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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the
Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food
stands that the crowded market offers.
But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half
When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that
I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals
from the past and checking off more places on my list.
One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.
Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits
next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively
large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and
I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a
broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their
dinner entrees – beef cubes.
The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).
It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying
sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use
a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But
the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had
collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but
definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides,
a roll and a drink.
For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.
The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.
Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than
Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like
potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still
soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.
Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to
keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.
The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich
with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.
It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.
But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it.
While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped
in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and
Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would
be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.
The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands,
is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar
restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined
were less than $20.
Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to
take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be
served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving
me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to
get back to the office.
Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of
the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would
BCE Rating Food: Good Service: Very Good Ambiance: Fair Price: A Bargain
Allgyer’s BBQ Corner Fairgrounds Farmers Market 2934 N. 5th Street Hwy Reading, PA 19605
In our blog from Wyomissing, I promised I wouldn’t wait five years to complete the trifecta. On a
Tuesday afternoon in June, I made good on that promise when Julie and I paid a
visit to the Alebrije along the 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg Township.
The restaurant shares the Plaza 222 strip mall with Harbor
Freight Tools (who was having an “urgent blowout” sale, in case
anyone is in the market for tools), Mattress Warehouse and a Subway. The new
Jersey Mike’s Subs is near the front entrance to the strip while the new
Popeye’s is toward the back.
I actually think this location had the best interior of the
three. The walls were painted to look like a street scene in Mexico, brightly
painted with faux-tile awnings over the windows and doors.
An accent wall was painted with a mural of a stylized snake
and bird with the words “Alebrije artesania inventada por Pedro Linares
Lopez en 1936,” a tribute to the Alebrije style that lends its name to the
We were seated quickly but had to wait a few minutes for our
server to arrive – not what you want during a weekday lunch when you have a
limited amount of time.
As expected, the complementary chips and salsa were first to
arrive. It was pretty consistent with what we have experienced in the past,
though it was maybe a little thinner than others. It tasted just as good,
though and we didn’t leave much when finished.
We had ordered food and drinks at the same time to cut down
on the wait and my horchata arrived a short time later.
I love horchata, but haven’t ordered it for a blog since our visit to Let’s Taco Bout It in West Reading. It was really good. Julie mentioned that the milky, cinnamon-spiced drink reminds her of a chai tea latte. I never thought of it before, but I can see it the similarities (and I do enjoy both). My only complaint is that I asked for a horchata and a glass of water and never got the water.
It was about 20 minutes from the time we ordered until our
lunch arrived. It felt like twice as long. Because of it being lunch, I was
hyper sensititve to the time it took.
When it did arrive, my food looked amazing (as always at
Alebrije). It also looked huge. The stuffed burrito was the length of the
oversized square plate, flanked on one side with rice and refried beans. A
simple chopped salad sat on the other side.
The burrito Alebrije was stuffed with ground beef and topped
with tomato sauce and cheese crumbles. The seasoned ground beef was delicious
and the tomato sauce was light and complemented it very well. It was also
hearty and filling to the point where I couldn’t finish all of the sides.
Julie enjoyed an order of tacos de carnitas (pork). They
were topped with onions, tomato and cilantro and served with guacamole, pico de
Gailo and spicy salsa.
Guacamole is always Julie’s topping of choice with tacos.
And it really went well with her carnitas. The pulled pork was nice and
flavorful, though not as much as the ground beef. Still, the tacos were very
good, and again, very filling.
It was then that we realized that she was only supposed to get two with the lunch version, not the three that was on our plate. When the check arrived, we realized that while we both thought we were clearly ordering the lunch specials, we each had been given – and charged for – the dinner portions. That put our lunch around $30 (with my horchata).
We didn’t raise a stink about it as the difference in price isn’t that much, but it was a little frustrating. The lunch service also wasn’t as quick as I would have liked – there was a lengthy wait for our check after the meal, as well.
