A plate with three enchiladas - one each with red, white and green sauce, with refried beans and rice from Norte Sur

Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant

A view of the exterior of Norte Sur, featuring a brick and stone facade with large picture windows

First impressions for a business are everything. I think they are even more important for a restaurant because when you think about it, your first visit to a restaurant is multiple first impressions.

What does the building look like? What does the dining room look like? How were you greeted when you walked in? How is the service? How long does it take to get your food or your check? And of course, what does that first bite taste like?

Wooden tables and benches beneath colorful strings of banners at Norte Sur

One of Berks County’s newest restaurants, Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant, checks a lot of boxes.

Norte Sur opened in a former Turkey Hill Minit Market along Kutztown Road in Muhlenberg Township, right across the street from the former Freymoyer’s Restaurant.

The amount of work that was put in to transform the building shows that Norte Sur is serious about their business. The exterior has been given a touch of class thanks to the addition of a brick and stone facade.

Wooden tables and benches beneath colorful strings of banners at Norte Sur

That same motif carries inside to the dining room where brick arches set it apart from the take-out and kitchen areas. Otherwise, the decor is subdued compared to other Mexican restaurants in the area. Strings of small, colorful banners hang from the ceiling while the walls are decorated with paintings along with a few traditional men’s and women’s outfits. The seating is comprised entirely of booths made of high-backed wooden benches.

We were greeted and seated by a friendly hostess who also served us throughout our visit. We – Julie, Jakob and I – had arrived around 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon and were the only ones dining in at the time. Two other couples were seated before we left at 6 while we heard several phone orders coming through during that same time.

Norte Sur’s menu is pretty simple: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and a handful of additional entrees and appetizers.

A bowl of green poblano soup drizzled with sour cream and cheese and topped with red, green and yellow tortilla strips from Norte Sur

One appetizer that caught my eye was the crema de poblano, a creamy soup that started with a mix of chicken broth and poblano pepper. It was topped with tortilla strips, cheese and sour cream.

I had poblano soup once before, about a year ago at Alebrije in Wyomissing. I enjoyed this one just as much, though they had very different flavor profiles. Norte Sur’s version wasn’t as creamy, but I found it to be just as flavorful with a little more spicy heat throughout. I enjoyed the addition of the tortilla chips which added some texture. The shredded cheese was also a nice touch, helping to thicken the broth as it melted.

It was definitely something that I would order again. The same can be said for my tacos Norte Sur.

Three soft-shell tacos with steak, pico de gallo, cabbage and pickled red onion from Norte Sur.

The tacos Norte Sur are, as the name implies, a signature item for the restaurant. The three soft-shell tacos are filled with grilled steak, cabbage, pickled red onions, chipotle sauce, pico de gallo and cheese. It was a delicious combination.

The steak was nicely done in small-ish strips with a hint of seasoning, but the flavor of the toppings was outstanding. The pico was bright and fresh. The pickled onions added a vinegary note that paired well with the citrusy tones of lime juice which could be tasted throughout. I was very happy with my decision.

A bowl of refried beans with yellow rice on a plate from Norte Sur

Most entrees at Norte Sur are served with a side of rice and refried beans. Refried beans are not my favorite, but these weren’t bad. The yellow rice was also good. It had peas and a few bits of carrot throughout. I knew I couldn’t finish all of the food that I had ordered so I sacrificed some of my rice and beans in favor of the tacos and soup.

Julie and Jakob both had rice and beans with their meals as well. Julie always gravitates to enchiladas, and in this case, it was the enchiladas Norte Sur.

A plate with three enchiladas - one each with red, white and green sauce, with refried beans and rice from Norte Sur

The meal included three distinct enchiladas: one beef, one chicken, and one cheese, each topped with a different sauce. The beef was topped with a traditional red enchilada sauce that had more of a kick to it than the other two. The chicken enchilada was topped with a creamy white sauce that provided a cooling contrast. And the cheese was topped with green tomatillo sauce that was somewhere in the middle.

All three were very good, but Julie’s favorite was the cheese enchilada (it usually is).

A large soft shell taco on a plate with refried beans and yellow rice from Norte Sur

Jakob’s favorite thing on his plate was the rice. Our two-year-old can sometimes be adventurous with his meals and sometimes not. We knew he would eat the rice – and he did, happily. We had hoped he would eat his beef taco, but after a couple bites he gave up on that.

We had the choice of soft shell or hard shell for his taco, and chose soft. It seemed like he was having difficulty holding it together which may have been why he stuck with the rice.

A basket of tortilla chips with a bowl of red salsa from Norte Sur

I should also mention that we had chips and salsa at our seat before we had even ordered our meal. The chips were served warm – always a nice touch. And the salsa was very good, and like much of our meal, had a kick to it.

The service and price both left good impressions as well. The two servers covering the dining room were attentive throughout, and our meals and my bowl of soup cost about $35.

After we left, Julie and I were both remarking about how good the food was and how impressed we were with what they did to turn a mini market into a real restaurant.

Our first impressions of Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant were very good all around.

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

Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant
2610 Kutztown Rd
Reading, PA 19606

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews
A plate of tortellini topped with meat sauce, peas and mushrooms from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Gino’s Cafe

A view of the front window of Gino's Cafe from the parking lot

In October 2017,  we made a visit to Gino’s Grille just outside Shillington. The restaurant had just opened two months prior, giving Gino’s a second restaurant. The original – Gino’s Cafe – continued to operate a few blocks away.

Despite what appeared to be creating its own competition, Gino’s Cafe is still going strong. A few weeks ago, we made our first visit to the flagship restaurant in Gino’s portfolio.

Unlike Gino’s Grille which sits right along Lancaster Pike, the Cafe is located off the main drag in a strip mall on Broad Street, across the street from Geoff Penske Buick GMC.

Tables along a wall decorated with generic images of Italy at Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Taking up just one storefront in the strip, Gino’s certainly doesn’t have the largest dining room in Berks County but the tables are packed in, and they needed everyone of them when we visited on a recent Saturday night. We arrived early – Julie, Jakob and I. It was around 4:30, and the Cafe was already busy. It only got busier. By the time we left, there wasn’t a seat left.

Our waitress arrived fairly quickly to take our orders and we had our salads within 10 minutes of sitting down.

A salad plate with lettuce, red onion, cucumber, two cherry tomatoes and a disposable cup of ranch dressing from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

The salads are simple with lettuce, some tomatoes, a slice of cucumber and red onion that was sliced paper thin. It wasn’t anything special, but it served its purpose.

We had a much longer wait after the salads. Twenty minutes went past and instead of food being delivered to our table, we received a basket of garlic bread that we assume was meant to be delivered with the salad, if not before. “I think this is for your table,” I heard our waitress say.

A basket of thin-sliced garlic bread from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

In the cramped confines of the Cafe, the waitresses had nowhere to hide their frustration – and sometimes, confusion. We were seated in the first row of tables, right in front of the counter and the soda fountain where drinks were refilled. I heard the waitresses trying to figure out who should take the next table that arrived. I heard confusion in the take-out area about order numbers.

It’s the type of confusion and controlled chaos that probably happens at a lot of places. But here, with no place to hide, I could see and hear it all unfolding in front of me.

The good news is that our meals were delivered right after the bread. I should also note that the garlic bread was very good. The bread was sliced thin and every piece was very buttery with just enough garlic to give it a nice flavor. I could have eaten them as a snack.

For my entree selection, I had a hard time deciding. For a small restaurant, the menu is disproportionately large. There are more than 25 options in the pasta section of the menu, and that doesn’t include another 25 or so dinners that are served with pasta on the side (not to mention the subs, burgers, pizza, salads and wraps).

A plate of tortellini topped with meat sauce, peas and mushrooms from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Eventually I settled on the “Chef Tortellini” which had tortellini pasta with Bolognese sauce, peas and mushrooms. I always enjoy tortellini, and I’ve had it plenty of times before on the blog, but I’ve never had it with Bolognese.

I enjoyed the combination of the tortellini with the flavorful meat sauce. I thought it went very well together. The Bolognese had a nice, meaty flavor to it. But I didn’t think the mushrooms and peas added much to the overall dish. I certainly didn’t mind them being there, but neither flavor really stood out against the strong sauce.

It was also a heavy dish. I had to take half of it home with me when the meal was done.

A plate of baked ziti topped with mozzarella cheese from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

The same was true for Julie with her baked ziti. It was your typical baked ziti with a sweet marinara sauce topped with mozzarella. The addition of a little ricotta cheese gave the dish a bit of creaminess and a little different texture from other baked ziti dishes we’ve tried. It was very good, but like my own, half of it came home with us at the end of the meal.

Gino’s has a decent kids menu, mostly pasta with a few sandwiches thrown in (and pizza, of course). We ordered Jakob the kids’ ravioli. The pockets of pasta were smothered in a mound of mozzarella cheese. The full-size raviolis were good, but Jakob probably would have been happy just eating all that cheese.

A mound of mozzarella covers an order of kids lasagna at Gino's Cafe in Shillington

(At one point I gave him one of my tortellini and he kept asking for more of my food instead of eating his own).

Our final bill at the end of the night was right around $40. It’s a fair price, especially for the hearty portions. And other than the garlic bread arriving late to the party, our service was good. What I saw and heard just seemed like the staff wasn’t exactly working like a well-oiled machine, at least during our visit.

Still, we found Gino’s worth a visit. Maybe next time I’ll request a table by the window, at the far end of the dining room, away from the commotion.

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

Ginos’ Cafe
400 W. Broad St
Shillington, PA 19607

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews
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
Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

Latin Taste

Latin Taste occupies a corner space in the Berkshire Mall food court

In the last few years, all the news around the Berkshire Mall has been the negative – the closings of Sears and Bon-Ton at the top of the list.

But even with their loss, the Mall remains the largest shopping center in Berks County. And with the holidays approaching, the crowds have returned once again.

A look behind the counter at Latin Taste

We were among the crowds that headed to the mall on a Sunday afternoon in early December. We were there to shop, but we were also there to get a taste – at Latin Taste.

Latin Taste is one of seven options – the others are Chick Fil-A, China Max, Lola’s Ice, Ray’s #1 Pizza, Subway and Taco Casa – in the Berkshire Mall’s food court. It’s also the newest, having opened a little more than a year ago in November 2018 (Lola’s Ice having opened the month prior).

Latin Taste features warming tables for most of its foods

The stand features warming tables with most of the dishes ready-made for eating in or taking home. And before you scoff at the idea of someone going to the mall for take-out, consider that the Grub Hub delivery driver picked up a large order while we were there.

We looked at everything on display, but in the end both Julie and I went with our favorites: pollo al horno (baked chicken) for her, and pernil (Spanish pulled pork) for me.

Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

This was a very good version of my favorite Latin American dish. The flavors from the seasoning and marinade were very strong and the fatty parts were melt-in-you-mouth.

A close-up picture of pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

One thing I have always found with pernil is that it is richer than an American barbecue pulled pork. This was no exception. As much as I enjoyed it, I had to leave a little on my plate because it was just too much for me.

Same with the rice. There was no skimping on the portions as half the plate was covered in the yellow rice. I liked it, just as I like almost all Spanish rice. It was just a lot.

A close-up of baked chicken with macaroni salad and yellow rice in the background, from Latin Taste

Julie’s baked chicken, like my pernil, was very well seasoned, with the flavors soaking through the skin into the meat. I’m not normally a fan of baked chicken, but I found this to be flavorful and anything but dry – always my biggest concern.

In addition to rice, Julie had a side of macaroni salad, which actually was a macaroni and tuna salad. It was creamy and very good. The tuna was just a little unexpected. (Even Jakob, our two-year-old, didn’t mind the tuna as he ate almost all of the salad that Julie shared with him).

A bowl of fried plantains from Latin Taste

Unable to resist, we had also ordered a side of sweet plantains. There were none ready on the warming table so this was one item that was made fresh for us. They were also very good, but you don’t have to do a whole lot to plantains (other than cook them) to make a delicious side.

Overall, we were more than satisfied with everything that we ordered. The price was right, too. Our bill was $25, but we had a coupon for $7 off a $25 order so we got everything for $18. (Next time you get the Valpak coupons in the mail, at least pull out the one for Latin Taste. It’s a great deal).

While the Berkshire Mall may not draw the crowds it did when it opened, and there are two very noticeable empty spaces, the mall still has a lot to offer. Especially if what you’re looking for is good Latin food.

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

Latin Taste
Berkshire Mall
1665 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner
A vegan black bean and sweet potato burger with side of chips from Good Life Organics in Reading PA

Good Life Organics

The exterior of Good Life Companies headquarters in Reading PA

For many, an important part of dining out is truly knowing what you’re eating – knowing that the food is made from the highest quality ingredients.

By using high-quality, locally sourced, organic ingredients, Good Life Organics makes it easy for you to feel good about what you’re putting in your body.

Five shelves of assorted organic products at Good Life Organics in Reading PA

The juice bar and eatery promises that everything is as close to 100% organic as possible, and the menu gives special mention to the local businesses and farms that the ingredients are sourced from.

Good Life Organics also makes it easy on their customers by offering the convenience of online ordering through Toast Tab, the same platform we used for our recent lunch at Comalli Taqueria. Not only does it make it easy to order ahead, but there are pictures of most menu items which helped the decision-making process.

Tables and chairs, including two arm chairs, at Good Life Organics in Reading PA

After completing the order, I made the short drive to the Good Life Companies headquarters on Lancaster Pike, just outside Shillington. Good Life Organics is located in what is essentially the lobby of the corporate building.

The coffee, tea and kombucha taps at Good Life Organics in Reading PA

Enter through the main doors, and Good Life Organics is on the left. There is plenty of seating between the tables and a pair of armchairs by the window. Across from the counter are the coffee, tea and kombucha taps. In the corner is the Good Life Grab ‘N Go, a small marketplace filled with organic goodies that are also found on the menu as toppings and blends.

It wasn’t long after I arrived that my order was ready and I was back on the road headed home.

A flatbread topped with hummus, mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds from Good Life Organics in Reading PA

With a large menu, we decided to try a variety of their lunch and dinner offerings. For me, it started with the hummus veggie flatbread.

In addition to garlic hummus, it came topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, garlic, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and extra virgin olive oil. I enjoyed everything, but the garlic hummus really shone through. It wasn’t overly garlicky, but the hint was just enough. The caramelized onions were a very nice touch, too, providing all the sweetness that the flatbread needed.

A cup of sweet potato, black bean and kale soup from Good Life Organics in Reading Pa

Good Life has a rotation of seasonal soups available (according to the menu, they are sourced from the Half Dozen Cafe and Dove Song Dairy). The one that caught my attention was the sweet potato, black bean and kale. And I was not disappointed. The sweet potatoes popped with flavor and along with the black beans made it a hearty, and delicious side.

To get the full experience, I also tried one of Good Life’s juices (sourced from Rijuice in Lancaster). The “Orange You Glad” is a combination of mandarin orange, apple, lime and lemon juices with turmeric. It was good, but I have to admit the turmeric takes some getting used to and may not be for everyone.

A vegan black bean and sweet potato burger with side of chips from Good Life Organics in Reading PA

There are eight sandwich options on the menu at Good Life, including the vegan black bean and sweet potato burger that Julie ordered. It was topped with greens, Fabanaise (vegan mayo) and guacamole.

It was a good “burger.” The patty was very flavorful with both the flavor of black bean and the sweet potato coming through. It was soft, but it stayed together throughout. And guacamole is always a welcome addition to any dish.

A bright blue smoothie and cup of Orange You Glad juice from Good Life Organics in Reading PA

Julie also ordered the most intriguing-looking smoothie on the menu, the blue spirulina bliss. It included banana, avocado, maple syrup, vanilla chai multi-collagen protein, vanilla extract and E3 Live Blue Majik Spirulina, which gives the juice its bright blue hue.

Spirulina, for those that aren’t familiar (like I wasn’t before looking it up) is a type of algae that has been used in foods for centuries, and now because of its high protein content and other nutrients, it’s become increasingly more common in things like protein bars and smoothies.

It may have given the smoothie its distinctive color, but the flavor was dominated by the banana. It was actually surprising to take a sip from a blue smoothie and have the strongest flavor be the familiar yellow fruit. If you can get past the color, it’s delicious.

The food and drinks were very good, but I have to say that we had a little bit of sticker shock at the price. The smoothie and the juice, especially, are a little pricy by Berks County standards. All smoothies are 16 ounces and cost $8.95. My 12-ounce juice was $6.75. In all, our total was around $45. The food was around $30, which is more in line with what we are used to paying.

And we would pay it again because Julie’s vegan burger along with my flatbread and soup were all very good. And they were made with foods that made us feel good about eating them.

Good Life Organics definitely made a good first impression.

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

Good Life Organics
2395 Lancaster Pk
Reading, PA 19607

Cafes & Coffeeshops Lunch & Dinner Vegan & Vegetarian
A bowl of beef stew - roast beef, carrots, potatoes, onion and celery - from Pied Piper Diner

Pied Piper Diner

The exterior of the Pied Piper Diner at night

Good diners can be found everywhere. What I have come to realize is that they come in all shapes and sizes. Not every diner “looks” like a diner with stainless steel inside and out. Sure, there are many of those in Berks County, but there’s also diners in strip malls and in farmers markets, diners that look like ranches and even one shaped like a cup.

The Pied Piper Diner just outside Bally also would fall into the “unique” category.

Assorted cakes and pies in the display case at the Pied Piper Diner

Outside, the Pied Piper looks like no other diner in Berks County with its copula in the center and turrets flanking either end of the building. Inside, though, it’s all diner. There’s the tile floor, counter seating for faster service, extensive salad bar and an expansive menu .

A row of booths at the Pied Piper Diner

The menu is 10 pages and includes everything you would expect: comfort foods, pastas and stir-fries, soups and sandwiches, and breakfast served all day.

It can be hard to decide with so many choices, but I found the one word that makes a dish standout above all others: “homemade.” As in the homemade beef stew.

A bowl of beef stew - roast beef, carrots, potatoes, onion and celery - from Pied Piper Diner

The oversized bowl was filled with large chunks of beef, carrots, celery, onions and potatoes. I definitely made a good decision. It was so hearty and the beef was perfectly tender and flavorful. But what really set it apart was the broth which was perfectly seasoned and soaked in to every bite.

One thing you can be sure of when you visit a diner: if you go home hungry, it’s your own fault. Entrees are served with your choice of side, a trip to the salad bar, choice of soup and homemade breads.

A cup of split pea soup from the Pied Piper diner.

The two soup choices during our visit were split pea and Italian wedding. I went with the split pea because Italian wedding seemed too close to the beef stew I would be enjoying. Split pea isn’t much to look at, and it’s not the most flavorful soup to begin with. But it was fine and along with the bread, it held me over until dinner.

A slice of cornbread and a dinner roll from the Pied Piper Diner

Not wanting to fill up too quickly, I skipped the salad bar, though it looked impressive enough. I did enjoy both the cornbread and dinner roll that I was served. Our waitress actually said she doesn’t care for the cornbread because there’s vanilla in it. I actually enjoyed the hint of vanilla. The roll was also very good, and neither was too big to spoil my appetite.

Corn, carrots, green beans, Lima beans and peas at the Pied Piper Diner

For my side, I kept it very plain with the mixed vegetables. It was a mix of corn, lima beans, peas, green beans and carrots. It was what it was, but that’s all I expected. (Seriously, though, what do you get for a side when your entree includes potatoes, carrots and celery)?

A Monte Cristo sandwich and fries with a cup of syrup for dipping from the Pied Piper Diner

Julie went with one of the diner’s sandwich options: the Monte Cristo (turkey, ham and Swiss on French toast). It was served with a cup of Smucker’s pancake syrup for dipping. The syrup definitely helped. The sweetness was needed to cut through the savory meats. And it had just a touch of sweet-and-salty with the ham.

I really liked the fries on the side. They were the battered kind, fried to a golden brown. They are the kind of fries you start eating and keeping eating long after you’re full.

A wide shot of the salad bar at the Pied Piper Diner

What I really loved about the meal was the (small) size of the check. We paid about $17 for our dinners. There aren’t many places where you can get that much food (served to your table) for under $20.

The Pied Piper may not have the stainless steel diner car look, but it is all diner, and a good one at that.

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

Pied Piper Diner
1605 PA 100
Barto, PA 19504

Diners Lunch & Dinner
Lo mein from San's Asian Food

San’s Asian Food

A row of chairs from San's Asian Food

In 2017, I got my first taste of 1 Potato Two and their signature spudwich. It was so unique – and delicious – that I named it one of my five favorite entrees of 2017.

The stand was still brand new at the Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market when I visited. Now, about two-and-a-half years later, 1 Potato Two is gone.

But the space has already been filled by San’s Asian Food.

San’s opened in August in the already crowded market, taking over the former site of 1 Potato Two at the Mall end of the Market. Unlike their predecessor, San’s has taken full advantage of a less-than-desirable space. A warming table and sushi cooler faces the main aisle. In the space between San’s and the next stand, they have added a pair of two-seat tables to complement the counter seating.

Warming tables filled with Chinese food entrees and sides from San's Asian Food

The new stand has a little bit of everything: a warming table with your standard Chinese food fare and rotating specials, a cooler filled with sushi (for those looking for a sushi review, I’m sorry. I am not a seafood fan so you would not want to hear from me), and a full menu to order from if you don’t mind waiting.

I made two visits to San’s – both for lunch – so I could get a better taste for their food.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

On my first visit, I wanted to try the classics. Among the limited selections waiting on the warming table were General Tso’s chicken and sesame chicken, two of my favorites. I got the two-entree lunch combo with a side of fried rice.

The General’s chicken was interesting. Usually it’s a sweet and spicy dish, but this had more of a tangy flavor to it. It wasn’t bad – I actually did enjoy it – but it wasn’t what I was anticipating. Unfortunately the sesame chicken was a let down for me. There wasn’t much of a sauce, and what little I had didn’t have a whole lot of flavor. It wasn’t bad tasting, it just didn’t have much of a taste.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

I did enjoy the rice, which had what seemed to be fresh vegetables in the form of carrots, peas and onions (there was also just a little bit of meat). It wasn’t flashy, but it was a good side.

Both entrees used real white meat chicken, which is something I really appreciated. I’ve cut into too many pieces of General’s chicken only to find a mix of processed white and dark meat. That was not the case at San’s, which set it apart.  

On my second trip, I changed it up and ordered teriyaki chicken and lo-mein.

Teriyaki chicken from San's Asian Food

All around, it was a better meal than my first visit. The chicken had a very good flavor to it – salty and a little sweet as expected from a teriyaki base. The actual meat, though, was the stereotypical “pieces” that you find most often with the dish. It brought it down a little bit for me, but again, the flavor was really strong – probably the best of the three chicken dishes that I tried at San’s.

Lo mein from San's Asian Food

I also enjoyed the lo mein. It was tossed with broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables. The noodles were good and I enjoyed all of the vegetables. It was simple, but good.

In addition to the warming table, San’s does have a full menu so you can order your meal fresh. With limited time on my lunch, I appreciated the ready-made meals. If I had more time – say at dinner – I would love to go back and see how much better the food would be if it was made fresh.

Also, the small prices are a big plus. The two-meat combo is less than $10 (the single is $7).

San’s may not have jumped to the top of my list for Asian food in Berks County, but that’s ok. It has some good offerings at a very good price. It’s also really convenient.

That’s the makings of a farmers market stand built to last.  

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

San’s Asian Food
Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Asian & Pacific Islands Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub

Saucony Creek Franklin Street Brewpub Exterior

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

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

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Kids Quesadilla

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Coconut Braised Beef Cheek

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Franklin Street Burger

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

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Exterior

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

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

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

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

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

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Works at Wyomissing

The Works at Wyomissing isn't just a restaurant, it's an entertainment destination that also includes a ball pit, go-karts, trampoline park and arcade (pictured).

When we were still in college, Julie and I started going regularly to the Works at Wyomissing for their Tuesday night trivia games. For years, it was our place. The service could be hit or miss, but the food was good and it was always a great time with friends.

One by one, our friends started moving away, or having kids, or both. The routine got monotonous, and it was harder to find players. Eventually we stopped going altogether. It had been at least two years since our last visit to the dining and entertainment destination, but now that we have our own toddler, it seemed like the right time to go back for some food and fun.

It was a Thursday night around 5 p.m. when we arrived. The hostess was on her phone and seemed inconvenienced to have to take us to our table. She never smiled and barely said a word as she took us to our table. We weren’t even sure she was going to bring the high chair because instead of saying “I’ll be right back with your high chair,” she said, “enjoy your meal” as she walked off. (She did bring it).

Our waitress was much more pleasant with us and our little Jakob, who always seems to bring out a smile from our servers.

The spacious dining room - highlighted by this large stone fireplace - was mostly empty during our visit.

There weren’t many people in the dining room – a few families, one couple and a group of college students were all that were found in the spacious dining room.

Our orders were taken quickly, which was good because Jakob was hungry and restless. We wouldn’t have felt as awkward about him acting up if there had been more people, but in the near-empty cavern of the dining area, every little noise echoed louder around the room.

Caesar salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Thankfully my Caesar salad arrived quickly and Jakob was occupied with a couple croutons. The salad was pretty hefty for a starter, but it was good, your typical Caesar.

A cup of French onion soup from the Works at Wyomissing.

Julie had ordered a cup of French onion soup for an appetizer. It was always a favorite of our friend Mike during our trivia days, and it was still good. Ordering a cup meant that it wasn’t the typical presentation – cheese covering the top of a crock. But the smaller portion was still good with plenty of gruyere on top and a nice amount of onions inside.

Because we were also tending to Jakob, it took us a little longer to finish our appetizers, and our food arrived while I was still finishing up my salad.

Steak frites with French fries and asparagus from the Works at Wyomissing.

For my entree, I ordered the steak frites. The 10-ounce sirloin was sliced thin and served atop a bed of crispy Parmesan fries. The steak was good but didn’t have a whole lot of flavor to it.

As I write the blog, I’m looking back at the menu and realize that it was supposed to be served with garlic butter and a spicy aioli. I had neither, which probably explains why the steak was a little underwhelming. It was still a good cut of meat, but the garlic butter would have been nice.

The fries were very good. They were thick-cut and tossed with plenty of Parmesan cheese. There was just a lot of them, especially considering the entrees are also served with two sides. I ended up eating only a small portion of the fries and taking the rest home.

Corn on the cob from the Works at Wyomissing.

Not wanting to be a complete pig, I ordered asparagus and corn on the cob for my sides. The asparagus was fine, but they were cooked a little past al dente and were a little softer than I normally like.

The corn on the cob was good, but I was honestly expecting it to be cut in half like I see at many restaurants. Instead, it was a full cob. Thankfully, Jakob has all of his front teeth that he needs to bite into, and enjoy, corn on the cob so he helped me with it. It was good and tasted fresh so I had no complaints there.

The barbecue chopped salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Because she really wanted the soup, Julie decided to get an entree salad for her main meal. The barbecue chopped salad featured chicken, chopped lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, avocado, corn, tortilla strips, black beans and ranch dressing.

The grilled chicken was tossed in barbecue sauce. We’ve always been fans of the Works’ barbecue sauce and it was good on the salad. The avocado was a nice touch and the ranch dressing went well with the mix – just like eating it with barbecue wings.

Like all things at the Works, the portions are huge and was stacked high on the plate. It’s definitely a filling salad.

From the Works at Wyomissing's kids menu: chicken fingers and mandarin oranges.

With the Works being such a kid-friendly place, the children’s menu is large – both in the amount of food and the physical size – four pages that kids can color with a four-pack of crayons that are provided.

We went with a safe bet: chicken fingers with Jakob’s favorite fruit, mandarin oranges. The orange slices were gone in what seemed like seconds. He was a little slower with the chicken, but then he dipped it in Julie’s ranch dressing and it went a lot faster.

All three of us left the table full after a $50 meal. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we’ve ever had, but it also isn’t bad given the portions.  (We also had a $30 gift card, which is always helpful).

Ballocity - located upstairs at the Works at Wyomissing - is like a cross between a ball pit and a giant obstacle course.

The real fun began after the meal. While I waited to take care of the bill, Julie and Jakob went off to the game area where she won him a new bouncy ball from the claw machine. From there, we headed upstairs to Ballocity, the Works’ indoor ball pit.

When it first opened, we were very disappointed to find out that adults could only enter if accompanied by a child. Having Jakob along meant it was our first time to experience the attraction. Toddlers are free with paying adults – $3.95 after using the $1 off coupon that was on the kids menu.

Jakob and Julie had a great time while I waited outside. They played for about a half-hour before we headed home.

While the service could have been better – and that has always been the case at the Works – it was still a great night out. And for $65, we had three meals, played games and took a turn through Ballocity. It sure beat a rainy night at home.

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews