Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

Beer Wall on Penn

Beer Wall on Penn

Oftentimes, a bar is just a bar. It’s a place to get a drink, eat some fried food and watch a game.

But sometimes, a bar isn’t just a bar. West Reading’s Beer Wall on Penn is not just a bar. In fact, it’s one of the few places in Berks County that can truly be called, “unique.”

Beer Wall on Penn Dining Room

Sure, there’s a bar. And dining room seating. And table service. But then there are the 38 self-serve taps where anyone (over the age of 21) can pour their own beer. Each beer is priced per ounce and customers are in complete control over how much beer they pour. A card is swiped at the tap, adding up your tab as you go.

Beer Wall on Penn Wall of Taps

The taps are a sight to behold – all of them in a single row along a wall (except for a few stragglers located on the top floor – more on that later). I don’t drink, but I brought along my buddy Josh to test out the taps. He lives in D.C. but was back in the area for the week (and who enjoys a good beer or two on his cheat days).

Beer Wall on Penn Taps

“This is cool,” he said. “I can’t believe they don’t have one of these in D.C. yet. It would do really well.” It is a cool concept, and one that actually puts Berks County on the cutting edge.

But the Beer Wall isn’t just about the booze – the restaurant is serving up a unique food menu that includes tacos, burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers and a handful of large plate entrees.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

Josh and I both opted for appetizers. For me, it was the duck fat fries.

For the duck fat fries, Beer Wall takes its thick-cut fries and cooks them in duck fat, topping them with truffle zest, shaved Parmesan and scallions. It also comes with a side of roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

I love the richness of duck and it definitely adds another layer of flavor to fries. I also appreciated the large parmesan shavings. But for me, it was the scallions that really took everything to the next level. That strong, concentrated onion flavor was the perfect addition and paired nicely with the fries and the tangy aioli.

Beer Wall on Penn

Across the table, Josh was enjoying an order of pretzel nuggets. He graciously allowed me to try one of the parmesan and parsley-coated pretzels, and it was delicious. But what really surprised me was the lager mustard dip. I don’t like mustard and I don’t drink beer, but somehow this combination worked so well and made for a perfect complement to the pretzels.

Both our appetizers left a great first impression.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

I passed on the tacos and burgers in favor of one of Beer Wall’s entree plates, the brisket mac-n-cheese. It featured braised brisket, sautéed onions and cavatappi pasta in a white cream sauce, all topped with bread crumbs, chives and parmesan cheese.

This is a case where I thought the individual ingredients were better than the dish as a whole. I really liked the brisket. It had a nice, smoky flavor, but I thought it was masked by the cheese sauce.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-N-Cheese

On the flip side, I thought the bread crumb mixture was a welcome addition and brought out the best flavors of the cheese. It was a good meal, but personally, I would have enjoyed everything just a little bit more if the brisket had been served on top of, or beside the mac. (It was also a lot of food, especially after finishing off the duck fat fries. I took half of it home in a box at the end of the meal).

Josh had decided to go with one of the burger options, the banh mi. It featured an eight-ounce patty of beef and pork (Beer Wall’s standard burger base) topped with pickled vegetables, fried pork belly, seared tomato, cilantro, a fried egg and balsamic reduction.

Beer Wall on Penn Banh Mi Burger

He and I argued over whether pork belly belongs on a banh mi (in my world, it certainly does), but there was no arguing about the beauty of the burger in front of him. Unfortunately Josh is one of the unfortunate souls who suffers from an aversion to cilantro and somehow forgets until he tastes it. That kind of marred what was a good burger.

The prices for food at the Beer Wall are pretty reasonable for the amount and quality of the food. I spent about $25 for my entree, fries and an unsweetened iced tea. For those who enjoy craft beer, you can expect to add 50 to 70 cents per ounce to your tab at the end of the night.

Beer Wall on Penn Arcade

When our meal was finished, we ventured upstairs where Beer Wall not only has additional taps, but also vintage arcade games that you can play for free. Mortal Kombat and the Simpsons are among the machines you’ll find. Before we left, I schooled Josh in a game of NBA Jam, dropping 3s from the corner with Scottie Pippin.

Maybe the novelty of pouring your own beer will wear off. Then again, maybe not.

Either way, Beer Wall on Penn is not just another bar. It’s something different, and different is a good thing for Berks County.

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

Beer Wall on Penn
619 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Bars & Pubs Reviews

Brocmar Smokehouse – West Reading – CLOSED

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 right.

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 Pudding” waiting.

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

Closed

5 Favorite Entrees of 2018

Our annual end-of-year tradition continues as we take a look back on the best things we tried this year. Today: our five favorite entrees of 2018.

Brocmar Taco – Brocmar Smokehouse

When we visited Brocmar Smokehouse for our first blog of 2018, it was a relative newcomer to the Shillington Farmers Market. When we left, it was our new go-to spot for barbecue in Berks County thanks to the inventive Brocmar taco – a fried Johnny cake topped with choice of meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce. Between return visits to the market and sandwiches at Brocmar’s Reading Fightin Phils stand, it was probably our most-visited restaurant of the year. Read Full Review

Savory Grille Five Spice Duck Breast

Five-Spice Duck Breast – Savory Grille

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that duck – when done right – is one of my absolute favorite foods. The five-spice duck breast from Savory Grille may be the best that I’ve tried. At the time, I described it as one of the best dishes I have ever tried – thanks to the addition of blueberry compote and sauce gastrique that gave it a complex sweet and sour flavor. It was an absolute highlight in one of the best meals we had all year. Read Full Review

Sal's Pizza Style Stromboli Pizza

Stromboli Pizza – Sal’s Pizza Style

I’m not going to go so far as to say this is my favorite pizza in Berks County (that honor still goes to the Chicago-style pie at Romano’s) but it is certainly the most original pizza – or Stromboli – in Berks, and that’s reason enough to make the list. Taking a traditional Stromboli and using the top fold as the base of a pizza is brilliant. It’s also very good and something that’s worth trying at least once. Read Full Review

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken – Fork  & Ale

Hands-down the best chicken dish that I have tasted on Berks County Eats. The Moroccan chicken from Fork & Ale featured confit chicken in an incredible spice blend, served over housemade pasta. The addition of sweet golden raisins and crunchy chickpeas gave it additional flavor bursts and needed texture and helped make it one of the most memorable dishes we have tried. Read Full Review

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Pulled Duck – Kwik  Shoppe

This may not have been the gourmet-style duck described above from Savory Grille, but I have to give kudos to the Kwik Shoppe for creating a fast-food style pulled duck sandwich that exceeded my expectations. The subtle sweet and tangy sauce and the crispy onion ring on top were nice additions. Is it a five-star meal? Absolutely not. But it’s a unique only-in-Berks County dish and that’s reason enough to make this list. Read Full Review

Best of Berks County Eats Entrees

Stampede Barbecue

I love to see a business prosper and grow, especially when its a local eatery.

One of the local restaurants that has grown and seems to be thriving is Stampede Barbecue.

Stampede Barbecue, formerly known as Stampede Smokin’ Barbecue, opened at a new location along Route 10 in Plowville. Technically, Berks County gained a new restaurant with the opening (the former location was a few hundred yards across the line in Lancaster County).

The restaurant now sits in what was once a garden store. It has been completely transformed into a two-story barbecue joint that looks like it could have been plucked out of the South and dropped in south-central Berks County.

The new location, unlike the old trailer, will operate year-round. And so far it also seems to be a boon for business. The line was nearly out the door when Julie, Jakob and I arrived with her parents on a recent Wednesday evening.

Our wait time to get to the front of the line was about 15 minutes. By the time we ordered, we were told that the pulled pork and ribs were both sold out. I looked behind us at a line that was now out the door and wondered how these customers were going to feel about it.

But that is the chance you take with barbecue – when you’re serving meats that are smoked for 12 hours or more, it’s not like you can just make more. It’s also a sign that the restaurant serves great food. And there was no denying that during our visit.

Most of my visits to the previous location – a stationary food truck with more parking than seating – were grab-and-go, as I bought meals to take home with me. This was a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy everything at its freshest.

I had really wanted a pulled pork sandwich but instead “settled” on smoked turkey. The sliced turkey breast was dipped in an au jus before being set on the potato roll (think a Martin’s roll, only a lot larger and more fresh).

I tried both of Stampede’s signature sauces – one sweet and one sweet and spicy – on the sandwich. I liked the sweet, but I didn’t think it fit very well with the turkey. But the spicy sauce mixed with the potato roll (which itself was already sweet) and the smoked turkey made for a delicious combination. However, the au jus was enough on its own and I would have been happy eating it without any sauce.

Julie’s beef brisket sandwich was no less enjoyable. The brisket was sliced fresh and very juicy. For my taste, the brisket was better with the sweet sauce. I also can’t speak highly enough about the rolls and how much they did for enhancing our meals.

We decided to split an order of fries, something that I don’t remember being on the menu at the other location (if it was, I don’t remember it. I do remember getting bags of Charles Chips, which I didn’t see at the new place). While the rest of the meal was ready when we paid, the fresh-cut fries were delivered fresh a short time later. To me, they were worth the wait.

Julie and I also ordered sides of our own. She really wanted to try the mac and cheese and I wanted some of their slaw. Both were very good, though I wouldn’t say they stood out among others that we have tried.

I did have an opportunity to try some of the BBQ beans that my in-laws had ordered, and they were great. It was closer to a chili than baked beans as far as flavor (my mother-in-law found them to be a little too spicy for her. I didn’t find them to be very spicy).

For Julie and I, our two meals with drinks ran us right around $30. That’s about average for a good barbecue place. Stampede’s entire menu is a la carte, there are no meals, per se, but the sides are reasonably priced so it all works out.

By the time we left around 7 p.m., they were hanging a sign on the door that read “Pickins are slim, folks. We’ll have everything tomorrow.”

Good thing we didn’t arrive any later than we did or we may have been very disappointed.

But selling out is a good thing for Stampede. It reflects well on the food, and it means that the restaurant is doing a great business.

And that’s always a good thing for Berks County.

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

Stampede Barbecue
4372 Morgantown Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

 

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Smokehouse Food Truck

Smokehouse Food Truck

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.

Jakob modeling his new bucket hat at the event

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).

Smokehouse Food Truck

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.

Smokehouse Food Truck Pulled Pork Sandwich

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.

Smokehouse Food Truck Beef Brisket Sandwich

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

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Reviews

HillBilly BBQ

Driving along Route 422 east toward Douglassville, the smoke rises from HillBilly BBQ. The trailer sits in a small parking lot in front of D&S Elite Construction.

There have been many roadside barbecue joints in and around Berks County over the years – Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ, Stampede Smokin’ BBQ and Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grille come to mind. And while others have either moved into permanent locations, closed or both, HillBilly still remains as a true roadside eatery.

I visited HillBilly BBQ for the first time in 2015. I only had a pulled pork sandwich, but I was impressed. I couldn’t wait to take Julie for a meal and a Berks County Eats review.

Three years later, that visit finally happened.

We stopped in on a cool Saturday afternoon – too cold to sit outside but too warm to sit inside our car to eat. The only real option was to order our lunch and take it back home to Wyomissing.  Thankfully, there’s a driveway connecting the restaurant to Monacacy Creek Road and the traffic light that leads to westbound 422.

Less than 20 minutes after getting our meals, we were unboxing them at our kitchen table. I couldn’t wait to dig into my half rack of ribs.

The ribs looked beautiful, dark in color from hours in the smoker and a heavy dry rub that I immediately fell in love with. It was simple sweet, salty and mildly spicy rub that was laid on thick.

At the counter, I was given the choice of adding “sweet sauce” to the ribs. There wasn’t much to the sauce – it was a little runny and pooled at the bottom of the box – but it really did add to the dish. If nothing else, it softened the texture and helped the meat soak in even more of the delicious rub.

The half rack was sliced in half with three-to-four bones in each. Each piece was unique. The top was fall-off-the-bone good. The second rack was the end piece and was more well done. It was no less flavorful, but the tips were crispy, bordering on burnt.

On the side, my coleslaw balanced out the meal. The creamy slaw was very good and did much to counterbalance the spice of the ribs.

When it comes to barbecue, Julie loves beef brisket. It’s her go-to whenever we go out. Her brisket sandwich from HillBilly BBQ featured a Kaiser roll overflowing with meat.

The brisket featured the same rub and was topped with the same sauce as the ribs. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of sandwich, smooth and flavorful. The Kaiser roll helped to soak up some of the juice and sauce – a traditional hamburger roll would have probably fallen apart by the time we got home. It also differentiated itself from similar offerings at other restaurants, and that’s never a bad thing.

For her side, Julie chose the mac and cheese. It was made with small shells in a gooey yellow cheese sauce. When we first got in the car, the shells were still smoking. They hadn’t cooled off much by the time we arrived at home. They were good, but not anything special.

One thing I love about barbecue is that it’s almost always priced right. At $25 for our two entrees and two sides (we didn’t order drinks because we were taking it home. That would have brought it closer to $30), HillBilly BBQ definitely priced its food right.

A note to those concerned about the divided highway: don’t be. Unlike some restaurants along that stretch of Route 422, HillBilly BBQ is actually easily accessible from both directions thanks to the Monacacy Road entrance.

That’s a big advantage, but the location isn’t without drawbacks. It’s still an unpaved parking lot with limited seating – and Route 422 isn’t exactly the most desirable backdrop for dining alfresco.

But the barbecue is hard to beat. And for a little roadside stand, that’s all that really matters.

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

HillBilly BBQ
908 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

HillBilly BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Brocmar Smokehouse – Shillington Farmers Market

One of the bigger stories in Berks County’s food scene last year was the sale of the Shillington Farmers Market.

Julie and I had visited the market about three years ago and were so disappointed in the offerings that we never went back.

But there’s a renewed energy around the market. New stands are opening, and old favorites like Betty’s Salads are returning.

Among the new stands to arrive is Brocmar Smokehouse. The barbecue business opened in the market in December after spending the summer building its brand at events around Berks County.

Reading Royals fans may already be familiar with the Brocmar name. Before opening their Shillington location, Brocmar got a head start, operating a small stand at the Santander Arena during Royals home games.

But the Farmers Market takes the business to another level, giving the business a physical location, regular hours and a greater potential reach.

The Farmers Market hours make it difficult for us to get there for dinner, but an underwhelming snowstorm was enough to close my office and allow us to make it to Brocmar long before the market’s 6 p.m. closing time.

While the Farmers Market is certainly a step forward for the business, it doesn’t allow for much of a dine-in experience. There are only two round tables – enough to seat eight at the most.

As Julie and I looked over the menu board, a woman sitting at one of the tables said “everything here is good.” She was waiting for a take-out order, her third in three weeks from the Smokehouse, she said.

A father and son stood in front of us in line, a written order in hand that seemed to include one of everything on the menu. That was fine with us as it gave us plenty of time to settle on our choices.

Julie and I pulled up chairs at one of the tables with Jakob in the stroller next to us. Fifteen minutes or so passed before our food was delivered and we got our first taste of Brocmar.

Passing on turkey, sausage, chicken and ribs, I instead went with my favorite barbecued meat – pulled pork – topping it with the Cripple Creek sauce, one of Brocmar’s six housemade options.

The sauce is a bourbon and brown sugar that’s bold and sweet, but not spicy. It really brought out the best in the pulled pork, which was tender with crispy charred ends that gave it a slightly crunchy texture.

It was a beautiful blend, and together the meat and sauce were a great combo.

On the side, I enjoyed an order of hush puppies and a cup of slaw.

While we were waiting for our food, we saw an order of hush puppies being carried across the market and back. I asked about it later. “The number one question we got when we opened was, ‘What are hushpuppies?’ but we now we sell them every day.” It turns out, Brocmar doesn’t have a fryer. Instead, they fry up the hush puppies at the cafe across the market.

