When you think of Wyomissing, you probably think of the Reading Hospital and the beautiful homes that stretch out to the west.
Or perhaps you think of the other side of Wyomissing, the Berkshire Mall and all the chain restaurants that surround it.
But along Penn Avenue, the town is very different. The VF Outlet Center towers over all the other buildings in the area, a reminder of the area’s industrial past and a symbol of rebirth.
Across Park Road is another example of the resurrection of a former industrial site, where empty towers have been replaced by a Courtyard by Marriott and high-end studio apartments.
At the base of the apartment complex is a lone business, but it was here that the resurrection of the complex began in 2003.
Viva Bistro and Lounge is exactly what the name implies, a European-inspired restaurant with an expansive bar and lounge that features live entertainment on most nights.
Though I had been to Viva before, it had been more than a year and never outside of a large group so a date night with my wife at the bistro was a bit of a new experience.
As I poured through the menu searching for the one that would make me happiest in that moment, I found their Duets menu, a four-course meal for two that included two soups or salads, a shared appetizer, two entrees and choice of dessert for $35.99.
This was what was going to make me the happiest.
For our first course, we each chose a cup soup. The soup of the day was a non-traditional mixed berry soup. Served cold and topped with whipped cream, it felt more like I was spooning a smoothie into my mouth than enjoying a bowl of soup. In fact, the soup would have worked just as well for dessert as it did as an appetizer.
My wife opted for Viva’s signature lobster bisque, a dish she first tried earlier this year at the Wilson Iron Chef. It’s thick, it’s creamy and it’s rich, with a beautiful yellow-orange color and lobster in every bite.
As we were finishing our soups, our waitress dropped off some bread and poured some herb-infused olive oil on a plate for us. The oil was infused with a heavy dose of garlic, salt and Italian herbs to create a delicious dip.
The second course was a shared appetizer, sausage diavolo flatbread pizza. Topped with squared chunks of sausage, strips of red peppers and grated parmesan, the pizza was piping hot and just a little bit spicy. The cheese and tomatoes oozed over all four sides, leaving just the corners clear to grab onto without getting your hands greasy.
In all honesty, we could have skipped right from the pizza to dessert and been comfortably full, but there was still a pair of entrees to come, and I was determined to finish all four of my courses.
My selected entree was the marinated steak kabob, served over a bed of rice pilaf and served with an entire head of broccoli which was sprinkled with fresh garlic. The marinade made the steak extra tender and juicy. For convenience, the steak, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes were removed from the skewer before arriving at the table, making my job a lot easier and ensuring that I received a forkful of the very tasty pilaf in every bite.
Mediterranean chicken was the item that caught my wife’s eye. Served exactly as mine atop rice pilaf with a side of broccoli, the whole chicken breast was stuffed with Feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes and basil and topped with a cream sauce. Despite the enjoyable flavor, half of it went home with us as dessert was still to come.
Our dessert options included either a shared dessert or two mini desserts, but as I learned in pre-school, two is better than one (who wants to share one dessert when you can share two?). Key lime tart and bananas foster cheesecake were our two choices. Placed in the corner of entree-sized plates, the desserts looked miniscule, but they packed a lot of flavor. The cheesecake was moist and the bananas foster, which was dropped on top with a dollop of whipped cream, was done perfectly. The key lime tart lived up to its name as the sweet of the cream gave way to the tasty tartness of the key lime. But it was all well-tempered by a nice, crispy pie shell.
I can say with certainty that we got our money’s worth for our $37 (the lobster bisque was an extra $1.00 upgrade) and we certainly left feeling full and satisfied.
There are still plenty of old industrial buildings in Wyomissing that aren’t full. Some have planned renovations, while others are sit idle. After a meal at Viva, I can’t help but look at these near-abandoned buildings as an opportunity for more great restaruants to add to the town’s already steallar culinary reputation.