Review: Allgyer’s BBQ Corner

Allgyer's BBQ Corner features two warming tables full of meats and sides.

A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food stands that the crowded market offers.  But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half the market.

When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals from the past and checking off more places on my list.

One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.

Chipped meats, roasted potatoes, and baked beans are among the items available at Allgyer's.

Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and sides.

I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their dinner entrees – beef cubes.

Allgyer's served its beef cubes in a Styrofoam cup.

The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).

Meals at Allgyer's are served with a dinner roll. They also offer fresh-brewed sweet tea.

It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides, a roll and a drink.

For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.

The barbecue carrots were were rolled in aluminum foil to keep them hot.

The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.

Instead of the standard fries or wedges, Allgyer's serves potato skins .

Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.

Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.

Allgyer's pulled pork sandwich was topped with their homemade BBQ sauce.

The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.

It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.

The sweet potatoes aren't much to look at, falling apart in the aluminum foil, but they were delicious.

But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it. While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.

The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands, is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined were less than $20.

Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to get back to the office.

Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would enjoy again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: A Bargain

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

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Review: Stampede Barbecue

sign with an image of a bull and the words "Stampede Barbecue Established 2012"

I love to see a business prosper and grow, especially when its a local eatery.

One of the local restaurants that has grown and seems to be thriving is Stampede Barbecue.

Wooden building with wooden picnic tables with red umbrellas and an arrow-shaped sign pointing right with the words "Main Entrance"

Stampede Barbecue, formerly known as Stampede Smokin’ Barbecue, opened at a new location along Route 10 in Plowville. Technically, Berks County gained a new restaurant with the opening (the former location was a few hundred yards across the line in Lancaster County).

The restaurant now sits in what was once a garden store. It has been completely transformed into a two-story barbecue joint that looks like it could have been plucked out of the South and dropped in south-central Berks County.

staircase painted black with the words "no youngin's allowed unaccompanied on stairs/loft" on one of the risers

The new location, unlike the old trailer, will operate year-round. And so far it also seems to be a boon for business. The line was nearly out the door when Julie, Jakob and I arrived with her parents on a recent Wednesday evening.

Our wait time to get to the front of the line was about 15 minutes. By the time we ordered, we were told that the pulled pork and ribs were both sold out. I looked behind us at a line that was now out the door and wondered how these customers were going to feel about it.

man ordering from the counter at Stampede Barbecue

But that is the chance you take with barbecue – when you’re serving meats that are smoked for 12 hours or more, it’s not like you can just make more. It’s also a sign that the restaurant serves great food. And there was no denying that during our visit.

tray with two barbecue sandwiches, a boat of macaroni and cheese, a boat of coleslaw and a disposable Coke cup

Most of my visits to the previous location – a stationary food truck with more parking than seating – were grab-and-go, as I bought meals to take home with me. This was a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy everything at its freshest.

close-up of a sandwich with smoked turkey on a potato roll

I had really wanted a pulled pork sandwich but instead “settled” on smoked turkey. The sliced turkey breast was dipped in an au jus before being set on the potato roll (think a Martin’s roll, only a lot larger and more fresh).

I tried both of Stampede’s signature sauces – one sweet and one sweet and spicy – on the sandwich. I liked the sweet, but I didn’t think it fit very well with the turkey. But the spicy sauce mixed with the potato roll (which itself was already sweet) and the smoked turkey made for a delicious combination. However, the au jus was enough on its own and I would have been happy eating it without any sauce.

chopped beef brisket sandwich on a potato roll

Julie’s beef brisket sandwich was no less enjoyable. The brisket was sliced fresh and very juicy. For my taste, the brisket was better with the sweet sauce. I also can’t speak highly enough about the rolls and how much they did for enhancing our meals.

boat of fresh-cut French fries

We decided to split an order of fries, something that I don’t remember being on the menu at the other location (if it was, I don’t remember it. I do remember getting bags of Charles Chips, which I didn’t see at the new place). While the rest of the meal was ready when we paid, the fresh-cut fries were delivered fresh a short time later. To me, they were worth the wait.

boat of macaroni and cheese

Julie and I also ordered sides of our own. She really wanted to try the mac and cheese and I wanted some of their slaw. Both were very good, though I wouldn’t say they stood out among others that we have tried.

boat of creamy coleslaw

I did have an opportunity to try some of the BBQ beans that my in-laws had ordered, and they were great. It was closer to a chili than baked beans as far as flavor (my mother-in-law found them to be a little too spicy for her. I didn’t find them to be very spicy).

For Julie and I, our two meals with drinks ran us right around $30. That’s about average for a good barbecue place. Stampede’s entire menu is a la carte, there are no meals, per se, but the sides are reasonably priced so it all works out.

hand-written sign on a door that reads "pickins are slim, folks. We will have everything tomorrow"

By the time we left around 7 p.m., they were hanging a sign on the door that read “Pickins are slim, folks. We’ll have everything tomorrow.”

Good thing we didn’t arrive any later than we did or we may have been very disappointed.

But selling out is a good thing for Stampede. It reflects well on the food, and it means that the restaurant is doing a great business.

And that’s always a good thing for Berks County.

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

Stampede Barbecue
4372 Morgantown Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

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Review: HillBilly BBQ

Black food trailer painted with a cartoon pig and the words "Hillbilly BBQ - Pig Out On Our BBQ"

Driving along Route 422 east toward Douglassville, the smoke rises from HillBilly BBQ. The trailer sits in a small parking lot in front of D&S Elite Construction.

There have been many roadside barbecue joints in and around Berks County over the years – Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ, Stampede Smokin’ BBQ and Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grille come to mind. And while others have either moved into permanent locations, closed or both, HillBilly still remains as a true roadside eatery.

I visited HillBilly BBQ for the first time in 2015. I only had a pulled pork sandwich, but I was impressed. I couldn’t wait to take Julie for a meal and a Berks County Eats review.

Three years later, that visit finally happened.

Black food trailer along a rode with a smoker on the side and a tall open flag

We stopped in on a cool Saturday afternoon – too cold to sit outside but too warm to sit inside our car to eat. The only real option was to order our lunch and take it back home to Wyomissing.  Thankfully, there’s a driveway connecting the restaurant to Monacacy Creek Road and the traffic light that leads to westbound 422.

Less than 20 minutes after getting our meals, we were unboxing them at our kitchen table. I couldn’t wait to dig into my half rack of ribs.

The ribs looked beautiful, dark in color from hours in the smoker and a heavy dry rub that I immediately fell in love with. It was simple sweet, salty and mildly spicy rub that was laid on thick.

black styrofoam container with a half rack of ribs and a pile of coleslaw

At the counter, I was given the choice of adding “sweet sauce” to the ribs. There wasn’t much to the sauce – it was a little runny and pooled at the bottom of the box – but it really did add to the dish. If nothing else, it softened the texture and helped the meat soak in even more of the delicious rub.

The half rack was sliced in half with three-to-four bones in each. Each piece was unique. The top was fall-off-the-bone good. The second rack was the end piece and was more well done. It was no less flavorful, but the tips were crispy, bordering on burnt.

On the side, my coleslaw balanced out the meal. The creamy slaw was very good and did much to counterbalance the spice of the ribs.

When it comes to barbecue, Julie loves beef brisket. It’s her go-to whenever we go out. Her brisket sandwich from HillBilly BBQ featured a Kaiser roll overflowing with meat.

black styrofoam container with a beef brisket sandwich and shell-shaped mac and cheese

The brisket featured the same rub and was topped with the same sauce as the ribs. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of sandwich, smooth and flavorful. The Kaiser roll helped to soak up some of the juice and sauce – a traditional hamburger roll would have probably fallen apart by the time we got home. It also differentiated itself from similar offerings at other restaurants, and that’s never a bad thing.

For her side, Julie chose the mac and cheese. It was made with small shells in a gooey yellow cheese sauce. When we first got in the car, the shells were still smoking. They hadn’t cooled off much by the time we arrived at home. They were good, but not anything special.

One thing I love about barbecue is that it’s almost always priced right. At $25 for our two entrees and two sides (we didn’t order drinks because we were taking it home. That would have brought it closer to $30), HillBilly BBQ definitely priced its food right.

A note to those concerned about the divided highway: don’t be. Unlike some restaurants along that stretch of Route 422, HillBilly BBQ is actually easily accessible from both directions thanks to the Monacacy Road entrance.

That’s a big advantage, but the location isn’t without drawbacks. It’s still an unpaved parking lot with limited seating – and Route 422 isn’t exactly the most desirable backdrop for dining alfresco.

But the barbecue is hard to beat. And for a little roadside stand, that’s all that really matters.

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

HillBilly BBQ
908 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

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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 Shillington Farmers Market location in August 2020. The Brocmar brand lives on in locally produced sauces and rubs as well as a line of BBQ smokers.

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

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Review: Smokin’ Brays BBQ – CLOSED

red letter sign that reads "Smokin Brays BBQ" above the entrance to a restaurant

Editor’s Note: Smokin’ Brays BBQ has closed. The restaurant closed in March 2021 because of a retirement. As of this writing (March 20, 2021), the restaurant and adjoining home are for sale. 

One of the reasons that I try to hit all of the food events and festivals around the county is so that I can try things that are new (or new to me).

Oftentimes, I end up seeing the same old restaurants serving the same old samples. But it’s always exciting when a new place pops up.

At the Iron Chef Hamburg event in November, I sampled pulled pork from Smokin’ Brays BBQ in Hamburg and was immediately a fan.

I had already visited Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine earlier in the year, but had no idea there was now a second barbecue restaurant, this one across the street from The Westy.

various wooden tables in a dining room at Smokin Brays BBQ in Hamburg

The restaurant opened in April after the owners closed the original Smokin’ Brays in Dale City, Virginia, and moved to Hamburg to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Our Virginia restaurant was open seven days a week,” I was told by our hostess, who I later found out was Betty Bray, co-owner with her husband Keith.

“We’re only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s almost like retirement.”

Wooden table with metal chairs against a white wall with red trim at Smokin Brays in Hamburg

After we were seated, a woman came in with a little girl, dolly in tow. “I guess we need a table for three,” she joked.

But to their surprise, a high-chair was delivered to the table and dolly was strapped in for dinner, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

That’s how you do customer service.

The wait for our food wasn’t as long as it felt. I realized that the only noise – other than the two other diners that joined us – was coming from a radio in the corner.

So many restaurants today have at least one television in the room that I found myself looking around for a distraction that wasn’t there.

When the food arrived, it was the feast that I had expected.

round white plate with red outline holding brisket, pork and pulled beef

Nearly every barbecue restaurant that I have ever been to has offered some sort of sampler platter. And I guess it’s because there are enough people like me who will order it every time.

At Smokin’ Brays, the smallest sampler is three meats (promising at least 3/4 pounds of meat). I got babyback ribs, beef brisket and pulled beef.

I haven’t found pulled beef on any other menus locally so I had to try some. It may look like pot roast, but it sure didn’t taste like it. There was no sauce, just a spice rub that had absorbed into the meat during cooking.

The flavor was great on its own, though I couldn’t stop myself from adding some of Smokin’ Brays classic barbecue sauce. A sweet sauce with just a little tang and no heat (there was also a hot version, plus a vinegar sauce, for those with differing tastes).

round white plate with red outline holding brisket, pork and pulled beef with smalld ishes of applesauce and baked beans

I really enjoyed the brisket. It was well-flavored, sliced thin and melt-in-your mouth good. The ribs were not my favorite. They were too fatty for my taste. I like my ribs leaner and more heavily seasoned.

Not that I needed anything else, but the meal also came with two sides and choice of roll or cornbread. I really only wanted something light so I went with baked beans and applesauce. The beans were alright but I was too full from my meal to really enjoy them. I did really like the cornbread, though it fell apart when I tried to butter it.

Multiple plates of food that include smoked sausage, mac and cheese, salad and cornbread

Julie’s meal consisted of smoked sausage with mac and cheese, lettuce with hot bacon dressing and cornbread.

The sausage was excellent, a little smoky but not too much. And it wasn’t smoked to the point that the outside was too crispy. It was done very well.

The lettuce with hot bacon dressing was among the best that Julie has had with no skimping on bacon. She also enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese.

After all that food (Julie had to take half of hers home), there was definitely no room for dessert. That said, I actually thought about trying to force some banana pudding after I saw it on the menu board.

Instead, we called it a night. While paying our $30 bill, we saw the Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame, adorned with photos of all those who have attempted the “Big Pig Challenge,” five pounds of food and a 30-minute time limit.

“You want to try the ‘Big Pig’?” the owner asked after I questioned her about the challenge.

“Not tonight,” I said.

I’m sure it will make an entertaining blog someday.

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

Smokin’ Brays BBQ
278 W. State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

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Review: Station House Grille

Building with off-white siding with a backlit sign out front reading "Station House Grille"

With hundreds of restaurants spread out across 866 square miles, it’s going to take time to visit them all. Among those are many restaurants that have been on my short list since the blog started that, for one reason or another, I just haven’t been able to make it to.

One of those restaurants is the Station House Grille. I’ve sampled their food on multiple occasions, mostly at Iron Chef competitions.

Every time we see them at an event, our response is the same, “We need to go there.”

This has been going on for more than two years. We tried visiting once before, not realizing that they close early on Saturdays (6 p.m., compared to 8 p.m. on weeknights).

sign on a door that reads "Welcome to Station House Grille"

Finally, last week, the stars aligned and the timing was right. On a Wednesday evening with nothing else going on, we made the drive to Tuckerton.

The Station House Grille sits along Tuckerton Road, just west of Route 61, in what looks like someone’s two-story house.

Parking is limited and so is seating – the dining area consists of just four round tables that seat up to four.

We ordered at the counter before moving to the small dining room to wait for our meals to arrive.

The menu is certainly unique among Berks County restaurants: tater tots, pulled pork, sliders and gourmet grilled cheese are among the menu highlights.

I went for a pork tater bowl: an order of tots topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and cheese.

tray lined with checkered paper with a beef sandwich, a bowl of pulled por topped with cheese and bbq sauce and a dish of loaded tater tots

The Station House Grille definitely knows how to do pulled pork, and they chose the perfect sauce to complement this dish. It was sweet, tangy and thick, covering everything.

Beneath the mound of meat, cheese and sauce were the tater tots, which had now fallen apart. That meant just about every bite had a little bit of fried potato. And that can’t be bad, right?

Julie decided to separate her meat and her taters, getting a shredded beef sandwich and an order of loaded tots.

round metal table with four wooden chairs by a window

The sandwich featured balsamic shredded beef, onion straws and horseradish sauce on a Kaiser roll. The horseradish sauce added flavor. But it was mild, not overpowering like it can sometimes be.

She really enjoyed it, just as she did the loaded tater bites. Cheddar cheese sauce, bacon, chives and sour cream topped the mound of tots. I’m not a fan of cheese sauce. I would have rather had plain (they call them ‘naked’) tots. But Julie loved it so listen to her, not me.

Our total bill was around $20 (including a pair of bottled drinks). It was a fair price for a good little meal.

The Station House definitely has the feel of a neighborhood sandwich shop, but they take that idea in a different direction with their unique menu.

If you’re tired of the same old places along 61 or the 5th Street Highway, it’s definitely worth making the turn into Tuckerton to this little gem.

I’m glad we finally did.

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

Station House Grille
157 Tuckerton Rd
Reading, PA 19605

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Review: Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine

American flag flies next to a window with a decal that reads "Backwoods Brothers" with an image of a steer

Downtown Hamburg has never been a real culinary destination.

It’s a quaint downtown, but for dining, options have always been slim. You’ve got a bar, a diner, a Chinese restaurant, two ice cream shops and pizza.

Good food for sure, but nothing truly unique.

Then in January, a very different restaurant came to town: Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine.

Texas-style barbecue in Hamburg? I’m in.

There’s nothing fancy about Backwoods Brothers. The dining room is pretty plain with counter seating leftover from the diner that once occupied the spot.

maroon wall with a variety of crosses hanging from it

The maroon walls are mostly unadorned. One wall just has the restaurant’s logo. A trio of Reading Royals hockey sticks sit above a window. And behind the counter, a collection of folk art crosses from the American southwest.

Backwoods Brothers’ menu isn’t fancy either. Written on a chalkboard, it’s easy to follow: pick a meat, make it a combo or enjoy it on a sandwich (just don’t ask for ribs on your sandwich).

At the tables, paper towel rolls sit in for napkins, and dinner is served on paper plates with a pack of disposable utensils.

For my dinner, I wanted to try as much as possible so I ordered a two meat combo with pork, sausage and fried okra.

styrofoam plate with smoked sausage, pulled pork and hush puppies

At the table were three squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce: original, honey BBQ and hot. The original is a tangy, vinegar-based sauce. It was good, but the honey BBQ was more my speed. It was a little tangy, but had that sweet flavor that I love with for a good sweet and savory barbecue dinner.

I was warned about the hot sauce, made with real hot peppers. I had just a taste with my pulled pork. I actually loved it, but I could feel the heat from just a few drops and didn’t dare try any more.

My favorite thing on the plate was the sausage. It was spiced just right and smoked to perfection. It didn’t need any sauce, but I thought it was even better with a few squirts of honey BBQ.

The pork was good. Real smoky with only a little bit of fat. It wasn’t “pulled” to the point of being stringy slivers of meat, and was instead served in meaty chunks. I enjoyed it.

Finally there was the fried okra. If you’ve never had okra before, it’s hard to describe the vegetable’s taste. But I love it. And I could have eaten the slightly salty fried okra bites all day.

styrofoam plate with sliced brisket and a styrofoam cup of mac and cheese

Julie wasn’t quite as hungry as me so she only went with one meat — beef brisket — and a side of mac and cheese.

The brisket was sliced thin and piled high. It was tender but still required a knife to cut. You could see and taste the rub along the outer edges of every piece.

Her mac and cheese was creamy, and to her delight, seasoned well with pepper. It was just the way she likes her macaroni.

Portions were not overwhelming, but we definitely got plenty of food for our $26, and we left plenty full.

Backwoods Brothers holds true to its Texas-style roots, delivering a unique style of barbecue and sauce that you won’t find at other Berks County joints.

And they are certainly delivering something that Hamburg has never seen before.

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

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine
272 S. Fourth St
Hamburg, PA 19526

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It’s Just Barbecue (The Pink Pig) – CLOSED

a wooden sign with handpainted letters reads "BBQ Open"

Editor’s Note: It’s Just Barbecue is now closed. The restaurant’s last day of business was September 29, 2019. The family announced in a Facebook post that they are stepping away after 12 years in business. A new business, Brothers’ Barbecue, operates in the space.

For the last two years, I’ve been teased with tastes of It’s Just Barbecue and the restaurant’s signature sauces.

We’ve sampled their pulled pork at Iron Chef competitions at Wilson and Hamburg (including the 2015 event where pit master Jeff Stumpf competed in the live cook-off). Every time, we say that we need to try it.

So finally, on an unseasonably warm Saturday, we decided to make the drive north on Route 61, a few miles over the county line to Deer Lake for the full experience.

There’s nothing fancy about the place. If not for the bright pink pig-shaped smoker out front, the restaurant is nearly invisible, set on the back side of the building facing away from traffic.

a smoker in the shape of a pink pig sits along Route 61 in Orwigsburg

The pig is so recognizable that most people know the restaurant as the Pink Pig.

Inside, it’s much of the same. Pigs of varying shapes and sizes can be found wherever there is a ledge. Trophies from their barbecue competitions and the Hamburg Iron Chef fill in the bare spots.

After ordering at the counter, most people take their meals to go because the dining room consists of just six wooden picnic tables.

several pig collectibles sit on a counter along with two trophies at the Pink Pig

While a steady stream of customers poured in while we were there, we were the first (and for a long time, only) ones to grab a table and enjoy our meal in the restaurant.

The menu doesn’t offer much in the way of variety — it fits on a tri-folded sheet of ordinary paper — but what It’s Just Barbecue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.

What I really wanted to try was their ribs, but they were already sold out for the day (like any great barbecue restaurant, the meats are slow-cooked for hours in the smoker so when an item is gone, it’s gone).

tray with a a boat of beef brisket, a cup of cinnamon apples, a cup of baked beans, and a small cup of barbecue sauce

Thankfully everything else was still available so I went with a beef brisket platter with baked beans and cinnamon apples on the side.

The brisket is simply outstanding. Though it was pulled apart, you could still see the distinct pink smoke rings, a sign of well-prepared barbecue. And from the first time my fork touched it, the meat fell apart.

Even without the sauce, the meat was juicy and flavorful. The tables all had a bottle of the original house barbecue sauce (which I found to be too sweet for my tastes), I doused my brisket in a full cup of hot and sweet sauce that had just the right amount of after-burn.

The baked beans, like those at any good barbecue joint, are cooked with a little bit of leftover meat. There was just a little bit of pulled pork in mine, and I found myself wanting a little bit more.

The cinnamon apples were also very good, so much so that I was scraping the bottom for the extra syrup that remained when the apples were gone.

tray with a styrofoam container with a smoked chicken sandwich and a bowl of chili topped with shredded cheddar

Julie’s meal was a little bit lighter than my own. She went with a smoked chicken breast sandwich and a side order of chili.

The chicken, like the brisket, was delicious on its own. It really captured the flavor from the smoker. After pouring on some honey barbecue sauce and closing the bun, it made for an excellent sandwich.

Her chili was a little lacking so she added some of that same honey barbecue sauce to it to give it a little more flavor. I would have probably done the same thing with the hot and sweet sauce if I had ordered the chili; it just needed a little something more.

But it’s hard to complain when the barbecue was as perfect as you will find. The price was great too, with our two meals (plus a couple bottles of iced tea) coming in at just over $25.

It’s Just Barbecue is worth the drive for any lover of smoked meats.

It’s a restaurant that truly lives up to its name.

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plate with beef brisket, pulled pork, fries and broccoli

Review: Van Reed Inn

Sing on a wall with a stylized "V R" for Van Reed Inn

When a restaurant closes, there’s always a question about what comes next.

If we are lucky, a new restaurant arrives, one that is better than the one that it has replaced. That’s what happened with the Van Reed Inn.

The new incarnation of the Van Reed Inn opened in December of 2014 after some much-needed renovations.

One year later, the restaurant along Route 183 north of the city still looks like new. The bar and dining area are enclosed in a single room with 10 tables — four of them two-seat high-tops — and sixteen stools on the bar.

A pool table sat idle at one end of the room. On the opposite wall was a menu board with the days specials that lit up in shades of yellow, green, red and blue. An adjacent room is used for take-out orders.

Julie and I arrived around 6:30. For a Thursday night, it seemed like a good crowd. Half of the tables were full. The same could be said about the stools. Both filled up more by the time we left.

We sat ourselves at one of the high-tops and waited a few minutes for the menus. The restaurant seemed to be a little short-staffed with only one waitress to take care of the tables and a bartender for those on the stools.

When our waitress did arrive, she was very pleasant and apologetic for not getting to us sooner. After that, she was extremely attentive for the rest of the night.

close-up photo of wings covered in chipotle sauce

We were both getting a little hungry so Julie put in an order for wings to get us started. They have 15 different flavors on the menu. All of them sounded amazing, but we settled on the chipotle ranch.

Six meaty wings arrived coated in the creamy sauce. The wings are smoked, and the flavor from the smoker shines through it all. They had a nice crisp outer layer (from their trip through the fryer). The sauce was delicious, giving all of the flavors of ranch plus that added southwestern kick. It was a great start to the meal.

I had more wings yet to come as part of my BBQ platter.

plate with sliced brisket, wings, fries, pulled pork, and a cup of broccoli

A sampling of Van Reed Inn’s smoked favorites, the platter included beef brisket, pulled pork, four wings and two sides.

The best thing on the plate had to be the wings. I was going to order the “Irish Pride” flavor (spicy garlic BBQ), but saw the daily special: lemon garlic. They were nearly perfect with great citrus flavor, slightly sour, and just enough garlic to give it a kick. Once again the smoke shone through and complemented the other flavors nicely.

Another stand-out from my plate was the beef brisket. Six slices with no sauce to hide the flavor. Instead, they were coated in a simple, but delicious dry rub. It had a little extra sugar for a sweet after-taste.

The pulled pork wasn’t bad either, though I wasn’t a big fan of the sauce. I would have liked it better if it had been served dry like the brisket, maybe with a little sauce on the side.

On the side, I ordered sweet potato fries and broccoli (which makes it a balanced meal, right?). The sweet potato fries were really good, fried to a golden brown.

three pulled pork tacos with a side of fresh-cut fries

Across the table, Julie was enjoying her pulled pork in the form of tacos. The pulled pork was more enjoyable mixed with the cheese sauce and coleslaw.

The three tacos were filling, but not too heavy that she couldn’t finish her fries. The fresh-cut potatoes were very good and worth forcing every last bite.

When we were finished, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we had only spent a little more than $30 for our meals. I was expecting a bigger price tag for the amount of food that we ordered.

Not every restaurant revival works which is why we celebrate the successes.

Van Reed Inn is a certainly a success.

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

Van Reed Inn
2707 Bernville Rd
Reading, PA 19605

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Stampede Smokin’ BBQ – MOVED

mailbox with the words "Stampede Smokin BBQ" sits in a planter outside a small building

Editor’s Note: Stampede Smokin’ BBQ has relocated to a new, permanent location along Route 10. The restaurant is now known as Stampede Barbecue. We visited for a blog shortly after it opened in June 2018.

Barbecue is hot.

The food industry is one of trends, and barbecue has been trending for some time now.

Grocery stores have entire aisles devoted to gourmet barbecue sauces, restaurants are serving more slow-cooked and smoked meats, and entire television shows are being devoted to the art of the ‘cue.

Berks County has always been a place that is known for chicken pot pie and other Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, but thanks to the success of places like Muddy’s Smokehouse Barbecue, slow cookers have started to pop up along the road throughout Greater Reading.

Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is a place that has taken the Muddy’s model and made it their own.

red food trailer with a sign out front advertising wing specials

The bright red trailer sits along Route 23 in Morgantown, just across the Berks border in Lancaster County. The entry way is all stones, with a small patch of grass marking the parking spaces.

An actual house sits on the property, an extended front porch serving as the seating area with brand new picnic tables, oversized umbrellas serving as sun shades on hot summer afternoons.

Stampede’s trailer has been parked full-time at this spot since last year, serving up beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, ribs and chicken.

The menu is scribbled on a chalkboard. In the center, boxed out from the rest of the items is Stampede’s specialty sandwich, the Dude.

red tray with checkered paper filled with food including a barbecue sandwich, baked beans and a bag of chips

The Dude is aptly named as it takes a hungry dude to finish a sandwich that includes heaping portions of both smoked sausage and beef brisket. After squirting it with a stream of sauce and tossing on a cup full of chopped onions, I dug in.

It was love at first bite.

The brisket was so tender, falling apart with every bite while the sausage had picked up all of the flavors from the grill, making it extra smoky and satisfying. But the sauce was what brought it all together. It was sweet and tangy and just blended perfectly with the meat to create an outstanding sandwich.

Equally impressive were my side of barbecue beans. Though they were clearly baked in barbecue sauce, the flavor was closer to that of a meatless chili thanks to the inclusion of kidney beans and a few dashes of chili powder.

label on a Charles Chips bag

I was prepared to order a side of fries as well, but once I saw the bags of Charles potato chips hanging on the side of the trailer. I could devote an entire blog to my love of Charles chips, and how “The Chip Man” used to deliver tins of them to our door each week when I was a child. As I ripped open the bag, all of those childhood memories came rushing back to me. Unlike other local brands like Good’s and Dieffenbach’s, Charles chips are light and airy, and I savored every bite.

This was, as a whole, one of the best barbecue meals I have had. And though $14 had seemed a little high when I was rung up, I can say that it was money well spent.

After finishing my meal, I grabbed one of Stampede’s take-home menus. On it are four things that the business strives to do: to provide excellent smoked meats, sides and service, to be consistent, to carry forward a good name, and to shine a light in a barbecue world.

To shine a light in a barbecue world.

A barbecue world is exactly the kind of world I want to be living in.

And after my visit, I can confirm that Stampede Smokin’ BBQ is shining a bright light.

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