Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Review: Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Brick Exterior of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

It was hard to ignore the signs. On seemingly every corner in West Reading and Wyomissing, signs proclaimed the arrival of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food. Then the Instagram posts and stories started arriving, and it was even harder to ignore.

Mecca celebrated their grand opening in September 2018. That’s when the signs started appearing.

Sheer curtains with butterfly pattern hangs in the window of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I’ve wanted to go ever since, but hadn’t had a chance until a recent Thursday night. On my way home from work, I took a detour through West Reading to the corner of Second and Franklin Streets to get a taste of Mecca.

The location is a little off the beaten path, a couple blocks off Penn Avenue. Like most of West Reading, finding a place to park can be a challenge. I got lucky and got the last spot on the block so I didn’t have to walk too far.

seating area with tables for four inside Mecca Caribbean

I walked in around 5 p.m. and was the only customer. I’m not going to lie: it was a little worrisome. But it actually worked out to my advantage because I was able to get great customer service and an explanation of all of the dishes that were on the warming table.

There were between a dozen and 15 items between the warming table and the heat lamp (where the fried chicken and other fried items were found) and most sounded like things that I would enjoy, but I had to narrow it down.

three styrofoam takeout containers of varying sizes with prices for small, large and "Mecca Meal" options

I ordered two Mecca meals, essentially they are sample platters where customers get their choice of main and sides to fill the large Styrofoam box. Dessert is also included in the meal.  (I also ordered a separate bowl of mac and cheese for my 15-month-old son).

The first box – mine – included ribs, rice and beans, collared greens and candied yams.

takeout container iwth rice and beans, sweet potato, collard greens and ribs

The ribs were more like riblets – small pieces that had a decent amount of meat on them. The sauce was super sweet, but I liked it. There was more fat on the ribs than I would have liked, but I enjoyed all of the meat that I ate off the bone.

The barbecue sauce from the ribs also made a great topping for the rice and beans. It was my server’s suggestion to drizzle some over the rice and beans. It was a great combination and I ended up pouring the rest of the sauce over them.

But the best thing on my plate was the candied yams – I believe the Instagram post that day called them butterscotch yams. They were more like a dessert than a side dish, the yams having been reduced into a sweet puree.

The only downer for me were the collard greens. They weren’t bad, but I have had better (Signatures by Angell comes to mind).

takeout container with white rice, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and jerk chicken

Julie’s box, which I picked out for her, included jerk chicken, mac and cheese, cilantro white rice and more of the yams.

The chicken was very good but definitely on the spicy side (as jerk chicken should be). The white rice was pretty good on its own, but I preferred the yellow rice from my dish.

Both Julie and Jakob enjoyed their mac and cheese – Jakob cleaned his plate while Julie saved a little of hers for later.

two slices of pumpkin pie in a clamshell package

Dessert was pumpkin pie. There were no options, but I wasn’t mad about it. I enjoy pumpkin pie, and this was a very good version of the southern staple. It was a sweet with a good amount of pumpkin spice and a nice crust. No complaints about the way the meal finished.

Honestly, I have no complaints about the meal at all. There were a couple truly great items and everything else was good enough. I thought my $30 was well-spent.

Mecca may be a little off the main drag, but it’s still a convenient place for a good grab-and-go meal, one that I will take advantage of again in the future.

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

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611

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Review: Plum Creek Farm

people lineup in front of two windows at a wooden building with the words "The Creamery" on digital menu boards

Last summer, my brother clued me in to a new ice cream place called Plum Creek Farm.

The small place had recently opened, and they were serving homemade soft serve ice cream. We checked it out and quickly fell in love with both the ice cream and the small farm market store.

Plum Creek operates seasonally so we got our last taste of it in the fall and awaited its reopening in April. This year brought an expanded menu of hot food items, new hard ice cream (not homemade but locally made) and more treats.

The hot food menu was definitely something we wanted to try. Last year, it was an evolving menu but it finally seems to be set, with sandwiches that include pulled pork, smoked sausage, pit beef and hot dogs; fresh-cut fries; homemade soups; and soft pretzels. (There are also salads if you want to save Calories for dessert).

Three digital menu boards above two order windows with a logo that reads "The Creamery" behind the menu items

We stopped by on a weeknight in early June and the line to order showed that the word is definitely out about Plum Creek.

