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

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
Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Fork & Ale – Return

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

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

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

Then a new chef arrived on the scene.

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

Fork & Ale Menu

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

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

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

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

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

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

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

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

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

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

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

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

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

Fork & Ale Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

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

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

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

Fork & Ale Butterscotch Lava Cake

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

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

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

I know we will be back sooner than later.

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

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

Bars & Pubs Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

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.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

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.

At the Liberty Taproom, I enjoyed a duck confit burger topped with duck sausage. And my first real taste of duck came at the relaxed Canal Street Pub.

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.

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

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.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Cheeseburger

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.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In French Fries

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.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Mac and Cheese Bites

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.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Ice Cream

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.

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

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In
555 Shoemaker Ave
Shoemakersville, PA 19555

Dessert Drive-Ins Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant

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.

BCE Rating:

Food: Fair
Service: Poor
Ambiance: Good
Value: Reasonable

Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant
848 W. Penn Pk
Tamaqua, PA 18252

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews