A kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Pop’s Malt Shoppe

The stone exterior of Pop's Malt Shoppe in Kutztown

Who wants ice cream in the cold of winter? This guy.

I’ve never believed ice cream to be a summer-only treat. It’s year-round goodness. Especially on special occasions – like when mommy has to go away for work and leaves daddy home alone with a two-year-old.

But where to get ice cream – and a meal – in January? One option is Pop’s Malt Shoppe in Kutztown.

Red and white leather booths against a pink wall covered in retro signs in Pop's Malt Shoppe's dining room

Pop’s Malt Shoppe takes on the look and feel of a 50s/60s diner and soda fountain: the checker board floor, the red tables with stainless steel accents, the Elvis music playing through the speakers.

It’s not a unique concept in Berks County – Bel-Air in Bechtelsville and Scoupe DeVille in Birdsboro both have similar concepts. But unlike those, Pop’s is open year-round. So even when there’s snow on the ground and the temperatures are below freezing, Pop’s is open.

A close-up of the retro signs and a mirror on a pink wall in Pop's Malt Shoppe

That was one of the reasons I decided to stop in on a Sunday night in January – that and the fact that they had recently posted about their newly renovated dining area. It was just Jakob and I, and it took him a few minutes to realize where we were. “Ice cream shop?” he asked. My two-year-old is obsessed with our collection of Curious George books, including Curious George Goes to the Ice Cream Shop. I guess Pop’s has a look that’s easily recognizable.

Julie and I had actually never visited Pop’s while we were students at Kutztown. But we did stop in for ice cream a few years ago.

Jars of ice cream toppings in front of a chalkboard with toppings listed on it
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

We were only in the take-out area, but it still had the same vibe as the dining room with pink walls covered in retro signs.

The cookie monster sundae featuring chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

On that visit, we both ordered sundaes: a brownie sundae and a cookie monster sundae. The latter featured Pop’s fresh-baked cookies with choice of ice cream. Photos of fresh-baked cookies have been a staple on Pop’s social media accounts and taste as good as they look – especially with ice cream.

A brownie sundae featuring brownie bites, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

Similarly, the soft, chocolatey brownies were baked in-house as well. It’s a nice touch that helps to set Pop’s apart from other places.

For Jakob and I, ice cream would have to wait until after dinner.

Pop’s food menu is what you would expect – burgers, dogs, a handful of sandwich options, lots of fried foods and salad, in case you want to feel a little less guilty about that ice cream afterward.

A sloppy Joe sandwich, pile of fries and a cup of ketchup on checkered paper

I decided to order Pop’s homemade barbecue sandwich with fries. It was a standard sloppy Joe – ground beef with onion and tomato mixed in with a little barbecue sauce. The roll was smaller than I was expecting, though that could have just been from its obvious trip to the panini press. It was good, but nothing to write home about. The meat was falling out of the bun so it was still a hearty meal, too.

The fries were good, as well. They were crinkle-cut and done well, though I needed to add a little salt for some extra flavor.

A sloppy Joe and fries with a cup of ketchup served on checkered paper atop a melted vinyl record plate

One cool thing that I only picked up on because I heard another table mention it is that the food is served on plates made of melted vinyl records (or at least are made to look that way).

A kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Jakob’s meal also arrived in style. Kids meals are served in paper models of classic cars, and Jakob’s grilled cheese and mac and cheese bites cruised in on a Ford Fairlane.

Close-up of Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

He enjoyed the grilled cheese. The kids meal is actually a half sandwich using a single slice of bread which actually works out well because it means less crust, which Jakob is currently rejecting.

Four fried mac and cheese triangles on checkered paper

But he certainly didn’t reject the mac and cheese bites. The meal came with four of them, and he happily finished them off without leaving a trace. They were a simple, kid-friendly side not unlike anywhere else, but Jakob enjoyed them, and that’s all that mattered to me in the moment.

With our meals finished, I couldn’t resist ordering us a treat (this is what happens when dad is left in charge for the night). We got a soft-serve sundae with Oreo cookies, strawberries and chocolate syrup (plus the obligatory whipped cream and cherry on top).

An ice cream sundae with vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, strawberries, Oreo cookie crumbles, whipped cream and a cherry

It was wonderful. The vanilla soft serve was nice on its own, but the toppings are what made it. There were 22 toppings to choose from so narrowing it to three (the first topping is free, the rest are 50 cents each) wasn’t easy, but they were all good decisions.

