would be.
Jakob, our now one-year-old son, is now at the point that he can have his own food when we go out. So we got him an order for mac and cheese bites. He enjoyed them, eating two out of the five in the order (along with some fries and some duck). Again, nothing special, just a typical fried fast food side.
None of us really needed anything else to eat after our dinners, but the ice cream was right there, and we just couldn’t pass up the chance to indulge.
I am a sucker for flurries so my go-to on this night was a brownie dough flurry. The flurry was actually mixed to the point that much of the brownie had broken off into small bits, making it look more like cookies and cream than brownie dough. But there were still some larger chunks that were definitely brownie. It was delicious, but a small was more than enough for me, especially after indulging at dinner.
Julie’s new favorite dessert is the dusty road sundae. Kwik Shoppe loaded theirs up with chocolate syrup, malt powder, whipped cream, crushed peanuts and the obligatory cherry on top. The soft-serve vanilla was very good and they didn’t skimp on the toppings. Julie couldn’t finish it, but made sure to eat “all the good stuff.”
We spent about $32 on our visit – $22 on dinner and $10 on dessert. The duck items are a little more expensive than the rest of the menu so we easily could have spent less and we easily could have spent more. But overall, it felt like a good value.
The service isn’t great (a little slow but not bad), but that’s to be expected when a group of four high school students are handling all of the orders behind the counter.
I went in to the meal with an open mind when it came to fast food duck. After eating the pulled duck sandwich, I think you can count me among the believers.
And I hope there are more believers out there because this was a sandwich I would like to have again.
Food: Fair to Very Good
Kwik Shoppe Drive-In
555 Shoemaker Ave
Shoemakersville, PA 19555
Berks County Eats crosses the county line for a visit to Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, about 35 miles north of Reading.
Leiby’s is a familiar name around Berks County, even if you didn’t know the family had a restaurant.
The namesake ice cream can found at many of the area’s favorite cool-down spots, including Scoupe DeVille in Birdsboro.
But in Schuylkill County, Leiby’s was also synonymous with homestyle cooking, at least until the restaurant closed in 2007.
After a decade away, the Leiby family decided it was time to reopen, and the hotspot at the corner of Routes 443 and 309 sprang back to life in May 2017.
Officially known as Leiby’s Ice Cream House and Restaurant, the building is familiar to all those who drive past. Just as familiar is the sign on the corner, complete with an analog clock – or is a thermometer – that never actually displays any information.
The restaurant has two entrances, one for ice cream only and one for the dining room. Our hostess was nice but she really wasn’t much help with our questions as we waited a long time to be served. In the large dining room, waitresses were serving customers and busing tables. There was a decent crowd in the dining room for a Sunday afternoon, but certainly not large enough to have been slowing everyone down this much.
Leiby’s menu is very much influenced by diners – simple meals like meatloaf, roast beef, turkey, and spaghetti and meatballs made up the majority of the dinner menu (there were also sandwiches, burgers and a few appetizers).
It’s a relatively reasonably priced menu with dinners priced around $10. But apparently they make up for it in upcharges. Replacing one of my sides with a trip to salad bar cost an extra $5.50.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice little salad bar. The emphasis is on “little” as it certainly was not worth the upcharge. It had your standard lettuce and all the toppings with six squirt bottles full of dressing. But there was nothing that made it stand out.
But not wanting to add another real side, I was left with little options.
For my meal, I had gone very traditional, ordering the roast turkey with mashed potatoes. It was also served with cranberry sauce and was topped with gravy.
The turkey was okay but I was hoping for better. There wasn’t a lot of flavor to the thin slices of meat, and the gravy did little more than to make it wet. The cranberry sauce came in the tiniest little cup on the side. Honestly, I almost forgot to eat it because I didn’t see it sitting on the table.
The best thing on my plate was the mashed potatoes. They were very good, as I would expect from a good diner. They had a nice yellow color, always a good sign, and were well-seasoned. In my teenage years, I would have doubled up on the potatoes instead of getting a salad. I almost wished I had done that on this trip.
Julie’s open-face roast beef sandwich was another fair dish. I didn’t care for the bread that it was served on, but I liked the beef a little better than my turkey. I think she and I were both looking for more of a pot roast-style dish.
And her side of corn was fresh from the can.
On the bright side, Leiby’s serves Leiby’s ice cream so we had that to look forward throughout the meal. And the ice cream did not disappoint.
I had a waffle sundae with vanilla fudge ice cream, topped with hot fudge and whipped cream. The warm Belgian waffle and hot fudge melted the ice cream just enough to make it soft. The waffle itself was delicious and the ice cream was sweet, creamy and perfect.
And it cost less than my salad.
Julie had a more traditional dusty road sundae (her new favorite) with Tandy Kake ice cream (also her new favorite).
Dessert redeemed the meal, for the most part. But it couldn’t overcome the poor service we received.
Julie, Jakob and I were joined by her family. And while Julie and her mom both ordered lettuce with hot bacon dressing as sides, only Julie’s was delivered as an appetizer. And flagging down our waitress wasn’t easy as we went 10 minutes at a time without seeing her.
Worse yet, at the end of the meal when we asked for our bills to be split, I was given our half (about $38) but unknowingly my in-laws were given, and charged for, both of our meals. (Payments are made at a cash register near the exit). So we had to call a manager to do a refund. Then they had to enter each of the meals individually, but they didn’t even get that right. Eventually we each paid our fair share.
I expect this kind of service from a place that’s been open six weeks, not one that has been open for 16 months.
Needless to say, we won’t be making any Sunday drives to Leiby’s again any time soon.
Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant 848 W. Penn Pk
Tamaqua, PA 18252