Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 27 miles west of Reading to Lebanon, PA.
As a lover of unique, home town restaurants, I love checking out Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network.
Guy Fieri may rub some people the wrong way, but he is essentially doing the same thing that Berks County Eats does every week: exposing people to new restaurants and new flavors that they may not have known about before.
What I love most about the show are not the diners (though there is something awesome about the stainless steel dining cars) or the drive-ins, but the dives—those hole-in-the-wall places that may not look like much from the outside, but are serving up food that is as good as any fine dining restaurant.
I don’t know that I have found any place that exemplifies the dive quite like Lebanon’s Franz’s Tavern and Restaurant.
Heading south along Route 897, it’s easy to overlook the haggard-looking building on the left side of the road.
We were seated in the corner of an enclosed porch with light strips on the ceiling and thin carpet on the floor. The shelf above us was crammed with a conglomeration of books that ranged from the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cook Book and 500 Soup Recipes to Real Hauntings and World Explorers and Discoverers.
I have to admit that the shear number of cook books (especially generic cook books like Pasta Cook Book and Soups and Sandwiches) made me more than a little nervous, but my concerns were eased when our bread basket came out.
Instead of slices of white bread, the basket included a variety of homemade treats including sesame bread sticks, fresh-baked dinner rolls and even a slice of chocolate bread, which tasted just like a moist brownie without the mess of the cake and icing.
We had a lengthy wait for our entrees as everything at Franz’s Tavern is made to order. Thankfully the bread was enough to hold my growling stomach at bay for 30 minutes.
When my pork scallopine arrived, I was shocked, both with the portion size and presentation.
The wide, curly strips of pasta were topped with a healthy layers of tomato sauce, melted cheese and grated Parmesan. Hiding underneath it all were three cuts of pork loin, each one about the size of a large steak.
Everything was exceptional, starting with the homemade pasta, which had a nice density that allowed all of the sauce and cheese to stick to it. The pork was also cooked to perfection, holding its own with the sweet, rich sauce and perfect pasta.
All of the meals at Franz’s Tavern are served in gargantuan proportions. Julie’s order of chicken Parmesan was almost identical to my own with crispy breaded chicken in place of the pork. Hand-breaded, the chicken had a nice golden-brown tint and great flavor.
Neither of us had enough room to finish our meals, so for about $30, we got what amounted to four meals. Four delicious meals.
The Tavern’s menu includes many more robust entrees including fish and chips, crab cakes, fried shrimp, wings and their “range-free” chicken sandwiches. Add that to a robust drink menu, and you have a restaurant that can satisfy all of your cravings.
Remember the old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of Franz’s Tavern, that certainly holds true. Outside of the restaurant, only the full parking lot gives any indication of the culinary treasures inside.
It may be a dive, but it’s darn good food.
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