“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” All Dorothy Gale had to do was repeat those words and click her heels to be rescued from Oz and returned to her aunt and uncle’s farm.
For me, it means a 20-minute drive along Route 422 from Wyomissing to Robesonia.
And no trip home is complete without a stop at Lori’s Candy Station and a specialty shake.
It’s a true taste of home for me. You see, Lori is my mom, and I invented the secret milkshake menu.
It started a few years ago when she started with a new ice cream wholesaler, JAS (Just About Sinful), who also own Ice Cream World in Allentown). The new supplier meant new flavors and new flavor combinations.
My go-to is a mango shake. It’s a scoop of mango water ice with vanilla ice cream, blended up for a thick, brain freeze-inducing treat.
The mango ice is naturally sweet and the vanilla helps tone it down just enough. It works with just about any flavor of Italian ice (except vanilla, that would just be weird), but give me the mango every time.
Julie also has her own milkshake creation that she likes to call the chocolate covered strawberry – dips of strawberry and death by chocolate ice cream.
Death by chocolate ice cream is a monster of itself. It consists of chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips and brownie chunks. Blended with the strawberry ice cream, it really does give the flavor of a chocolate covered strawberry, only more refreshing and less messy.
If you order it, make sure you get a straw and a spoon. With death by chocolate ice cream, there is always a few bits of brownie waiting at the bottom of the cup.
But you don’t have to mix and match to get a great milkshake. Salty caramel, mint chocolate chip, cookie dough and teaberry are all delectable on their own.
We had mediums — in my younger day, I would take down the 32 oz. large, but not anymore — and they were more than enough, and just $7 for the pair.
Other treats at the little shop include waffle cones dipped in chocolate, floats, chocolate-covered bananas, and some of the most decadent ice cream cakes you will find anywhere.
And we can’t forget about the famous homemade chocolates.
Made from soft ice cream and the best mix-ins, the ice cream cakes from JAS are available for special order with at least a week’s advance notice.
Yes, I’m biased. But I will always love going to Lori’s Candy Station for a milkshake. They’re just like mom used to make.
Celebrate the flavors of the Old World at the Saint Marco Italian Food Festival. Taste Italian favorites like porchetta sandwiches, fresh dough pizza, pasta with meatballs, crispelle, and Saint Marco’s famous lasagna. There is also live entertainment and a weekend-long bocce tournament. The festival is open Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 12 noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 12 noon to 9 p.m. at the Saint Marco clubhouse in Temple.
The 161st annual Reading Fair kicks off its 7-day run on Sunday. The fair is the county’s largest, attracting thousands of visitors to the fairgrounds for a week of music, entertainment, races, and most importantly, food. Be sure to stop by the Grange tent for a delicious burger, sandwich or fries.
Enjoy a night on the town this Friday night in Kutztown. Part of the town’s bicentennial celebration, many of the town’s best restaurants will be serving special menus for the occasion. Participating food vendors include:
Live music and local artists will be setup starting at 6 p.m. with dinner served from 7 to 11 p.m. Also, the open container law will be rescinded for the night, allowing beer and wine to be enjoyed along the street.
It’s not uncommon to see a Berks County church hosting a food festival.
Throughout the year, you can find peach festivals, strawberry festivals, blueberry festivals, and more.
At the very least, just about every church will host a public dinner at some point throughout the year.
At Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, they just do things on a much larger scale.
Now in it’s 44th year, the Greek Food Bazaar is not your typical church function. Thousands of patrons walk through the doors of the three-day event, which is why some of the area’s largest corporations and businesses—including Redner’s Warehouse Markets, the Reading Fightin’ Phils and 69 News Berks Edition—are advertising in the 50-page program book.
And this year’s festival is larger than ever with the addition of an outdoor market and “Opa Tent” with plenty of space for dining and dancing.
Great food can be found throughout the church grounds, every room offering something different than the previous.
There is the Taverna, probably the most in-demand room in the building, where patrons enjoy traditional Greek tavern food, served with ouzo and wine. A gyro window serves a variety of sandwiches. Gyros and other appetizers were also available inside the Opa Tent. The kafeneio serves as an on-site coffee shop.
For hungry food bloggers, light fare and appetizers are just not enough. That’s why you will find me in the Estiatorio.
The church’s social hall is transformed into a sit-down restaurant where they are serving full dinner plates, like their Athenian chicken.
