Road Trip: Revere Tavern

Revere Tavern, a historic restaurant attached to the Best Western in Paradise, Pa.

Berks County Eats takes a road trip to Lancaster County this week for a meal at the historic Revere Tavern in Paradise.

Lancaster County is teeming with great restaurants. The problem is getting to those restaurants – especially during the height of summer tourist season.

A drive on Route 30 is more like a crawl with out-of-state license plates parading along the highway on their way to catch a glimpse of the Amish at work in the field.

So finding a place for dinner on a Saturday night in Lancaster is tricky, unless you venture a little farther outside the city limits.

The entrance to the historic Revere Tavern

That’s where we found the Revere Tavern.

The address is Paradise, an ambitious name for a settlement that never really grew beyond a village.

We had driven past the tavern and the adjacent Best Western hotel many times, mostly to visit Rainbow’s Comedy Playhouse, a dinner theater set a few hundred yards behind the historic building.

But in need of a quiet place away from the rush of the city, we found exactly that at the Revere.

Historic Revere Tavern in Paradise was once owned by President James Buchanan.

The tavern is steeped in history, serving as a roadside inn since before the 1800s. At one time, it was owned by President James Buchanan. How it got the name the Revere Tavern, I’m still not sure.

It’s exactly the restaurant you expect when you hear the name. A stone hearth still protrudes from the wall of the King George dining room. Along the tops of the walls is a display of century-old China, decorative plates adorned with floral patterns, portraits and country scenes.

There are two other spaces as well – a smaller dining room and a bar, both located across the hallway from the table of four where Julie and I sat with her parents.

A table for six in front of the fireplace at Revere Tavern

We had come from a matinee at Sight & Sound Theatre and were ready for a hearty meal.

The menu features a selection of about 10 entrees – classic meals like scallops, prime rib, chicken breast and lamb chops that are expected fare at a restaurant like the Revere.

Revere Tavern Rolls and Butter

Before the meal, a basket of warm rolls were delivered to the table along with tiny cups of whipped cinnamon butter. It was a nice little start to the meal. Warm bread is always a nice touch and the little extra effort with the butter was appreciated.

Revere Tavern Salad

Our salads were next – each entree coming with a choice of Caesar or field green salad. We all opted for the field greens – romaine lettuce, red onion, carrots, cucumber and cherry tomato.

It was your basic starter salad, nothing more and nothing less. It served its purpose of holding us over until the main course arrived.

My entree choice was the wild mushroom ravioli with grilled chicken breast.

Revere Tavern Wild Mushroom Ravioli

The ravioli was served in a madeira wine sauce with caramelized onions, spinach, chopped walnut and more mushrooms.

It was a heavy sauce, creamy and thick, that made the ravioli feel a lot more dense. The grilled chicken breast on top was a perfect addition (it’s optional for those who prefer a meat-free meal). I found it cooked perfectly, lightly seasoned to add flavor that worked well with the sauce.

The spinach and walnut were both nice touches, especially the walnut which added much-needed texture to the dish while also giving a pop of flavor every few bites.

What I could have done without was the additional mushrooms. I would not have minded a few on the side, but I felt overwhelmed by the tiny white fungi that were swimming on my plate.

I left a lot of them sitting, but I happily finished off the remainder of the dish.

Revere Tavern Crab Cakes

Julie’s entree was a crab cake (she opted for one instead of two). She definitely didn’t get cheated on her one as the six-ounce cake looked to be about the size of a baseball on her plate.

The crab cakes were meaty and satisfying – not the best that Julie has ever had, but certainly not the worst. The lemon aioli was a great complement, elevating the dish.

It was served with a vegetable medley of corn, potatoes and tomato with a bed of arugula, all sitting in the lemon aioli. The potatoes were diced like breakfast hash. None of the three items truly stood out, but they were enjoyable together for a nice side.

Amazingly, neither of us had anything left that was worth bringing home. It wasn’t that the portions weren’t generous – they were – but we were both looking forward to finishing everything on our plates.

When the final bill was tallied, it was about $45 for the two of us (that included my glass of unsweetened iced tea). We’ve certainly paid more than that for history so I don’t think we were cheated at all.

The Revere Tavern may not be the most recognized name in the Lancaster food scene, nor the most sought-out, but the quiet little restaurant delivered a nice meal during our visit.

And that’s all we were really hoping for.

Revere Tavern
3063 Lincoln Highway
Paradise, PA 17562

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Review: Bixler’s Lodge

exterior of Bixler's Lodge in Reading, PA

When it comes to my reviews, the restaurants always fall into one of three categories.

There are the places that I have already visited – those are the easy ones.

There are the places that I have never been to, but I have researched so much ahead of time that I already know what I am going to order.

And then there are the places that we decide to go and have no idea what we are walking into.

leather menu binder with gold lettering reading "Bixler's Lodge"

This week, I gave the choice to Julie, and she took door number three: a visit to Bixler’s Lodge, a place neither of us had been and had done next to no research about.

We were flying blind. I knew very little about Bixler’s Lodge except that it sat at the base of Mount Penn. Google told me it was on Friedensburg Road in the village of Stony Creek, just north of Mount Penn borough.

Pulling up to the front of the building for the first time, it looked smaller than I imagined. Perhaps the awkwardly shaped parking lot that seemed to squeeze cars behind the restaurant just made it feel tiny.

fireplace inside Bixler's Lodge in Reading, PA

Walking through the front door, I found a restaurant with character – part dive bar and part date night destination.

The single dining area featured a bar on the right. A couple flat screen TV’s were mounted on the wall above the taps.

On the left side of the room, tables set for two and four people. The stonework of the fireplace added a bit of historic charm.

What really surprised me though was the robust menu, filled with a mix of standard pub fare and inspired entrees.

slices of steak on a red square plate in Bixler's Lodge

Not sure what to order, I asked our waitress for a recommendation. She gave me a few of her favorites, and I chose one that intrigued me above the rest – the “Southwest Bixler Bistro Tender.”

The 10-ounce steak was rubbed in southwest seasoning, cooked to my preference and served with sautéed mushrooms atop a bed of roasted red pepper sauce. It was a unique combination, to say the least.

My favorite part of the dish was the red pepper sauce. The pairing of the sauce with beef was unexpectedly pleasant, though I would have liked just a little more sauce (but, then again, I’m a guy who loves to load up on A1 sauce when there is steak involved).

If I have one complaint, it’s with myself for ordering it well instead of medium-well. I don’t like pink beef. This is a meal that needed the steak to be a little more rare to soak up the seasoning and really bring it to life.

metal dish with scalloped potatoes from Bixler's Lodge

On the side, I had a very enjoyable pan of potatoes au gratin, the potato of the day. The cheese was nicely toasted on top, but smooth and creamy like an alfredo sauce on the inside. It was a very good addition to my meal.

salad with ranch dressing from Bixler's Lodge

Entrees at Bixler’s Lodge are served with a starter salad. It’s your typical mixed greens, Julienne carrots and cucumber (complete with the obligatory cherry tomato).

cup of white bean and kale soup from Bixler's Lodge

Not stopping there, I also ordered a cup of chicken, kale and white bean soup. I was expecting a thicker, hearty soup, but it was more of a chicken noodle soup without the noodles. And there were only a few beans. It was a good chicken soup, but I had my hopes up for more.

corn bread muffins and dinner rolls in Bixler's Lodge

The starters we both enjoyed came in the bread basket. Julie tried one of the mini cornbread muffins and loved it. I enjoyed the dinner roll, myself.

Bixler’s has a surprisingly large selection of seafood, and that’s where Julie went for her entree as she opted to try “Bixler’s Big 100% Crab Cakes.”

plate with crab cake, fries and a cup of peas with pearl onions

The meaty crab cakes had very little filler (I guess that’s why they’re 100% crab cakes), just how Julie likes them. They were served with a side of cocktail sauce, and while Julie used it, the crab cakes stood out on their own.

Another standout was her French fries. The fries were a thicker fast food-style that were well-seasoned. I may have helped her clear them from her plate.

The vegetable of the day – peas with pearl onions – was a letdown from the rest of her meal. Peas are peas, and two or three pearl onions weren’t going to turn them into anything more.

Our final bill was reflective of our entree choices. At $18.99 and $16.99, they were two of the more expensive on the menu so I was not surprised when our total came to a little more than $40.

For the record, about half of my steak and potatoes came home with me for later.

I learned a lot about Bixler’s Lodge during my visit. I learned that red pepper sauce pairs well with beef. I learned that Bixler’s Lodge first opened as a restaurant in the 1930s.

But I think the most important thing that I learned is this: Bixler’s Lodge is very good.

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

Bixler’s Lodge
1456 Friedensburg Rd
Reading, PA 19606

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Review: Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery

castle-like facade of Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery at night

The end of January is a time of celebration in our house.

Every January 27, Julie knows I’m going to take her out for her birthday dinner. Each year I try to find a new place for my wife and I to enjoy a romantic evening in her honor.

This year, that place was the Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery.

Folino Estate opened in the fall of 2015 on a sprawling tract along Old Route 22, just off the Krumsville exit of Interstate 78 in northern Berks County.

Pulling up to the building for the first time, you would never know that it is just a little more than a year old. It was built to resemble a historic estate in Tuscany, and it accomplishes that.

interior archway with exposed stone at the base and a sign that reads "ristorante"

Even the lobby, the Piazza Folino, feels like something out of an Italian street scene, complete with sidewalk-style tables and chairs.

The restaurant, though, feels exceptionally modern. From the large fireplace in the middle of the dining room to the open kitchen, Folino Estate does well to avoid clichés.

The menu is distinctly Italian, but it is definitely not clichéd either. Folino Estate features some wholly unique offerings that you won’t find on the menus at Berks County’s other Italian restaurants.

cup of onion soup with cheese

Italian onion soup is just one example. I’ve enjoyed many a cup of French onion soup, covered in melted gruyere cheese. But this was different.

For one, there was no melted cheese on top. Instead, mozzarella and fontina cheeses were melted on toasted Italian bread pieces that took the place of croutons in the soup.

Did it remind me of French onion? Of course. But it was different, and I enjoyed this Italian twist. The soup, itself, was a little salty, but I enjoyed it, especially the addition of the mozzarella.

mozzarella and tomato with olives drizzled in balsamic

Julie’s appetizer was the tomato and fresh mozzarella, a typical caprese salad with the unexpected addition of a mass of olives.

For most guests, pairing dinner with a glass of Folino’s own wine is a highlight. For me, a non-drinker, I decided to take my wine in my food.

plate of wine-infused pasta topped with grilled chicken breast strips and shaved Parmesan cheese

Drunken pasta sounded like nothing that I have ever tried. The tagliatelle pasta was infused with red wine, giving it a purple hue. It was also cooked in red wine, with olive oil and roasted garlic. Our waitress made sure to ask, “Do you like red wine?” because the flavor was going to be ever-present in this dish.

And it was. The pasta was delicious, holding the distinct flavors of red wine throughout. I also especially enjoyed the shaved pecorino Romano cheese that topped the dish, adding a sharp, salty note to the dish.

I added chicken to the dish only so that I would have a protein. It didn’t add much except to make it a little more filling.

tall glass with a fruity drink topped with whipped cream next to a glass of wine

Julie is not one for wine pairings, either. She orders whatever wine she likes, and she really liked her glass of moscato, fruity but slightly dry so it wasn’t too sweet.

plate of two crab cakes with roasted red potatoes and brussels sprouts

Her meal was a pair of crab cakes with Brussels sprouts and red potatoes.

The crab cakes were almost all meat with just enough filler to hold them together. The red wine dijonaise sauce perfectly complimented the fresh cakes, one of which she saved for later.

In my opinion, the best thing on her plate was the Brussels sprouts in pancetta jam. They featured big chunks of salty pancetta (almost bacon) and a sweet jam that was just perfect.

slice of baklava with chocolate shavings

We couldn’t stop there – we were celebrating, after all – so we took a look at the dessert menu. Our waitress suggested to order off the specials because they are always incredible. Among the specials was baklava, Julie’s favorite. So there was no doubt what we were getting.

The baklava was served warm and the nuts and honey filling oozed out from the start. Dark chocolate shavings were a nice addition to the dish, melting in your mouth with the flaky pastry.

It was a memorable ending to a memorable birthday meal.

At the end of the evening, our final total was $70, a very reasonable price for three courses and a glass of wine.

Folino Estate provided quite an experience, exactly what we were hoping for on this special occasion.

Happy birthday, Julie.

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

Folino Estate Winery & Vineyard
340 Old U.S. 22
Kutztown, PA 19530

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Review: The Knight’s Pub at Stokesay Castle

Photo of a large wooden statue of a knight outside of Stokesay Castle in Reading, PA

A few months ago I had an opportunity to attend a mixer at Stokesay Castle. It was my first visit to the landmark restaurant on the eastern slope of Mount Penn.

Everyone who attended the mixer had a chance to tour the historic building, but also a chance to sample the food. The bite-sized hors d’ouvres were so good that I could not wait to return.

Last week I decided to take Julie across town for a mini-date night. It was a quiet Thursday evening, at least in the Knight’s Pub where less than half of the tables were filled when we arrived.

The Knight’s Pub is Stokesay’s everyday restaurant. Located on the back side of the building, the Pub is attached to the brick patio. In warmer months, the folding glass doors open up to create one large, outdoor dining area.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this December, the windows remained closed during our visit, though a few people did pull up a chair by the fire pit outside after they finished their meals.

I could not wait for dinner to arrive so I talked Julie into sharing an appetizer with me. The words “house made” in the menu description are what sold me on the bruschetta. And it was every bit as good as I had hoped.

bruschetta with large blocks of mozzarella and a side of greens

Thick chunks of creamy mozzarella rested on top of a crunchy crustini bread with diced tomatoes and pesto. The balsamic drizzle is what really makes the bruschetta. It mixes well with the tomatoes to give it that rich sweet and sour flavor.

My main course was a little more manly. When I looked at the menu on the Pub’s website, I saw a picture of the steak and potato tower and instantly knew what I would be ordering when we arrived.

skewer with steak and onion rings on a plate with potatoes and broccoli

The tower consisted of alternating layers of steak filets and deep-fried mashed potatoes, topped off with a red wine demi-glace.

First, the steak was done perfectly with a nice char on the outside that kept the flavor inside. With the sweetness from the demi-glace, all four cuts of steak went down so smooth.

Then there were the potatoes. The menu only described them as “potato cakes” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. From the outside, they looked like onion rings, but inside was mashed potato. I took some with my steak and some without. It was hearty and filling, but once again the demi-glace made it easier to clean the plate.

In my haste to order, I had forgotten to consider what my sides were so I blurted out roasted potatoes and brocolli. The last thing I needed with my tower was more starch, but I truly enjoyed the bite-sized red potatoes. Cooked to a crisp with a variety of herbs, they were probably better than the potato cakes that were in the tower.

crab cake sandwich on a pretzel bun next to a side of battered fries

Julie opted for just a sandwich, but her meal was just as rich and hearty as my own. Her crabby pretzel melt was exactly what it sounds like: lump crab meat with melted cheddar (plus the standard LTO) on a toasted pretzel bun.

There plenty of crab meat that it didn’t get lost. Instead, it blended beautifully with the salty sweet pretzel roll. The only problem with the sandwich was that it was a little wet, but once Julie flipped it upside down, there were no more worries about whether the bun would be able to hold it.

Being that this was a date night, we decided to splurge with a little dessert. All seven of the seasonal desserts on the tray sounded amazing, but we settled on the pumpkin spice cake. It was layered with mousse and whipped cream (all pumpkin spiced) and topped with graham cracker crumbs and caramel.

dessert glass with pumpkin cake and custard topped with whipped cream

Each layer was a little different than the next. The farther down into the glass that we dug, the colder all of the ingredients were. The bottom layer of mousse was highly concentrated and packed with the most flavor, making it easier to finish, despite our stomachs telling us “no.”

As always happens when we treat ourselves, I ended up eating more food than I should and spending more money than we usually do. Our total for the evening came to just over $60, but it was worth every penny.

As we left the Knight’s Pub, we took a walk along the patio and admired the building. The architecture looked beautiful, even in the dim lighting of the fire pit.

It is said that when Mr. Hiester built Stokesay Castle in 1931, his wife hated it. But I think if she came back today, she would love the Knight’s Pub.

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

The Knight’s Pub at Stokesay Castle
141 Stokesay Castle Ln
Reading, PA 19606

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Review: Plein Air at Judy’s on Cherry

sign advertising the opening of Plein Air dining at Judy's on Cherry

Editor’s note: Plein Air has not been offered as a unique experience at Judy’s since 2019.