There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of any single topping.  The Oreos were concentrated on one side and the strawberries on the other so every bite was a little different, but no less enjoyable. The ice cream was easily the best part of the meal.

During our visit, the dining room was filled mostly with college students (a few had family members with them) returning for the spring semester, but Pop’s is certainly a family friendly destination in the college town. The price is right for a family meal as well. With dessert, it was about $25.

Our service was good as well. Two different waitresses helped us at different times as they worked as a team to cover a fairly busy dining room. At one point one of them apologized for the wait and said there was a mix-up with my meal. I honestly would not have even known because it was only about 15 minutes from the time we ordered until the food arrived.

It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it didn’t need to be. We were there for the ice cream, and that didn’t disappoint.

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

Pop’s Malt Shoppe
208 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Dessert Diners
Three scallops with risotto, spinach and a lemon in a round shallow bowl from Go Fish Seafood in Sinking Spring

Go Fish! Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar

The front steps of Go Fish Seafood decorated with bluish-purple Christmas lights and a wreath above the door.

In March 2018, a fire tore through the former Go Fish Seafood in West Reading. Instead of staying and rebuilding, the restaurant took the opportunity to make a move.

Eighteen months later, in September 2019, the new Go Fish Seafood & Sushi Bar finally opened in Sinking Spring.

A handprint and the words "Go Fish 2019" imprinted in a sidewalk panel.

Go Fish is tucked away along Hull Avenue, several blocks removed from the Penn Avenue traffic. Kline Building & Design Group were the most recent occupants of the site. To make the building restaurant-ready, a ramp entrance was added along with a sidewalk that runs from the parking lot to the front door. A single handprint can be found in the corner of the sidewalk, the words “Go Fish 2019” etched beneath it.

A fireplace is flanked by two sitting chairs in the waiting area of Go Fish

The ramp is a necessity not only for wheelchairs but for anyone who struggles with stairs as the front entrance features a tall, steep staircase. Stepping through the front door, you would never know that this was anything other than a restaurant. After checking in at the desk, we were led through the waiting room, complete with sitting chairs and a fireplace, into the dining area.

The dining room of Go Fish with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

Exposed brick walls and pillars, Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling and hardwood floors combine to give it the restaurant an upscale feel. The gorgeous bar is separated from the dining area by a half-wall. In the middle, above the TV displaying the night’s drink specials, “Go Fish” was lit in blue lights.

A black napkin folded in the shape of a fish.

And at our tables, the black napkins were neatly folded in the shape of a fish.

With our toddler at his grandparents’ house for the evening, Julie and I were on our own for a Friday night date night. There was a decent crowd when we arrived at 5:30, and it only got busier in the restaurant while we were there.

Our server was attentive throughout the night and was with us quickly to take our drink order. Julie ordered the “Pear Fizz,” a mocktail with pear nectar, lemon, honey ginger simple syrup, Jamaican ginger beer and seared thyme.

The pear fizz, a mocktail featuring pear nectar and a sprig of thyme sticking out the top of the glass.

We could smell the thyme before the drink was even on the table, and the aroma of the herbs in the glass continued to waft throughout. It was certainly fizzy – a product of the ginger beer – and a little sweet but the ginger helped to balance it out.

In addition, we also ordered water and were given the choice of spring, seltzer or chilled. Note: chilled means tap water. Spring is $4 a bottle, as we found out at the end of our meal.

The restaurant menu is carefully curated with only a few selections for entrees. Though it leans heavily toward seafood, the choices include chicken, steak, pork chop and gnocchi (also available with shrimp or salads). Sushi lovers probably already know this, but the sushi selection is the largest part of the menu.

Three scallops with risotto, spinach and a lemon in a round shallow bowl from Go Fish Seafood in Sinking Spring

I’m not a sushi fan – I’m not even that big of a seafood fan – but the one seafood item I have learned to like is scallops, and Go Fish’s version sounded too good to pass up.

The three seared scallops were served with lemon mascarpone risotto, baby spinach, garlic confit and lemon brulee.

The scallops were cooked very well, but what I enjoyed most were the bites with the garlic confit. I absolutely loved the garlicky sauce; I only wish there had been more of it. There were a couple small dollops on the plate, but I thought it was the perfect complement to the buttery scallops.

I was also a fan of the risotto. I was expecting it to have a little more sweetness to it with the mascarpone, but it was more of a hint than an in-your-face flavor.

Fish and chips (fries) with cups of cocktail sauce and grimiche.

Julie opted for the Go Fish and chips, a more casual offering of battered cod, rosemary frites (French fries) and sides of gribiche and cocktail sauce for dipping.

The cod was a very mild fish, and it was tossed in a light batter. I really enjoyed my taste with the gribiche sauce – think of it as the French version of tartar sauce. It was cooling and a little tangy and was a nice addition. It also went well with the fries, which we both enjoyed.

Neither of us really needed dessert, but it was a date night and the food had arrived so quickly that we felt obligated to stay a little longer and enjoy a post-dinner treat.

A half-size Mason jar of lemongrass creme brulee from Go Fish.

Our dessert of choice was the lemongrass crème brulee. We were not disappointed by the decadent creamy dessert. The lemongrass was a nice touch, adding just a hint of tang.

It was served in a very short Mason jar, which looked really cool but added a level of difficulty when trying to get to the cream at the sides.

The bar area at Go Fish, complete with the restaurant's name in blue lights with red accent lighting on the shelves.

With dessert added onto our bill, we ended up paying around $75. That’s a little more than we usually pay for a meal but a little less than we have paid at other finer dining restaurants around Berks County. And to us, it was well-worth it (though, maybe not the $4 spring water).

Go Fish is what the name implies – a place for seafood lovers. And it’s a great date night spot that has a finer dining feel to it.

It’s a place I would definitely recommend.

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

Go Fish! Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
301 Hull St`
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner
An order of chicken Paremsan, featuring an extra large chicken breast topped with red sauce on a bed of spaghetti, from Temple Family Restaurant.

Temple Family Restaurant

A view of the entrance to Temple Family Restaurant.

I have always enjoyed a good diner, but I’ve found that I appreciate them even more since becoming a father because I know they are a safe bet for a night out with my son.

Diners always have plenty of seating (including high chairs), the service is quick and there are always kids options on the menu.

So when we were struggling to decide on a place to go for a family dinner on a Sunday in December, my mind went to diners. And that’s how we ended up at the Temple Family Restaurant.

A view of Temple Family Restaurant's large dining room, featuring tables, booths and blue accent lighting at the ceiling.

It had been years since Julie and I last visited Temple Family Restaurant – at least five because we hadn’t been back since Berks County Eats became a thing. We had always enjoyed it, but with so many places to visit, it had fallen off our radar.

Julie, Jakob and I arrived around 5 p.m. and found the restaurant to be busy, but not crowded. The dining area is very large with booths lining every wall and free-standing tables in the middle.

Our waitress was very attentive, arriving at our table within moments of being seated. She was happy to help as we worked to keep Jakob occupied – providing us with an extra menu for him to entertain himself with and also ensuring that his applesauce arrived with our salads.

Mixed greens topped with croutons, cheese and red onions, served with a side of Ranch dressing at Temple Family Restaurant

The menu is large and varied, but all of the “American Classics,” “Pasta Specialties,” and “Steaks and Chops” are served with a choice of soup or salad.

The salads were simple, mostly greens and croutons topped with shredded cheese, onions, green pepper slices and cherry tomatoes. It also came with more than enough salad dressing – at least twice as much in the cup than we usually see with diners.

A pair of dinner rolls in a basket with 10 packets of butter

Our meals were also served with fresh rolls and butter. The rolls were served warm and were very good. They also came with a pile of butter packets (I think I used half of a packet for mine).

For my entree, I chose the chicken croquettes. I have always enjoyed the fried chicken dish, but it’s not something I order very often. I was, however, very glad that I ordered it here.

Two chicken croquettes and a side of potato filling, smothered in gravy, from Temple Family Restaurant

The croquettes were delicious. The breading was nicely seasoned and the chicken had a great flavor to it. And as simple as it was, the bed of mashed potatoes the croquettes were served on were a perfect complement. And the croquettes were huge. I decided to save one for later rather than overdoing it at the restaurant.

Was it a steak dinner at a five-star restaurant? Absolutely not. Was it delicious comfort food? Absolutely.

Not taking the time to study the menu as much as I should have, I ordered potato filling as a side – even though the meal already came with mashed potatoes. (Full disclosure: when I was a teenager, I would do this on purpose when we went to diners. That was not the case here). The filling was fine, but nothing special. I actually enjoyed the mashed potatoes a little bit better.

An order of chicken Paremsan, featuring an extra large chicken breast topped with red sauce on a bed of spaghetti, from Temple Family Restaurant.

Julie had ordered the chicken Parmesan (both of our meals were listed as “homemade” in the menu and had pictures to further sway us on our decisions). It, too, was very good. The chicken breast had a crisp breading on the outside. The sauce was a little sweet and a little thicker than some places. But I thought it all came together very well.

And it was also huge. The chicken breast covered nearly the full length of the oblong plate. Julie didn’t even attempt to finish the whole thing, bringing home half for a later meal.

Her meal also came with a slice of garlic toast. It was not as good as the dinner roll. I thought it tasted more like Texas toast. Either way, it was completely unnecessary given the size of the chicken breast and the fact that we already had bread at the table.

The kids personal pan pizza at Temple Family Restaurant

The kids menu isn’t huge, but there are enough choices to keep most children happy. Jakob was pleased with his personal pan pizza. It didn’t look like anything I would eat, but Jakob finished every bite so I guess it served its purpose well.

He did not want his applesauce, though, so I ended up giving him my buttered corn, which he happily ate for me.

A small cup of rice pudding topped with whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon from Temple Family Restaurant

At the end of the meal, having saved a little bit of room, Julie decided to splurge for some rice pudding for her and Jakob. It came topped with whipped cream and was dusted with cinnamon. Rice pudding is not my favorite – it’s a texture thing for me, mostly – but Julie loves it, especially at diners. Jakob didn’t have much interest in anything other than the whipped cream so I ended up eating most of his share.

We certainly got a lot for our money during our meal as our two entrees, kids meal and rice pudding cost us $31.

It was an enjoyable meal, and kid-friendly at that. Mommy, daddy and Jakob all enjoyed our food and were happy with our decision.

Diners are once again moving to the forefront for me. And Temple Family Restaurant has earned a place near the top of our list.

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

Temple Family Restaurant
4949 N. 5th Street Hwy
Temple, PA 19560

Dessert Diners Lunch & Dinner

PA Ice Cream Trail – Patches Family Creamery

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

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

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

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

Patches Family Creamery Front Porch

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

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

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

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

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

A pair of ice cream sundaes

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

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

Tables inside Patches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patches Family Creamery
201 Fonderwhite Rd
Lebanon, PA 17042

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

Dessert Reviews
The Bull Dog sundae from the Ranch House: Three large scoops of ice cream topped with strawberries, cherries, peanuts, pretzels and whipped cream.

Circle S Ranch House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

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

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

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

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

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Just Mom’s Ice Cream, Deli and Grille

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 cream parlor.

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 flavors.

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 our visit.

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.

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

Just Mom’s
109 Darby Sq
Morgantown, PA 19543

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

The Heritage Restaurant

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.

Walking into the simply appointed dining room

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.

The private dining room is filled with historic photos of Morgantown

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 in Morgantown.

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 hand.

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.

Corn soup topped with pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema

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.

Strawberry salad with dragon fruit, candied pecans and a goat cheese croquette

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 is trying.

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.

Pan-seared scallops with yellow, red and green sauces

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 an entree.

Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

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.

Chef Brandon Pennypacker
Chef Brandon tell us a little more about the course we’re about to eat.

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.

Strawberry Sponge Cake
Photo Credit: Cathy Cuff-Coffman

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 meal.

Owner Tamara King and Chef Brandon Pennypacker
Owner Tamara King with Chef Brandon

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 attendance.

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

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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).

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food Pumpkin Pie

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.

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

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611

Caribbean & Latin American Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Road Trip: The Belvedere Inn

Belvedere Inn

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.

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).

Belvedere Inn

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.

Belvedere Inn Roasted Vanilla Pear

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.

Belvedere Inn Grilled Caesar

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.

Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

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.

Belvedere Inn Stuffed Lobster Tail

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.

Belvedere Inn Chocolate Mousse

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.

Belvedere Inn Rolls

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.

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

The Belvedere Inn
402 N. Queen St
Lancaster, PA 17603

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Tony's al Taglio Pizza

Tony’s al Taglio

Tony's al Taglio

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.

Tony's al Taglio

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.

Tony's al Taglio

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).

Tony's al Taglio Pizza

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.

Tony's al Taglio Pizza

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.

Tony's al Taglio Pizza

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.

Tony's al Taglio Pizza

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.

Tony's al Taglio Pizza

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.

Tony's al Taglio Rollatini

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.

Tony's al Taglio Tiramisu

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.

Tony's al Taglio Tiramisu

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.

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

Tony’s al Taglio
449 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews