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
el jefe taco with steak, onion and chorizo from Comalli Taqueria

Comalli Taqueria

Looking at the blue front door of Comalli Taqueria

The transition from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant is something we’ve seen before in Berks County. Two notables come to mind: Gourmand and Sweet Ride. Gourmand now operates two locations in addition to the food truck, while Sweet Ride has it’s ice cream parlor in West Reading (where they are now making their own ice cream) to go along with a truck and the original ice cream cart.

With its recent opening in West Reading, you can now add Comalli Taqueria to that list.

The spacious interior of Comalli Taqueria

It was last fall that Comalli Taqueria debuted its food truck, crisscrossing the county and the region serving artisan tacos. We first gave them a try early this summer at the inaugural Berks County Taco Fest.

We enjoyed everything that we tried so when it was announced that Comalli would be opening a small restaurant in West Reading, it got us excited.

A skull and other sculptures sit on the counter at Comalli Taqueria

The restaurant celebrated a grand opening on November 2, and one week later, we were stopping by to get take-out for the first time.

Comalli offers online ordering so I took advantage of that, placing an order for pick-up “ASAP.” Originally, I was given an estimate of 35 minutes. I got a text message that it was ready less than 20 minutes later (thankfully, I was actually pulling into a parking space in front of the building at the time, taking a chance that it would be ready a little early).

A Coke cooler in an otherwise empty part of the dining area of Comalli Taqueria

While we weren’t dining inside, there was a couple sitting at one of the four tables in the dining room. It’s a nice space, if not a little understated. A few decorations hang on the walls and from the ceilings, but along with blue accent walls, they provide the only real bursts of color in an otherwise monotone space. I think it’s more pronounced because there was actually a large empty space in the room that could hold a few more tables and chairs.

My food was being packed up when I arrived, and a minute or so later I was back out the door and headed home with six tacos – one of each variety offered – and a quesadilla for our toddler. (Comalli also offers a limited selection of sides, including chips with guacamole, rice and beans).

Julie and I each chose three tacos.  For me, it was the al pastor, el Nopal, and el Brulee.

el nopal taco with grilled cactus, avocado and pico de gallo from Comalli Taqueria

The el Nopal was the first one that I had tried at the Taco Fest. It features grilled cactus with pico de gallo and avocado. The cactus has a little bit of a kick to it, which I remembered from before. I like the flavor, but I have to admit, I still haven’t quite gotten used to the texture of the plant. It’s a little gummy, but once you get past that, it’s very good.

Al Pastor Taco topped with pork pineapple, cilantro and onion from Comalli Taqueria

Julie had the al pastor at the festival so I gave it a try this time. The corn tortillas (all of the tacos were served on grilled corn tortillas) were filled with marinated pork and pineapple with cilantro and onion. I really enjoyed the tender meat, and I am always a fan of pairing pork and pineapple. The simple onion and cilantro were understated additions to the sweet and savory tacos.

el brulee taco topped with chicken, rice, queso fresco, mole poblano sauce and bananas from Comalli Taqueria

I do love the combination of sweet and savory, and that’s why I was really excited to try the el brulee. The el brulee is topped with pulled chicken, rice, mole poblano, double cream queso fresco and – here’s the kicker – brulle bananas.

After eating it, I may have a new favorite taco. All of the ingredients were loaded with flavor. The mole poblano (my favorite sauce) had a nice sweet heat which contrasted beautifully with the cool, creamy queso fresco. The pulled chicken and rice both were well-seasoned. And then there were those bananas. They added so much flavor and there were enough that I found some in every bite. It was a great taco.

As I was savoring my three tacos, Julie was tasting the other half of Comalli’s menu.

el jefe taco with steak, onion and chorizo from Comalli Taqueria

The el jefe featured steak with onion and cilantro. It’s the simplest taco on the menu, but when you’re dealing with quality steak meat, you don’t want to hide that flavor. And this was quality, the base of a very good taco.

Chicken tinga taco (topped with chicken, cilantro and onion) from Comalli Taqueria

Her chicken tinga taco was another that we had tried at the food truck. The tinga features chicken that has been slow-cooked in a chipotle, onion and tomato sauce topped with onion and cilantro. The marinade for the chicken is, as I described it before, perfect.

For both of these, Julie added a little bit of the mild avocado salsa (not to be confused with guacamole – the salsa was much more sauce-like) that Comalli offers. It was a little spicier than she expected, but very good and a nice change of pace from the standard tomato salsa.

el gallo taco topped with chorizo, avocado, queso fresco and pico de gallo from Comalli Taqueria

But Julie’s favorite was the el gallo. It had a lot of flavors with chorizo sausage in whipped eggs with pico de gallo, queso fresco and avocado. The creamy cheese and the avocado paired well with the mildly spicy chorizo. It was delicious.

A plain quesadill and a taco at Comalli Taqueria

For Jakob, we had ordered a plain quesadilla. The cheese came packed in between two of Comalli’s signature corn tortillas. Julie and I really enjoyed them. Jakob, however, didn’t care for them, but he opened up the quesadilla and ate all of the cheese. That’s a two-year-old for you.

At least Julie and I really enjoyed our meal. And not only was it convenient, but it was reasonably priced, too. For six tacos and a quesadilla, it cost us $25. Most of the tacos (and the quesadilla) were $3 apiece. The more “premium” tacos like the el gallo and el brulee were $4. That’s not a bad price to pay for quality.

With the food truck, we probably would have visited again if the line wasn’t too long. With the restaurant, we will definitely be back again soon.

Comalli Taqueria is just that good.

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

Comalli Taqueria
701 Court St
West Reading, PA 19611

Mexican Reviews
Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale logo on exterior wall

When you look at the best downtown dining in Berks County, there is no doubt that Boyertown is an up-and-coming destination. Between Philadelphia and Reading Avenues, you’ll find diners, a brewery, sandwich shops, bars and even a vegan cafe. New restaurants have opened and more are on the way.  

And that momentum has continued outside the downtown, as well. The new Barrel & Ale is a great example. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I met my friend and former colleague Joe for lunch and lots of catching up.

Looking at the front of Barrel & Ale restaurant from Reading Road

Barrel & Ale opened in August, taking over the former Pit Stop Tavern, a mainstay since the 1950s just east of town. Now the restaurant is owned by the same group behind  Iezzi’s on Third (a mainstay in downtown for even longer). Much like they did with Iezzi’s, the ownership group completely renovated the tavern – which had just been converted earlier this year from the racing-themed Pit Stop to the short-lived, prohibition-themed Decades Speakeasy.

Black chairs with wooden tabletops on the hardwood floor in the dining room.

Now the building has a rustic chic feel to it from the clapboard exterior to the hardwood floor in the dining room. Black chairs and accents add a modern touch (along with the flat screen TVs, of course).

Barrel-shaped lights hang from the ceiling in the barroom at Barrel & Ale

I also appreciated the barrel-shaped lights hanging in the bar room and the extra-tall menu that features a barrel on the front and back covers.

Beyond the design, one of the things that appealed most to me about the menu was the array of German entrees. Pork schnitzel, wurst and sauerbraten shared the page with steaks, seafood and pasta. And the sauerbraten sounded too good to pass up.

Sauerbraten topped with gravy; spaetzle; and red cabbage from Barrel & Ale

Sauerbraten is a traditional German roast beef that has been heavily marinated in herbs and spices, giving it a slightly soured, pickled taste. It’s a unique flavor combination and Barrel & Ale captured it well in their version of the dish. The light gravy on top enhanced, rather than hid, the flavors of the dish.

Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

The dish was served with a pair of colorful sides: spaetzle (small German noodles) and braised red cabbage. The spaetzle was bright yellow and looked like corn at first glance. The red cabbage had a much deeper, almost wine color to it.

Of the two, the cabbage was my favorite – and probably my favorite thing on the plate. It had bits of beef throughout that added unexpected, but welcomed, savory notes that broke up the vinegary flavor of the braised cabbage. The spaetzle was fine but didn’t have much flavor on its own, but paired well with the sauerbraten.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

Across the table, Joe ordered from the sandwich side of the menu, opting for the grilled chicken. The grilled chicken breast was topped with roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto aioli. Joe found it to be a really good sandwich that was highlighted by the aioli, the primary source of flavor.

The sandwich was served with housemade chips and a pickle. The chips were good, though some of them were a little soft, a little under-done. But they were well-seasoned and had good flavor.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

The pickle, Joe said, was obviously not store-bought. (A Facebook post from when Barrel & Ale first opened showed craft pickles from Tennessee). It was an added touch that didn’t go unnoticed.

At the end of the meal, our total bill was around $35, my meal making up more than half it. (Really, the sauerbraten is a dinner entree, not a lunch, and it’s priced accordingly at $17.95).

We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but it wasn’t full by any means. Lunch doesn’t seem to have taken off yet at the Barrel & Ale, though their Facebook page has been promoting that an expanded lunch menu is coming soon so that could change.

And I would go back to try something new, for sure. It was a good first impression and between the flavorful foods and enjoyable ambiance, Barrel & Ale has the makings of a new long-lasting restaurant.

