A bowl of edamame, quinoa, chickpeas and cranberry from the Greenhouse Cafe

The Greenhouse Cafe

A view of the outside of the Greenhouse Cafe from the parking lot.

The arrival of a new restaurant to Berks County is always welcomed. But when that eatery offers something different – when it adds a little more variety to the dining scene – it’s a little more exciting.

A little something different is exactly what the Greenhouse Cafe promises as Berks County’s newest vegan spot.

The Cafe is located in an outbuilding on the property of the Bell Tower Salon & Spa in Wyomissing (just off of State Hill Road near the intersection with Penn Avenue). I have never had a reason to go to Bell Tower myself, but Julie tells me the space was at least partially a retail store previously.

The main dining area of the Greenhouse Cafe with silver tables and chairs and brown walls.

Walking in the door, you don’t get the Greenhouse feeling. It’s very minimalist with plain brown walls and simple silver-colored tables and chairs opposite the large windows. The dining room to the right is where you really feel the Greenhouse and feel at home. Natural light pours in from the sides and from above. The seating is varied with both high-tops and more relaxed sitting areas. We sat on cushioned benches around a low-top table. A faux fireplace was unlit on the wall next to us.

The interior of the sunroom dining area with high top tables and cushioned benches at the Greenhouse Cafe

With the opening of the Greenhouse Cafe, Berks County now has four fully dedicated vegan eateries with Chen Vegetarian House in West Reading, the Firefly Cafe in Boyertown and HIVE in Kutztown being the other three.

A look at the rear of the sun room at Greenhouse Cafe, including bench seats and a high-top table.

The Cafe opened at the end of November with just drinks and baked goods. They slowly expanded their food offerings to include hummus and soups. The full lunch menu debuted on February 15.

Small plates include hummus and bean dips. There are several homemade dressings for your salad or grain bowl (including lemon tahini and ginger sesame). And entrees include chickpea by the sea (mock tuna), an egg-less salad sandwich and hummus and veggie sandwich.  

A plate with a chana masala sandiwch on a hoagie roll and a small cucumber salad from the Greenhouse Cafe

When it came to deciding on an entree, I was torn between the hummus sandwich and the rotating special, a chana masala sandwich. The special sounded too good to pass up.

Masala is an Indian tomato sauce (chicken tikka masala is probably the most well-known version of the dish in America); chana masala features chickpeas as the primary “protein” in the dish. For the special, the chana masala came served on a hoagie roll topped with pickled cabbage.

A plate with a chana masala sandiwch on a hoagie roll and a small cucumber salad from the Greenhouse Cafe

It was an excellent entree. The masala sauce was very nice and the chickpeas were cooked well but still had texture to them. There were times while eating the dish where the sauce and the roll reminded me of a Berks County cheesesteak. (The roll was delicious, by the way).

The sandwich came served with a side of cucumber salad. It was good, but there wasn’t much to it.

Julie made a meal out of a small plate of hummus and a side grain bowl of edamame, chickpeas, cranberry and quinoa.

A bowl of edamame, quinoa, chickpeas and cranberry from the Greenhouse Cafe

The bowl came out first with my sandwich. The server then appeared with a hummus sandwich only to retreat back into the kitchen for the plate of hummus that Julie had ordered.

Julie started on the bowl, which was very good. We make a quinoa dish at home with dried cranberries that we really like and this was even better. The edamame was softened just enough that it wasn’t crunchy but was still a little firm. The cranberries and (surprise) golden raisins added the sweetness that it needed to tie everything together.

A plate of hummus and pita wedges with carrots and celery from the Greenhouse Cafe

When Julie’s hummus plate arrived a few minutes later, it was worth the wait. The hummus was much thicker and more textured than store-bought hummus. It was also more flavorful with a nice dusting of spices on top. Julie was excited to come back and buy some hummus to-go so she could enjoy it at home, too.

It wasn’t just the hummus, though. The pita it was served with was as good, if not better, than we have found elsewhere. It was more dense than others and was packed with flavors (of course neither of us could put our fingers on what those flavors were that were shining through). We loved everything about it.

The only thing that was a little confusing to me was the menu said it was topped with shawarma. I only know shawarma as the meat that is sliced from the spit. I can only assume that it was a shawarma spice that was on top.

A green mug filled with chai tea latte from the Greenhouse Cafe

Beyond the food, I was very excited to try their house blend chai tea.