Would we go back to the 5th Street Highway location? Sure.
But next time, it will be for dinner.
BCE Rating Food: Very Good Service: Fair Ambiance: Excellent Price: Reasonable
Alebrije Mexican Restaurant 3225 N. 5th Street Hwy Reading, PA 19605
We saw the red wagon being towed north on Route 61 that
morning. “They must be setting up at the Fiesta,” I said to Julie.
The red wagon is distinct around Berks County. It’s the
center of operations for Aaron’s Tacos, a mobile food business that has been
making the rounds in Berks County for the last several years.
The Fiesta was the Spring Fiesta, held at Jim Dietrich Park in
Muhlenberg Township on June 8. The event is hailed as having Berks County’s
Best Tacos (you may remember our recent visit to the Berks County Taco Fest – a
completely unrelated event with a couple overlapping vendors). Aaron’s was one
of about 15 food vendors schedule to take part in the event.
We were at the festival early. It was shortly before noon and the lunch crowd was still rolling in while we were there. There was no line at Aaron’s when I walked up to the window to order my three tacos – one each of steak, chicken and chorizo.
As I waited, two things were clear to me.
1. Aaron’s needed one more person.
2. One more person couldn’t fit inside the wagon.
The flat-top grill was between myself and the woman taking
my order. She was very nice and went through the full list of proteins
available. But she was also responsible for cooking them while a colleague
stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her while pan-frying pastelillos and Jamaica
She was also the one accepting the money, and with so little
room, she had to walk outside the wagon to a table with a cash box. Eventually,
a third person came and was on the grill, at least some of the time, which
helped the process.
And while I appreciated that my meat was being cooked to
order, it felt like an eternity as I watched sevreal people come through and
get their ready-made fried meat pies while my tacos remained unfinished on the
Fifteen minutes later, they were finished and I paid my
$10.50 before joining Julie and Jakob at a table nearby.
(Julie and Jakob enjoyed a meal from Tlacuani Mexican
Restaurant in Temple, a restaurant
we visited in 2015).
My tacos looked great and – like all tacos from Aaron’s –
were prepared in the traditional Mexican style with onions and cilantros. The
only additional embellishments were radish slices and limes. The former added a
splash of color; the latter, a little DIY citrus flavor.
I enjoyed all three. The corn tortillas were also grilled on
the flat-top and were served hotter than any other tacos that I have been
served, but they also stayed together better than any other corn tortillas so
maybe that’s the trick.
With all of the toppings the same except the proteins, they
became the only differentiator between the three. The chorizo was at the top of
my list because the spiced sausage has more built-in flavor. The chicken and
the steak were both good, as well. I would gladly eat all three again in the
But I don’t know that I would wait for them again, at least
at an event like the Spring Fiesta where there were 14 other places to get
tacos that are just as good without the wait.
Maybe I caught them at a bad time – and I hope that’s all it
is – but it just seems like the little red wagon isn’t quite big to do the job
as well as it could.
Food: Very Good
Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has
undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.
At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the
day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a
giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.
I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.
Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and
tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but
change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch
And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele
skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu
is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest
is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.
My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road
when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even
more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no
cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which
also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the
menu at Schell’s).
I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I
ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties
are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only
thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was,
but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.
The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or
anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But
there was plenty of them for the money.
Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled
pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham
or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at
almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced
sandwich on the menu).
Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception.
Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt. Enjoyable, but unremarkable.
One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie
and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly. They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees
and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no
problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.
Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it
arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It
allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets
impatient in his high chair.
On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone
Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things
that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because
he can’t finish an entire meal yet.
Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going
to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few
minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats –
the Bull Dog.
Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog
is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with
crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry
on top, of course.
When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size
of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we
original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.
(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he
filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).
There was no question that this was the best thing we ate
during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the
fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping
and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.
It was a very satisfying end to our meal.
Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was
only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.
The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40
years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a
Service: Very Good
Price: Very Reasonable
Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609
Summer feels like it has arrived early in Pennsylvania. With
sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the right time for
summer foods and cool treats.
One place that offers a little of both is Just Mom’s Ice
Cream, Deli and Grille.
Just Mom’s is located along Route 23, between Morgantown and Elverson (but still inside the border with Chester County) and is basically next door to one of our favorite finds on Berks County Eats – Morgantown Coffee House.
The restaurant sits in a strip mall where it takes up three
storefronts – one for each of its primary businesses: restaurant, deli and ice
Opened in 2017, the Morgantown/Elverson location is the
second for Just Mom’s. The original still operates a few miles south in Honey
Brook, Chester County.
Julie, Jakob and I stopped in for an early dinner on a
recent Saturday afternoon and placed our orders at the counter before grabbing
a table near the deli stand. There are more than enough seats with a
combination of booths and tables throughout the main dining room.
The ice cream parlor, which occupies the right hand side of
the building, has its own unique vibe with a checkerboard floor and stainless
steel tables and high-tops.
Just Mom’s menu doesn’t stray far from a typical pizza and
sandwich shop, though they have a few items that you won’t find too many other
places. Of course that’s what we were drawn to.
The sandwich that caught my eye was the
“parmageddon,” breaded chicken, breaded eggplant, fried mushrooms and
meatballs with marinara sauce and mozzarella. The sandwich, like many of their
hot sandwiches, was toasted to melt the cheese and create a harder roll.
I liked many of the individual items that made up the
sandwich but they didn’t go together very well. Only the chicken and eggplant
were thin enough that you could reasonable get them together in the same bite.
There was only one or two meatball halves in the sandwich. And the breaded
mushrooms were a little much. The marinara was pretty good and there was just
enough cheese, but they were both lost in the shuffle with so many strong
If I had to do it over again, I would have ordered an
eggplant parm sandwich because the eggplant was my favorite part of the
sandwich. Or I would have tried one of their cheesesteaks.
Julie opted for their unique French dip cheesesteak that was
advertised on their dry-erase board at the counter. The beef steak meat was
mixed with fried onions, French onion crisps, Provolone and Swiss. Instead of
marinara, it featured a sweet French dip.
I actually enjoyed my taste of it. It wasn’t far off the
flavor of a French dip sandwich, though both Julie and I were expecting – and probably
would have preferred – to have a cup of au jus for dipping instead of having it
mixed in with the sandwich. Still, it was a pretty good change of pace from a
typical Berks County cheesesteak.
There’s a limited kids menu where your choice of chicken
tenders, hot dog, cheeseburger or grilled cheese comes served with fries and a
fountain soda. We decided to order a hot dog for our 18-month-old only to find
out that they were out of regular hot dogs and only had quarter-pound dogs
left. We decided to go with it, knowing that he would never finish.
It was a good hot dog, split open and grilled (the best way
to make one in my opinion). Because of its size, it was served on a hoagie
roll. We cut up both for Jakob and he enjoyed it with a little ketchup. The
fries were battered and very good.
Normally, Julie and I would have split an order of fries,
but we were saving room for dessert.
The ice cream parlor has both hand-dipped and soft-serve ice
cream and serves a variety of sundaes, twisters and other sweet treats. I went
with one of my personal favorites, the black and white milkshake.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than a little vanilla and
a little chocolate in the same shake. The soft serve shake was just what I
needed to cap off my meal.
Julie tried one of the more unique hand-dipped ice cream
flavors available: French toast. There’s not really a better way to describe it
than to say it tasted like a really good French toast but sweeter. It even had
actual pieces of French toast inside the ice cream. It’s a flavor that doesn’t
seem like it should work, but it did.
Of course we had to get a little dish of soft serve for
Jakob as well. He loves ice cream (we try not to give it to him often) but he
had filled up by eating a good portion of his oversized hot dog so he was done
after a few spoonfuls.
Our dinners cost around $25 while our dessert was about $10.
For $35 total, we certainly didn’t feel cheated.
Really, we had no complaints about the meal and the service
we received was excellent and accommodating. We had two servers – one behind
the counter and one who brought us our food. They were both very nice and
helpful, especially with our little guy. I don’t know if either one of them
were the “mom” in Just Mom’s, but they made us feel at home during
With so many options closer to our home in Wyomissing, we
probably wouldn’t make a special trip to Just Mom’s, but the next time we find
ourselves at the southern tip of the county looking for a quick bite – and
maybe a little treat – we would stop in again.
Ambiance: Good to Very Good
I will admit that before last week, the Heritage Restaurant
in Morgantown was not high on my list of places to visit.
I’ve passed the Heritage Restaurant many times and have
never felt the urge to stop. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a
relic from the times when I-176 and the Turnpike didn’t connect and drivers
were funneled along Route 10. The motel behind the restaurant certainly doesn’t
make it look any more appealing.
But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.
The restaurant has clearly been updated inside with simple
decor in the dining room. The walls are painted gray and are adorned with
photography while the seating is made up of wooden tables with darker wooden
chairs. While there were only a handful of tables occupied in the dining room,
the bar area – which has a separate entrance – was full, which explained the
jammed parking lot.
I was invited by fellow writer (and Heritage regular) Cathy
Cuff-Coffman to a prix fixe dinner at the Heritage, a new concept for the
restaurant but one that they were excited to try out and potentially make a
part of the regular offerings.
Our meal was being hosted in their new private dining area.
What was formerly the billiards room has been redone to host private functions.
One wall features exposed stones while the other three are decorated simply
with historic photos that capture the construction of the highways that connect
A single long table was set with six chairs on each side.
Five couples had won their seats through drawings in the restaurant and on
social media, having their names drawn from more than 166 entrants. And then
there were the two writers at the end of the table, reporter’s notebooks in
Before our meal service began, we were introduced to owner
Tamara King. King has owned the restaurant since December 2017 and during that
time has made several upgrades to the dining area and hired Chef Brandon Pennypacker
to update the menu. The idea for the prix fixe meal is to give Chef Brandon an
opportunity to flex his creative muscle and put together a five-course meal
with a cohesive theme. For this meal, the theme was spring: spring flavors,
spring colors and spring-inspired foods.
Chef Brandon introduced each course as it was presented, and
spring colors were on full display with the arrival of our first dish – a corn
soup with fresh pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema with lime.
What a great way to start the meal. The corn was reduced down
to form a base that was creamy but textured. The mix-ins took it to another
level. The fresh pico was my favorite part – especially the bits of tomato that
burst with a perfect sweet flavor. The salty, crunchy pork added a completely
different, but no less enjoyable, flavor and texture to the meal. Throughout
the dish, the avocado crema added a sweet and creamy flavor, with a little sour
lime thrown in.
It was a very impressive start and just a preview of the
great food still to come.
Our second course was a strawberry salad. It featured
spinach and kale topped with a basil poppy seed dressing, fresh strawberries, dragon
fruit and candied pecans, served with fried goat cheese.
The salad was excellent. I loved the addition of the mildly
sweet dragon fruit and the earthy indulgence of the candied pecans. The goat
cheese croquette was also good, but I didn’t care for it as much as part of the
salad. I didn’t care for how the molten cheese blended with the chilled greens.
Separately though, it was good and something that no one else in Berks County
Chef Brandon has a diverse culinary background. Since
graduating from the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts, he has worked in 17
restaurants in greater Reading and Lancaster city. Stops have included the
Hitching Post, Virginville Hotel, Blackjax and Billy Burger. For the last 10
months, he has been the lead at the Heritage Restaurant and has worked to remove
canned and prepacked items in favor of creating more in-house.
All five courses highlighted what can be done when a
talented chef is given an opportunity to experiment with different styles,
techniques and ingredients. Nowhere was that more evident than our third
course: three scallops each served with its own unique accompaniment.
Chef Brandon introduced them from right to left. First, the
mint pea was a thick puree that was reminiscent of the best pea soup with just
a touch of mint to add a little brightness. In the middle was a sun-dried
tomato pesto (more on this in a moment). And on the left, a saffron orange
aioli. I appreciated the tanginess but I have never been a big fan of aioli.
But the sun-dried tomato pesto may have been the best thing
I have tasted in a long time. Instead of pistachio, it featured crushed
almonds. It had a wonderful smoky flavor throughout, and it worked so perfectly
with the buttery scallop (which were all cooked perfectly, nicely seared
without being burnt). I have never been a fan of seafood of any kind, but I
would gladly order scallops every day if they came with that pesto.
Tamara had told us that in his quest to put together the
perfect menu, Chef Brandon had gone through 15 iterations of the menu and tried
many different items. One of those, a blueberry venison sausage sounded amazing
but was “awful.” Thankfully, that didn’t make it onto our plates as
Instead, we were treated to wagyu steak with lemon-lime finishing salt and
chimichurri sauce, served with a couscous and quinoa mixture that was also
topped with lemon-lime seasoning.
Wagyu beef, as Chef Brandon pointed out, is a type of beef
from Japan known for its high marbling and richness. A meat with high marbling
has more fat in the lean cuts, creating a more flavorful meat. It was clear
from the first bite that the meat was high quality. I would normally order my
food a little less pink than what was presented, but it was so good that I
didn’t mind at all.
What really set the dish apart was the lemon-lime finishing
salt. There was enough on the meat to give a taste, but there was even more
dusted in the corners of the plate. And adding that little bit of extra salt
turned this into an A-plus dish. It managed to bring out even more flavors from
the meat and was the perfect compliment.
I enjoyed the chimichurri sauce with the beef as well. It
added a tangy layer to the dish. But honestly, I would have been content with
just the sweet salt.
When there is so much flavor on the plate, the quinoa and
couscous just couldn’t compare. It had a light seasoning, but the grains felt
boring compared to the other items on the plate and those we had already tried.
Four courses in and we were anxious to see what would be
coming for dessert. We had tried a lot of food, but the portions had been
perfect so there was still just enough room for the special treat that would
complete the meal.
The dessert course was a sight to behold. Each plate
featured a sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries, chocolate mousse,
chipotle raspberry sea salt, another layer of sponge cake, banana whipped cream
and a strawberry sugar dust.
I don’t think there was anyone in the room that didn’t love
this. With just the chocolate mousse and perfectly baked sponge cake, the dish
would have been a winner. But the addition of the sea salt and the sugar put it
over the top.
First, the chipotle raspberry sea salt hit in so many ways.
The added salt enhanced all of the sweet flavors while the chipotle gave it
just the slightest bit of heat that was surprising and wonderful.
Then there was the strawberry sugar dust. Chef Brandon
described it as a homemade Pixie Stick. He took dehydrated strawberries and ran
them through a food processor before blending them with sugar. It really did
taste like a candy topping, a concentrated sweetness that helped highlight the
natural sweetness from the fresh fruit.
I don’t think there could have been a better way to end the
The prix fixe dinners are a new concept for the Heritage.
Everyone received comment cards and were asked to rate every part of the meal –
but from the table talk, it sounded like rave reviews from all those in
Now that I have experienced the Heritage for the first time,
I am looking forward to returning and bringing Julie and Jakob along. I’m sure
I won’t be getting wagyu steak or a strawberry salad, but I’m confident that I
will love the burgers, sandwiches and entrees found on the regular menu.
After my meal, the Heritage is now at the top of my list of
places to re-visit.
BCE Rating Food: Excellent Service: Excellent Ambiance: Good Value: N/A
Heritage Restaurant 6016 Morgantown Rd (Route 10) Morgantown, PA 19543
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Rangoli Indian Street Food 212 W. Lancaster Ave
Shillington, PA 19607