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

Barrel & Ale
961 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Bars & Pubs Reviews
A slice of Frank white pizza, topped with ricotta, tomato and spinach

TommyBoy’s Pizza and Cafe

Main Street Kutztown featuring TommyBoy's Pizza and Cafe

Every October, Berks County Eats marks National Pizza Month by visiting pizza places across Berks County. October also is when Julie and my alma mater, Kutztown University, hosts homecoming weekend.

So what better way to celebrate both than with a visit to one of the college town’s pizza places?

TommyBoy’s Pizza and Cafe opened in the fall of 2014, taking over a space that I remembered from my time in Kutztown as the Main Street Cafe.

A Coca-Cola case behind the counter at TommyBoy's

It’s not much to look at inside. TommyBoy’s is your basic take-out place with a few tables in the front of the counter (there are two counters, actually, one that holds the pizzas for slices and one for placing orders.

We arrived around 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon and found a group of students sitting at a table for four. By the time we left a little after 1, it was full with more people calling in and picking up orders. If I remember correctly, 1 p.m. on a Sunday is breakfast for most KU students, especially on homecoming weekend.

Display pizzas behind glass at TommyBoy's

TommyBoy’s distinguishes itself from other Kutztown pizza places – and all others in the county, for that matter – with its slices. Like everyone else, slices are cut from the display pies and reheated in the oven.

Unlike everywhere else, those display pies are 30 inches around.

I may not have been a math major at Kutztown, but that means every slice is 15 inches. The slices are so large that it takes two plates to serve them.

A slice of Frank white pizza, topped with ricotta, tomato and spinach

We decided to order three slices: one for me, one for Julie, and one for us to share with Jakob. It may seem like he has an insatiable appetite sometimes, but there was no way our toddler was going to be able to finish a slice by himself.

For my slice, I ordered the Frank White, a white pizza topped with ricotta, tomatoes, spinach and garlic. It’s one of my favorite styles of pizza because I love ricotta. This was a really good version of it, if a little heavy on the garlic powder. The crust was done well – not burnt, but plenty crispy that I could actually pick up the slice and eat it like normal.

A slice of chicken bacon ranch pizza atop two plates

Julie could not say the same for her chicken bacon ranch slice, which she had to cut into smaller pieces to manage (maybe it was the extra weight of the toppings?).

It was a typical chicken bacon ranch pizza, just a lot more of it, with ranch in every bite. “Hearty,” is the word Julie used to describe it.

Of course the day that we order him a giant slice of pizza is the day that Jakob decided he wasn’t going to eat for us. Julie and I ended up eating about half of his slice of margherita pizza (they were out of plain cheese at the time we ordered and this was the next best thing).

A slice of margherita pizza cut into smaller pieces

From what I tasted, it was very good. The basil was very fragrant and was the dominant flavor, followed closely by the lightly sweet tomato sauce. I liked my own slice a little more, but that’s mostly personal preference as both were done right.

Because the slices are bigger than other pizza places, the prices are a little higher. Prices ranged from about $4 to $6 per slice. With a bottle of water and an iced tea, that brought our total to about $18. That’s still a good price for a lunch anywhere, and we certainly didn’t leave hungry.

If you’re wondering, TommyBoy’s does make normal size pizzas (14- and 16-inch round pies, 16-inch Sicilians and personal-sized gluten free pies). They also offer Stromboli, wraps, sandwiches, wings and one-third pound burgers.

TommyBoy’s wasn’t a part of our college days, but the mega slices are certainly going to be a big part – pun intended – for today’s students and the whole Kutztown community. And we were glad to get a taste.

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

TommyBoy’s Pizza & Cafe
313 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Pizzerias Reviews
Oliverio's house special pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onion and peppers

Oliviero’s Pizzeria & Restaurant

A view of the brick facade at Oliverio's Pizzeria in Douglassville

In the first five years of Berks County Eats, we’ve seen a number of restaurants come and go, and more than once we’ve revisited old locations that now have new restaurants.

That was the case on our recent visit to Oliviero’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in Amity Township.

Oliviero’s is located in a strip mall along Route 422 just west of Douglassville. The location is a challenge for two reasons. One, it’s located along a part of 422 that is a divided highway. Two, the strip sits perpendicular to the highway with the restaurant at the far end.

Pizzas, pepperoni bites, and sweets behind the counter at Oliviero's in Douglassville

The last time I was at the location, it was Kathryn’s Grille, a short-lived BYOB that we visited in late 2017. Kathryn’s closed in early 2018. Oliviero’s debuted a few months later in July with a menu that features pizza shop standards with a few additions including a selection of Chicago deep dish pies and artisan pan pizzas. They also offer a selection of pastas, including weekly specials.

In the summer, Oliviero’s satisfies everyone’s sweet tooth with an outdoor ice cream shack and year-round with tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, and other sweets available in the restaurant.

Booths and tables in Oliviero's dining room

The dining area has been updated to add color. Yellow booths with wood-grain seats have replaced the dark wooden tables and vibrant posters pop against the gray walls. The space feels brighter and more inviting than it felt before.

But on this visit, I didn’t get to enjoy a sit-down meal. Instead, I was grabbing our dinner and taking it back home to Wyomissing.

It’s about a 20 minute drive (because when you have pizza in the car, you trigger every red light on 422), but the food traveled well. As hungry as Julie and I were until I got home, neither of us was as excited as our toddler who could barely contain his excitement at the sight of the pizza box.

Oliverio's house special pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onion and peppers

We ordered a medium house special pizza. It comes topped with pepperoni, sausage, onion, mushrooms and peppers. All three of us really enjoyed it.

The sauce was on the sweet side, and the use of red onions added to the overall sweetness of the dish while the pepperoni and sausage provided the savory side. I appreciated the use of thin-sliced sausage which I prefer to the ground topping at other places. The cheese was pretty standard as was the crust, but overall it was enjoyable.

A box loaded with Oliverio's French fries

We really didn’t need the fries – we had two slices of pizza left after dinner – but we couldn’t help ourselves. They were pretty good, more of the battered style fries than the fresh-cut style, and made a nice complement to the pizza.

As is the case with most pizza places, the price was right. The pizza and fries came in just under $20. It was also ready for me less than 20 minutes of calling in the order, but we had ordered a little after 4 p.m. so not their busiest time. I imagine if I had waited an hour or two, the wait would have been longer.

Oliviero’s made a very good first impression on us, and it has passed the one-year mark at this point, a milestone always worth celebrating for a restaurant.

Here’s hoping that it will anchor the strip mall for many years to come.

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

Oliviero’s Pizzeria & Restaurant
101 Park Ln
Douglassville, PA 19518

Pizzerias Reviews
A personal, 10-inch pepperoni lovers pizza from Pizza Como in Hamburg

Pizza Como

Looking at the outside Pizza Como from 5th Street in Hamburg

One of the things that I love about pizza places is that, more than any other type of restaurant, they are neighborhood places. Every town has a pizza place (or two, or three).

Hamburg has a couple places of its own, and one of those is Pizza Como.

Pizza Como can be found a block away from the downtown business district at the corner of State and 5th Streets. It’s a part of town Julie and I may have never discovered if not for a visit to the Weis Markets across the street a year ago.

(Also, don’t confuse this Pizza Como with Pizza Como on 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg).

Booths line the sunroom at Pizza Como in Hamburg

The restaurant has a cool vintage look with a sun room dining area facing 5th Street. The wine-colored booths and hexagon floor tiles are definitely from another era (and the tiles are getting a little worn in places). There’s a small, but nice bar that was full with five customers. There were more tables and booths in between.

While there were a decent number of families dining in during our visit, there were a lot more coming and going to pick up their take-out orders. From our spot we watched a constant stream of customers entering through the front door.

A view of the dining room at Pizza Como in Hamburg

Unfortunately the restaurant seemed a little understaffed for the amount of customers. Our server was handling most (maybe all) of the tables as well as tending the bar. I also saw her answer the phone at least once. She was as attentive as she could be under the circumstances, but it took a few minutes before she stopped by to greet us and ask for our drinks.

The good thing about a pizza shop is that it doesn’t take very long to get your food, no matter what you order. We had ordered barbecue wings for an appetizer and they were out a short time later.

A plate of six barbecue wings from Pizza Como in Hamburg

The wings were cooked well but had much less sauce than most wings. It allowed the flavor of the meat to come out more (and I wasn’t quite as sticky as usual), but I did find myself wanting a little more ‘cue. Also, we weren’t offered any ranch or bleu cheese. It didn’t really bother me, and we didn’t need it, either. I just can’t remember the last time we had wings where it wasn’t offered.

We had polished off the wings fairly quickly, but we didn’t have to wait much longer for our pizzas to arrive.

Pizza Como offers individual 10-inch pizzas which was perfect because we could try two very different pies and have enough to share with our toddler as well.

A personal, 10-inch pepperoni lovers pizza from Pizza Como in Hamburg

I had ordered the pepperoni lovers pizza. Surprise, it was loaded with pepperoni so there was at least once piece in every bite. The crust was cooked perfectly – crispy, but not burnt – so that it never sagged when you picked up a piece. And despite having nearly 30 pieces of pepperoni crammed on to the pie, it didn’t feel greasy.

Overall, it was a very good, and very enjoyable pizza.

A personal, 10-inch pesto pizza from Pizza Como in Hamburg

As I mentioned, Julie and I ordered two very different pizzas. She chose the pesto pizza, which had a familiar green tint from the basil. And like a good pesto sauce, it had nice hints of garlic throughout. Like mine, the crust was done very well, exactly how it should be. Even Jakob, our almost two-year-old, approved.

We didn’t need to eat all of it, but we did. It was too good that we didn’t want to let any of it go to waste – or our fridge.

After we were finished, we had another wait, this time to get our check. I peeked around the corner and saw our server taking orders from the four guys who had just sat down at the bar. A few minutes later, she was still there, this time jotting down a phone order. Thankfully, once we had the check, I just had to pay at the counter because when a toddler is done eating, he is really done and ready to go, and I don’t know how long it would have taken to get change.

All things considered, she did an excellent job (and was great with our son), she was just stuck juggling too many tasks, which I can’t blame her for.

Our total bill, by the way, was just $21 for two pizzas and a half-dozen wings. That’s a bargain compared to a lot of places that we’ve visited.

Aside from the waiting, we had a very good experience – and some very good pizza. If we lived closer, I could see us getting take-out from Pizza Como often. And even with a little slower service, we would still dine in again if we’re in the area.

Judging by the foot traffic, a lot of locals keep coming back for more.

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

Pizza Como
501 State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Pizzerias Reviews
A half cheese, half pepperoni pizza from Fratello's in Reading

Fratello’s Bar & Restaurant

A view of the brick facade at the entrance to Fratello's in Reading

Back in 2014 when I started Berks County Eats, the Reading Eagle ran a story about the upcoming renovation of the Big Mill, one of the buildings that made up the former Reading outlets. I was excited for the project, mostly because it was to include a new restaurant: Fratello’s Bar & Restaurant.

Then a fire broke out in October of that year and everything was put on hold. The apartments would open in 2016 with no restaurant – and honestly, I had assumed the restaurant portion of the project was dead.

Then earlier this year, Fratello’s arrived, celebrating a grand opening in April. Half a year later, and I finally had a chance to make my first visit as my friend Dennis and I headed into the city on a recent Friday night.

Fratello’s address is North 8th Street, but the main entrance – and off-street parking – is located along Nicolls Street.

Booths and tables are laid out among exposed beams inside the brick walls of Fratello's in Reading

Walking through the front door, I felt a little lost. To our left was the bar with seating for about 20. Straight ahead was the take-out counter. Hidden behind the counter was the deceptively large dining area. Booths line the walls, accompanied by a handful of tables in the center of the room.

The whole place has an industrial feel to it with brick walls and exposed beams. When we arrived, the lone TV in the room was set to cable news. After stopping by our table, our server changed the channel and turned on a video DJ station that was playing Latin pop. At some point, the music switched over to Frank Sinatra and Elvis.

Our server was attentive throughout the meal, but we were the only patrons in the dining room when we sat down. A young family came in while we were eating. Our server spoke with them in Spanish as easily as she spoke to us in English.

The restaurant has a fairly robust menu with pasta dishes, but we were there for wings and pizza.

Ten BBQ wings piled high at Fratello's in Reading

Our 10 barbecue wings were out first. The sauce was good and sweet, though nothing remarkable. The wings were meaty, well-cooked, and well-sauced. It was exactly what we were hoping for.

We hadn’t quite finished our wings before the pizza arrived. Originally I had been thinking about an individual pizza, but Dennis and I decided to split a medium – plain cheese on his half, pepperoni on mine.

A half cheese, half pepperoni pizza from Fratello's in Reading

The pizza was very good, though a little greasy. The cheese and sauce were both good. And I enjoyed the dough, which was cooked just right.

I was glad to see that even for a half pie, they didn’t skimp on the pepperoni. There wasn’t a bite without some of the salty, savory slices.

No one would mistake it for an artisan pizza like you’d find at a place like Nonno Alby’s, but it was enjoyable for what it was.

Our final total for the meal – which included my usual glass of unsweetened iced tea – was $32. It’s certainly not the cheapest pizza and wings around, but it felt right for the amount of food and was a little less than what we would have paid had we each ordered an individual pizza.

The most important thing, though, was that we enjoyed our meal.

Hopefully the good food and friendly service will keep Fratello’s in business for a lot longer than the five years they waited to open.

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

Fratello’s Bar & Restaurant
702 N. 8th St
Reading, PA 19604

Pizzerias Reviews