plants line the outside dining area at Mazi Greek

Mazi – CLOSED

plants line the outside dining area at Mazi Greek

Editor’s Note: Mazi is now closed. The restaurant was sold to new owners in late 2021 and in June 2022, they announced they would be rebranding as Fresh Breakfast and Lunch.

Though I have been doing this blog for more than six years, I still get excited about every new restaurant that opens up. Most times I wait a little bit before I visit, but every now and then there’s a place that I can’t wait to try.

That was the case with Mazi Greek Inspired, West Reading’s new fine dining destination.

Mazi opened in August in the former Bistro 614 along Penn Avenue. We never made it to Bistro 614 before it closed in 2019 so I can’t speak to what the space looked like before, but the new restaurant is beautiful.

plush booths and tables with wine glasses at Mazi Greek

Creamy gold cushioned benches line the mirrored walls, filling the room with a golden hue. Beautiful stained glass sits above the large picture window, which accordions open to bring an alfresco feel to patrons inside.

It’s an impressive place, for sure, with an impressive menu to match.

Julie and I haven’t had a true date night since February so we came in prepared to splurge. It started with an appetizer: the sesame feta.

pita chips with cheese points from Mazi Greek

On the plate were two wedges of feta cheese, lightly seared and topped with sesame seeds, a basil leaf and a drizzle of honey. With them were pita points – delicious on their own, but a perfect match for the soft cheese. I’ve found that feta can be overpowering at times, but here it was perfect. Between the sear and the sweet honey drizzle, the creamy cheese almost ate like a dessert.

square plate with two slices of bread and a rectangular cup of oil for dipping

Along with the appetizer, we were also given two slices of olive bread with oil for dipping. The bread was very good, obviously freshly made. The slices were just big enough to give us a good taste without filling us up for our meals to come.

lamb shank atop a bed of rice

For my meal, I ordered the lamb shank yvetsi, braised lamb shank served over a plate of tomato orzo. The lamb was delicious, but it was even better soaked in the juicy tomato sauce from the orzo. I did find it to be a little harder to cut and chew than I was expecting. Later I heard a waiter at another table describe it as fall-off-the-bone. It was delicious, but it certainly didn’t fall off the bone.

lamb shank atop a bed of rice

It was also a lot of food and about half of the shank came home with me (the waitress took the plate, boxed and bagged it up for me, and sat it down between our table and the empty table next to ours to limit contact).

Normally Julie goes for spanakopita whenever she sees it on the menu, but she skipped it this time in favor of the Chilean sea bass. The fish was served over a red pepper feta coulis with a side of tri-color couscous.

filet of sea bass on a bed of red sauce with couscous

I am not a big fan of fish, but I tried some of Julie’s and it was very good. The seabass didn’t have a whole lot of flavor of its own. Instead, it absorbed the flavors from the delicious red pepper sauce. The couscous was also very good, well-seasoned with added spinach leaves for more flavor.

While we both would have been satisfied had we left after our entrees, we had to hear what was on the dessert menu. And when we heard there was baklava ala mode, how could we refuse?

baklava with a scoop of vanilla ice cream

Our waitress dropped off a square-shaped bowl with a large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and two mini rolls of baklava. And everything was drizzled with honey.

This was an indulgence, and a delicious one at that. The baklava was melt-in-your-mouth good with honey soaking through the layers of phyllo dough and just enough of the nutty flavor from the chopped walnuts (I’m pretty sure). We may have left feeling very full, but it was totally worth it.

Our meal wasn’t cheap – an appetizer, two entrees, dessert and a mixed drink for Julie totaled just over $100 – but it was totally worth it, too.

I don’t foresee us becoming regulars at Mazi but for a special occasion or date night, we would definitely visit again.

We were glad we didn’t wait any longer to enjoy a date night, and we were very glad that we chose Mazi.

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

Closed

Fratello’s Bar & Restaurant – CLOSED

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

Editor’s Note: Fratello’s Bar & Restaurant is now closed. The closure was announced in April 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was issued. No plans have been announced for a new restaurant in the space.

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

Closed Reviews

Gourmand Cafe – West Reading – CLOSED

Gourmand Cafe West Reading Exterior

Editor’s Note July 2020: The West Reading location for Gourmand Cafe is now closed. The cafe closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and will not reopen. Gourmand continues to operate its Wyomissing location and its food truck.

By now, most Berks County residents know the name Gourmand. It started with the food truck that introduced the county to “artisan street food.” That was followed by multiple brick-and-mortar locations (some that have already come and gone).

The Gourmand brand has truly been everywhere around Berks County.

In March, Gourmand expanded their empire again, this time opening a cafe amid the busy dining scene in West Reading.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 2

The Gourmand Cafe sits on the 700 block of Penn Avenue in the former Relish, a cafe and coffee shop that operated for about two years.

I visited on a Friday afternoon in July and found a much quieter place than I was expecting. Only one other table was filled  as a mother and daughter enjoyed lunch by the front window.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 1

The menu written on the chalkboard behind the counter didn’t match the printed one. The burgers advertised on the chalkboard, I was told, were no longer available. Unfortunately a chalkboard artist had not been brought in yet to scroll the new menu.

What was left on the menu was mostly light fare like avocado toast, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and salads. A few sandwiches were available and ultimately I settled on a veggie panini.

It was a surprisingly hearty vegetarian entree consisting of (as listed on the menu) pressed sourdough with hummus, cucumber, mushroom pate, avocado, arugula and balsamic reduction.

Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

The hummus was easily my favorite part. It has a great flavor (read Julie’s review of the other Gourmand Cafe for more on their hummus) and it is an excellent base to start a sandwich. The cucumber, especially, mixed really well with it, and avocado is always a hit with me. It’s not the gut-busting Berks sandwich, but it was very good.

With no fryer, there are no fries. Instead, all sandwiches are served with Gourmand’s seasoned pretzels. The broken hard pretzels are coated with ranch flavoring for a simple, but good side.

On a whim, I also ordered a strawberry bubble tea to accompany my meal. It was refreshing and a nice change of pace from my usual unsweetened iced tea.

Gourmand Cafe Strawberry Bubble Tea

I certainly enjoyed my meal, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Gourmand’s West Reading location doesn’t really fit with the brand. My past Gourmand experiences have included a fried sweet bologna sandwich, pastrami and cheese-topped fries, and an Italian steak sandwich. The West Reading menu is the complete opposite.

It doesn’t help that the updated menu (sans burgers) isn’t available online. The only menu posted on Gourmand’s Facebook page is from the restaurant’s opening and includes four burger options. Gourmand’s website only features the menu for the Berkshire Cafe with items like truffled goat cheese fries and ahi ceviche fish tacos. 

The food was very good. The cafe had a nice vibe to it. Even with the bubble tea my meal was less than $15. And I can’t complain about the service, but I still felt a little disappointed.

As I finished up my meal, I heard the manager tell someone that the Cafe is Gourmand’s healthy alternative.

I guess I’m just more of an “artisan street food” kind of guy.

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

Gourmand Cafe
715 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Cafes & Coffeeshops Closed Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Brocmar Smokehouse’s West Reading location is now closed as of October 10, 2019. Brocmar continues to operate at the Shillington Farmers Market, its arena and stadium locations, and its mobile food truck and catering business. B2 Bistro, which Brocmar shared the space with, is continuing to offer barbecue with the newly opened BBQ Smokehouse at B2.

In January 2018, we made our first visit to Brocmar Smokehouse at the Shillington Farmers Market. By this time, the local barbecue company was already running a stand at the Santander Arena.

The Farmers Market was their second location and featured an expanded menu that included the Brocmar Taco – the dish of smoked meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce atop a corn cake that made our list of Favorite Entrees for 2018.

And Brocmar’s stand at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened for the 2018 season, has become my go-to for ballpark foods.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2019 and Brocmar Smokehouse is now four locations strong with the opening of their first full-service restaurant at the Lofts at Narrows in West Reading. The new Brocmar shares a space with the B2 Cafe – the grab-and-go breakfast side of B2 Bistro. Under the partnership, B2 continues serving coffee and breakfast while Brocmar takes over for lunch and dinner service.

Two weeks ago,  I was invited to the friends and family opening. So Julie, Jakob and I stopped in last Friday evening for a first taste of the new Brocmar.

While the restaurant is attached to B2, Brocmar has fully taken over the space. From the Brocmar sign painted on the brick outside to the high-top tables made out of barrels in the dining room. Honestly, it feels more at home with the industrial salvage motif than B2 does.

This was only the second night of table service for a business that has never done it before so there were hiccups to work out. We were seated promptly and we put in our drink order quickly but were told that Jamie would be taking care of us after that. Jamie never came so it was obvious that they’re still learning who is responsible for which tables, but things were smooth after that.

For the friends and family event, we were encouraged to order a lot of food and to try some of the new offerings along with the old. After we ordered, it wasn’t long before a large tray filled with sample dishes arrived at our table.

The friends and family preview menu was “limited.” About the only thing that wasn’t available was my beloved Brocmar taco. But that just meant an opportunity to broaden my horizons – appropriate since that’s exactly what Brocmar was doing as well.

(Gary, the owner and pitmaster, offered to have one delivered to us anyway, but we declined. If you want to read about the Brocmar taco, click here).

Brocmar offers eight different sauces, and I’ve tried just about all of them now. Preview night was my first exposure to the Mississippi Comeback sauce – listed as a “classic southern dipping sauce for fried foods.” Appropriately, it was drizzled atop my order of fried catfish.

Long time readers know that I am not a fan of seafood but I was pressured into trying the catfish. I have to say, I actually enjoyed it. There wasn’t much of a fishy taste to speak of. Instead, most of the flavor came from the combination of the breading and the sauce. The comeback definitely had a kick to it – not as much as the cayenne-based Moonshine sauce – but enough to get your attention. And both Julie and I really enjoyed it. I would actually order it again sometime.

My favorite among Brocmar’s sauces is still the Cripple Creek. Made with bourbon and brown sugar, the Cripple Creek sauce is a dark, thick sauce with deep flavor and just enough sweetness. It works on everything, but I especially enjoyed it on our loaded tots.

The golden brown tots come topped with cheese sauce (we had it on the side) and choice of meat – for us, brisket. All of the ingredients are good, but it was the addition of the sauce that made it great for me. Adding that rich, smokey flavor to the tots and brisket was perfect.

Among the other samplers we got were the smoked wings. Unlike the fried version, these had a nice char around the outside. Julie found it to be a little too well done, but I thought the char from the smoker added some excellent flavor.

I thought the same about the ribs. They were charred on the outside but the meat still came off the bone easily. And with a few drops of sauce, they were very enjoyable.

Both Julie and I also ordered sandwiches (to be fair, we thought we were getting half-sandwiches, not whole sandwiches cut in half) with our favorite barbecue meats – brisket for Julie, pulled pork for me.

There’s nothing I can say about Brocmar’s smoked meats that I haven’t already said. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it right.

I did, however, use the opportunity to try out a couple new sauces. The Moonshine sauce – Brocmar’s hot sauce – was way hotter than I expected. I was a much bigger fan of the Red Dirt Road sauce, a black pepper-based sauce that went really well with the pulled pork. I also found the Hokey Pokey sauce to be a good pairing too. It’s described as “mild and sweet with a little twang.” It’s a classic ‘cue sauce that I enjoyed, for sure.

Like his parents, Jakob is also a big fan of Brocmar. Our 19-month-old loves Brocmar’s mac and cheese. We knew that going in to the meal. What we didn’t know was how much he loves Brocmar’s baked beans.

I don’t blame him either. The baked beans are unique in that it’s a blend of black and red beans. The sauce is just sweet enough.

None of us needed anything else, but there was “Nanner Pudding” waiting.

Thankfully it was a small sample, but it was more than enough to get a taste of the delicious dessert – sweet pudding topped with fresh cut bananas. The only problem is that I have never had room for dessert after a Brocmar taco.

But maybe the opening of the new location will get us to broaden our horizons a little more when it comes to Brocmar Smokehouse. We certainly tried more on this night than in all of our previous trips to the Shillington Farmers Market combined.

And all of it was delicious. If they can nail the service – again, this was their second night of running a full-service restaurant – the new location will become a mainstay in the crowded West Reading dining scene.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading
10 S. Summit Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Closed

Signatures by Angell Cafe – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace closed at the end of March 2019, just a few months after opening. Signatures by Angell continues to operate as a catering and meal prep business in Delaware.

In early November, a newspaper story caught my attention. It wasn’t in the Reading Eagle, but in LNP, Lancaster’s local paper.

The article announced the arrival of the Morgantown Farmers Marketplace, a 25-vendor market located behind the Dollar General and Kog Hill Winery – just over the border in Lancaster County.

What caught my attention more than anything wasn’t the farmers market, itself, but the paper’s mention of a stand selling Southern comfort food.

A couple months later in early January, Julie, Jakob and I made the drive down I-176 and the Morgantown Expressway to check it out.

The Marketplace is an eclectic group of vendors. There were hemp products, sports figures, soaps and vintage arcade games, all under one roof. It’s not much of a farmers market, though.

There’s a small produce stand and a deli. And then there’s Signatures by Angell Cafe.

Chef Angell is a celebrity chef from the Greater Philadelphia area, teaching classes and hosting cooking demonstrations around southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware – where her catering business is based.

The Morgantown cafe is an extension of the catering, a place to get her “signature” soul food every Thursday through Sunday. It features a limited menu that rotates weekly, but two items that seem to be on the menu every week are fried chicken and southern smothered chicken.

Smothered chicken is slow-cooked chicken served in sausage gravy. It’s a simple dish, but Angell does it very well. It’s fresh chicken, not processed strips, and there was plenty of it. The sausage gravy was heavy but good. I was surprised by how well the sausage and chicken worked together. And the potato roll hiding underneath the gravy – while a small touch -added a mild sweetness to the dish.

I would definitely order it again.

For my two sides, I ordered the braised collard greens and sweet potato soufflé. The collards were tossed with smoked turkey, giving it a savory and salty flavor to go with the bitter greens. The soufflé was excellent: sweet and hearty.

Julie was really hoping to try an order of fried chicken, but they were sold out for the day by the time we arrived. (When she didn’t see a fryer in the open kitchen, she was ok with not having any).

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – Julie also ordered the smothered chicken. She also doubled on the sweet potatoes (the cafe has a very limited menu of three entrees and three to four sides each week) but for her second side chose the macaroni and cheese.

The idea was to share the mac and cheese with our one-year-old son Jakob, but he was too busy watching everything going on around him to eat. The Hunger Games  was playing on the TV behind us, just what we wanted him to watch.

Julie enjoyed it, though. Because mac and cheese is one of Jakob’s favorite dishes, Julie has also eaten a lot of macaroni lately. This was one of the better ones that she has had recently.

The only real negative we had about our meal is that we had to hold Jakob throughout the meal. There was plenty of seating – picnic tables and cafe seats – but no high chairs and no chairs with backs where we could secure his portable chair we carry with us. That’s on the market, though, not the cafe.

Everything about the Cafe was very good – even the $35 price tag felt reasonable for the quality of the food that we received.

The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace could use a little work yet, but Signatures by Angell Cafe is a great anchor to have. Our meal certainly makes me want to go back.

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

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Park Road Cafe – MOVED

Editor’s Note: Park Road Cafe has moved to 550 Penn Avenue in West Reading, opening in their new location in July 2020.

The Park Road Cafe is one of Berks County’s newest restaurants. Named for the Wyomissing street where it sits in a shopping center, the restaurant took over the former Green Bean Cafe (later, Meat Up Delicatessen)

Both of its predecessors were short-lived. The former – an all-organic cafe – lasted about nine months. The latter – a New York-style deli – made it two more.

By mid-summer, the space was vacant and the transformation into the Park Road Cafe began. And you wouldn’t recognize the space from the inside. The new look is clean and bold. (The murals of vegetables had already been removed with the changeover to the deli).

The only “problem” we had with the change is the lack of seating. There are only about eight tables plus a small loveseat and matching chair in the corner. And to be fair, there wasn’t a lot of seating before, either.

Another couple claimed the couch and Julie took the chair – the last seat available in the room. That left me sitting on the window ledge. (There are more tables outside, but winter has arrived early so they’re not getting much use).

The menu isn’t large, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. And the food at the Park Road Cafe is definitely quality.

With only seven sandwich options to choose from at lunch, our decisions were easy. For me, it was the Sleasy Caprese. It’s a dirty-sounding name, but a delicious sandwich with grilled chicken, basil pesto, mozzarella, tomato, balsamic glaze and rosemary butter served on wheatberry oat bread.

I didn’t get much of a taste for the rosemary butter, but I loved everything else. The ingredients tasted fresh and vibrant and there was just enough balsamic to give it the distinct flavor without overpowering everything. And the bread held up nicely and never got soggy, always a bonus.

Julie’s Aww Brie sandwich came served on an equally sturdy brioche bun. Sliced turkey, melted brie, garlic aioli, arugula and berry jam made for a unique flavor experience.

Sure, it was reminiscent of a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich, but the garlic aioli added depth of flavor that made it different enough to stand out.

Both sandwiches were served with kettle chips, an expected but enjoyable side.

We cleared our plates but neither of us felt like we had been cheated – comfortably full is how we felt after we had finished.

And we didn’t feel cheated on the price either. At a little more than $20, it was a fair price to pay for a lunch. I will say that it is not the fastest lunch that you are going to find in Berks County – it was a solid 20 minutes from the time we arrived until our food was brought to our table.

But I will take that wait when the food is this good.

Hopefully Park Road Cafe has hit on the recipe for success that it’s predecessors couldn’t.

So far, so good.

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

Park Road Cafe
840 N. Park Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Closed Reviews

A&M Pizza and Grill – CLOSED

small statue of a chef holding a sign that says "welcome" sitting atop a counter

Update: A&M Pizza in Wernersville is now closed as of October 2018. No official word was given by A&M but the restaurant went dark starting in early October.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can never go back again?”

The idea is that no matter how good things were, you can’t replicate the success years later.

Ironically, this exact thing happened twice last year with Berks County restaurants. Dino’s Wings & Things reopened a second location in Birdsboro. And A&M Pizza returned to Berks County and to its former location in Wernersville.

Dino’s is closed less than a year after it reopened.  As for A&M? The Wernersville location is still going. Again.

exterior of an old freight railroad station that has been turned into a restaurant with red letters on the side that says "A&M"

A&M was a staple of my adolescence in western Berks County. I remember many stops at the old freight-station-turned-restaurant just off Penn Avenue in Wernersville.

All good things must come to an end, however. A&M moved out and the old station was home to a rotation of less-than-successful restaurants including The Trolley Stop, Feliciano’s, and DiCarlo’s.

The only way to satisfy a craving for A&M’s food was to make a road trip to Lebanon. The Cumberland Street location became a go-to for me, and eventually, Julie.

A highlight of every visit was listening to the owner mumble the order numbers over the restaurant’s PA system.

But the other highlight was always the food – especially the sandwiches. A&M has a signature roll that’s flatter and more rectangular than a standard hoagie roll. The shape of the roll means that the sandwiches are almost always overflowing.

meatball sandwich and fries from A&M Pizza

I love their meatball parm sandwiches. The meatballs and sauce are both very good (though I wouldn’t call them the best), but mixed with the roll, it is one of my favorite sandwiches.

As loyal A&M customers, you can imagine how excited we were when the Wernersville location reopened in 2017. An old favorite, back where it belonged.

It’s hard to remember what the restaurant used to look like inside, but the new incarnation of A&M is a cute little spot with a surprising amount of seating. There’s a TV on the back wall, a few assorted pictures and wall hangings, and a Coke dispenser with a sign asking to limit refills to one per customer.

drink machine and condiment stand at A&M Pizza

We stopped in to pick up a couple pizzas to take to my parents’ house in Robesonia. And while take-out is probably the majority of the business at A&M, it’s certainly a place where you can sit down and enjoy a meal.

One pie was an old stand-by: pepperoni. The other was a little different, the Caprese.

takeout box with pepperoni pizza from A&M

The pepperoni pie was standard fare for a pizza place. The cheese was nearly covered with mild pepperoni. And it was greasy. This is what childhood dreams are made of.

As an adult, however, I much prefer the Caprese pizza. It most closely resembled a margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella instead of shredded cheese and fresh basil leafs on top. The biggest difference is the use of tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes that would be found on margherita pies.

takeout box with a margherita pizza from A&M

The basil is what really makes this pizza. Bites that had leaves of the herb were sweeter and more rich in flavor than those that didn’t. More than anything, it accented the tomato sauce, making it taste sweeter than those bites without it.

Our two medium pies cost about $25. We didn’t place the most cost-effective order, but with six of us sharing the two pies, we had exactly enough slices for everyone. And $25 split six ways isn’t bad at all.

So, is the old adage true? Can you truly never go back again?

In our case, it’s not true. There’s no question that we will be going back to A&M again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Fair
Value: Reasonable

A&M Pizza and Grill
10 W. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews
tray lined with brown paper with a boat of pulled pork, a boat of hush puppies, a cup of coleslaw and a pile of onions and pickles

Review: Brocmar Smokehouse – CLOSED

farmers market stand with a red sign that reads "Brocmar Smokehouse"

Editor’s Note: Brocmar Smokehouse closed its Shilington Farmers Market location in August 2020 after being unable to negotiate a new lease. Brocmar is now looking to sell their sauces and rubs in retail stores and are exploring options for a new location.

One of the bigger stories in Berks County’s food scene last year was the sale of the Shillington Farmers Market.

Julie and I had visited the market about three years ago and were so disappointed in the offerings that we never went back.

But there’s a renewed energy around the market. New stands are opening, and old favorites like Betty’s Salads are returning.

Among the new stands to arrive is Brocmar Smokehouse. The barbecue business opened in the market in December after spending the summer building its brand at events around Berks County.

Reading Royals fans may already be familiar with the Brocmar name. Before opening their Shillington location, Brocmar got a head start, operating a small stand at the Santander Arena during Royals home games.

wooden barrel next to a wooden wall with a sign that reads "Brocmar Smokehouse"

But the Farmers Market takes the business to another level, giving the business a physical location, regular hours and a greater potential reach.

The Farmers Market hours make it difficult for us to get there for dinner, but an underwhelming snowstorm was enough to close my office and allow us to make it to Brocmar long before the market’s 6 p.m. closing time.

While the Farmers Market is certainly a step forward for the business, it doesn’t allow for much of a dine-in experience. There are only two round tables – enough to seat eight at the most.

As Julie and I looked over the menu board, a woman sitting at one of the tables said “everything here is good.” She was waiting for a take-out order, her third in three weeks from the Smokehouse, she said.

A father and son stood in front of us in line, a written order in hand that seemed to include one of everything on the menu. That was fine with us as it gave us plenty of time to settle on our choices.

Julie and I pulled up chairs at one of the tables with Jakob in the stroller next to us. Fifteen minutes or so passed before our food was delivered and we got our first taste of Brocmar.

Passing on turkey, sausage, chicken and ribs, I instead went with my favorite barbecued meat – pulled pork – topping it with the Cripple Creek sauce, one of Brocmar’s six housemade options.

tray lined with brown paper with a boat of pulled pork, a boat of hush puppies, a cup of coleslaw and a pile of onions and pickles

The sauce is a bourbon and brown sugar that’s bold and sweet, but not spicy. It really brought out the best in the pulled pork, which was tender with crispy charred ends that gave it a slightly crunchy texture.

It was a beautiful blend, and together the meat and sauce were a great combo.

On the side, I enjoyed an order of hush puppies and a cup of slaw.

While we were waiting for our food, we saw an order of hush puppies being carried across the market and back. I asked about it later. “The number one question we got when we opened was, ‘What are hushpuppies?’ but we now we sell them every day.” It turns out, Brocmar doesn’t have a fryer. Instead, they fry up the hush puppies at the cafe across the market.

That’s only part of the work that goes into one order of hush puppies. The deep-fried corn fritters are hand-rolled with fresh green onion. It’s all worth it though for what is a perfect accompaniment to the main course.

black plastic bowl with brisket topped with coleslaw

The coleslaw was also very good, but it was even better as part of the Brocmar taco, Julie’s entree choice for the evening.

Barbecue is one of those foods that just seems to work well as part of a more comprised dish. The Brocmar Taco is one of those dishes. It starts with a cornbread cake, then it’s topped with your choice of meat (brisket, for Julie), slaw and sauce.

There were a lot of flavors coming together. The cornbread – the taco “shell” – had a rich corn flavor. The brisket was tender and juicy. And the creaminess of the coleslaw soaked into every layer.

To top it off, Julie added the honey bee barbecue sauce, which added a sweetness and mild spice throughout. It all came together to create an excellent dish.

It was also a hearty dish that we were both surprised that Julie was able to finish. But for a reasonable $23, we weren’t too upset that there were no leftovers for later.

As a whole, Brocmar Smokehouse delivered. It was some very good barbecue that left us wanting to try even more.

And because of Brocmar, we will be back to the Shillington Farmers Market soon.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse
The Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Barbecue Closed Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Kathryn’s Grille – CLOSED

lettering on a door reading "Kathryn's Grill BYOB"

Editor’s Note: Kathryn’s Grille is now closed. The restaurant originally cut back its hours before closing in early 2018.

Great restaurants have an identity. That’s the case everywhere, including Berks County.

Willoughby’s on Park is a high-end steakhouse. Tomcat Cafe is creative breakfast. Nonno Alby’s Wood Oven Pizza is…wood oven pizza.

For all of these, you know what you’re getting before you go. But there are many restaurants where, at first glance, it’s a little harder.

Kathryn’s Grille, one of Berks County’s newest restaurants, falls into the latter category.

dining area in Kathryn's Grill in Douglassville

The Douglassville restaurant is located just off westbound Route 422 in a small shopping center formerly home to Amity Ice Cream and OVO BYOB.

It’s a cozy spot with mostly tables for two and a few four-seaters. It’s also one of the nicest dining rooms around: minimalistic in its decor with soft grays and blacks that give it a slightly upscale feel.

But something about the menu just doesn’t seem to fit. It features fried appetizers and wings (50 cents on Sunday), assorted burgers and sandwiches, and eight entree options.

dining area in Kathryn's Grill in Douglassville

The entrees themselves are an interesting mix. There’s a New York strip steak, seafood options including crab cakes and grilled salmon, and a couple Italian specialties (chicken Parmesan and chicken marsala).

Meanwhile, the sides – fries, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, apple sauce, etc. – scream diner.

steak tips over noodles from Kathryn's Grill

For my entree, I decided on the filet beef tips over egg noodles. They were tossed with a blend of mushrooms (cremini, shiitake and domestic, according to the menu) and caramelized onions.

At first, I wasn’t really into it. The noodles on top were very dry. But as I dug deeper, I found increasingly vibrant flavors as the onions and mushrooms soaked into the dish. The steak was fine, but it needed those other flavors to really elevate it.

On the menu, it listed that the meat and mushrooms were in a caramelized onion beef gravy. While the onions were present, there was no gravy. It wasn’t until I was writing this review and looked at the menu again that I realized that gravy was advertised. No wonder the noodles were dry.

a bowl of mixed vegetables from Kathryn's Grill

None of the sides really paired well with the meal, but being forced to choose one, I went with the day’s special, a vegetable medley of roasted peppers and squash.

Even while we sat there, I joked with Julie that “vegetable medley” is code for vegetables that need to be used before they go bad. The peppers were actually very good, and it was certainly an interesting mix, but not something that I would order again.

I suppose I could have done a side salad, but then I would have preferred that as an appetizer, not a side.

crock of French onion soup with cheese dripping over the side

Among the appetizers available is the French onion soup – the only soup with a permanent place on menu. It sounded like a good way to start the meal.

Our waitress asked if I would prefer it in a crock or a bread bowl. I had no choice but to go with the traditional crock.

The soup was topped with a combination of Swiss and Provolone cheeses. The soup itself was good if a little salty, but I thought the cheeses didn’t work as well with it as a more traditional gruyere. They didn’t melt very well and didn’t complement the flavors of soup in the same way.

french dip sandwich with waffle fries and a cup of au jus

Provolone cheese was a key ingredient in Julie’s entree, the “Dip It” prime rib sandwich. It was a typical French dip with a glass of au jus for dipping.

It was a good sandwich. The roll was excellent, soaking up the au jus well. I wouldn’t call it the best French dip around, but Julie enjoyed it.

Sandwiches are served with house-made chips. These were excellent. The small waffle-cut chips were well-salted, bite sized and perfect for snacking.

Toward the end of our meal, the owner (I assume) came around and stopped at every table to ask how their meals were. He then dimmed the lights slightly “I don’t want it to feel like a cafeteria.”

I guess “cafeteria” is one thing that Kathryn’s is not.

But I’m still trying to figure out what it is.

Here’s what I do know about Kathryn’s: The sandwich was good and so were the chips. The beef tips needed that gravy. The French onion soup left something to be desired. And it was $40 for our meal.

So where does that leave us? Conflicted. It’s a restaurant with potential, but it’s lacking something. Hopefully they can figure out what that is.

Kathryn’s Grille
1 Park Ln
Douglassville, PA 19518

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews
The Aime pizza was topped with gorgonzola, prosciutto, caramelized onions and figs.

Gino’s Grille Wood-Fired Pizza & Bar – CLOSED

The entrance to Gino's Grille in Shillington

Editor’s Note: Gino’s Grille underwent a makeover at the beginning of 2020. It is now home to a Mexican restaurant and bar called Viva Mexico. 

Thanks to writing this blog every week, I am always on the look-out for things that are new and exciting.

While Gino’s Grille isn’t new – the restaurant opened a year ago – they did have something new to offer: wood-fired pizza debuted on the menu in late August, and we couldn’t wait to try it.

The building along Lancaster Avenue in Shillington was most recently home to a second location for Bella’s Subs and Pizza. That closed a few years ago, and Gino’s opened in its place.

Gino's started serving wood-fired pizza in August 2017

When we arrived, the parking lot was full, but we found one of the final two spots. Upon entering, we were escorted to one of the last remaining tables in a crowded dining room.

Our waitress warned us that the kitchen was backed up, but we had our hearts set on trying Gino’s new wood-fired pizzas.

The oven was new for Gino’s, and the pizzas had only been added to the menu about a week before our visit. The menu includes 24 artisanal pies, from simple margherita to non-traditional varieties, like the Pittsburgh – topped with French fries, burger, eggs and mozzarella.

Julie and I each ordered our own pie with side salads, hoping to tame our appetites, at least temporarily.

It took 20 minutes to get the salad, and some of the lettuce had started to turn brown.

We knew it was going to be a long night when our salads took nearly 20 minutes to arrive. There wasn’t anything special about the salads, just your normal greens with tomatoes and croutons. The lettuce itself wasn’t the freshest as the tips on many pieces had begun to turn brown. It wasn’t rotten, but it’s not a good look for any restaurant.

The wait was excruciating. Thank goodness for the salads because without them, I don’t know how we would have been able to make it without going next door to the Arby’s drive-thru.

It was more than an hour from the time we arrived before our pizza was delivered to the table. Because of the high temperatures, wood-fired ovens can generally cook a pizza in less than five minutes.

Clearly the kitchen was just unprepared for a full dining room.

The Aime pizza was topped with gorgonzola, prosciutto, caramelized onions and figs.

But the pizzas did arrive, and we excitedly dug into them. For me, I opted for the Aime Special, a unique topping combination with fig, gorgonzola, prosciutto and caramelized onions.

It’s unlike any other pizza that I have tried – that’s why I ordered it – but the first bite was jarring. It was all gorgonzola. Very strong gorgonzola. On its own, it’s not the most pleasant taste.

Thankfully, it got better from there. Once I was able to get a little fig and some of the prosciutto, it made it all the difference.

The fig and prosciutto are a sweet-and-salty match made in heaven, one that cut through the pungent gorgonzola. Together, it made for an excellent flavor. But when one or both of those ingredients were missing, and the cheese was left by itself, it was way too powerful for me.

If you really like gorgonzola, I recommend the Aime special. I’ll be ordering something else next time.

Julie went with a more conventional unconventional pizza (if that makes any sense) with her chicken bacon ranch pie. While you likely won’t find this in the Old World, it’s a common site on menus around Berks.

Look at tall that ranch dressing

Chunks of chicken breast meat and large bacon crumbles were topped with a pool of ranch dressing.

That pool of dressing was not uniform across the pie – parts of it had more ranch, parts of it less. But when all three came together (with the mozzarella base), it was a very good pie. The creamy ranch mixed with the crispy, salty bacon was very enjoyable. The chicken was good, but didn’t add much in the way of flavor.

Julie's more conventional chicken bacon ranch pie

One thing that I will say about both pies is that the crust didn’t feel like the wood-fried pizza. It was fine, but lacked that distinct char on the bottom. It was also inconsistent around the edges with one side being more well-done than the other, probably because the kitchen was too overwhelmed to give it the proper attention throughout its time in the oven.

As usual, 12-inch pies sound smaller than they really are so we took home half a pie each. It also meant we paid for two meals, with a total bill that was around $30.

I have to note that our waitress was as accommodating as she could be given the circumstances. We were offered free dessert at the end of the meal for our troubles, but declined – partly because we were now very full, partly because we had already stayed longer than we had hoped.

By the time we paid the bill and were out the door, we had spent an hour-and-a-half at the restaurant. For a nice two- or three-course dinner, that’s not bad. For pizza, it felt like an eternity.

I’m not going to blacklist Gino’s based on one visit. The wood-fired pizza was still very new when we visited. But we still left feeling disappointed in our experience.

Will we go back? Sure.

But we’ll be waiting a while.

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

Gino’s Grille Wood-Fired Pizza & Bar
2233 Lancaster Pk
Shillington, PA 19607

Closed Reviews