Served with rice pilaf (or pastitsio), salad cup, and green beans cooked in tomatoes, the half chicken is more barbecued than baked. The lightly salted skin is reminiscent of the chicken I had at Kauffman’s, but a little crispier and not quite as spicy. And the spices are more than skin deep (pun intended), giving the meat a nice flavor of its own.
The pilaf and green beans are the perfect compliments to the meat. The beans are swimming in a sweet tomato sauce that’s much thinner and sweeter than an Italian marinara, while the pilaf was the necessary starch that balanced it out.
I took my dinner into the Opa Tent where Julie was waiting with her spanakopita. The spinach and feta were mixed in bite size filo dough pockets and served atop a full pita. Even with the lightness of filo, it was heavy enough that the pita was unnecessary, and we ended up bringing most of it home with us.
Of course wherever there is a church festival, there are always desserts, and Sts. Constantine and Helen does not disappoint. A classroom is converted into the zaxaroplasteio, or Greek bakery.
On the whiteboard is a tally of all the baking done for this year’s bazaar: 3,840 baklava, 1,539 loaves of bread, and 7,080 twist cookies. At $2 each, we picked out five of their most appealing options: two floyeris, one baklava, one finikia, and one kataifa.
Greek pastries generally revolve around two ingredients: filo dough and honey. All but the finikia, which is a honey dipped cookie sprinkled with nuts, were made with the thin dough, while all were sweetened with the honey syrup.
The most unique of the four had to be the kataifi, a honey and walnut filled pastry that is made with shredded filo. Having only bought one, we had to cut it in half, at which point the honey began oozing out, leaving us with what looked like piles of angel hair pasta that was doused in gooey sweetness.
In all, we spent about $30 on food. The only thing we missed out on this year was the loukoumades, the church’s famous Greek honey balls. Every year, the deep fried, honey flavored dough balls are a big hit with the crowds. This year was no exception, and by the time we got to the window on Friday night, the day’s batch was already sold out.
That sounds like a good reason to return next year.
Like so many Berks Countians, I can trace my family history back to the Fatherland. Before we were Pennsylvania Germans, we were just Germans.
One night every year, I take the time to celebrate my family heritage with a visit to the Oktoberfest celebration at the Reading Liederkranz.
Though it is a private club, the Liederkranz welcomes the public for special events throughout the year, but none are bigger than Oktoberfest.
And Oktoberfest is a big deal. An article on BusinessInsider.com rates it among the nine best places in the world to celebrate the annual event. So many people attend the event each year that the Liederkranz has to sell reserved parking spaces at their Mt. Penn headquarters.
For the rest of us, that means a 10-minute ride on a school bus from the Antietam Valley Recreation & Community Center. With the twisty turns on the mountainside, the trip feels a lot longer than it actually is (the 1.5-mile trip feels like it takes 10 minutes).
Stepping off at the top, a large banner hangs above the entrance to the grove and beer garden. Record crowds walked beneath that sign this year, according to the Liederkranz website. Even on our trip Thursday, day two of the five-day festival, the lines for food and beer were lengthy.
When it comes to the food options, there is no wrong choice, but if you are looking for something different, this event is the one place I have found for a delicious bowl of goulash.
Even in a disposable bowl, it’s easy to see why the goulash is such an appealing dish. The beef cubes are slow cooked in a slightly spicy sauce, served over a bed of egg noodles, which sop up the sauce so well.
With separate lines for each food option, Julie and I had to divide and conquer to get our food. While I was feasting on goulash, she picked up a roast pork meal with German potato salad and sauerkraut.
The pork was juicy and tender, but for me, the best part are the sides. The potato salad, with large chunks of spuds and plenty of herbs is the best that I have tried. And the sauerkraut is just as good with a sourness that’s noticeable, but not too overpowering.
Patrons must buy tickets for all food and drink purchases, and if you do the math wrong (like food bloggers tend to do), you either end up with too few or too many tickets. In this case, we had enough extra tickets for an order of potato pancakes. Three large pancakes are served with cups of applesauce and sour cream for dipping.
As we sat and enjoyed our dinner, we were serenaded by the polka sounds of The Continentals, and in between sets, the accordion stylings of Kermit Ohlinger, who wandered through the crowd playing polka versions of “Margaritaville” and “Hot Dog Man.”
After dinner, we took a brief walk through the German market, a collection of vendors selling German-made and -inspired products.
Really, this short walk was just a way to kill time before my favorite part of the evening: dessert.
The Liederkranz offers an assortment of goodies to choose from, including a decadent chocolate cake with rich, creamy chocolate ice cream.
But for me, no trip to Oktoberfest is complete without their famous apple strudel.
Served atop a bed of warm custard and (optionally) topped with vanilla ice cream, the strudel is a culinary masterpiece. The ice cream melts quickly, mixing with the custard to create a sweet, soupy pool for the light, flaky pastry. The strudel is so popular that there is often a line waiting for the next batch to emerge from the clubhouse.
Of course, there is also the beer (and wine) and lots of it. It is Oktoberfest, after all.
But for me, Oktoberfest is a celebration of my heritage and a celebration of delicious food.
No one would ever confuse Berks County for the Caribbean.
Reading is a long way from Aruba. Birdsboro is very different from Barbados.
But there is a place in eastern Berks County that at least tries to make it feel a little more like the islands.
Island Pizza sits along Route 422, about 10 minutes east of the city. The building sits on an “island,” its neon palm tree shining bright atop a hill high above the highway.
With the divided highway, the only way to reach it from the west is through one of those jug handle turns that are a rarity in Berks County.
But there is more different about this place than turning right to go left.
Inside, every square inch of the walls are covered in bright murals depicting parrots, flowers and iguanas. An underwater scene adorns the short wall at the kitchen counter, with crabs and clownfish and others brought to life in vivid color.
The menu is a lot larger than I would have thought. In addition to more than 20 specialty pizza options— most of them featuring island names like the Martinique (chicken, red onion, tomatoes, bell peppers and mozzarella) and the Bermuda (white pizza with fresh garlic, broccoli and spinach)—the restaurant features burgers, steak sandwiches and hoagies.
Island Pizza is also “crazy about fries” with 18 styles that range from Cajun and seasoned fries to ranch bacon cheese and pulled pork BBQ. We decided to go with something a little more Italian in nature with the Parmesan garlic fries.
Too hungry to wait for our pizza, we asked to have our fries first. The crispy fries were dusted with in powdery Parmesan; a small pool of oil had gathered at the bottom of the basket. The fries at the bottom were too soggy to pick up without a fork, but using a fork was only a minor inconvenience.
The fries were greasy and good, and the garlicky sauce was doubly good, serving as a convenient dipping sauce for the pizza yet to come.
For our pizza, we decided to go all-out with a gourmet stuffed pizza, the Aruba.
Peeling back the doughy lid revealed a meat-lovers dream, filled with meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon and mozzarella.
Everything about it was excellent. All of the meats worked well together with the pepperoni adding just a hint of spice to the pie. The sauce, served in a bowl on the side, was thick marinara that added just a little sweetness. in the end though, I dipped more into the garlic sauce from the fries than I did in the marinara.
The pizza, which cost about $20, was enough to easily feed a family of four. After we each finished two of the oversized slices (mine were bigger than Julie’s, of course), we still had two slices left for lunch later in the week.
It may not be the Caribbean, but Island Pizza is an oasis of sorts, a relaxing place friendly service.
And some darn good pizza.
Church dinners are a tradition in Berks County, just as they are across the country.
On any given weekend, you will find area churches serving up freshly prepared comfort foods like chicken pot pie, ham and beans, and pot roast.
Some church dinners have a loyal following, bringing in people from far and wide to enjoy a meal. Whether it’s once a year, or every month, the dinners become a true community event.
But the West Lawn United Methodist Church takes church dinners to a whole new level with West Lawn Wednesdays.
I first found out about West Lawn Wednesdays during the Wilson Iron Chef event in April. The church was set up in the expo space, handing out samples of their shepherd’s pie, which was one of the best items I tasted throughout the day.
The ladies running the stand handed us a brochure and two free meal vouchers, and after seeing that the meals only run September through May, I knew I only had a few weeks to experience a West Lawn Wednesday.
And so it was that we found ourselves in the Community Center on the last Wednesday before the summer break.
According to the brochure, West Lawn Wednesdays began in 2001 with a dinner for about 40 congregation members. The event has clearly grown.
Inside, rows of tables were filled with patrons, with many more having already passed through the doors on this night.
The menu changes weekly with two entree options, starter salad, two sides and dessert. After being shown to our seats, a group of regulars sitting with us were more than happy to point us in the direction of the buffet line.
Our first stop was the salad bar, which was better than some restaurants I have a seen, with plenty of add-ins and not a speck of brown lettuce to be seen.
Next we took our trays and headed to the hot bar where the night’s entrees were meatloaf and hot dogs with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli on the side.
I politely declined the hot dog, but was happy to have them fill up my plate with the rest of the options. Like any good church dinner, the food tasted like it came right out of a grandmother’s kitchen. The meatloaf, topped in brown gravy, had a nice flavor with just enough onions and spices mixed in. The potatoes were light and fluffy and the vegetables also came out beautifully.
The only disappointment was the announcement that the Rita’s Water Ice had not arrived as planned and there would be no dessert.
We all paused mid-meal as the pastor said a short prayer and invited everyone to the group study classes that would begin after the meal was finished at 7:30.
And though we received invitations from some of our neighboring diners, we never felt pressured to stay for anything beyond the meal.
While our coupons we picked up from the Iron Chef competition provided us with two free meals, we would have gladly paid the $7.50 per person that was being charged (for families of four or more, a $25 flat rate makes it even more reasonable).
Entering last year, the West Lawn Wednesday program had earned more than $60,000, all of which went to benefit the church’s various mission trips (from as close as New Jersey to as far as Tanzania) and to provide food for other outreach programs in Reading and Berks County.
And judging from the full dining area and delicious food, I suspect that number will continue to grow as a year of meals begins.
The first West Lawn Wednesday of 2014-15 is September 3. The meals will continue weekly through late May.
A romantic dinner means something different to everyone.
For me, it’s pretty simple. It’s a special night out with my wife where we splurge a little for finer food, drinks (she drinks, I drive) and the ambiance of a nice restaurant.
So when it came time for our third anniversary, I was charged with finding a place for a romantic dinner for two.
Fortunately, Berks County has no shortage of restaurants that could be considered “romantic,” and on this occasion, that led us on a short drive south along Route 10 to Emily’s.
The historic building that Emily’s calls home has stood along Morgantown Road for nearly 200 years. At one time, the restaurant served as a local post office, a history that is celebrated in the uniquely appointed Post Office bar room, with PO Boxes lining the shelves and “Mail Pouch Tobacco” scrolled across the far wall.
We were led past several intimate dining rooms, through the bar and out the back door to the creekside porch. Our table was along the rail overlooking the backyard, which doubles as event space for receptions and parties, evidenced by the worn out grass where a tent would generally be set up. A family of bright yellow finches enjoyed their own supper at the four feeders set up along the creek, which was merely a small trail of water as it trickled past the building.
We started our dinner by sharing an order of lamb sausage flatbread. The triangular flatbread pieces were topped with two kinds of cheese (Fontina and Mozzarella), caramelized onions and red currant syrup, garnished with fresh herbs.
The first thing you notice is the chunks of sausage, but the first thing you taste is the red currant. Red currant is a variety of European gooseberry, and when pureed into the syrup, it provides a very sweet flavor. Mix that with the slightly spicy lamb sausage and the mild cheese, and the ingredients combined for one of the best appetizers I have had.
In between the flatbread and our main course we were served our house salads, which were offered with one of four homemade salad dressings, including raspberry vinaigrette. It was thicker than I had expected with a beautiful purple color and just a hint of sweetness to balance out the sour of the vinegar.
Emily’s has more than a dozen entrees and several more pasta options that include everything from chicken and ribs to duck and scallops, but it was the Two Peas in a Pasta that caught my eye.
The namesake peas, spring peas and snow peas, were tossed with fettuccine pasta, prosciutto and leeks in a parmesan sauce. The sauce was thick and creamy like an alfredo, but with a lighter flavor. The prosciutto, which was chopped into tiny pieces, added a little bit of salt. Instead of being served al dente, the peas were cooked soft so that as I twirled my fettuccine, a pea pod would often find its way onto my fork as well. It was heavy and filling, but also very good with excellent flavor.
On the other side of the table, my wife enjoyed Emily’s pork rib cap steak, marinated pork steak topped with chorizo sausage and smoky lime aioli, served with a mixed vegetables and wild rice.
The pork was cooked tender with just a little bit of fat remaining. The heat of the chorizo was tempered by the sweetness of the lime and the rice, which was tossed with walnuts and cranberries, the latter providing a hit of sweetness in almost every bite. With the two meats, it was like eating two entrees at once, both of which were very good.
In true romantic fashion, we decided to share a dessert to end the evening. Even though neither of us were hungry anymore, we couldn’t pass on the chocolate parfait, a tall glass layered with chocolate mousse and brownie. The brownie was crumbled so that you had a little bit of the cake in every bite. It was very rich, but so delicious and satisfying.
With entrees that ranged in price from $15 to $30, our $60 check (which also included a mixed drink for my wife) was on the lower end of a meal for two at Emily’s and worth every penny.
It was a slower weeknight so we sat and enjoyed the cool evening air for a few minutes after our meal. The finches were fighting for space on the feeders as the sun was just beginning to set. As we sat, full and content from our meal, it was the perfect ending to a romantic night out.
And I was already looking forward to our next romantic dinner.
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Berks County Eats leaves the restaurant behind in order to try some of the best desserts, snack foods and unique foods from Greater Reading’s best bakeries and food stands. These are Berks County’s Unique Eats.
In my review of The Whoopie Pie Company, I tasted the gourmet version of the Pennsylvania Dutch dessert. The normally simple cakes were given an upscale makeover with ganache filling and chocolate drizzle.
But while the Whoopie Pie Company continues to move the whoopie pie forward, other area bakeries are also putting their own spin on the traditional dish.
Inside the PA Dutch Farmer’s Market of Wyomissing, Lil’s Bakery offers just about every kind of baked good imaginable, from a variety of breads to pies and cupcakes. And like any good Pennsylvania Dutch bakery, Lil’s is putting their own twist on the whoopie pie.
The pies are not glamorous. Instead of an individual box, they come wrapped in saran, with filling bursting out from the sides. In addition to the standard chocolate with vanilla cream, Lil’s offers flavors like peanut butter and red velvet.
But their most unique version takes another Dutch dessert, replacing the chocolate cakes with shoofly for a doubly delicious dish.
The shoofly cakes are very moist, like a wet-bottom pie filling. And it’s just sticky enough to give you an excuse to lick your fingers clean when you’re finished.
The cream is simple, sweet enough that you taste it in every bite, but not too sweet to overpower the cakes. It’s a perfect balance of flavors that makes this a nearly perfect pie.
Another great thing about Lil’s whoopie pies in the price. At about $1.00 each, you can afford to spoil yourself every week. Just remember that the market is only open Thursdays through Saturdays so make sure you stock up to get yourself through the week.
Berks County Eats leaves the restaurant behind in order to try some of the best desserts, snack foods and unique foods from Greater Reading’s best bakeries and food stands. These are Berks County’s Unique Eats.
When you think of Pennsylvania Dutch desserts, whoopie pies have to be one of your first thoughts. A heap of vanilla cream sandwiched between a pair of chocolate cakes makes for a simple, perfect dessert.
But the culinary arts are all about innovation, and that is what the Whoopie Pie Company is doing with these Dutchy desserts.
The bakery is tucked in the back corner of the VF Outlet Center’s Blue Building, on the outer edge of what is an otherwise a drab, generic food court.
It’s a fitting setting for a company that takes a tired (yet delicious) food that has never really changed and jazzes it up in a fresh, new way.
The Whoopie Pie Company offers seven everyday flavors that range from traditional (chocolate with buttercream) to unique (vanilla cakes with buttercream and raspberry drizzle).
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough stomach to try all seven so I decided that if I could only get one, The Classic was the obvious choice.
The Classic is the “traditional” chocolate cakes with cream filling. But this looked nothing like a traditional whoopie pie. First, there is the whipped buttercream filling, beautifully squeezed onto the bottom cake instead of slopped on. Then there is the chocolate drizzle crisscrossing the top cake.
It was almost a shame to take the first bite and ruin the beautiful dessert. The moist, dark chocolate cakes were perfectly balanced by the sweet cream filling.
And because you can’t eat just one, I also took a bite out of The Rebel, which isn’t very rebellious at all. The Rebel is the opposite of your traditional pie, with vanilla cakes and a chocolate ganache that gave it just enough chocolate flavor to remind you that it is still a whoopie pie.
Though the pies were both very good, you are paying for pretty. The pies cost $2.00 each, which is a lot for a pie that really isn’t very big.
And though I might have wanted a little more for my money, the whoopie pies would have left me wanting more no matter how big they were. They were just that good.