I don’t drink coffee, but I love a good chai latte. The Greenhouse has their own special chai spice blend and they use oat milk to keep it vegan. It didn’t have a foamy head like a lot of chai that I’ve had, but it had a nice aroma and flavor from the spices. The oat milk even added a little bit of an earthy flavor as well that I really enjoyed.

The sizing of our drinks didn’t make much sense, though. Julie ordered a small while I ordered a large. They were served in the exact same size cups. Hers was just filled slightly less than my own.

Our lunch was a little on the pricey side at $37 (about $10 of that were the drinks), but we thought it was worth it. The service was definitely a little off. It wasn’t just the sandwich/hummus plate mix-up either. As we were leaving, a line was growing as two employees looked over the screen of their point-of-sale system trying to find the menu item the customer wanted to order.

Those hiccups will get better with more time and practice. The food is already on-point, and that’s the most important part.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent (in the Greenhouse Dining Area)
Service: Good
Price: A Little Pricey

The Greenhouse Cafe
18 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Cafes & Coffeeshops Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian
Rangoli Indian Street Food Exploding Samosa

Rangoli Indian Street Food

A View Outside Rangoli Indian Street Food in Shillington

Fred’s Music Shop was an institution in Berks County for 45 years. In addition to guitars and music instruments for all genres, Fred’s also operated Tasty Licks, a barbecue supply store that served a completely different clientele.

But this blog isn’t about what once was. It’s about what is now. And since February, the former Fred’s Music Shop has been home to a new restaurant: Rangoli Indian Street Food.

It’s been quite a transformation for the storefront along Route 724 in Shillington. The old Fred’s sign has been wrapped with one promoting the new restaurant.

Rangoli Indian Street Food

Outside, the building is still rather dull with brown siding and black trim. Inside, it’s a different world with bright primary colors popping everywhere from the walls to the pillars to the drape hanging from the ceiling. Rangoli being a traditional and colorful art form in India, it is only fitting that the dining room pops with reds, blues and yellows.

Indian cuisine is nothing new in Berks County. Aayshiyana Indian Cuisine operated for several years downtown (with other restaurants coming and going in its wake) while Laxmi’s Indian Grille and Nirvana Indian Bistro operate blocks apart in Wyomissing.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Interior

Rangoli is intentionally different. “Street Food” isn’t just a marketing tagline, it’s a true differentiator for the new restaurant. There are a number of dishes that will be familiar – dal, paneer, chana and a chicken dish similar to tikka masala.

But then there is everything else. The Street Food section of the menu includes “Naughty Naan,” egg rolls and a tandoori chicken burger.

It also includes exploding samosas and sassy fries, two dishes that I just had to try.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Exploding Samosa

Samosas, fried dumplings filled with seasoned potatoes and peas, are a staple at Indian restaurants. The “exploding” samosas take the dumplings and load them up with a mountain of toppings that includes chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, green chutney, tamarind and yogurt sauces and crunchy noodles. You can also choose chicken or paneer for an added topping – I chose chicken.

There were so many flavors popping in this dish that it’s hard to choose a place to start. One thing that came through strong was the yogurt sauce, cool and refreshing with a little sweet-and-sour flavor thrown in.

It was also obvious just by looking at the inconsistent sized and shaped pieces that the restaurant uses fresh chicken (the owner, who took our orders and visited our table pointed out that they have no freezer in the kitchen). And the chicken itself had a nice flavor to it – even though I asked for very low spice on my dish.

Rangoli Indian Street Food

On the side, my sassy fries were interesting. The standard French fries were coated in a special seasoning, more salty and herby than hot. They came served with the house special dipping sauce, a tangy green sauce that really enhanced the flavor and made them feel unique.

Julie does not like spice at all so she asked for no heat in her paneer dish. This also made it possible to share with Jakob, our now 17-month-old who is definitely not ready for even the mildest of Indian spices.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Paneer

The paneer – a traditional Indian cheese – came served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic, coriander and the house blend spices. Paneer reminds me a lot of tofu in that it picks up the flavors of whatever it is paired with (and it’s a little chewy). Bits of cilantro added pops of flavor throughout.

One thing that was pointed out to us is that Rangoli does not add any “filler” to its tomato gravy. That is, there is no milk to make it creamy and no shortcuts like canned tomatoes – just fresh ingredients that are brought together to create a delicious dish, one that both Julie and Jakob enjoyed.

The dish was served with a choice of naan or white rice (Julie actually got both so she could share with Jakob). The rice is not basmati like patrons find in most Indian restaurants. Instead it is a more standard white rice – used because basmati has a higher amount of carbs. Rangoli’s naan was noteworthy because of its delicious seasoning that was heavy on the garlic.

We were joined on our visit by my friend Josh, who was visiting from Washington, D.C., and was taking full advantage of a cheat day from strict keto diet. His father has traveled to India multiple times and has hosted friends and colleagues from the Indian subcontinent at the family’s home in Oley so Josh has a much larger knowledge of the food than us.

He also has a much greater tolerance for heat and asked for his meal spicy – specifying that he wanted it spicy by American standards, not Indian standards.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Chicken

Josh had ordered the chicken off the “Village Dishes” portion of the menu. The chicken pieces were served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic and house spices. Despite the fact that it was a similar base to Julie’s paneer, the two dishes tasted nothing alike thanks to the change in spice level.

I tried one bite, and that’s all I could handle. I was happy to try it because despite the high-intensity heat, it was a delicious dish. The peppers used weren’t just hot, but flavorful as well and I really enjoyed it. There was just no way I could have eaten a whole plate. By the time Josh was finished, sweat was visible from his brow as his faced picked up a red tint that it hadn’t had before.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Samosas

Thankfully he ate that first before moving on to two dishes that were much more mild. First, two samosas (non-exploding). The dumplings were a great way to cool off, even with the sweet and spicy chili sauce on the side.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Pav Bhaji

After that, he tackled an order of pav bhaji: mixed vegetables with buttery tomato gravy served with buttered rolls – toasted hamburger rolls that served as good vessels for the excellent vegetable mash. It was a much lighter dish than others and made a great finish to his makeshift three-course meal.

Between all of us, we spent about $70. That included two cans of Limca – India’s answer to Sprite – and a ton of food.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Limca

Another great thing about Rangoli is their commitment to community – both locally and globally. A portion of the proceeds from every meal goes to charities supporting the underprivileged. One such charity, Prasana India provides medical care, nutrition and more to the destitute tribal and untouchable communities of India.

A restaurant with great food and an even better mission? Now that’s a place I can really get behind. Hopefully others get behind Rangoli and it creates a long-lasting legacy of its own.

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

Rangoli Indian Street Food
212 W. Lancaster Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Nirvana Indian Bistro

I have a general rule of thumb about visiting new restaurants: wait at least two months for your first visit.

On more than one occasion, I have paid a visit too soon – when the service couldn’t match the demand – and left with a bad taste in my mouth (figuratively speaking).

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and I’m glad it’s not. Otherwise, I’d still be waiting another six weeks to visit the new Nirvana Indian Bistro.

Nirvana opened two weeks ago in the Wal-Mart shopping center in Wyomissing. It’s the restaurant’s second location (the original is in Lafayette Hill, Montgomery County).

What was formerly East Wok, a Chinese take-out restaurant, has been completely renovated into a sit-down dining room. At lunch, guests can help themselves to a full Indian buffet.

The dining room had a decent crowd, but it wasn’t full during our visit last week. I hadn’t seen any advertising around the restaurant (I stumbled upon it while browsing Delivery Dudes) but we clearly weren’t the only people who knew about it.

We were seated at a booth on the left side of the dining room. The right side is filled with tables for four with an additional row of seats down the middle of the room.

My big caution about going to a new restaurant is the service, but Nirvana was already on top of their game, at least on our visit. There was plenty of wait staff, all of them attentive, and we had our appetizer of samosas in a timely fashion.

Samosas, for the uninitiated, are fried pastries filled with potatoes and vegetables. These were served with a variety of chutneys – onion, mint and tamarind.

The samosas were fine on their own, but really came alive with chutney. The tamarind looks like a soy sauce or a very dark barbecue sauce and has a sweet flavor. The mint is bright and refreshing. But my favorite is the onion.

It has a bright red color, a very mild spice and hints of sweet. I tried all three, but kept coming back to the onion chutney with my samosa.

The main event arrived shortly after our empty appetizer plates were cleared. My choice for dinner was the chicken vindaloo (though I chickened out when offered the choice of mild or hot).

I was glad that I did because the mild was still kicking, but it was pleasant. The vindaloo was reddish brown with chunks of chicken and potatoes throughout. The potatoes really soaked up the sauce, turning a shade of red themselves.

The communal pot of rice was plenty for Julie and I to share with our dinners. It made a great bed for my vindaloo and also helped tone down the spice, which seemed to build with every bite.

Normally, Julie is a chicken tikka masala kind of girl. But she expanded her horizons (a little) by ordering the chicken kabobs.

The chicken was not served on skewers but was instead served with onions and peppers on a sizzling skillet as you would expect for fajitas with sauce on the side.

The sauce was what made the dish. It was a creamy sauce, not hot at all, but with a nice mix of herbs and spices that brought the chicken to life. And she brought home quite a bit of the chicken, unable to finish it at dinner.

Julie washed her meal down with a mango lassi, her favorite part about any meal at an Indian restaurant.

For our entrees, samosas, mango lassi and my iced tea (a can of Brisk with a glass of ice), our total was just under $40. It was a very good price for a lot of food.

Nirvana is located just a few blocks away from Laxmi’s Indian Grille, which we visited in a previous blog. Both were very impressive and I would be hard-pressed to choose between the two.

But there’s plenty of room for two, especially in the restaurant-rich suburbs where there are never enough tables to go around.

I was glad to have Laxmi’s. I’m glad to have Nirvana.

And I’m definitely glad that I didn’t wait.

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

Nirvana Indian Bistro
1137 Berkshire Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Nirvana Indian Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Laxmi’s Indian Grille

laxmi-s-indian-grille-2

Berks County has been going through a restaurant boom for well over a year now. It seems like new restaurants have been popping up constantly in recent months.

And nowhere is that more evident than Wyomissing. For a while it felt like I was reporting weekly on a new restaurant coming to or opening in the Reading suburb.

Among those restaurants are a Philly-area sports bar, an Irish pub, a retro hamburger chain and two barbecue restaurants. But to me, the most intriguing of all of the new openings had to be Laxmi’s Indian Grille.

The State Hill Road location is the third for the Philadelphia-based operation. The first location in Manyunk led to a second in East Falls in 2013. Now, the micro chain has expanded west, all the way to Berks County.

Laxmi’s opened in January in a State Hill Rd strip mall that also included Mama’s Original Pizza and Alebrije Mexican Restaurant (which has since moved).

A surprisingly large number of seats are squeezed inside the restaurant. Booths line the outside with four-person tables running through the middle.

laxmi-s-chutney

The tables are all pre-set with plates for appetizers and cloth napkins. Three chutney sauces are set in in the middle of the table waiting for the complimentary basket of papadum, a wafer-thin dish that is similar to a tortilla, but crispier.

laxmi-s-papadum

It was light and airy, but did well to soak up the flavors of the chutney. Chutney is a very general term for a lot of different condiments, and the three on the table could not have been more different.

The first was a dark, reddish-brown sauce that was very runny. It was similar to a chili sauce, but thinner and with a little bit of fruity flavor to it. The second was the green chutney, which was close to a green taco sauce but the spice was more tolerable. The third, my favorite of the three, was tomato based and closer to salsa, but with bits of carrots. It was more sweet than spicy and the chunky texture was great for the papadum.

Laxmi’s menu is not very big, but it is diverse in its offerings. There are nine curry dishes, all of which can be served with vegetables, paneer (a type of south Asian cheese), chicken, lamb or seafood. There are also several tandoor-prepared items including kababs and tandoori chicken.

All of the items sounded delicious, but I finally decided on one of the curries: chicken jalfrezi.

laxmi-s-chicken-jalfrezi

Jalfrezi looks very similar to the more well-known tikka masala, but the two are very different dishes. Despite its red color, jalfrezi is onion-based. Green peppers, ginger and garlic are also listed as ingredients in the menu description.

The dish was very flavorful. The onions were easy to pick up, but more for the sweetness they added than for any potency. I dumped every last drop that I could onto my plate, dousing my pile of rice in the sweet red sauce.

laxmi-s-rice

Back in April, when I took a road trip to Saffron in Ambler, I thoroughly enjoyed their korma. I guess it sounded good to Julie because at Laxmi’s, she ordered the chicken korma.

laxmi-s-chicken-korma

The two versions of the cashew-based dish were very similar. Both were creamy with a nice nutty flavor. The spices were a little stronger with Laxmi’s dish, making just that much better than what I tried a month ago.

Along with our main dishes, we ordered a side of naan. While Laxmi’s offered eight versions of the bread, but we went with the plain version.

laxmi's-naan

It was anything but plain. It was soft and buttery, like pillowy pitas. They were perfect for soaking up the last of the jalfrezi on my plate.

Our total for the visit was just over $30, but we were probably closer to the low end of the price range (some of the tandoori entrees are in the $20-$25 range). Still, the food packs flavor that is well-worth the price.

Laxmi’s Indian Grille is one of many restaurant chains that have expanded into Berks County, but it may be among the best. If all of the new restaurants are of the quality of Laxmi’s, there’s going to be a lot of happy customers to go with them.

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

Laxmi’s Indian Grille
1806 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Saffron Indian Kitchen – Ambler

saffron-indian-kitchen

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us an hour east of Reading to Ambler, PA.

Every day I make the trek from my home in Wyomissing to my job in King of Prussia, a 50-mile journey down the Morgantown Expressway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

While I wish that I could work closer to home, my job affords me the opportunity to experience some great places—and great restaurants—in Montgomery County.

A recent outing with some of my colleagues took us to one of Montgomery County’s coolest small towns, Ambler. And it’s there that we found Saffron Indian Kitchen.

Ambler is a lot like West Reading. The main street, Butler Avenue, is lined with independent shops and enough restaurants to keep a blogger busy for months.

Parking is scarce, especially on Friday or Saturday evening when it seems like everyone comes to town for dinner.  But if you are lucky enough to find a parking space (and thankfully, I was), the metered lots are free after 6 p.m.

Saffron has the look and feel of a traditional bistro. A handful of tables and chairs are set up on the sidewalk in front of the building it shares with Caffe Maida. The yellow walls and yellow tablecloths added brightness to our seats in the back of the room, away from the large front window.

Indian food is something that I don’t get to eat very often. There are only a couple authentic Indian restaurants in Berks, and my only taste so far as been a sampling of Aashiyana’s delicious chicken tiki masala at the Centre Park Gourmet Garden tour.

The trip to Saffron was a chance to broaden my horizons, and being with three other people, it meant a chance to share several appetizers, starting with onion bhajai.

saffron-onion-bhajia

Bhajai could be best described as an Indian version of the blooming onion. What made this different was the use of chickpea batter for deep frying. Amazing on their own, they were even better dipped in one of the two sauces. It was hard to choose a favorite between the two: the green sauce tasted like fresh salsa while the red reminded me of a sweet chili sauce. Though very different, both sauces worked beautifully with the fried onions.

saffron-spinach-feta-cheese-samosa

Our second appetizer, spinach and feta cheese samosas, was from the “Saffron Blue” monthly menu. The large turnovers were stuffed full. One of my fellow diners said it reminded them of spanakopita. The main difference between this and the Greek dish is that the samosas had fried dough instead of filo, which gave it a little different flavor and made it feel more like an appetizer.

saffron-naan

The final appetizer on our table was a basket of naan. Saffron offers eight different flavors of the Indian leavened bread, and I would have loved to have tried them all. Instead, we just tried rogini naan, the traditional version. Lightly buttered, I found the bread was best used for soaking up the sauce from my goat korma.

saffron-goat-korma

Goat korma was another offering on the monthly menu. I had planned on ordering the chicken tiki masala (which came highly recommended), but changed my mind when I read about the goat dish served in cashew cream sauce.

Saffron will make the dish to your desired spice level—mild, medium or spicy. I went with the medium, and it offered plenty of kick. The sauce was thick and rich, with just a hint of sweetness to go with the nutty flavor of the cashew. I happily ladled all of the sauce atop my bed of rice, which we served ourselves out of communal bowls.

saffron-rice

Goat is a very tender and flavorful meat, but the one problem with it is that there are a lot of bones. But there was still plenty of meat to pick at, and with the help of a couple slices of naan, I cleaned my plate.

My meal was one of the more expensive items on the menu at $20, which brought our total check to $90 for the four of us. That included four entrees, two appetizers, a double-order of naan and a bottle of Pellegrino (not my choice).

Walking from my car to Saffron, I passed about a dozen restaurants and bars, all of which looked welcoming and intriguing.

I have no doubt that I will find myself in Ambler again. I just hope all of the restaurants are as good as Saffron.

Saffron Indian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews