Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019

The crowd packed the streets of Hamburger on August 31 for the annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival.

The borough of Hamburg played host to the 16th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival on Saturday, August 31. Record crowds estimated in excess of 40,000 packed the streets (according to the Reading Eagle) to taste some of the best, most creative hamburgers around.

As has been our custom for the last five years, we spent our Labor Day Saturday in search of a great burger.

Going into the event, we combed the list of vendors looking for new burgers to try. We kept coming back to places we have visited in the past – Hamburg’s own 1787 Brewing Company (which we reviewed earlier this year), Brocmar Smokehouse (another favorite of ours), Spuds (one of our early reviews) and Dawn’s Deli.

The Taste of Italy burger from Dawns Deli was topped with their homemade bruschetta and mozzarella cheese, served on garlic bread.

We discovered Dawn’s during a visit to the festival in 2016. Julie was the one who ordered the Taste of Italy Burger, that year’s Grand Champion for restaurants. It was so good we made the trip to Lenhartsville just a few weeks later for second helping of Dawn’s burgers. Here’s what I wrote about it the Taste of Italy Burger at the time:

The Taste of Italy burger featured mozzarella, pesto mayo and homemade bruschetta on a garlic bread bun.

Why was it so great? The homemade bruschetta, for starters. It was as good as any Italian restaurant, with just the right amount balsamic. I could have eaten just the bruschetta with the bun and been happy. But add the pesto and mozzarella, and it turned into a hamburger masterpiece.

It’s one of the best burgers that I have had anywhere.

Read Full Review Here

This year, we decided it was time to go back and try two more of Dawn’s festival creations.

The fastnacht burger from Dawns Deli - a burger served on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and cheese.

The one that caught my eye was the Karen Haak Fastnacht Burger. The program described it as an “all-beef patty on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and powdered sugar.” Yes, please.

It was a beautiful sight to behold – the powdered sugar giving it a little panache. Everything about it was good, but I was left wanting a little more meat. Fastnachts are heavier than the glazed doughnuts that have become popular replacements for hamburger buns (see the line annually for the Deitsch Eck’s Luther burgers at the festival) so it was a little overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great fastnacht, but I would have loved a bigger burger patty. It was good, but didn’t live up to the Taste of Italy.

The Dutchie Burger from Dawns Deli - topped with lettuce, hot bacon dressing, hard-boiled egg, red onion and smoked Gouda cheese.

The Dutchie burger, on the other hand, exceeded our expectations. Julie ordered this one because it featured lettuce and hot bacon dressing (it also included a hard-boiled egg, chopped red onion and smoked gouda on a traditional sesame seed bun).

I am not nearly the fan of lettuce and bacon dressing that Julie is, but this burger was a masterpiece. The bacon dressing added a little vinegar base that soaked into the patty and made it extra moist. The smoked gouda added even more depth to the dish.

I can’t say with conviction that it was better than the Taste of Italy burger, but it is definitely on its level and probably the best we’ve had at the festival since.

Drinking milkshakes at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019
Never ask a toddler to smile for the camera when he has hamburger in his mouth.

After weighing our options, Julie and I both decided that instead of another burger, we indulge in the perfect burger go-with, a milkshake. And not just any milkshake – the famous PA Farm Show milkshakes from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

The soft ice cream-based shakes are always very good, but what I love is that you can order them “black-and-white” style with half vanilla and half chocolate. It’s like three milkshakes in one – the best part is halfway through when the vanilla and chocolate blend beautifully together.

Also while the burger lines were getting longer, the Dairymen have serving shakes down to a science so there was zero wait time.

Next year, we will spread the love, but this year was about rekindling our love of Dawn’s Deli.

Festival Results
*From Facebook.com/TasteofHamburger

Restaurant Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Kooper’s Chowhound
Appearance: Spuds
Taste: Kooper’s Chowhound
Originality: Spuds

Organization Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Salem Church
Appearance: Boy Scout Group #184
Taste: Leesport Odd Fellows
Originality: Salem Church

Mobile Food Trailer Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Appearance: Blazing Swine BBQ
Taste: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Originality: WOW Wagon

Newbie Best Burger
Lucky Penny Burger Co.

People’s Choice Best Burger
First Place: Deitsch Eck
Second Place: Dawn’s Deli
Third Place: Lucky Penny Burger Co.
Fourth Place: Christ Evangelical Free Church

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Berks County Taco Fest

white food truck with the words "best tacos" in red graffiti font on the side

On Saturday, Quintas los Cobanas Grove (formerly Blue Falls Grove) hosted the first annual Berks County Taco Fest.

Julie, Jakob and I made the trip to the Leesport-area campground about an hour after the event started (it ran from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.). We paid the $5 to park and then bought $25 worth of food tickets before descending to the creekside parking lot where the vendors were ready.

tents lined up in the parking lot hosting Berks Taco Fest

Unfortuantely there were a couple stands that weren’t quite ready yet, including Taqueria Los Rancheros. This was a real disappointment for me as the restaurant recently joined Instagram – and the food looks incredible.

One retaurant that was set up early was Castaneda’s. I love Castaneda’s, but because they already had a long line (and because I have already blogged about them), we decided to skip over their stand.

white food cart with the words "Comalli Taqueria" over the window

Instead, we started our tasting session at the Comalli Taqueria, a locally owned and operated Food Truck that is scheduled to be everywhere from Lancaster to Allentown to Philadelphia, with plenty of stops here in Berks County throughout the year.

man working a griddle inside a food truck with the words "Comalli Taqueria" on the window in front of him

Comalli offered five distinct varieties – el gallo (chorizo), al pastor (pork and pineapple), el nopal (cactus), el jefe (steak) and tinga (pulled chicken).

pork taco in two small corn tortillas topped with pineapple, cilantro, onion and a lime wedge

Julie wanted to try to the al pastor, and she really enjoyed it. The pork was delicious and she liked the “zing” from the pineapple. It was also topped with onion and cilantro, the traditional toppings.

taco in two small blue corn tortillas with strips of cactus, peppers and a smear of avocado

I am a big fan of cactus so I had to order the el nopal. In addition to the grilled cactus, it also was topped with pico de gallo and fresh avocado. I loved it. The taco had some heat to it but not too much that the avocado didn’t tone it down.

shredded chicken taco in two corn tortillas topped with cilantro and onion

We had also bought a tinga taco, hoping that our 18-month-old would eat it. I enjoyed it instead. The marinated chicken was perfect. And all three tacos were served on fresh corn tortilla that were served hot, which made them even better.

green tent with multi colored flags hanging from the tent and a banner that reads "El Autentico Sabor de Mexico"

Our second stop was to Chilangos, a Lititz restaurant that caught our eye thanks to the giant cauldron of pork that was stewing next to the stand.

That was for the carnitas, which unfortuantely wouldn’t be finished for another half hour. Instead we did a double order of cochinita pibil tacos.

Cochinita pibil is another slow-roasted pork dish – I had to look it up. Chilangos’ had DIY toppings. I went with the standard while Julie got pico on her’s. They also had two salsas, a spicy red and a slightly-less-spicy salsa verde.

two shredded pork tacos with two corn tortillas each, one topped with cilatro and onion, the other topped with cilantro, onion and diced tomato

I loved it, especially with the salsa. The meat was tender and well-seasoned while the green salsa added a nice jolt of flavor to every bite. The fresh corn tortillas brought everything together nicely.

food truck with the words "Taco Town Catering" over the window

Our last stop of the afternoon was to Taco Town Catering. The Allentown-based food truck was hard to miss with its bright red and green paint proclaiming “best tacos.”

two corn tortillas topped with chorizo, diced onion and cilantro with a lime wedge

Julie’s final taco of the day was a chorizo taco. It was good, and the meat was very flavorful, but chorizo is always a little drier so it wasn’t as enjoyable as the others.

woman holding a stick with corn on the cob topped with mayo, cheese and spices

What we both enjoyed were the elotes, grilled street corn. It’s such a simple thing – corn on the cob brushed with mayo and doused in cheese and chili powder – but it’s so good. Even Jakob loved it, though he just wanted the toppings.

In addition to the taco stands there were two beer stands. Candy’s Homemade Ice Cream also brought their food truck in from Shoemakersville to serve dessert, but we were way too full for that by the end.

By the time we left, the number of cars on the parking lot had more than doubled. And by the looks of the photos and videos that I saw, the festival stayed busy well into the evening.

And that’s a great thing because I thought this was a great effort for the first year. Hopefully the event comes back next year because we had a great time – and great food – and we can’t wait to do it again.

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Chef Tim Twiford's Stuffed Pork Chops

2019 Wilson Iron Chef – Part 2

Empty stage before the start of Wilson Iron Chef 2019

The main event of the Wilson Iron Chef event is the 35-minute cooking competition that pits three of the area’s top chefs in a race against each other and the clock.

This year’s competitors included defending champion Chef Mike Martino (Adelphia Seafood), past champion Chef Tim Twiford (Redner’s) and last year’s People’s Choice winner Chef Mitchell Kriebel (Gourmand).

I went into the auditorium for the Iron Chef competition expecting to sit in the audience and enjoy the show, but when it came time to bid on a judge’s seat during the live benefit auction, I couldn’t help but throw my hat in the ring.

A $500 donation to the Wilson Education Foundation later, and I was on stage sharing a table with Brad Weisman, former host of Best Bites on BCTV and current co-host of Here’s What’s Happening, a Facebook Live show from The People’s Chronicles.

This was my second time judging an Iron Chef competition, having bid on and won a judge’s seat at Hamburg’s Iron Chef competition in 2016.

The pantry for the Iron Chef competitors

Each competitor had to create a dish using four specific ingredients:

  • Pork Chops
  • Pineapple
  • Butternut Squash
  • Caramel

The first three were disclosed to the chefs earlier in the week so they could prepare their menus. The caramel was revealed as the final ingredient the day of the event.

Dishes would be judged on four criteria: composition, visual presentation, flavor and creativity with each category carrying different weight for a maximum of 50 points.

View from the judge's table, overlooking the three chefs during Wilson Iron Chef 2019

As soon as the timer starts, the stage is a whirlwind of activity as the six men bounce from table-to-table preparing their dishes. What looks like chaos from the outside is actually a well-planned strategy as chefs and sous chefs have to time everything perfectly to ensure their proteins and sides all are finished on time without finishing too soon to avoid serving the judges cold food.

Chef Mitchell Kriebel at work

Throughout the competition, I was drawn to Gourmand’s kitchen and the show that Chef Mitchell Kriebel was putting on. First, it was the use of a meat grinder that had us all wondering what was coming (spoiler alert: chili).

Then it was the smoker that sent plumes rising up from his table.

Half-finished pancakes from Chef Mitchell Kriebel

Finally, my attention turned to the griddle that was set up on the prep table and the pancakes that were taking shape (and the cooking oil that kept dripping off onto the table).

Chef Michael Martino's finished pork chops and pineapple croquettes

The defending champion, Chef Mike Martino, was hard at work on his breaded pork chops from the start. It wasn’t long before they were finishing in the oven offstage and the pineapple croquettes (not sure this was their official name, but it’s the best way I can describe them) were being dropped in the fryer.

The beginnings of Chef Mike's poke tower

That was all in addition to the poke towers that were coming together and the sauces that were being crafted at the same time.

From my judge’s seat, I had a birds-eye view of Chef Tim at work. He and his sous chef went right to work on the pork and the butternut squash (which had to get boiling for the mash they were creating).

Chef Tim and his sous chef discussing their gameplan

The pork was filled with a pineapple-based filling and grilled in a cast iron skillet. One of the hardest things as a judge was having to watch as the pork “rested” on the cutting board for several minutes in front of me before the countdown truly began and Chef Tim and his competitors began plating.

Unlike on TV, the chefs were ready to go before the lights flashed at the one-minute warning and there didn’t seem to be any scrambling as the crowd started their countdown.

The Dishes

Chef Mike Martino's Polynesian Surf and Turf

First to present was Chef Mike Martino. His plate was surf and turf with a Polynesian spin. For the main, a crusted pork chop served with three sauces, a pineapple croquette and a side of tuna poke.

The pork was excellent, especially with the sweetness from the sweet, coconut-infused curry sauce. Sweet and savory is always a good decision in my book, and I loved it here.

I was also very impressed with the pineapple croquette. The pineapple was well-mixed throughout so it felt like one dish and not fruit with a breading. It was certainly a creative way to highlight the ingredient.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I am not a fan of seafood. The last thing I wanted to taste was the tuna poke, but – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – I loved it. It was sweet with a little bitterness from the greens, but just so bright and fresh. It was something that I would never order off a menu, but I was glad that it was in front of me on this day.

Chef Tim Twiford's Stuffed Pork Chops

Chef Tim was second to present, and he actually handed the judges copies of his pre-printed menu so there was no doubt what we were eating.

First was the iron skillet seared pork chops. They were filled with a pineapple, mango and cranberry filling that I absolutely loved. It was a great way to incorporate the pineapple into the main dish without a sauce.

It was accompanied with caramel mashed butternut squash and sweet potatoes. The secret ingredient really worked in Chef Tim’s favor here because the caramel added a perfect amount of sweetness. “It tastes just like pumpkin pie,” as Brad said.

Also on the plate was a salad with kale, spinach, Swiss chard, walnuts and red peppers. It just didn’t do it for me as I thought it was rather plain, unlike the grilled pineapple and sweet chili lime compote. That definitely added some great flavor to the plate, a little sweet heat to complement the rest.

Chef Mitchell's pork chili and butternut squash pancake

Last to present was Chef Mitchell with his pork chili, butternut squash flapjack and fresh pineapple salsa.

The chili packed a punch, and the sour cream on top did very little to cool that off. It was very good, though it didn’t feel like a chili without any broth.

It was even better when mixed with the fresh salsa. The salsa featured pineapple, corn, onion and cilantro (along with a host of other vegetables). With the chili, it made for an excellent combination.

The flapjack was something I was really looking forward to. The caramel definitely came through, but it was probably a little too strong and took away a little from the overall. Between the chili and the flapjack, I thought it was the most creative use of the four key ingredients.

After tasting all three dishes (and being very disappointed when the volunteers took them away from me – apparently $500 doesn’t get you to-go containers), the four judges went to a private room to deliberate.

All three plates were excellent, and the room was split. So we had to fill out our individual scorecards and hand them off to a volunteer to tally up the totals. By a margin of just two points, Chef Mike Martino earned the victory over Chef Tim with Chef Mitchell coming in a close third.

The real winners, though, were the four judges who got to enjoy these amazing plates from these amazing chefs.

And the Wilson Education Foundation, which for the sixth year in a row raised more than $30,000 to support the students and programs of the Wilson Area School District.

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Sweet cocoa eggplant camponata from Say Cheese

2019 Wilson Iron Chef – Part 1

Sign above a walkway for a school that reads "Wilson Iron Chef welcome"

Editor’s Note: Wilson School District no longer hosts the annual Iron Chef competition.

The sixth annual Wilson Iron Chef competition was held on March 24, and Berks County Eats was there to get a taste of the best Berks County has to offer.

There’s a lot to bite into so we are splitting this into two posts. In today’s part one, we recap the People’s Choice competition and vendor row.

People’s Choice

This year’s People’s Choice competition may have been my favorite to date. It was also the hardest to choose a winner because of the stiff competition among the eight participating restaurants.

tray with a variety of food items including a taco, brownie, steak and tiramisu

Every chef had to create their best dish using one common ingredient: cocoa. And the participating chefs were able to create some amazing dishes.

sample cup with seasoned steak atop a menu for Outback Steakhouse

The only real disappointment in the group was Outback Steakhouse which delivered a seasoned steak that may or may not have actually had chocolate. This is not a knock on Outback Steakhouse – Bloomin’ Onions are a guilty pleasure – but compared to the other offerings, it was uninspired.

Chicken mole tortillas from Still Playin' Distillery

One place that had an inspiring dish, and placed runner-up for their efforts, was Still Playin’ Distillery, a yet-to-open restaurant and distillery in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County. The chef brought a fantastic chicken mole that earned its distinction as one of the best items in the competition.

Building 24 serving cocoa rubbed pork tacos

Building 24 and the Works at Wyomissing also went with a Mexican-inspired dish, a cocoa-rubbed smoked pork taco. I didn’t get as much of the chocolate as I had hoped and I thought it could use a little queso fresco or other cheese to really bring it together. They did add a “pot de creme,” a chocolate custard with cocoa nibs that I loved.

Gourmand's chocolate black out cake

One more South-of-the-Border offering came from Gourmand. Theirs was described as “Dark Chocolate Aztec Chicken with Habanero Creme Fraiche on a Fried Cinnamon Tostada.” It was right up there with some of the best dishes of the competition and probably would have received my vote if the creme fraiche had a little more kick to it. Gourmand also tried to bribe with desserts, this one being their chocolate black-out cake. (Note: bribing people with desserts is perfectly acceptable behavior).

Olive Garden Chocolate Lasagna samples

Olive Garden only brought dessert. It was the restaurant’s chocolate lasagna (a three-layer chocolate cake) and a taste of cannoli.

Steak and salad from Crowne Plaza Reading

Another stand-out for me was the Crowne Plaza. Their chef prepared steak and salad with a chocolate sauce atop the steak and dark chocolate morsels in the salad. I loved the salad as the chocolate and balsamic combination was spot-on and I thought the sweet and savory combo of the entree was very well done also. It didn’t hurt that they sweetened the deal with a chocolate mousse from their Pastry Studio.

Sweet cocoa eggplant camponata from Say Cheese

Say Cheese may have had the most original creation: a sweet cocoa eggplant caponata over chocolate bread. I had never tried caponata before, but it was a very good sweet-and-sour mixture. And the chocolate bread was very good as well.

Mocha-Crusted Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp from Adelphia Seafood

Last but not least, defending Iron Chef champion Chef Mike Martino from Adelphia Seafood brought shrimp wrapped in mocha-rubbed bacon. I’m admittedly not a seafood fan so it wasn’t my favorite, but it was the crowd’s favorite as Adelphia Seafood earned the People’s Choice Award for 2019.

Vendor Row

Because the eight People’s Choice entrees weren’t enough, vendor row featured another 25 vendors offering everything from popcorn to cake pops and bone broth to lobster bisque.

Station House Grille Pulled Pork Taco Slider

A highlight every year for me is the Station House Grille‘s pulled pork taco sliders (they also brought mac and cheese this year). I am a big fan of the little restaurant in Tuckerton, especially their pulled pork and coleslaw.

General Tso's Chicken from Mikura

One lowlight, and I hate to point these out, was Mikura. While I love their food, the General Tso’s chicken was cold and the sweet and sour chicken was served with no sweet and sour sauce (which, by definition, makes it just chicken). Sometimes food doesn’t travel well, and that seemed to be the case here.

Chicken Quesadillas from Catering by John Lowe

If there were an award for the most beautiful display, it would go to Catering by John Lowe. Chicken quesadillas and fresh berries with mascarpone were accented by flowers and berries and a rustic wooden crate. The food was pretty darn good, too.

The Perk Up Truck Serving up Smoothies

The sweets kept coming on vendor row, too. The Perk Up Truck was there with smoothie and juice samples, including the orange creamsicle that I love so much. And Sweet Ride brought the ice cream cart with six flavors, including the intriguing pomegranate blueberry chunk, peanut butter weave and cookies and cream.

Kreider Farms Drinkable Yogurt from Doorstop Dairy

Long-time vendor Doorstop Dairy was there with an expanded product line. I always enjoy a cup of chocolate milk from them, but this year they brought drinkable yogurt from Kreider Farms. I had the mixed berry and once I got past the fact that it was yogurt and not milk, it was enjoyable.

New York Bagelry's Crumb Cake

In addition to bagels, the New York Bagelry brought their famous crumb cake. It’s famous for being about two-thirds crumbs and one -third cake, which I think is exactly the right proportions.

Good Life Organics Assorted Juices

Life, like crumb cake, requires balance. So after all of the indulgences, I ended with a stop at Good Life Organics and a taste of some better-for-me foods. That included kombucha (it’s an acquired taste that I still haven’t acquired), some great juice and a chocolate-coconut morsel that was excellent.

Unfortunately my stomach’s limitations forced me to skip over a few stands, including PJ Whelihan’s, Brickstone’s Mighty Fine Food & Spirits, Pilsudski Mustard/Betty’s, and Morabito Baking Company, to name a few.

Iron Chef Competition

Coming tomorrow, we will take a look at the 2019 Iron Chef competition, as I saw it (and tasted it) from the judge’s seat.

Read Part 2

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Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2018

festival-goers walk past white tents at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in Hamburg, PA

The 15th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival filled the streets of Hamburg on Saturday, September 1.

It was our fourth year attending the event (Jakob’s first time), and Julie and I have a strategy that works for us: get there early, scope out the burgers while browsing the crafters, then enjoy some of the unique burgers only available at the event.

Then we each pick a burger of own and split a third so we can get some variety.

Our plan worked out well as we avoided (most of) the lines and enjoyed some truly unique burgers.

Scott’s Gyro Box – The Greek Burger

Food truck with the words "Scott's Gyro Box" on the side

Scott’s Gyro Box evolved from Scott’s Hot Spot, the longtime gyro stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market. Now a mobile food cart, you’ll find Scott’s Gyro Box at events around Berks County serving up gyros, spanakopita and other Greek favorites.

In a mashup of cultures, the stand was offering the Greek Burger at this year’s Taste of Hamburg-er Festival.

Menu board on a food truck advertising a Greek burger

The Greek burger was essentially a gyro on a bun – a hamburger patty topped with feta cheese, roasted red peppers, grilled onions and tzatziki sauce.

paper boat with a hamburger topped with feta cheese, roasted red peppers and tzatziki sauce

I love gyros and I really wanted to love this burger but it came up short for me. It was still good, but there was just a little too much tzatziki sauce – or at least it wasn’t spread evenly enough. And the burger patty was too processed and had little flavor on its own.

Still, the ingredients were there and it wasn’t a bad burger by any means. I guess I just had my expectations too high.

WOW Wagon – Poutine Burger

red food truck with yellow sun rays and the words "Wow Wagon" and a picture of Taz on the side

The WOW Wagon’s poutine burger was the one that both Julie and I had circled when we saw the list.

Featuring French fries, cheese curds and brisket gravy, the burger was a solid take on the French Canadian specialty.

burger topped with gravy, cheese curds and french fries

The gravy was the best part for me, but I have to say, biting into a burger with a cheese curd on top is a truly unique experience of taste and texture. The burger and gravy were hot (I never got both a fry and curd at the same time) but the cheese curd was cold and packed with flavor.

It was a little overwhelming for my tastes, but definitely a burger I was glad to try.

Video Burger – The Dandridge

food truck with a banner that reads "Video Burger" and an image of a TV with a zombie eating a burger

The final stop on our tour wasn’t Julie’s first choice. She had wanted to visit Spuds, but the line was just too long by the time we completed our loop and arrived back at the corner of Fourth and Windsor Streets.

Instead, we trekked back down the hill to Video Burger, a mobile food truck specializing in the outrageous.

burger topped with cheese, apples, bacon and sauce

The Dandridge took a typical barbecue-style burger and gave it a twist. Applewood smoked bacon and apple barbecue sauce gave it a familiar flavor, but the sliced apples added enough sweet to the sweet-and-savory combination to make this a real standout burger.

It was also the best bun and burger patty out of the three that we tasted and those were definitely part of the appeal.

2018 Taste of Hamburg-er Festival Contest Winners

Best Burger – Restaurant

Grand Prize Winner:  Spuds

Appearance:      Spuds
Taste:                 Spuds
Originality:          Spuds

Best Burger – Organization

Grand Prize Winner:  Salem Church

Appearance:      Boy Scout Troop #184
Taste:                 Leesport Lodge #141 I.O.O.F
Originality:         Salem Church

Best Burger – Mobile Unit

Grand Prize Winner:   Blazing Swine BBQ

Appearance:      Blazing Swine BBQ
Taste:                 Blazing Swine BBQ
Originality:          Wow Foods, LLC

Best “Newbie” Burger

The Smith Homestead’s Kitchen

People’s Choice Award

1st Place:            Deitsch Eck Restaurant
2nd Place:           Dawn’s Deli
3rd Place:            Christ Evangelical Free Church
4th Place:            Salem Church

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Wilson Iron Chef 2018

The 2018 Wilson Iron Chef competition

The fifth annual Wilson Iron Chef competition was held on Sunday, March 11, 2018. The event pitted three of the area’s top chefs against each other in a timed competition. Chef Mike Martino, representing Adelphia Seafood, earned the victory over Chef Ben Hinkle of Ganly’s Irish Pub & Restaurant and Chef Martha Cavarretta of Giannotti’s Berkshire. Each of the chefs had to incorporate four ingredients in their plate: duck breast, lentils, bananas and movie theater popcorn.

In the People’s Choice competition, seven restaurants were competing for two spots in next year’s Iron Chef competition. All seven competitors had to incorporate apples into their featured dish. The Hitching Post earned first place with its filet Mignon crostini. Adelphia Seafood took second place with its cheddar apple bisque with crab and bacon.

Also part of the day again this year was vendor row with more than 20 vendors offering samples of their foods and products. Check out our photo gallery to see some of the highlights of this year’s competition:

Food Festivals & Events
empanada and plantain chips from Mi Casa Su Casa

Where to Eat at the Reading Fire + Ice Festival

This Friday and Saturday, downtown Reading hosts the fourth annual Reading Fire + Ice Festival. The weekend features ice carvers, fire performers, live music and of course, great food.

Want to know where and what to eat this weekend? Here’s our guide to all things edible at the Reading Fire + Ice Festival:

Outside-In: Pancake Breakfast

On Saturday morning from 8 to 11 a.m., the Genesius Theatre is hosting a pancake breakfast at the Outside-In (6th and Penn Streets). In addition to a great breakfast, the event includes some of the stars of Genesius Theatre’s productions will be on hand to sing Broadway hits while you dine.

The Abe Lincoln: Chili Cook-Off

On Saturday afternoon (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Abe Lincoln hosts one of the weekend’s most anticipated events: the chili cookoff. Each year, Berks County’s best restaurants and home chefs compete to take home the top honors. Both a Judged Winner and People’s Choice Winner will be chosen.

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe

One of the city’s best restaurants, Mi Casa Su Casa brings its food to the festival’s concessions area. We love everything at the Cafe, but we really hope they bring some empanadas to the event.

Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels

Uncle Paul’s is one of the most awarded mobile concessions in the region, recognized with “Best” awards at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in each of the last five years. Their stuffed pretzels have also been featured on Spike TV’s Frankenfood and Food Network’s Carnival Eats.

The Smith Homestead

If you have Instagram, you have to follow the Smith Homestead. You can get lost scrolling through photos of their cinnamon rolls. Or you can try one at the concessions area at the Fire + Ice Festival.

Helmut’s Strudel

Like Uncle Paul’s, Helmut’s Strudel serves stuffed street food, this time with a German twist. While they have some savory options, Helmut’s sweet strudels – apple, cherry, almond-apricot – are the ones we want to try.

Bountiful Feast

We’ve never had a chance to try anything from the Bountiful Feast food truck, but the menu sounds fantastic. Their website lists chicken and pineapple kabobs, as well as a Costa Rica Chicken Sandwich (with imported salsa). Yes, please.

Sammy’s Steaks and French Fries

Sammy’s is synonymous with mobile concessions in Berks County. Name a fair or festival and you’ve likely seen the Sammy’s Steaks wagon serving their signature steak sandwiches.

Local Restaurants

Venture outside the festival to find some of downtown Reading’s best dining. There’s Marvel Ranch, the quintessential greasy spoon restaurant. Bar-B-Q Delight, a new Indian restaurant recently opened on South Fourth Street. For a more upscale meal, Cheers American Bistro at the Doubletree is a great choice. And of course, there’s the Peanut Bar, a true area landmark.

So what are you eating? Share your Fire + Ice photos with using #BerksCountyEats and tag @BerksCountyEats on Facebook and Instagram.

Food Festivals & Events

Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2017

On a rainy Labor Day weekend, the 14th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival took over the streets of Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

Berks County Eats braved the weather and enjoyed some of the unique burger creations that you will only find at the festival. Here’s a look back at our afternoon in Hamburg.

Driven by Food

Black banner with white letters that read "Driven by food International Street Food"

I had not heard of Driven by Food until I saw the name on the festival website. But as soon as I saw that they were serving a chorizo burger, I knew the caterer would be my first spot.

The line wasn’t long, but the burgers were made to order so it was a good 10-minute wait until my name was called and my burger appeared in the window.

black erasable menu board with purple lights on the outside advertising a chorizo burger, PBJ burger and skirted taco burger

Chipotle mayo, cheddar jack cheese and a poblano pepper were piled atop a chorizo sausage patty.

The chorizo held its shape on the bun, but unlike a ground beef patty, this was melt-in-your-mouth. Chorizo itself has so much flavor that it made a perfect burger base.

burger topped with cheese and chorizo

While the poblano pepper served more as a garnish, the chipotle mayo added a zing to the dish. It wasn’t spicy, per se, but it was flavorful and tied all of the ingredients together.

Overall, it was an outstanding burger that I was glad I tried.

The Perk-Up Truck

Hand holding up a smoothie in front of a food truck with the name "The Perk Up Truck"

Sometimes, you just want dessert first. The Perk-Up truck is Julie’s favorite food truck. Anytime she sees it, she has to have a smoothie.

With the Perk-Up Truck parked just a few stands away from Driven by Food, she just had to stop.

A peaches and cream smoothie was her choice on the day. It was rich, sweet and creamy, everything that you could hope for from a smoothie.

It was also filling, and helped calm Julie’s hunger until we found the burger she was looking for.

Scott’s Gyro Box

white food truck with the name "Scott's Gyro Box"

I knew that I wanted to try one more burger before I left. It came down to two choices: a gyro burger from Scott’s Gyro Box or a shepherd’s pie burger from the Hamburg Diner.

Both were on the same block as Driven by Food. In the end, the long line for the diner was the deciding factor for me choosing Scott’s.

selfie of a man holding a gyro and a woman holding a smoothie

I was going to get a gyro burger, but the tropi-terranean burger piqued my interest. Similar to the gyro burger, it was served on a pita and featured feta cheese, tzatziki sauce and lettuce (the Mediterranean) with the addition of pineapple (the tropical).

To make it worthy of a burger festival, sliced hamburger patties replaced gyro meat as the dish’s protein. This change didn’t result in much change in flavor as it was still very clearly a gyro. The biggest difference was made by the pineapple which added a bright, sweet flavor that worked surprisingly well with the more traditional ingredients.

It was a good second act, but didn’t quite match up to the chorizo burger.

Salem E.C. Church

burger topped with onion straws, bacon and cheese

Proudly proclaiming that its burgers are the most heavenly at the event, Salem E.C. Church is a multi-time award winner – again this year it was judged best burger for a local organization.

After hearing about it every year, Julie decided that this was the year to try it.

woman taking first bite of a burger

The Heavenly Hog burger is topped with bacon, French fried onions, balsamic vinegar and Italian cheeses, but what makes it unique is the blend of beef and pork in the patty.

It gave the burger a different flavor, almost making it sausage-like, but not as flavorful as the chorizo. The toppings were overloaded and fell out of the bun, but what remained were good. After experiencing the other flavors, the balsamic hits. It’s a lingering taste that evokes a love or hate reaction.

It’s a good burger that aspires to be great, but for us, it didn’t quite live up to the hype.


While we tried three burgers on the day, judges chose winners in multiple categories and fans picked one winner for the People’s Choice award. Here is a full list of the day’s best burger winners:

People’s Choice
Deitsch Eck

Best Restaurant
Bull & Bear

Best Organization
Salem E.C. Church

Best Mobile Food Truck
Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels

Best First Time Vendor
Video Burger
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Food Festivals & Events
Photo of a paper boat filled with French fries topped with creamy cheese, strawberries and herbs.

West Reading French Fry Festival 2017

festival goers crowd the street with tents and food trucks on either side

The second annual West Reading French Fry Festival was held on August 12, and Berks County Eats was there to taste test some unique takes on the traditional French fry.

This was our first time attending the festival after missing last year’s event. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I knew enough that Julie and I needed to get there early to avoid the crowds.

So we were there right at 12 noon when the festival opened — some of the restaurants were still getting ready when we walked past the barricade on South Sixth Avenue.

More than a dozen restaurants, food trucks and vendors were in attendance, including eight from West Reading, and that made the decision of where to eat even tougher.

Some of the offerings were very familiar to us.

two cups - one with French fries, the other with French fries topped with bacon and cheese

Philly Fry brought one of its two food trucks to the festival. Just two months ago, Julie and I got to taste their hearty French fry creations at The Truck Stops Here food truck festival at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles.

The Gourmand Food Truck at West Reading Farmers Market

Gourmand, a more local food truck, was also there serving their signature truffle goat cheese fries. These have become favorites of us, and our first taste of them came just a few years ago at the West Reading Farmers Market.

Other restaurants in attendance included Nonno Alby’s, which was still preparing the chili for its chili cheese fries when we arrived; Go Fish!, who had fries with crabmeat; and Relish, the West Reading hot dog restaurant, was offering a hot dog topped with yucca fries and avocado aioli.

Unfortunately, they were still waiting for a power hookup for their deep fryer when we arrived, though plain hot dogs were still available.

Sign reading "West Reading Tavern Duck Fat Fries $8.00"

Julie and I walked up and down the block several times before finally deciding what to get. I went for the West Reading Tavern and their duck fat fries.

As the name implies, the potatoes were deep-fried in duck fat oil, giving them a much richer flavor than a traditional vegetable oil fry. The thicker cut fries were served with choice of aioli: malt vinegar or garlic. I, of course, went for garlic.

It was the right decision. the aioli was both cooling and kicking at the same time. It wasn’t a hot spicy, but it definitely had bite to it. Mixed with the heavy fry, it was a delicious dish.

man eating fries out of a cardboard cup made to look like an old rolled up newspaper

Best of all, it was served in a to-go cup with a handy compartment for my aioli so I could eat and walk without worry.

Julie’s choice was among the most creative dishes in the entire festival – the strawberry fries from Say Cheese.

sign reading "Say Cheese Strawberry fries $5 spicy bbq fries $6"

These were fresh-cut style fries topped with provel cheese sauce, basil crystals and fresh strawberries, all finished with a balsamic drizzle.

It was a perfect execution of a sweet and savory dish. Provel cheese isn’t as exotic as it sounds, actually coming not from the far reaches of Europe, but St. Louis. It’s a mixture of cheddar, Swiss and provolone that combine into a completely unique cheese.

fries topped with bechemel cheese and strawberries

In this sauce, it was a perfectly creamy topping that mixed well with the fruit to create a faux strawberries-and-cream feel. The balsamic added hits of intense flavor to every bite. All of that combined with some excellent fries made it a satisfying dish all around.

We had a great time tasting some of the best French fries in Berks County, but it wasn’t easy. The space was very tight. Some restaurants were sharing tents, and with vendors lining both sides of the street, lines were running into each other, making it nearly impossible to walk around.

And we were there early so I am sure it was only made worse when more people were standing in more lines.

The event definitely has potential to be a signature event for the region in years to come, but it has already outgrown Sixth Avenue. Hopefully next year, we continue to see it grow with more restaurants offering more dishes in a more spacious area.

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Food Festivals & Events

PA BBQ Fest 2017

One of my favorite events of the year, the PA BBQ Fest in Leesport offers a chance to sample some of the finest barbecue restaurants, vendors and food trucks from Berks County and beyond.

Now in its third year, the festival is an annual tradition for Julie and I. We have had this year’s edition marked on our calendars since the date was announced and while we weren’t the first people in line when the gates opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were there by 11 for an early lunch.

This year there was a $3 cover charge to enter the event. I don’t mind paying because I know that in addition to the barbecue there is live entertainment throughout the day, and those bands aren’t showing up for free.

Festival goers can order from their favorite barbecue stands ala carte, or for $10, they can pick up a Pit Master sample card. The sample card includes six tear-off tabs that can be redeemed at one of about a dozen stands for two-ounce samples.

tent with a sign that reads "Backwoods Brothers"

Our first stop was to Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine. I’m sorry to say that they had the most disappointing sample of the six we tried.

sample cup with a small piece of smoked sauasage

Now, I love Backwoods Brothers (you can read about our visit to the restaurant here), but the sample cup they gave us had a half-bite of smoked sausage. And it was cold. At $10 per sample card, that means Julie and I each paid $1.67 for that.

After that, we were a little more selective.

tent with a large orange banner that reads "Fire & Spice Competition BBQ and Catering"

Our second stop was Fire and Spice Competition BBQ and Catering, a Fleetwood based company that we have only ever experienced at the PA BBQ Fest.

sample cup with pulled pork topped with barbecue sauce

They were serving up pulled pork – the go-to sample for most restaurants – with your choice of sauce. Julie went sweet, I went bold. Both were excellent, but I especially liked the bold sauce and its molasses base. It gives it a sweetness but with bigger flavor and thicker texture that I love.

blue trailer with a cartoon image of a corn on the cob and the name Ziggy's Roasters

Stop #3 was certainly unique among the festival’s offerings. Ziggy’s Roasters, a food truck based in Harleysville, Montgomery County, was serving samples of their “Krazy Korn.”

Normally served on the cob, Krazy Korn is corn smothered in mayo, parmesan and Cajun seasoning. For their samples, it was taken off the cob and topped with pulled pork in barbecue sauce.

sample cup with pulled pork atop a bed of cream corn

It was like nothing that I have ever tried before. I won’t say that it was the best barbecue that I had all day, but the corn was so different. It was creamy with a little bit of heat. And with the sweet and savory mix of the pulled pork, it just worked. There was a lot of flavor packed in that little sample cup.

Both of our next two stops were offering barbecue that went beyond pulled pork.

tent with a large gray banner with blue letters that reads "Jake's Place 1927 Hamburg, PA"

First up was Jake’s Place, a Hamburg restaurant that was offering pit beef. I have never had the opportunity to visit Jake’s Place nor had I encountered them at other festivals before.

small sample cup with pit beef in barbecue sauce

I was pleasantly surprised by the pit beef. It was cooked perfectly – tender, juicy and all of the other adjectives that you use to describe well-crafted beef. I will definitely have to pay a visit to the restaurant sometime.

Large beige banner with maroon letters and the words "K'Town Pub Taphouse & BBQ"

The next stop was another restaurant that I had never visited before, the K’Town Pub Taphouse & BBQ.

When I was a student at Kutztown University, the Pub wasn’t much to speak of. At best, it was a dive. But the restaurant is all-new from the place I remember and now barbecue is the focus of the food menu.

black sample cup with a meatball topped with barbecue sauce

Their offering at the PA BBQ Fest was a barbecue meatball. It’s not on the regular menu (according to their website), but it should be. It was a delightful mix of meats, including beef and pulled pork. Topped with a shot of barbecue sauce, it was stellar. I would eat this as a sandwich any day.

tent with a yellow banner with a pink cartoon pig and pink words that read "The Pink Pig"

Our sixth and final stop for our Pit Master card was an old favorite, It’s Just Barbecue (aka the Pink Pig). We got a sample of their pulled pork, something that we have tasted many times before at similar events.

sample cup of pulled pork with barbecue sauce

After we finished with our Pit Master cards, it was time to find one more thing for lunch. Julie loves the Pink Pig so much that she jumped into their regular line to order a beef brisket sandwich.

beef brisket sandwich on a Kaiser roll with the top off and barbecue sauce slathered on the meat

The brisket is thick, not thin sliced, making the sandwich feel more hearty. She layered on plenty of sweet barbecue sauce for a deliciously satisfying sandwich.

For my course, I had to go back to Ziggy’s for more of their corn. When I got there, I saw that I could order either corn on the cob or a cup o corn that could be topped with pulled pork. There was never any doubt that I would get the option with the barbecue.

styrofoam bowl of pulled pork on top of corn

I also got to choose my add-ons for the corn. Instead of the Krazy Korn standards, I went with one of my favorite flavor combinations: garlic and Parmesan (with butter, of course). Both the corn and the pork were great, though I think I should have stuck with what I had previously because it didn’t quite have the same affect when it was mixed together.

Still, I didn’t regret my decision and I will definitely seek out Ziggy’s in the future.

And there is no doubt that we will be back next July for the fourth annual PA BBQ Fest. We’re already looking forward to it.

Editor’s Note: The PA BBQ Fest has moved to Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township.

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