Berks County’s main streets are lined with incredible restaurants. Penn Avenue in West Reading and Main Street in Kutztown come to mind. Boyertown has both Philadelphia and Reading Avenues with stores and restaurants along both. But delicious dining can be found off Boyertown’s main streets, too, as we discovered on our visit to Brakeman’s Café.
The café is located along Washington Street, across the street from the Colebrookdale Railroad’s passenger station (a brakeman being an old-time railroad worker). We visited on a cool November day – too cool to take advantage of the ample outdoor seating – and were lucky to find a table during the Saturday lunch rush.
Brakeman’s is the quintessential coffee shop. First, it has a cool vibe. Entering through the front door, you’re surrounded by historic railroad equipment in the brick-walled room. Yes, the décor is unique, but it feels like a coffee shop.
So, too, does the dining room, with its mix of tables all within proximity of the large fireplace. The dining room’s décor is less focused on the railroad and more focused on Boyertown history with old photos of downtown lining the walls.
While my typical coffee shop order includes a chai tea latte, Julie and I decided to give a try to their specialty lemonades – one Arnold Palmer and one guava lemonade. I really enjoyed my Arnold Palmer (half tea, half lemonade). It was just the right amount of sweet to be refreshing and still complement the meal.
Our lunch arrived shortly afterward. For me, it was the Italian pulled pork sandwich.
Instead of BBQ sauce, the sandwich was topped with pesto aioli and Provolone cheese. It was a delicious combination. The pesto aioli permeated throughout the sandwich and every bite had a nice bit of sharp cheese, all of it pairing perfectly with the melt-in-your-mouth pork.
Passing over the chips, I opted for the broccoli salad on the side. I always enjoy broccoli salad, especially one that was as creamy as this. It’s a nice change-of-pace from chips and other “snack food” sides.
Julie was also a big fan of the turkey and apple wrap. It was filled with sliced turkey, cheddar cheese, sliced apples, mixed greens and a cranberry aioli.
Not quite a “Gobbler”, it still had the turkey and cranberry flavors that blend so well together. The sliced apples provided additional sweetness (adding to the sour-sweet cranberry) a much-needed crunch. And the cheddar was the right choice of cheese to bring it all together.
While there’s not a “kids’ menu” so to speak, the PB&J serves as such, and Jakob was more than happy with his. It was a basic sandwich, but the multi-grain bread was a nice touch, and they didn’t skimp on the filling. Our finicky four-year-old was happy, and that’s all that mattered to us.
It was a winning meal all around. With tip, it cost us about $45, not a bad total for three meals considering we splurged on the lemonades.
Yes, Boyertown’s main streets are filled with great restaurants. But on this day, we were glad that we veered right and found our way to Brakeman’s Café.
Food: Very Good Ambiance: Very Good Service: Very Good
Brakeman’s Café 56 S. Washington St Boyertown, PA 19512
In the last few years, all the news around the Berkshire
Mall has been the negative – the closings of Sears and Bon-Ton at the top of
But even with their loss, the Mall remains the largest
shopping center in Berks County. And with the holidays approaching, the crowds
have returned once again.
We were among the crowds that headed to the mall on a Sunday
afternoon in early December. We were there to shop, but we were also there to
get a taste – at Latin Taste.
Latin Taste is one of a handful of options in the Berkshire Mall’s food court. It’s also the newest, having opened a little more than a year ago in November 2018 (Lola’s Ice having opened the month prior).
The stand features warming tables with most of the dishes ready-made
for eating in or taking home. And before you scoff at the idea of someone going
to the mall for take-out, consider that the Grub Hub delivery driver picked up
a large order while we were there.
We looked at everything on display, but in the end both Julie
and I went with our favorites: pollo al horno (baked chicken) for her, and
pernil (Spanish pulled pork) for me.
This was a very good version of my favorite Latin American
dish. The flavors from the seasoning and marinade were very strong and the
fatty parts were melt-in-you-mouth.
One thing I have always found with pernil is that it is
richer than an American barbecue pulled pork. This was no exception. As much as
I enjoyed it, I had to leave a little on my plate because it was just too much
Same with the rice. There was no skimping on the portions as
half the plate was covered in the yellow rice. I liked it, just as I like
almost all Spanish rice. It was just a lot.