It was a long wait for our dinners. That wasn’t the case for ice cream cones as an efficient ordering system had cones delivered before the customers even had paid. But for hot food, and for specialty desserts, it took time.

I stood and watched as cone after cone was handed off. Then a cup of soup. Occasionally, a sandwich. Finally, after what seemed like hours (it was probably 20 minutes), my name was called and our sandwiches were ready.

We dined at one of many picnic tables that make up the “dining area.” There are also Adirondack chairs, benches, all outside.

pulled pork sandwich topped with barbecue sauce

Maybe I was just really hungry, but from the first bite, I really enjoyed my pulled pork sandwich.

Now, I fully recognize that this pulled pork will never win a barbecue competition. But it was still very good. The sauce was sweeter than most, almost a little too sweet, but I think what really made the sandwich was Plum Creek’s seasoning. It was sprinkled on as the sandwich was constructed. The basic salt and pepper were there with additional spices. It wasn’t spicy, but it added little hits of flavor to every bite.

pit beef sandwich topped with cheese sauce and barbecue sauce

The seasoning was even better, in my opinion, on Julie’s pit beef sandwich. She thought it was a little salty, but I thought it worked.

Her sandwich was served with cheese (that’s the standard at Plum Creek; I opted for mine without). It’s not the norm for barbecue, but Julie enjoyed this change of pace.

Both sandwiches were served on Kaiser rolls that served their purpose, holding in all of the meat and sauce without crumbling.

clamshell package with fries

We both really enjoyed the side of fries that we shared. They most closely resembled the shoestring fries that you’ll find locally at Austin’s and Coastal Grille. The fries were cut very thin and short, making it easy to pick up a handful at once. And they came out piping hot – I can only assume this was what delayed our order.

Of course we couldn’t come to Plum Creek without getting ice cream. And even though we were comfortably full after dinner, we couldn’t resist trying some of their signature desserts.

clear plastic plate with a slice of shoofly pie topped with whipped cream next to a helping of vanilla soft serve

My sweet of choice was the pie a la mode. I chose the shoo-fly pie (strawberry is also available) and have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the pie. It drier than it looked with a rather plain crust. But the homemade vanilla soft serve was excellent. It’s a heavy ice cream that is better and more flavorful than your typical soft serve mix.

I probably would have been happier – and certainly more comfortable – had I just settled for a cone of vanilla.

cup with strawberry shortcake and ice cream topped with whipped cream

Julie was not disappointed with her strawberry shortcake, though she would also admit that she didn’t need that much food.

The shortcake was topped with strawberries (you can buy Plum Creek’s fresh-picked strawberries from their store), strawberry sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Everything about this was excellent, but there’s just nothing better than fresh strawberries and a homemade strawberry sauce on a shortcake.

smiling baby wearing a monkey bib holding a stuffed fox

One downside of the way we did things was that we had to go through the line a second time. While Julie stood in line for dessert, I gave Jakob a bottle so it worked out. But we spent a long evening – and around $35 – at Plum Creek.

Last year, I could have argued that Plum Creek Farm was a hidden gem. But with long lines on an ordinary weeknight, I’d say the word is already out.

But those crowds won’t scare us away this summer, and they shouldn’t scare you away either.

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

Plum Creek Farm
5035 Bernville Rd
Bernville, PA 19506

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Road Trip: Dunderbak’s

plate of sliced bratwurst from Dunderbak's in Allentown

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 39 miles north of Reading to Whitehall, Pa.

Most restaurants I visit for Berks County Eats are new to me, a chance to discover something different, something unfamiliar.

And I love being able to experience a new place for the first time and discover something I have never tried before.

But there are also the places that I have been frequenting throughout my lifetime to which I continue to return.

One of those places is Dunderbak’s.

I first visited on a field trip with my high school German class. We watched a German-language performance at the Allentown Symphony Hall, then hopped on the bus and headed to the Lehigh Valley Mall for lunch at the most oddly placed German restaurant I know.

Dunderbak’s is like a whole different world, tucked in the corner of the mall next to Macy’s. A yellow awning with white stripes covers the entire dining room, casting a pale haze over the seats. In the center room, a line of European flags hang suspended from the ceiling. Toward the back of the room, the flags are replaced by a collection of woven baskets.

