Berks County has experienced an amazing culinary renaissance in recent years.
New restaurants have arrived, bringing new ideas to compliment the area’s old favorites.
Nowhere is that more evident than along Penn Avenue in West Reading.
The town’s main street has seen an incredible resurgence over the past decade as storefronts have filled up with boutiques, shops and, of course, restaurants.
But in order to build West Reading into what it has become, West Reading had to have anchors in place to build around.
Chef Alan’s American Bistro is one of those anchors.
For two-and-a-half decades, Chef Alan’s has helped anchor West Reading’s downtown. The business has gone through many changes during that time, including the opening (and subsequent closing) of a second location in the Fairgrounds Square Mall.
Even the West Reading location has gone through several changes in the past 25 years, most notably the loss of a large amount of banquet space, where I had attended numerous receptions and events over the years.
Somehow, though, I had never actually sat down to a full dinner in Chef Alan’s dining room.
The room is dimly lit, with single lamps hanging above each table. The lamp shades are the same deep shade of purple, part of Chef Alan’s odd color palette that includes yellow walls with purple window trim and purple napkins.
The unique colors echo the bistro’s unique menu. Like the town, it is a blend of old and new. There are standard items like chicken Parmigiana, build-your-own burgers and steaks and chops. But there are plenty of unique dishes as well, including the grilled salmon BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato) and eight individual pizza creations.
My meal began with an old favorite: Italian wedding soup. The tiny meatballs packed a lot of flavor and the chunks of chicken breast were a welcome addition. Though the broth was a little on the salty side, it was a very good cup of soup, just a teaser of things to come.
Chicken and biscuits is a dish you would see on a diner menu, not something you would expect from a chef, but this was unlike any chicken and biscuits I had before.
First, the presentation was beautiful, with peas, shredded carrots and parsley sprinkled atop two halves of a flaky biscuit and a perfectly seared chicken breast.
What looked like standard chicken gravy was a rich sauce. The addition of mushrooms to the sauce gives it a unique flavor, a creamy broth crossed with Marsala for a completely unique flavor combination.
Every element worked together to create a harmonious flavor. Add on a side of garlic mashed potatoes, which looked more like a bowl of soft ice cream, and it made up one of the best dishes I have tasted on my journey across Berks County.
Across the table from me, my wife enjoyed the crabby seawich-Chef Alan’s take on the classic crab cake sandwich served on wheat bread with cheddar cheese. The best part though, were the bistro fries, which we sprinkled with sea salt and the peppercorn medley that were available on the table.
Somehow we also managed to force dessert. After forcing our waitress to hold the dessert tray a little longer than we probably should have, we opted for a slice of lemon berry cake. The white cake was loaded with blueberries with a layer of lemon cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Four dollops of whipped cream sat in the corners of the plate, which was drizzled with strawberry sauce.
The sauce was very sweet, which played well against the lemon cream. Together they made for an amazing dessert, one that we had no problem finishing after our big meals.
Top to bottom, my meal at Chef Alan’s was one of the best I have had since starting Berks County Eats. I did miss having a starter salad, but the addition of the $2 soup helped make up for it. In all, we spent about $35 for our meals and shared dessert.
After heading outside, I took a look down Penn Avenue – there are restaurants to the left, restaurants to the right and restaurants right across the street.
As West Reading’s reputation continues to grow and new restaurants continue to pop up, it’s good to know that Chef Alan’s will continue to be one of the cornerstones.
Chef Alan’s Restaurant and Bar
525 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611