Julie’s baked chicken, like my pernil, was very well
seasoned, with the flavors soaking through the skin into the meat. I’m not
normally a fan of baked chicken, but I found this to be flavorful and anything
but dry – always my biggest concern.
In addition to rice, Julie had a side of macaroni salad,
which actually was a macaroni and tuna salad. It was creamy and very good. The
tuna was just a little unexpected. (Even Jakob, our two-year-old, didn’t mind
the tuna as he ate almost all of the salad that Julie shared with him).
Unable to resist, we had also ordered a side of sweet
plantains. There were none ready on the warming table so this was one item that
was made fresh for us. They were also very good, but you don’t have to do a
whole lot to plantains (other than cook them) to make a delicious side.
Overall, we were more than satisfied with everything that we
ordered. The price was right, too. Our bill was $25, but we had a coupon for $7
off a $25 order so we got everything for $18. (Next time you get the Valpak
coupons in the mail, at least pull out the one for Latin Taste. It’s a great
While the Berkshire Mall may not draw the crowds it did when
it opened, and there are two very noticeable empty spaces, the mall still has a
lot to offer. Especially if what you’re looking for is good Latin food.
BCE Rating Food: Very Good Service: Very Good Ambiance: Good Price: Reasonable
Latin Taste Berkshire Mall 1665 State Hill Rd Wyomissing, PA 19610
A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the
Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food
stands that the crowded market offers.
But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half
When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that
I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals
from the past and checking off more places on my list.
One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.
Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits
next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively
large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and
I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a
broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their
dinner entrees – beef cubes.
The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).
It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying
sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use
a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But
the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had
collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but
definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides,
a roll and a drink.
For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.
The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.
Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than
Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like
potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still
soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.
Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to
keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.
The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich
with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.
It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.
But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it.
While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped
in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and
Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would
be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.
The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands,
is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar
restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined
were less than $20.
Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to
take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be
served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving
me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to
get back to the office.
Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of
the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would
BCE Rating Food: Good Service: Very Good Ambiance: Fair Price: A Bargain
Allgyer’s BBQ Corner Fairgrounds Farmers Market 2934 N. 5th Street Hwy Reading, PA 19605
Editor’s Note: Brocmar Smokehouse’s West Reading location is now closed as of October 10, 2019. Brocmar continues to operate at the Shillington Farmers Market, its arena and stadium locations, and its mobile food truck and catering business. B2 Bistro, which Brocmar shared the space with, is continuing to offer barbecue with the newly opened BBQ Smokehouse at B2.
In January 2018, we made our first visit to Brocmar Smokehouse at the Shillington Farmers Market. By this time, the local barbecue company was already running a stand at the Santander Arena.
The Farmers Market was their second location and featured an expanded menu that included the Brocmar Taco – the dish of smoked meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce atop a corn cake that made our list of Favorite Entrees for 2018.
And Brocmar’s stand at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened for
the 2018 season, has become my go-to for ballpark foods.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2019 and Brocmar Smokehouse is
now four locations strong with the opening of their first full-service
restaurant at the Lofts at Narrows in West Reading. The new Brocmar shares a
space with the B2 Cafe – the grab-and-go breakfast side of B2 Bistro. Under the
partnership, B2 continues serving coffee and breakfast while Brocmar takes over
for lunch and dinner service.
Two weeks ago, I was
invited to the friends and family opening. So Julie, Jakob and I stopped in
last Friday evening for a first taste of the new Brocmar.
While the restaurant is attached to B2, Brocmar has fully
taken over the space. From the Brocmar sign painted on the brick outside to the
high-top tables made out of barrels in the dining room. Honestly, it feels more
at home with the industrial salvage motif than B2 does.
This was only the second night of table service for a business that has never done it before so there were hiccups to work out. We were seated promptly and we put in our drink order quickly but were told that Jamie would be taking care of us after that. Jamie never came so it was obvious that they’re still learning who is responsible for which tables, but things were smooth after that.
For the friends and family event, we were encouraged to
order a lot of food and to try some of the new offerings along with the old.
After we ordered, it wasn’t long before a large tray filled with sample dishes
arrived at our table.
The friends and family preview menu was “limited.”
About the only thing that wasn’t available was my beloved Brocmar taco. But
that just meant an opportunity to broaden my horizons – appropriate since
that’s exactly what Brocmar was doing as well.
(Gary, the owner and pitmaster, offered to have one delivered to us anyway, but we declined. If you want to read about the Brocmar taco, click here).
Brocmar offers eight different sauces, and I’ve tried just
about all of them now. Preview night was my first exposure to the Mississippi
Comeback sauce – listed as a “classic southern dipping sauce for fried
foods.” Appropriately, it was drizzled atop my order of fried catfish.
Long time readers know that I am not a fan of seafood but I
was pressured into trying the catfish. I have to say, I actually enjoyed it.
There wasn’t much of a fishy taste to speak of. Instead, most of the flavor
came from the combination of the breading and the sauce. The comeback
definitely had a kick to it – not as much as the cayenne-based Moonshine sauce
– but enough to get your attention. And both Julie and I really enjoyed it. I
would actually order it again sometime.
My favorite among Brocmar’s sauces is still the Cripple
Creek. Made with bourbon and brown sugar, the Cripple Creek sauce is a dark,
thick sauce with deep flavor and just enough sweetness. It works on everything,
but I especially enjoyed it on our loaded tots.
The golden brown tots come topped with cheese sauce (we had
it on the side) and choice of meat – for us, brisket. All of the ingredients
are good, but it was the addition of the sauce that made it great for me.
Adding that rich, smokey flavor to the tots and brisket was perfect.
Among the other samplers we got were the smoked wings. Unlike the fried version, these had a nice char around the outside. Julie found it to be a little too well done, but I thought the char from the smoker added some excellent flavor.
I thought the same about the ribs. They were charred on the
outside but the meat still came off the bone easily. And with a few drops of
sauce, they were very enjoyable.
Both Julie and I also ordered sandwiches (to be fair, we
thought we were getting half-sandwiches, not whole sandwiches cut in half) with
our favorite barbecue meats – brisket for Julie, pulled pork for me.
There’s nothing I can say about Brocmar’s smoked meats that
I haven’t already said. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it
I did, however, use the opportunity to try out a couple new sauces. The Moonshine sauce – Brocmar’s hot sauce – was way hotter than I expected. I was a much bigger fan of the Red Dirt Road sauce, a black pepper-based sauce that went really well with the pulled pork. I also found the Hokey Pokey sauce to be a good pairing too. It’s described as “mild and sweet with a little twang.” It’s a classic ‘cue sauce that I enjoyed, for sure.
Like his parents, Jakob is also a big fan of Brocmar. Our
19-month-old loves Brocmar’s mac and cheese. We knew that going in to the meal.
What we didn’t know was how much he loves Brocmar’s baked beans.
I don’t blame him either. The baked beans are unique in that
it’s a blend of black and red beans. The sauce is just sweet enough.
None of us needed anything else, but there was “Nanner
Thankfully it was a small sample, but it was more than
enough to get a taste of the delicious dessert – sweet pudding topped with
fresh cut bananas. The only problem is that I have never had room for dessert
after a Brocmar taco.
But maybe the opening of the new location will get us to
broaden our horizons a little more when it comes to Brocmar Smokehouse. We
certainly tried more on this night than in all of our previous trips to the
Shillington Farmers Market combined.
And all of it was delicious. If they can nail the service – again, this was their second night of running a full-service restaurant – the new location will become a mainstay in the crowded West Reading dining scene.
BCE Rating Food: Very Good Service: Good Ambiance Very Good
Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading 10 S. Summit Ave West Reading, PA 19611
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Conrad Weiser Homestead in Womelsdorf, Pa., has always had special meaning for me. Growing up in the Conrad Weiser Area School District, we had many field trips to the site. In college, many research papers were dedicated Conrad Weiser the man (a pre-Revolution German immigrant who rose to prominence in the local community as an interpreter with local native tribes) and Julie and I had our engagement photos taken there seven years ago.
In 2016, a new event debuted called Artisans in the Park, bringing local crafters to the historic site on the first Saturday in May. This year was the first time Julie and I (along with Jakob) were able to attend the festival as it was our first time in recent memory that we were home on the first weekend in May.
While we loved browsing the craft stands, and Julie picked up several nice Mother’s Day gifts, what you all want to know about was the food. Part of the draw of the event this year was the addition of food trucks, including The Perk-Up Truck, one of our favorites. The other two trucks in attendance were Fultz’s Pretzels and Smokehouse Food Truck.
The Smokehouse is a newer food truck, having debuted in 2017, serving Berks and Lehigh Counties from its home base in New Jerusalem.
(A few people at the festival also confused the truck with Johnny & Hon’s Smokehouse, located just a block from Conrad Weiser Park, but the two businesses are unrelated).
There was a long line for the truck around noontime when we arrived. It wasn’t surprising as the only other option for lunch food was pork barbecue and hamburgers from Zion Lutheran Church in Womelsdorf (my childhood church, which I love dearly, but a review of their food would be rather short).
What we didn’t realize was that the line was also so long because the truck was completely understaffed. As far as we could tell, there were only two people working. The owner, who was taking orders, and a cook was putting everything together, one at a time. Julie and I took turns standing in line to order, then took turns waiting even longer for our order to be ready.
In all, it was nearly an hour wait from the time we entered the line – we were probably about 10th in line to order – until our food arrived. And when the order came out, we were handed only half of it (thankfully, the other half was done and sitting on the counter and retrieved in short order).
I had the pulled pork sandwich; Julie had a beef brisket sandwich, and we shared a pair of sides – seasoned fries and cole slaw.
The pulled pork sandwich came topped with pickles, onions, Swiss cheese and Carolina gold sauce on a Kaiser roll. The menu listing the toppings was printed out and hanging in the window, but orders were being placed at the door where the sign board merely said “pulled pork.” We were only close enough to read the window sign while we waited for our food (which was served out the door as well).
I pulled off the pickles and the cheese – not my style when it comes to barbecue – and dug in. Maybe it was the hunger talking, but once I finally got to take my first bite, I thought it was a fantastic sandwich.
The pork was really well done with a decent spice rub. The caramelized onions were delicious. And the Carolina gold was a surprising hit. I normally shy away from mustard-based sauces, and probably would have passed on the pork had I known, but I thought it was the perfect sauce for this sandwich.
As hungry as I was, though, I didn’t take time to savor the flavor and instead finished off the sandwich very quickly.
Julie’s brisket sandwich was also a hit. It was topped with cheddar – not Swiss – and a sweeter, less tangy sauce. The meat was melt in your mouth tender and the sweet sauce really shone.
I think what I enjoyed most about my own sandwich was that it was different (at least from my usual). The brisket sandwich was good, but much more in line with what I would expect. Still, I can’t think of another barbecue joint in the area that puts cheese on their sandwiches.
While the mains were solid, the sides were a bit of a letdown. The cole slaw had a little pepper, but not a whole lot of flavor overall. It looked more flavorful than it actually was.
And the “seasoned fries” were generic French fries that were lightly salted. Maybe there were other spices, but I didn’t taste them.
And the fries were probably what slowed down our meal and others as they were the +only item on the menu that would be made to order. Unless the fries get a makeover, they’re just taking up space on an otherwise solid menu.
In the end, we spent about $30 on our two meals. Was it worth the wait? Probably not. But the barbecue, itself, was a definite hit. With a little faster service and a little more organization (and without the fries), it could be one of the best food trucks around.
But it’s not quite there yet.
BCE Rating Food: Good to Very Good Service: Poor Ambiance: N/A Value: A Little Pricey
Smokehouse Food Truck Serving Berks and Lehigh Counties
One of my favorite events of the year, the PA BBQ Fest in Leesport offers a chance to sample some of the finest barbecue restaurants, vendors and food trucks from Berks County and beyond.
Now in its third year, the festival is an annual tradition for Julie and I. We have had this year’s edition marked on our calendars since the date was announced and while we weren’t the first people in line when the gates opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were there by 11 for an early lunch.
This year there was a $3 cover charge to enter the event. I don’t mind paying because I know that in addition to the barbecue there is live entertainment throughout the day, and those bands aren’t showing up for free.
Festival goers can order from their favorite barbecue stands ala carte, or for $10, they can pick up a Pit Master sample card. The sample card includes six tear-off tabs that can be redeemed at one of about a dozen stands for two-ounce samples.
Now, I love Backwoods Brothers (you can read about our visit to the restaurant here), but the sample cup they gave us had a half-bite of smoked sausage. And it was cold. At $10 per sample card, that means Julie and I each paid $1.67 for that.
After that, we were a little more selective.
Our second stop was Fire and Spice Competition BBQ and Catering, a Fleetwood based company that we have only ever experienced at the PA BBQ Fest.
They were serving up pulled pork – the go-to sample for most restaurants – with your choice of sauce. Julie went sweet, I went bold. Both were excellent, but I especially liked the bold sauce and its molasses base. It gives it a sweetness but with bigger flavor and thicker texture that I love.
Stop #3 was certainly unique among the festival’s offerings. Ziggy’s Roasters, a food truck based in Harleysville, Montgomery County, was serving samples of their “Krazy Korn.”
Normally served on the cob, Krazy Korn is corn smothered in mayo, parmesan and Cajun seasoning. For their samples, it was taken off the cob and topped with pulled pork in barbecue sauce.
It was like nothing that I have ever tried before. I won’t say that it was the best barbecue that I had all day, but the corn was so different. It was creamy with a little bit of heat. And with the sweet and savory mix of the pulled pork, it just worked. There was a lot of flavor packed in that little sample cup.
Both of our next two stops were offering barbecue that went beyond pulled pork.
First up was Jake’s Place, a Hamburg restaurant that was offering pit beef. I have never had the opportunity to visit Jake’s Place nor had I encountered them at other festivals before.
I was pleasantly surprised by the pit beef. It was cooked perfectly – tender, juicy and all of the other adjectives that you use to describe well-crafted beef. I will definitely have to pay a visit to the restaurant sometime.
When I was a student at Kutztown University, the Pub wasn’t much to speak of. At best, it was a dive. But the restaurant is all-new from the place I remember and now barbecue is the focus of the food menu.
Their offering at the PA BBQ Fest was a barbecue meatball. It’s not on the regular menu (according to their website), but it should be. It was a delightful mix of meats, including beef and pulled pork. Topped with a shot of barbecue sauce, it was stellar. I would eat this as a sandwich any day.
Our sixth and final stop for our Pit Master card was an old favorite, It’s Just Barbecue (aka the Pink Pig). We got a sample of their pulled pork, something that we have tasted many times before at similar events.
After we finished with our Pit Master cards, it was time to find one more thing for lunch. Julie loves the Pink Pig so much that she jumped into their regular line to order a beef brisket sandwich.
The brisket is thick, not thin sliced, making the sandwich feel more hearty. She layered on plenty of sweet barbecue sauce for a deliciously satisfying sandwich.
For my course, I had to go back to Ziggy’s for more of their corn. When I got there, I saw that I could order either corn on the cob or a cup o corn that could be topped with pulled pork. There was never any doubt that I would get the option with the barbecue.
I also got to choose my add-ons for the corn. Instead of the Krazy Korn standards, I went with one of my favorite flavor combinations: garlic and Parmesan (with butter, of course). Both the corn and the pork were great, though I think I should have stuck with what I had previously because it didn’t quite have the same affect when it was mixed together.
Still, I didn’t regret my decision and I will definitely seek out Ziggy’s in the future.
And there is no doubt that we will be back next July for the fourth annual PA BBQ Fest. We’re already looking forward to it.
Editor’s Note: The PA BBQ Fest has moved to Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township.
Editor’s Note: Since COVID, Firefly Cafe has been operating as takeout only with limited hours.
For all the great diversity in Berks County’s restaurant scene, there is always room to grow. The key is opening a restaurant that is different, that isn’t serving the same food as the place down the street.
Find the right niche and serve great food and drinks, and the eatery is likely to be a success.
A vegan/vegetarian cafe in downtown Boyertown? Now that’s a niche.
Open since April, the Firefly Cafe is a place unlike any other in the county.
Specializing in breakfast and lunch, it’s one of just a handful of meatless restaurants in the region (along with places like Chen Vegetarian House in West Reading and the iCreate Cafe in Pottstown).
In addition to its normal hours, Firefly opens up for dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s when we made our trek eastward for a taste.
Two warm fireplaces greeted us inside. One, a large video screen above the restrooms. The second, a faux fireplace, one of the smallest I have ever seen, was sitting near our table giving off a charming glow.
There was one couple leaving with a to-go package when we arrived with a few more groups coming and going during the 45 minutes we spent at the cafe.
Our table was by one of the front windows where we could enjoy the nightscapes of Boyertown. Our server – one of the owners – dropped off a pair of menus and some infused water (cucumber for me, orange for Julie) and told us she would take our orders at the counter when we were ready.
I had perused the menu before we arrived so I was feeling good about my decision – the vegan pulled pork sandwich.
What’s a vegan pulled pork sandwich? Well it looks a lot like the real thing, but jackfruit (a fruit in the fig family, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia) takes the place of the meat. It was topped by vegan tri-color slaw (carrots and cabbage in a plant-based cream).
It was a delicious recreation. The barbecued jackfruit made for a much sweeter sandwich, but the phenomenal multi-grain roll helped balance it out. The slaw was great, adding more flavor with a crunchy texture.
Could you tell it wasn’t meat? Yes. Did I care? No.
All dinners come with a side of greens and choice of house-made dressings. I went with the carrot ginger.
It was a light, chunky dressing with lots of carrots and pinch of ginger. Easily one of the best salad dressings that I’ve tried in my Berks County Eats adventure.
For her meal, Julie went for the vegan lasagna, whole wheat noodles with tomato sauce, vegetables and vegan cheese.
Again, it wasn’t the same as eating true Italian lasagna, but it was enjoyable. Among the vegetables inside were carrots and olives. The tomato sauce was definitely fresh. The vegan cheese was tasty. And it had a nice crumbly top layer that added texture to the dish.
And it was surprisingly filling for a meatless dish.
On her side of greens, Julie opted for the lemon miso-tahini dressing. It had a vibrant citrus flavor and was much creamier than mine (thanks to the tahini). It was another winning creation.
We felt so good about having eaten a health-conscious meal that we skipped the dessert (though chia pudding is about as guiltless as you can get) so our final total was right around $25.
The Firefly Cafe is different from anything else in Berks County, and that’s a great thing.
And whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore or carnivore, it’s definitely worth trying.
BCE Rating Food: Excellent Service: Very Good Ambiance: Very Good Price: Reasonable
Firefly Café 12 N. Reading Ave Boyertown, PA 19512
With hundreds of restaurants spread out across 866 square miles, it’s going to take time to visit them all. Among those are many restaurants that have been on my short list since the blog started that, for one reason or another, I just haven’t been able to make it to.
One of those restaurants is the Station House Grille. I’ve sampled their food on multiple occasions, mostly at Iron Chef competitions.
Every time we see them at an event, our response is the same, “We need to go there.”
This has been going on for more than two years. We tried visiting once before, not realizing that they close early on Saturdays (6 p.m., compared to 8 p.m. on weeknights).
Finally, last week, the stars aligned and the timing was right. On a Wednesday evening with nothing else going on, we made the drive to Tuckerton.
The Station House Grille sits along Tuckerton Road, just west of Route 61, in what looks like someone’s two-story house.
Parking is limited and so is seating – the dining area consists of just four round tables that seat up to four.
We ordered at the counter before moving to the small dining room to wait for our meals to arrive.
The menu is certainly unique among Berks County restaurants: tater tots, pulled pork, sliders and gourmet grilled cheese are among the menu highlights.
I went for a pork tater bowl: an order of tots topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and cheese.
The Station House Grille definitely knows how to do pulled pork, and they chose the perfect sauce to complement this dish. It was sweet, tangy and thick, covering everything.
Beneath the mound of meat, cheese and sauce were the tater tots, which had now fallen apart. That meant just about every bite had a little bit of fried potato. And that can’t be bad, right?
Julie decided to separate her meat and her taters, getting a shredded beef sandwich and an order of loaded tots.
The sandwich featured balsamic shredded beef, onion straws and horseradish sauce on a Kaiser roll. The horseradish sauce added flavor. But it was mild, not overpowering like it can sometimes be.
She really enjoyed it, just as she did the loaded tater bites. Cheddar cheese sauce, bacon, chives and sour cream topped the mound of tots. I’m not a fan of cheese sauce. I would have rather had plain (they call them ‘naked’) tots. But Julie loved it so listen to her, not me.
Our total bill was around $20 (including a pair of bottled drinks). It was a fair price for a good little meal.
The Station House definitely has the feel of a neighborhood sandwich shop, but they take that idea in a different direction with their unique menu.
If you’re tired of the same old places along 61 or the 5th Street Highway, it’s definitely worth making the turn into Tuckerton to this little gem.
I’m glad we finally did.
BCE Rating Food: Good Service: Very Good Ambiance: Fair Price: Very Reasonable
Station House Grille 157 Tuckerton Rd Reading, PA 19605
Downtown Hamburg has never been a real culinary destination.
It’s a quaint downtown, but for dining, options have always been slim. You’ve got a bar, a diner, a Chinese restaurant, two ice cream shops and pizza.
Good food for sure, but nothing truly unique.
Then in January, a very different restaurant came to town: Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine.
Texas-style barbecue in Hamburg? I’m in.
There’s nothing fancy about Backwoods Brothers. The dining room is pretty plain with counter seating leftover from the diner that once occupied the spot.
The maroon walls are mostly unadorned. One wall just has the restaurant’s logo. A trio of Reading Royals hockey sticks sit above a window. And behind the counter, a collection of folk art crosses from the American southwest.
Backwoods Brothers’ menu isn’t fancy either. Written on a chalkboard, it’s easy to follow: pick a meat, make it a combo or enjoy it on a sandwich (just don’t ask for ribs on your sandwich).
At the tables, paper towel rolls sit in for napkins, and dinner is served on paper plates with a pack of disposable utensils.
For my dinner, I wanted to try as much as possible so I ordered a two meat combo with pork, sausage and fried okra.
At the table were three squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce: original, honey BBQ and hot. The original is a tangy, vinegar-based sauce. It was good, but the honey BBQ was more my speed. It was a little tangy, but had that sweet flavor that I love with for a good sweet and savory barbecue dinner.
I was warned about the hot sauce, made with real hot peppers. I had just a taste with my pulled pork. I actually loved it, but I could feel the heat from just a few drops and didn’t dare try any more.
My favorite thing on the plate was the sausage. It was spiced just right and smoked to perfection. It didn’t need any sauce, but I thought it was even better with a few squirts of honey BBQ.
The pork was good. Real smoky with only a little bit of fat. It wasn’t “pulled” to the point of being stringy slivers of meat, and was instead served in meaty chunks. I enjoyed it.
Finally there was the fried okra. If you’ve never had okra before, it’s hard to describe the vegetable’s taste. But I love it. And I could have eaten the slightly salty fried okra bites all day.
Julie wasn’t quite as hungry as me so she only went with one meat — beef brisket — and a side of mac and cheese.
The brisket was sliced thin and piled high. It was tender but still required a knife to cut. You could see and taste the rub along the outer edges of every piece.
Her mac and cheese was creamy, and to her delight, seasoned well with pepper. It was just the way she likes her macaroni.
Portions were not overwhelming, but we definitely got plenty of food for our $26, and we left plenty full.
Backwoods Brothers holds true to its Texas-style roots, delivering a unique style of barbecue and sauce that you won’t find at other Berks County joints.
And they are certainly delivering something that Hamburg has never seen before.
BCE Rating Food: Very Good Service: Good Ambiance: Good Price: Very Reasonable
Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine 272 S. Fourth St Hamburg, PA 19526