The menu includes a heavy dose of German-American foods (and like any good German restaurant, the beer list is also extensive, with four German, four Belgian, and four craft beers on tap at all times). German favorites include schnitzel, pork and kraut, sauerbraten and seven different wurst sandwiches.

If you are too busy shopping to enjoy a sit-down meal, wursts are one of many items available to go at the front counter.

Lately our visits have come in December, and there is nothing better than a hot cup of soup to warm you up on a cold shopping day. So I started off my meal with a cup of chicken and dumpling soup.

cup of chicken soup with dumplings and carrots

It’s a hearty soup with very little room for broth among the chunks of chicken, celery and carrots, and the thick round balls of dough. A bowl of it would probably make a satisfying meal; just a cup is enough to spoil even the hungriest appetite.

crock of French onion soup topped with bubbly cheese

Julie also was looking for something to warm her up so she went with what is probably the most un-German thing on the menu, French onion soup. Unlike my own soup, hers was brothy with chunks of onion and bread, but the best part was the melted cheese that filled the top of her crock.

There are very few entrees at Dunderbak’s I haven’t tried (all of them good), and on this occasion I opted for the Munich wurst and pasta: smoked sausage served atop a bed of spaetzel pasta with onions, peppers and mushrooms.

plate with sliced bratwurst and a cup of gravy

Each component of the meal is good in its own right, but what really brings it together is the cup of brown gravy. Once that’s poured on, it gives a little moisture to the spaetzel and compliments the smokiness of the sausage to perfection.

On the side, I enjoyed an order of hot German potato salad. For those who have never had it, it’s almost a cross between roasted potatoes and sauerkraut, with a mostly sour, but not unpleasant, flavor.

plate with a bratwurst loaded with cheese and sauerkraut with a side of fries and a pickle

Next to me, Julie was enjoying the Dunderbrat, one of the seven sausage sandwiches on the menu. The Dunderbrat is a traditional German bratwurst, topped with weinkraut and Swiss cheese. The bitterness of the kraut mixed with the sweetness of the Swiss made for a well-balanced sandwich. Dunderbak’s battered fries are a great addition and an easy way to overdue it.

Normally that would be the end of our meal, but we were dining with some friends and we collectively decided that there was room enough for dessert so we got ourselves an order of apple pie pierogis.

plate of three pastries with dollops of whipped cream

These fried treats, which looked more like hot pockets than pierogis, were filled with cinnamon and apples and served with whipped cream. Fried pies are always good, but the addition of the whipped cream for that little extra sweetness put this over the top.

Eating all of this at lunch time, this served as our last meal of the day so the $40 price tag for the two of us ($80 for our table of four), was well worth it.

Dunderbak’s is always well-worth the (sometimes aggravating) drive to Whitehall and back. It’s great food, an atmosphere unlike any other in the area, and a place that I will continue to come back to for years to come.

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Road Trip: Shady Maple Smorgasbord

Maple-leaf shaped sign with the words "Shady Maple Smorgasbord"

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 23 miles southwest of Reading to East Earl, PA.

I think everyone has a birthday tradition.

For myself, and many people who live within driving distance of Lancaster County, that tradition includes a birthday feast at one of the best buffets in the entire country.

Every year on May 30, my wife and I make the short drive south to East Earl to join the throngs of thousands that pour into Shady Maple Smorgasbord daily.

East Earl, a community of just over 1,000 people, doubles in size during the evening dinner rush. That’s the way it has been since Shady Maple expanded its smorgasbord more than a decade ago to create the glorious food paradise it is today.

The only exceptions are on holidays and every Sunday when the restaurant is closed, perhaps so we can all atone for committing the deadly sin of gluttony during our visit.

people standing in line to fill up their plates at a buffet

It’s easy to get lost among the food, which is why signs point the way to both the east and west buffet. Combined, there are 10 islands, four carving stations and three drink stations. A pair of dessert stands bookend the room. Walking from one end to the other is nearly impossible as you bob and weave your way around a hundred other people, all seemingly waiting in line for the same thing you are.

But with limited stomach to work with, scoping out the entire buffet is a must. Otherwise you may miss the carved-to-order prime rib or the ICEE machine.

As much as I appreciate a good salad, the two stations full of greens are off-limits during my visits. I can get a free salad with a meal anywhere.

plate with a cup of tomato soup, dinner roll, meatball and a piergoi

Instead, my first plate included a cup of tomato basil soup, broccoli, a pierogi and a sweet and sour meatball. The soup was a beautiful shade of light orange, a result of the added cream that gave it its rich flavor. A heaping helping of peppers and onions came along with the pierogi, but it could easily stand on its own. And the meatball was more like a miniature meatloaf, packed with spices in a ketchup-based barbecue sauce. I also added on an onion biscuit, just for good measure.

plate with a slice of roast beef, carrots and potato filling

Plate number two was all about the meat as I took a slab of beef brisket and a heaping helping of roast beef. A fistful of carrots and a drop of bread filling helped balance out the plate. The brisket was a featured meat at one of the carving stations. Unfortunately the heat lamps at carving stations rarely keep meats hot, and this was no exception. It was lukewarm, and the fact that it was oven-roasted made it taste more like an ordinary slice of beef. The actual roast beef, however, was amazing. It was tender and moist, everything the brisket was not.

A plate with sweet potatoes, baked beans, dried corn casserole and mashed potatoes

My third plate was my “healthy” vegetable plate. It featured baked lima beans, which were done in a very nice, thick barbecue sauce (I wish I that for the brisket); mashed potatoes; mashed sweet potatoes, which were topped with raisins and nuts; and some of the best (and wettest) dried corn I have ever tried. All the juice you see on the plate was from the dried corn, and it was excellent.

a plate of pecan pie next to a bowl of soft serve raspberry and vanilla swirl ice cream

Dessert was a (small) slice of shoofly pie and a dish of raspberry and vanilla soft serve. The wet-bottom pie was alright, but it had obviously been chilled which hurt the filling a little bit.

After dinner, Shady Maple encourages their guests to work off their dinners and shop off some dollars in the expansive gift shop, located beneath the smorgasbord. The store is as large as the buffet, filled to the brim with everything from wind chimes and bird houses to Elvis collectibles and Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks.

If you’re looking for a little taste of Shady Maple to take home, the farmer’s market offers a large selection of fresh produce and many of the smorgasbord’s famous desserts.

Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up, Shady Maple is worth the price of admission. Dinner buffets vary depending on the featured entrees, but average around $20.00 per person. If you do happen to be celebrating, all you need is your ID and a paying guest and you’ve got your very own birthday feast on the house.

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Diamond-shaped sign that reads "3rd and Spruce Cafe"

Review: 3rd and Spruce Cafe

Diamond-shaped sign that reads "3rd and Spruce Cafe"

Editor’s Note: The 3rd & Spruce Cafe is now 3rd & Spruce Drafthaus. The restaurant was sold, remodeled and rebranded in 2021.

The 3rd and Spruce Cafe doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s easy to miss the small sign hanging along 3rd Avenue. Only the sidewalk seating hints at what lies inside the utilitarian-looking building on the corner.

But hungry patrons have been finding the Cafe for seven decades since it opened on a corner in the middle of a West Reading residential neighborhood.

Though the restaurant may be old, its owners keep it feeling fresh. The deep red walls are complemented by the red cushions on the stainless steel chairs. Flat screen TVs fill the spaces that aren’t lit by the large picture windows.

Third and Spruce packs a lot of seating into a small area. A large number of high-top tables surround the bar and a second floor loft waits for overflow traffic when it’s not booked for private events.

The menu is mostly suited toward lunch and light fare, with sandwiches and salads dominating the menu. Dinner entrees, which are available only after 4 p.m., may be limited, but they are all quality. Three different cuts of steak and a variety of seafood and chicken dishes make up the single page of entrees.

plate of vegetable pot stickers with dip from 3rd and Spruce Cafe

We started our meal with an order of vegetable pot-stickers, the day’s appetizer special. These bite-sized dumplings packed quite a punch, especially when dipped in the sweet chili dipping sauce. As good as the crispy, golden dumplings were, the sauce made them that much better, first acting as a sweet glaze, then coming back with some heat afterward.

plate of pasta primavera from 3rd and Spruce Cafe

For my dinner, I decided to go with the Pasta Primavera, garden vegetables and linguini tossed in pesto sauce. The bright green snap peas and broccoli were cooked to a perfect al dente.

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces, and this did not disappoint. Thick and creamy, the pesto clung to the vegetables and pasta, ensuring a flavorful bite every time.

plate of tortellini with chicken in a red sauce from 3rd and Spruce Cafe

As good as my dinner was, I was envious of the plate across from me. My wife’s southwest chicken and tortellini looked amazing, and it was.

The cheese tortellini were tossed with black beans, corn and chunks of white meat chicken in a cheddar cream sauce. The sauce, like the pesto, was thick and creamy, and though you could taste the cheddar, it was not overly cheesy, and instead held a nice balance of flavors.

plate with a slice of pecan pie with a scoop of ice cream and dollop of whipped cream from 3rd and Spruce Cafe

I felt so good about my healthy entree choices that I decided to ruin it by getting dessert, a slice of chocolate bourbon pecan pie. As if a slice of pecan pie was not delicious enough, 3rd and Spruce’s version featured a brownie baked on top. It was then served with cinnamon ice cream, two dollops of whipped cream, sprinkled with brown sugar and drizzled with chocolate syrup. It was every bit as good as it looks and sounds.

Our delicious three-course meal cost about $35. Entrees range from $10-20, with burgers and sandwiches running a little less. The menu also includes fresh dough pizza and a five-item kids menu.

Though the exterior may be drab, what’s happening inside the 3rd and Spruce Cafe is anything but. It’s a chic neighborhood bar serving some fine original foods.

And thanks to the name, it’s really easy to find.

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

3rd and Spruce Cafe
238 S. Third Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
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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Road Trip: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 37 miles southwest of Reading to Lancaster, PA.

Dinner and a show. It is the quintessential night out, a perfect evening of food and fun for couples and large groups alike. Somewhere along the way, a genius decided to combine the two and the dinner theater was born.

Some dinner theaters offer superior acting with subpar food. Others offer great food with mediocre acting.

The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre has amazing food.

The Dutch Apple is one of a pair of dinner theaters in Lancaster. The nearby Rainbow Dinner Theater specializes in comedies while the Dutch Apple stage is home to musicals.

Theater-goers gather in the lobby until 90 minutes before showtime when the floodgates open and patrons are led to their seats. The two-tiered seating area is deceptively large, holding nearly 400 people on a busy night.

With that many people crowded in, it can create quite a traffic jam at the twin buffets, but it is well worth the wait.

I am sure there are some delicious greens on the salad bar, but I have never wasted a trip on salad when there are so many entree options waiting on the hot bar.

The choices remain fairly consistent between visits, with a trio of entrees (usually beef, a poultry and seafood), a fourth meat at the carving station, at least one potato dish and several vegetables.

plate with portions of ham, mixed vegetables, corn, and applesauce

My first trip through the line, I loaded up on sides while getting a few slices of ham from the carving station. The vegetables, a mix of carrots, squash, broccoli and snap peas, were cooked to a perfect t al dente. The corn casserole is creamy and delicious. The pot roast, complete with red skin potatoes and pearl onions, was juicy and tender. The ham was good, but the only bad part about carving stations is that the meat rarely stays hot under the heat lamp, and that was the case with the ham.

plate with a slice of turkey, scoop of stuffing, mixed vegetables and a dinnerroll

Trip number two featured a second helping of vegetables. The thick slab of turkey was moist and flavorful. The addition of mini marshmallows to the sweet potato casserole gave added texture to the side dish while also adding an extra layer of sweetness. The stuffing was also quite good (though as a Dutchman, I will always pine for potato filling over bread stuffing).

plate with mashed potatoes, corn and post roast

After a third trip for more pot roast and corn casserole (and a dollop of mashed potatoes), I had my fill of the main course and ventured to the dessert tables.

A server stands guard over the ice cream freezer at the front of the room. The tables next to him is loaded with toppings, as well as wide array of pies and cakes.

plate with a slice of pecan pie and a bowl with ice cream topped with crushed Oreos

Not wanting to miss out, I took a scoop of ice cream to go with my slice of pecan pie.

Pecan pie is a favorite of mine, and I enjoy Dutch Apple’s. The crust is flakey, the filling is gooey and the pecans are crisped perfectly. I only wish there were a few more pecans and a little less of the filling.

The buffet closes down a few minutes before showtime, ensuring clean up is finished before the curtain rises. If you are still hungry (you shouldn’t be), you can place an order for appetizers to be delivered to your table during intermission. But beware, there is an extra cost involved. And with tickets prices at about $50 per person, I wouldn’t spend the extra money when there is so much good food included.

I won’t pretend to be a theater critic. My area of expertise is the 90 minutes before the actors take the stage. Just know going in that you may be seeing a hit Broadway musical, but Centerville Road is a long way from Broadway.

Enjoy it for what it is, a really good dinner with a show, and you won’t be disappointed.

Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Panevino – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Panevino is now a special events host and catering company. The business moved to Wernersville in 2021 where it operates a small venue and offers event catering.

The Goggleworks has truly been a blessing to the City of Reading. Thanks to this community arts center, the neighborhood has truly blossomed into the city’s cultural district. Reading Area Community College opened the Miller Center for the Arts in 2007 and the IMAX theater opened a year later. 

What the area lacked was a signature restaurant, a place to go before or after the cinematic, musical and theatrical events taking place every night.

That changed in 2011 with the opening of Panevino.

The restaurant actually sits under the Washington Street parking garage, directly across the street from the IMAX theater. It’s nothing glamorous from the outside, but it’s beautiful on the inside with low lighting, fine china and glassware, and modern styling.

Self-described as “rustic Italian cuisine,” the menu mixes traditional favorites like rigatoni and thin crust pizza with Panevino’s unique dishes, like the straw and hay – spinach and egg fettuccini served with lamb meatballs, eggplant, tomato, raisins and pine nuts.

Every meal is served with a unique appetizer I have never had anywhere else. It is served in two parts to eat together or separate. The first is a slice of bread – more closely resembling a thick pizza crust – topped with fresh tomatoes. The second, a wedge of polenta and a thin slice of roast beef, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. It seemed like an odd pairing, but somehow it worked. All of the flavors blended nicely together.

I started my meal with a bowl of pasta fagioli, a staple on any Italian menu, and a great indicator of the meal to come. The fagioli is served in a small crock, a paper doily resting underneath. It was very good, sweet and spicy, meaty with a hearty serving of beans. The dish was completed with thin cut slices of farfalle pasta, one of the many pastas Panevino makes from scratch.

Salads have never been my favorite, but I had to try the Arugula, a mixture of arugula leaves, pears, gorgonzola and leafy greens drizzled with white balsamic vinaigrette, and served in a parmesan bowl. Despite my general disdain for salad, I found myself enjoying this, especially the edible bowl. The parmesan flavor was strong and concentrated, much more so than the flavor of grated parmesan. The closest thing to compare it to is the pre-packaged breadsticks some restaurants serve, but with a better, fresher, stronger (sometimes a little too strong) flavor.

There was a long wait in between courses, not unexpected because every dish is prepared fresh. Panevino is not a diner. It’s dining – a living reminder of the old adage, “good things come to those who wait.”

Salads have never been my favorite, but I had to try the Arugula, a mixture of arugula leaves, pears, gorgonzola and leafy greens drizzled with white balsamic vinaigrette, and served in a parmesan bowl. Despite my general disdain for salad, I found myself enjoying this, especially the edible bowl. The parmesan flavor was strong and concentrated, much more so than the flavor of grated parmesan. The closest thing to compare it to is the pre-packaged breadsticks some restaurants serve, but with a better, fresher, stronger (sometimes a little too strong) flavor.

There was a long wait in between courses, not unexpected because every dish is prepared fresh. Panevino is not a diner. It’s dining – a living reminder of the old adage, “good things come to those who wait.”

That didn’t stop me from ordering dessert, a warm piece of pecan pie with caramel drizzle and vanilla ice cream – good, but nothing special as far as pies go. The crust was a little overcooked, but the ice cream hid it well.   

The wait staff worked as a team – at times this was helpful, and at times it wasn’t. At the end of the night, it took long time for us to get our bill, and two separate team members wanted to take our dessert order.

For all the food we got – two entrees, a cup of soup and dessert – the bill was surprisingly reasonable, about $25 per person. With the delicious food in a fine dining atmosphere, it was $50 well spent.  

Finer Dining Italian Reviews

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