The Ranch House is known for it's a-frame roof and orange neon sign

Circle S Ranch House – CLOSED

The Ranch House is known for it's a-frame roof and orange neon sign

Editor’s Note: The Circle S Ranch House is now closed. The restaurant closed on April 8, 2022 after 49 years in business. The owners cited a desire to spend more time with family in the closing announcement. A new restaurant, Lilli’s Ranch House, has opened in its place but is unaffiliated with the original.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

Wooden booths with green cushions at the Ranch House in West Lawn

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

burger with top bun removed and fries

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

pretzel sandwich and fries

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt. Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

sundae topped with a pretzel and a cherry

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

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

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

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Screpesi's Ham on Roll

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop

Corner store with a sign with a Pepsi logo and the words "Screpesi's Sandwich Shop Pizza Homemade Meatball Sandwiches"

Berks County has its share of old-school restaurants – especially in and around the city of Reading.

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop is one of those places, serving customers since 1949 – just four years after World War II ended.

White board with hours and sandwich prices at Screpesi's Sandwich Shop

If Screpesi’s doesn’t have the smallest menu in Berks County, it’s close. There are eight sandwiches: ham, Italian, tuna, turkey, roast beef, steak, meatball and sausage. And they have three sizes of cheese and one-topping pizza.

Deciding on a whim to get subs, I didn’t call ahead. Instead, I made the quick drive along Route 422 to Lancaster Avenue. Screpesi’s small storefront is on the corner opposite one of our favorites, Romano’s Chicago Style Pizza. Afghan Chicken & Gyro and a brand new Wawa fill the other two corners.

sandwich prep area with toppings and rolls

But Screpesi’s is smallest of the storefronts, looking like an afterthought on a block full of townhomes. Two backlit signs face the streets – one promoting pizza and homemade meatball sandwiches; the other, more faded sign promotes ham on roll, Italian, tuna and steak.

If the wood paneled walls and green tiled floor aren’t original, they’ve been there for decades. There are no seats – it’s take-out only. On one wall is a portrait of the founders, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Screpesi, dated 1949.

racks of chips and snacks and a cooler with various drinks

There were three young women – high school or college aged – working when I arrived. Two behind the counter and one who had just finished mopping. I know because she had the mop propped next to her as she restocked the potato chips. I had to climb over it to get my bottle of orange cream Kutztown Soda from the drink cooler.

Getting my food was a lot easier, and really quick. I was in and out of the shop in about five minutes, heading home with two sandwiches, two bags of chips, and the aforementioned Kutztown soda for $16.

steak sandwich with sauce and potato chips

I ordered a steak sandwich and Screpesi’s does them Berks County style – chopped steak meat in sauce with onions (and served on a roll from Reading’s ATV bakery). I didn’t expect much when I saw them dish it out from the pot on the stove, but I have to say, it was much better than expected.

What I liked most about it was that the sauce wasn’t too heavy. Most of the flavor came from the meat (and a little grease). I was honestly amazed that the soft roll stood up to the filling, but it did. And I actually really enjoyed it.

ham on roll with lettuce

Julie had me grab her a ham on roll after seeing it promoted as the “Best ham on roll in Berks County.” She had it topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato  and mayo.

Normally, she orders turkey or tuna when she gets a sub, but she thought the ham on roll was really good. The roll, itself, was very good. And all of the ingredients were good, which added up to an excellent sandwich.

It’s also worth mentioning the selection of Good’s and Dieffenbach’s snacks (I grabbed bags of Good’s chips – the red bag, of course) and local drinks that included Kutztown soda, Clover Farms teas and milk, and cans of A-Treat.

Yes, this old-school sandwich shop is about as Berks County as it gets.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Poor (For the Mop) | Excellent (for the sandwich making)
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop
500 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19611

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A close-up photo of a cone of pecan ice cream with an old fashioned soda fountain in the background

Review: Longacre’s Modern Dairy

lighted sign with an image of an ice cream sundae and the words "Longacre's Old Fashioned Dairy Bar" with a red arrow pointing right

One of the great things about the suggestions we got for ice cream shops is that they represent all parts of Berks County.

It forces me to visit corners of the county that I don’t get to very much, but ice cream is a great reason to go anywhere.

Especially to Barto, where the highly acclaimed Longacre’s Modern Dairy and Old Fashioned Dairy Bar has been crafting and serving homemade ice cream since 1940.

When we made the turn off Route 100, the parking lot was nearly full. I pulled into the last of the three rows, next to a car with a New York license plate.

On our way in, we walked past the soft-serve shack, where one lonely employee sat, waiting for customers that just kept walking by.

small seating area with wood paneling and tables for four with metal chairs

The setup inside Longacre’s is very different from anywhere else. Walking inside, the ice cream counter is straight ahead. There is a small dining area off to the left with tables and booths, and to the right are the refrigerators and freezers where you can get not only ice cream, but milk, eggs and more dairy products to go.

wooden board with slots with the names of ice cream flavors in red, orange, blue and yellow letters

Four or five girls work behind the counter, taking turns assisting customers (very similar to the Jigger Shop, which we visited recently). But the counter is only for ordering. After you get your ice cream, you have to turn around and stand in line again, this time for the cash register on the opposite wall.

Once we paid, we went outside and grabbed a bench to enjoy our ice cream in the cool night air.

sugar cone of chocolate ice cream

My choice was the bear paw: chocolate ice cream with brownie bits, walnuts and caramel swirl. It was a hefty scoop. Longacre’s doesn’t skimp on portions.

The first thing that you notice is the creaminess. It was heavier than any other ice cream that I have tried so far.

The chocolate flavor was strong. I loved the brownie bits (very reminiscent of the Death by Chocolate at Lori’s Candy Station), and I do love walnuts with my brownies. The caramel was a welcome addition as well.

All in all, it was some of the best ice cream that I have tried in Berks County and beyond.

cone of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chunks

Julie went with a more familiar flavor with her moose tracks (vanilla ice cream with hard-shell chocolate and mini peanut butter cups).

Like mine, the ice cream was very creamy. According to the Longacre’s website, the mini peanut butter cups are from Gertrude Hawk so the add-ins were definitely quality.

It made a difference, too. When you hear moose tracks — in our region at least — you think of Hershey’s. Hershey’s can’t compare. And it’s not even that close.

Best of all, our two cones were less than $8. We did go back in for a $1 bottle of water (do yourself a favor, get the water when you get your ice cream).

diner booth in a wood paneled dining room with a menu that reads "Longacre's Dairy Bar"

Longacre’s is certainly unique, and after visiting there, I can say it is some of the best ice cream that you will find. And with their prices, it’s a great places for families.

If you do go, be prepared to wait, especially during peak hours, because everyone else seems to agree.

But don’t let that stop you. It’s worth the wait (and the drive).

Longacre’s Modern Dairy
1445 PA-100
Barto, PA 19504

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Review: Letterman’s Diner

small building with a blue sign with orange letters that reads "Letterman's Diner"

“Feeding the world, 23 seats at a time.”

That’s the slogan written on the shirt of a waitress at Letterman’s Diner in Kutztown. The busy breakfast and lunch spot is made busier by the fact that it only seats 23, most of them at the counter.

The seats go quickly, but the wait is never long. Service is quick, and in the time that we were there, only one group (a party of 7) actually left because of a lack of seating.

The cozy pre-fabricated diner that sits in the heart of downtown has been serving customers for more than 70 years. Since 1998, the restaurant has been known as Letterman’s and has been serving big flavor in big portions.

In the middle of a college town, it’s a place that caters more to the locals, the year-round residents who keep the restaurant jammed every morning even after the semesters end.

As we waited for our food, a couple came in, and I heard the young woman exclaim, “Look, I made the board!” This was Abby, for whom one of the daily specials, the Abby omelette, was named.

This is the type of thing that you will only find from a true neighborhood joint. I don’t know how many Abby omelettes (Swiss cheese, onions and potatoes) were sold, but I know at least one person who bought one.

Julie had her eye on one of the other daily specials, the porky omelette. As the name implies, the omelette was loaded with pork: smoked sausage, bacon and pulled pork with onions and cheddar cheese.

omelet with sausage and pulled pork overflowing on a plate with hash browns and toast

From our counter seats, we watched as all of the food was prepared on the small grill top. We watched as the eggs were cracked, as the massive sausage link hit the griddle, followed by the wad of pulled pork and four foot-long strips of bacon.

The omelette was no match for the mound of meat, splitting open on the plate to reveal the delicious contents. By itself, the pulled pork would have made a great sandwich. The sausage, also, could have served as a dinner entree at any area restaurant.

Because that just wasn’t enough, the omelettes also come with toast and homefries. It’s almost a shame that they give you so much food because the homefries are really good, but completely unnecessary at that point. The omelette is just too big, and too delicious to sacrifice.

I was almost jealous looking over at Julie’s gorgeous plate of food. Almost.

two slices of French toast topped with strawberries and whipped cream

That’s because in front of me was my own scale-breaking plate of food: strawberry stuffed French toast. Three slices of French toast, layered with cream cheese and topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

Each bite was decadent. It probably didn’t need the cream cheese because there was enough sweets with the whipped cream and strawberries to cover every bite.

plate of sweet potato fries covered in maple syrup

And I managed to finish every bite, despite making the mistake of ordering a side of sweet potato homefries (which actually turned out to be regular sweet potato fries). I only finished half of those and should never have ordered them to start.

We did take home half of my sweet potato fries along with half of Julie’s omelette and homefries. There’s enough Letterman’s in our fridge for at least two meals, which makes the price tag of a little over $25 (we also had two glasses of juice) a little easier to take.

Letterman’s is a place you could only find in a small town, a greasy spoon that caters to the local community and its loyal customers.

It’s a place that makes sure you never go hungry, but always leaves you wanting more.

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

Letterman’s Diner
242 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

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Review: Schell’s & Schell’s Dairy Swirl

Retro roadside sign that reads "Schell's Hot Dogs Bar B-Q"

It was in 1955 that Ray Kroc teamed up with the McDonald brothers, rewriting the history of the fast food restaurant.

From the humble beginnings in San Bernardino, McDonald’s became the benchmark for American fast food, leading a multi-billion-dollar industry.

But despite the dominance of fast food giants, local quick service restaurants continue to thrive in a niche market.

In 1952, three full years before the McDonald’s revolution began, one of Berks County’s favorite fast food spots opened it doors.

Menu board at Schell's in Temple, PA

Not much has changed in the six decades since Schell’s began selling hamburgers and hot dogs along 5th Street Highway in Temple. The prices have gone up a little (you can’t get fries for 15 cents anymore), but the menu is largely the same: burgers, dogs, grilled cheese, fried chicken, fries, onion rings, and my personal favorite, hamburger bar-b-que.

Two hamburger BBQ sandwiches, two orders of fries and two milkshakes on a tray

Hamburger bar-b-que is so simple to make (four ingredients: ground beef, ketchup, mustard and brown sugar), yet I find it hard to top Schell’s. A tip for first-timers: to cut down on the mess, eat your sandwich upside down. The thicker top half of the bun will absorb more of the juices.

Of course, what fast food meal is complete without a side of fries and a milkshake? The crinkle fries are crisped to perfection and pre-loaded with plenty of salt. Schell’s offers four flavors of milkshakes from its soft serve machine: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and my personal favorite: raspberry. The shakes are nice and thick, and though they won’t do much to quench your thirst, they are delicious.

Barn-shaped building with the words "Schell's Diary Swirl" and an ice cream cone in neon lights

Those with a sweet tooth may want to forgo the shake in favor of some frozen treats. Just across the parking lot is one of the sweetest places in Berks County, Schell’s Dairy Swirl. (Rather than skip the shake, I decided to make an ice cream-only trip later in the week).

If you aren’t sure if you still have room, inside the barn-like building are large pictures of sundaes, ice cream cones and banana splits, just to get you a little hungrier.

soft serve ice cream in a cup overflowing with bits of bananas

I went with a banana split arctic swirl, the equivalent of a Dairy Queen Blizzard. Watching them make it is the best kind of torture as they slice up a fresh banana and add it, along with the remaining ingredients, into a cup of vanilla soft serve, then mix it all up into a delicious mess.

ice cream sundae with crushed nuts, whipped cream and a cherry

Sundaes are another favorite at the Dairy Swirl. My wife’s peanut butter sundae was loaded with peanuts and peanut butter sauce, and piled high with whipped cream. Maybe it was piled a little too high because half of the whipped cream (as well as the cherry on top) fell to the floor as she tried to eat it.)

And the fun doesn’t end with dessert. After you finish the last spoonful of soft serve, 27 holes of miniature golf are waiting to challenge even the most experienced putters.

hole on a miniature golf course with a water fountain

Schell’s course is not just nine holes longer than a standard course, it’s far more difficult. The slopes and patches of “rough” and “bunkers” that surround the holes can be frustrating for those looking for a low score (like myself), but immense fun for anyone who doesn’t take their game too seriously.

The next time you’re thinking about picking up some fast food, skip the drive-through lane and head to Schell’s. The prices are just as reasonable, but the food is so much better. Besides, I’ve never seen a Burger King with mini-golf.

So whether you go for a quick dinner, a creamy dessert or a round of golf, Schell’s is a sure hole-in-one.

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

4625 N. 5th Street Hwy
Temple, PA 19560

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Sausage with potato filling covered in gravy from the Deitsch Eck

Review: Deitsch Eck

There are places in Berks County that seem lost in time.

There are farms that have passed through generations; homes that have stood for centuries; and back country roads littered with horse-drawn buggies.

The same holds true for Berks County restaurants. There are taverns that have witnessed history and local spots that work to preserve it.

The Deitsch Eck fits both descriptions.

Lenhartsville is a tiny hamlet in the northern reaches of Berks County. The town’s main thoroughfare, Penn Street, is a full 30-minute drive from its namesake in Reading.

Beginning in the 1700s, what is now the Deitsch Eck (“German Corner” in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect). was a tavern serving weary travelers along the road. That tradition carried into the early 20th century, when Penn Street became part of US-22. Today, Interstate-78 passes just north of the town, with Route 143 connecting the Eck with the highway.

Hex sign painter Johnny Ott owned and operated the restaurant beginning in the 1930s. With many examples of his work that adorn the main dining room (not to mention the large portrait of the artist that hangs on the wall), his presence can still be felt today.

The Eck is more than a restaurant, though. It’s also a tourist trap. In the back of the building is a Pennsylvania Dutch gift shop, offering a full array of tchotchkes, including magnets, key chains, cookbooks, replica birth certificates and every other “Dutchy” thing you could imagine.

Much like the restaurant itself, the menu is largely a throwback to a bygone era as well, offering simple meals like meatloaf, ham, liver and onions, and scrapple.

small dish with a variety of fried appetizers

I decided to start my meal with the fritter sampler, a taste of three of Deitsch Eck’s fried appetizers: apple fritters, corn fritters and potato fritters, all served with packets of honey for dipping.

The apple fritters were dusted with powdered sugar, tasting like a cross between a funnel cake and a McDonald’s apple pie. The potato “fritters” were more like a potato pancake, delicious, but would have been better with a bowl of applesauce. The corn fritters were more deep-fried goodness.

plate with sliced sausage and mashed potatoes covered in gravy

For the main course, I opted for an order of fresh sausage, butchered at the neighboring Peters Bros. meat market.  The sausage was sliced down the middle and grilled flat, giving it a little nicer presentation. The meat did not have a lot of added spices, but was still very flavorful.

slice of shoofly pie

For dessert, I went with a Pennsylvania Dutch classic: shoofly pie. It was a little different from a traditional shoofly (I think I tasted a hint of honey), and was a little dry on top, but was still very enjoyable.

It was an enjoyable old-fashioned meal in a quaint old-fashioned place. For $20, I got three courses of food and a crash course in Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

Whether you are hex sign aficionado or just looking for a good, simple meal, consider taking the short drive north to the Deitsch Eck.

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

Deitsch Eck
87 Penn St
Lenhartsville, PA 19534

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sign that reads V&S Sandwiches

Review: V&S Sandwiches

retro neon sign that reads "V&S Sandwiches Italian Steak Pizza"

“u no u luv it. lol :-)”

That’s the tagline pasted on the homemade posters throughout V&S Sandwiches on Lancaster Avenue, one poster promoting the shop’s chili cheese fries, another advertising hamburger and chicken sliders, limit 125 per order.

There is a lot of love to go round at the many V&S locations scattered throughout Greater Reading. Hot and cold sandwiches, salads and pizzas that have made V&S one of the most popular restaurant chains in Berks County.

A neon sign hangs high in front of the Lancaster Avenue location, beckoning diners to try the shop’s Italians, steaks and pizzas. The retro-looking sign fits perfectly in front of a restaurant that is very much a time capsule, itself.

Red picnic benches sit atop sheets of Astroturf in front of the building. Inside, a large sign reminds patrons of the restaurant’s cash-only policy, another leftover from a bygone era of dining.

During peak hours, V&S operates more like a New York City deli, with customers taking a number and waiting to be called just to place their order. Be ready when your number is called as indecisiveness can back up the line quickly.

Though there are about two dozen sandwiches to choose from, my eyes never left the “specials” board. The steak special is a simple sandwich: steak, sauce, onions and peppers (the cheesesteak special is available for an extra $0.10).

close up photo of a steak sandwich covered in sauce

Delivered on a cafeteria tray, the steak special looks less like a sandwich, and more like a pile of steak meat. The roll is stuffed so full that it is nearly impossible to close.

The onions and peppers are mixed in with the steak, but the thick sauce is heaped on afterward. Some bites are heavy on the sauce, others are lacking, but all are delicious.

The meat is very flavorful on its own, not like the frozen steaks you would pick up at the grocery store. I also caught the hint of a banana pepper or two mixed in, adding just a kick of sweet heat.

It was only after I finished that I noticed the puddle that had formed on the table, the combination of a soft roll and a thin paper plate having done very little to dam the flow of grease.

closeup photo of fries

Of course no sandwich lunch is complete without an order of fries. The small bag holds a deceptively large amount of the fast food staples.

Compared to a chain like Subway, V&S is a steal. The steak special costs right around $3.50—that for a sandwich that is longer than a standard six-inch with twice the meat. For our two sandwiches, a shared order of fries and two drinks, our bill was right around $13.00.

receipt with the words "u no u luv it lol" printed on it

And there again, printed on my receipt: “u no u luv it. lol”

It’s true. I do love it.

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

V&S Sandwich Shop
1621 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19607

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A large plate of spaghetti covered in marinara sauce

Review: Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette

menu front that reads Mom Chaffe's with an image of a woman in glasses and the words Est. August, 1936

For such a small town, West Reading has a seemingly endless array of restaurants.

No less than 30 restaurants and cafes are packed into the town’s 1.5 square miles. From French cuisine to fried chicken and from vegetarian to Mediterranean, foodies can find a world of flavors in this tiny borough.

While most will never venture from the Penn Avenue and the vibrant downtown area, there is much more to this wonderful small town.

Tulpehocken Avenue shoots off from the 5th Avenue traffic circle. Blink and you may miss it and the hidden gem that it holds.

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette looks like every other home on the block, except for the brightly lit sign proclaiming “Italian Food” and “Cocktails.”

A small brass plate on the front has a simple inscription: “Mom Chaffe’s Est. 1936.”

It is amazing that any restaurant could survive for nearly 80 years, especially one like Mom Chaffe’s, which still does not have a website, a Facebook page or any other online presence. What it does have are loyal customers and 78 years of history on its side.

Like West Reading, itself, Mom Chaffe’s packs a lot into a small space. At times it is too much as the wait staff is forced to navigate a maze of tables and chairs in the main dining room. Even the walls are cramped, with dozens of paintings fighting over the limited space.

What’s not cramped is the menu. It’s very limited-two pages of pasta, antipasto and entrees with a handful of specials added daily.

One of the specials on this night was the Italian fried hot peppers, which were served as an appetizer with sliced tomato and mozzarella over lettuce.

close-up photo of Italian long hot peppers

Though the dish was served cold, there was no escaping the heat. These were some very spicy peppers, loaded with heat and flavor. The creamy chunks of mozarella were a perfect compliment to the peppers, and along with the tomato and lettuce helped cool the taste buds.

While I was adventurous with the appetizer, I played it conservative with my meal and opted for fedelini with tomato sauce and meatballs.

photo of meatballs atop a plate of spaghetti

The two meatballs were massive, clearly hand-formed and full of flavor. The sauce was bright red and thick, one of the best I have found in the area. My only complaint is that there was enough of it to mix with the mound of pasta that was buried underneath.

bowl with lasagna smothered in red sauce

Across the table, my wife went with the lasagna (which is only available Thursday through Sunday). I wish I had made the same decision because the one bite of hers I tried was delicious. The lasagna featured both ground meat and thinly sliced sausage layered with pasta and cheese and topped with the same thick tomato sauce as my pasta. It was a meaty, yet balanced dish that I enjoyed as much as any lasagna I’ve tried (and was enough that she took home half for the next day’s lunch).

slice of chocolate cake on a plate with a dollop of whipped cream

The dessert tray was sitting on a table near us, and after staring at it for most of our meal, there was no way we were going to be leaving without some. It was all fairly standard cakes and cheesecakes (I would venture to guess that these were not made in house, but at another local business). I went with a chocolate cake with a filling of ricotta and dried fruit. The cake itself was very dark, but the filling was incredibly sweet, with pieces of pineapple, apricot and other fruit mixed in for added texture.

In a restaurant with such limited seating, I had expected the prices to be higher to compensate. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the prices were in line any other restaurant with entrees falling in the $15-25 range. For our appetizer, two entrees and two slices of cake, our final bill was just over $50.

Overall, Mom Chaffe’s is a great little place for fine Italian food. If you go, make sure you save room. And be sure to call ahead or there may not be room for you.

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

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette
148 Tulpehocken Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

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Review Kauffman’s Bar-B-Que Chicken

large chicken statue in front of a small pond at Kauffman's Bar-B-Que Chicken

If you live anywhere near Berks County, you’re familiar with Kauffman’s BBQ chicken. The wagons are everywhere during the summer, selling the famous chickens and baked potatoes at fundraisers throughout Berks and its neighboring counties.

But the aluminum foil-wrapped dinners are just a tease – a taste if you will. To get the true Kauffman’s experience, you have to make the trip to the ranch, Kauffman’s BBQ Restaurant in Bethel.

Kauffman’s is found as close to the middle-of-nowhere as you can find in Berks County, just south of Interstate 78 and the Lebanon County line on a winding country lane, appropriately called Gravel Pit Road.

An 18-hole miniature golf course spreads across the lawn with an old-fashion plow, a wishing well and  a wagon wheel guarding the holes. The ranch’s pet peacocks roam free through the parking lot. A giant rooster stands guard at the entrance.

a large rotisserie with four spits of chicken and one of potatoes at Kauffman's Bar-B-Que Chicken

If you aren’t hungry when you arrive, you will be. Inside, a picture window reveals the magical process, allowing diners to watch the chickens as they rotate in the rotisserie ovens, flavor dripping onto the birds below and marinating the potatoes that bake on the bottom rack.

Meals are served cafeteria-style, and the line for the dining room winds through the take-out area, and sometimes out the door. A pair of menu boards announce the platter options, including baked ham, Salisbury steak and clam strips. But for most diners, the only real option is whether to get a ¼ chicken or ½, and white meat or dark.

customers wait in a cafeteria-style line at Kauffman's Bar-B-Que Chicken

Customers file down to a narrow lane where you pick up your tray and pick out your desserts from a refrigerated case (sneakily located at the front of the line) before placing your order. Meals are served on disposable paper plates and cups.

salad bar at Kauffman's Bar-B-Que Chicken

All platters include a trip to the salad bar, which has all the staples, including a flavorful macaroni salad that can be used instead of dressing.

tray with a plate with barbecue chicken and potato filling with a dinner roll, cup of applesauce and a plate for apple pie from Kauffman's Bar-B-Que Chicken

Naturally, the best part of every meal is the chicken. Cooked to a golden brown, the skin is full of flavor — a little sweet with a hint of spiciness, especially in the blackened edges of the wings and thighs. There is no extra sauce because it doesn’t need it.

Every platter comes with a choice of potato: baked potato, french fries or potato filling, a delicious mix of mashed potatoes, bread crumbs, celery  and herbs, loaded with brown gravy.

And of course there’s the dessert options, a variety of fresh baked cakes and pies, including a classic apple crumb pie with a thin, flaky crust and apples that melt in your mouth. Or if you prefer something a little colder, Kauffman’s has a full ice cream stand in the take-out area with soft serve and a freezer full of Hershey’s hard ice cream. Grab a cone and enjoy it on their enclosed porch, furnished with retro yellow fiberglass picnic tables.

All of the platters at Kauffman’s are priced under $10, and the miniature golf is just $4 a person, the perfect prices for an afternoon outing with the whole family. Make sure you plan your trip for later in the week because the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. If you can’t make it to the bar-b-que ranch, you can get the same quality chicken at fundraisers all summer.

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

Kauffman’s BBQ Restaurant
33 Gravel Pit Rd
Bethel, PA 19507

Barbecue Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
sign on a brick building that reads "Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar" with an image of an anamorphic peanut

Review: Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar

Brick wall with the words "Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar Restaurant" and a cartoon peanut

Over 80 years ago,  Jimmie Kramer began offering free peanuts to the patrons at his cafe along Penn Street on the west side of Reading. Today, Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar is a local institution. Empty peanut shells litter the floor, and it takes a conscious effort not to look every time you hear a crunch beneath your feet. Every little nook has a piece of local breweriana including an Old Reading Beer barrel and a miniature Yuengling delivery wagon. And, like most central Pennsylvania bars, Yuengling’s are always flowing from the tap.

As you enter through a pair of heavy wooden doors, you notice the darkness. Strings of white Christmas lights are woven through twigs suspended from the ceiling, casting a dim glow on the red and white checkered tablecloths. Antique-looking lamps jut from the walls surrounding you, illuminating framed posters that adorn the walls of all three rooms.

Seating stretches out across what was once two storefronts, the bar having outgrown its narrow urban building decades ago. Once seated, a waitress appears with a wooden bowl full of shelled peanuts, and two large laminated menus. The Peanut Bar offers all the bar food staples you expect like wings (AYCE on Monday nights), burgers, and fresh cut seasoned fries.

But the menu is full of fine dining surprise. Panko-breaded salmon and free range organic chicken grace the same menu as southern style po’ boys and Philly cheesesteak. There are not many places you can go to enjoy a gourmet meal while tossing empty peanut shells onto a solid wood floor.

My wife and I went on a Monday night and were surprised to see such a big crowd. We were put in the back, the third of three rooms. Our waitress appeared quickly our peanuts, but never gave us her name.

I got one of about ten daily specials, chicken and peppers with cheese ravioli. In all, it was a solid pasta dish, but if the sauce were improved, it would have been great. The chicken, the peppers, and the ravioli were all flavorful on their own, but the tomato sauce was on the bland side and hurt the overall dish a little bit. If the sauce was a little sweeter or a little spicier, the dish would have been near perfect.

ravioli topped with chicken, peppers and red sauce

My wife opted for the crab cakes, which came served to her a fish-shaped wooden platter. The dish came with fresh cut fries and homemade slaw. Personally, I’m not a crab cake eater, so I’m going to take her word for it. She said they were good, and was glad that they didn’t have much filler. If there was a negative, it was that she likes hers broiled, and a little wetter, and these were on the dry side, but worked well with the tartar sauce she got with them.

fish shaped plate with crab cakes, tartar sauce and fries

Our total bill (drinking only water) was around $25, definitely a good price for the large amount of food we got. If you’re looking for a cool, comfortable place for a night out, you can’t go wrong with the Peanut Bar.

Classics Lunch & Dinner Reviews