Al fresco dining is a tradition as old as the restaurant business.

On a beautiful day, no one wants to be constrained to a dining room. And whether it’s a full patio or just a handful of seats, many of the area’s most popular restaurants have expanded their seating area into the open air.

But there’s one Reading restauranteur that has taken the concept and created a whole dining experience around it.

The 300 block of Cherry Street is the domain of Judy Henry. She opened her first restaurant, Judy’s on Cherry, in 2002. Next came the Speckled Hen Cottage Pub & Alehouse, located in the historic log cabin on the corner of 4th and Cherry Streets.

The third piece of the puzzle came in 2009. That’s when Plein Air was born.

Located in a narrow alley adjacent to the cottage, Plein Air is an outdoor extension of the Speckled Hen. The alley is decorated to feel like a garden terrace in Europe, with a large pergola hanging over the bistro seats.

Plein Air’s location creates unique challenges. First, it’s weather dependent (though there are a handful of seats inside). It’s also small, with only a few tables and seating for 20 outside.

The alley is also uneven so they have to get a little creative in balancing the tabletops: a handful of coasters under one leg, a piece of stone under another, just to keep your plates from sliding off.

Both Plein Air and the Speckled Hen serve out of the same kitchen. And for those dining outside, the Speckled Hen menu is also available (I would imagine that this also works in reverse, though I can’t say for sure).

The two menus are vastly different. The Pub side was big on comfort foods—pot pie, shepherd’s pie, wings and the signature Scotch egg. Plein Air’s menu  is more fully developed, with tartines (single-slice sandwiches), salads and entrees, all of which feature fresh, seasonal ingredients.

One of the specialties at Plein Air is chilled soup. Gazpacho is a permanent fixture on the menu, but the standard tomato-based version had been replaced by beet for our visit.

chilled beet soup in fluted cup

Looking more like a smoothie than a soup, it was a vibrant purple with white creamy swirls and strips of basil on top. The basil helped sweeten the slightly sour soup. It was a delicious and refreshing way to start our meal.

four quarters of a small bread loaf witha  red cup of whipped butter

Along with my soup, the waitress delivered our fresh-baked bread, quartered and served with a dollop of butter.

While Plein Air’s menu is quite a bit larger than the Speckled Hen, there are only a handful of large plate dinner entrees. One of those is the flat iron steak.

steak topped with butter on a bed of potatoes with greens on the side

The seared steak is topped with garlic herb butter and served with fingerling potatoes and a side salad. The butter melted quickly, coating both the steak and potatoes in a blanket of white. With the steak, it was very good. The herbs really came through and added to the seared-in flavors of the meat. With the potatoes, it was even better, turning them into miniature baked potatoes that melted in your mouth.

The side salad was topped with a citrusy vinaigrette dressing that felt right on a warm August night.

Another large plate offering is the crab cake. The rich entree is topped with a choice of lemon pesto, avocado lime butter or tomato basil corn relish, which is what Julie decided on.

crab cakes topped with corn with a skewer of zucchini and side green

Fresh was the word we kept coming back to when describing our food to each other, and that was the case with everything on Julie’s plate. The crab cake, the relish and the skewer of zucchini that accompanied the dish.

Everything at Plein Air is well-portioned, and though we would have walked away happy after dinner, we decided to splurge for dessert.

Angel food cake is not normally my dessert of choice, but when our waitress told us that it was topped with strawberry reduction and served with whipped cream and pistachio sorbet, it immediately climbed to the top of my list.

two slices of angel food cake drizzled in strawberry sauce with a scoop of ice cream

Everything was delicious, especially the sorbet. I wish I could have eaten a whole bowl of it, but I was happy enough to enjoy the other sweet delights on the plate.

Our total food bill came to $42, but being thrifty, I had purchased $30 gift certificate for $15 on when I saw it in June so we really only paid $27 for two entrees, an appetizer and dessert.

Enjoying a meal outside is a great way to enjoy a beautiful summer night, but it is even better with great food, like what Plein Air is serving during the spring, summer and fall.

Don’t waste these beautiful days and nights sitting inside, get out and get yourself something to eat.

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

Plein Air
30 S. 4th St
Reading, PA 19602

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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.

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