That’s only part of the work that goes into one order of hush puppies. The deep-fried corn fritters are hand-rolled with fresh green onion. It’s all worth it though for what is a perfect accompaniment to the main course.

The coleslaw was also very good, but it was even better as part of the Brocmar taco, Julie’s entree choice for the evening.

Barbecue is one of those foods that just seems to work well as part of a more comprised dish. The Brocmar Taco is one of those dishes. It starts with a cornbread cake, then it’s topped with your choice of meat (brisket, for Julie), slaw and sauce.

There were a lot of flavors coming together. The cornbread – the taco “shell” – had a rich corn flavor. The brisket was tender and juicy. And the creaminess of the coleslaw soaked into every layer.

To top it off, Julie added the honey bee barbecue sauce, which added a sweetness and mild spice throughout. It all came together to create an excellent dish.

It was also a hearty dish that we were both surprised that Julie was able to finish. But for a reasonable $23, we weren’t too upset that there were no leftovers for later.

As a whole, Brocmar Smokehouse delivered. It was some very good barbecue that left us wanting to try even more.

And because of Brocmar, we will be back to the Shillington Farmers Market soon.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse
The Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Brocmar Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Smokin’ Brays BBQ

smokin-brays-exterior-night

One of the reasons that I try to hit all of the food events and festivals around the county is so that I can try things that are new (or new to me).

Oftentimes, I end up seeing the same old restaurants serving the same old samples. But it’s always exciting when a new place pops up.

At the Iron Chef Hamburg event in November, I sampled pulled pork from Smokin’ Brays BBQ in Hamburg and was immediately a fan.

I had already visited Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine earlier in the year, but had no idea there was now a second barbecue restaurant, this one across the street from The Westy.

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The restaurant opened in April after the owners closed the original Smokin’ Brays in Dale City, Virginia, and moved to Hamburg to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Our Virginia restaurant was open seven days a week,” I was told by our hostess, who I later found out was Betty Bray, co-owner with her husband Keith.

“We’re only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s almost like retirement.”

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After we were seated, a woman came in with a little girl, dolly in tow. “I guess we need a table for three,” she joked.

But to their surprise, a high-chair was delivered to the table and dolly was strapped in for dinner, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

That’s how you do customer service.

The wait for our food wasn’t as long as it felt. I realized that the only noise – other than the two other diners that joined us – was coming from a radio in the corner.

So many restaurants today have at least one television in the room that I found myself looking around for a distraction that wasn’t there.

When the food arrived, it was the feast that I had expected.

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Nearly every barbecue restaurant that I have ever been to has offered some sort of sampler platter. And I guess it’s because there are enough people like me who will order it every time.

At Smokin’ Brays, the smallest sampler is three meats (promising at least 3/4 pounds of meat). I got babyback ribs, beef brisket and pulled beef.

I haven’t found pulled beef on any other menus locally so I had to try some. It may look like pot roast, but it sure didn’t taste like it. There was no sauce, just a spice rub that had absorbed into the meat during cooking.

The flavor was great on its own, though I couldn’t stop myself from adding some of Smokin’ Brays classic barbecue sauce. A sweet sauce with just a little tang and no heat (there was also a hot version, plus a vinegar sauce, for those with differing tastes).

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I really enjoyed the brisket. It was well-flavored, sliced thin and melt-in-your mouth good. The ribs were not my favorite. They were too fatty for my taste. I like my ribs leaner and more heavily seasoned.

Not that I needed anything else, but the meal also came with two sides and choice of roll or cornbread. I really only wanted something light so I went with baked beans and applesauce. The beans were alright but I was too full from my meal to really enjoy them. I did really like the cornbread, though it fell apart when I tried to butter it.

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Julie’s meal consisted of smoked sausage with mac and cheese, lettuce with hot bacon dressing and cornbread.

The sausage was excellent, a little smoky but not too much. And it wasn’t smoked to the point that the outside was too crispy. It was done very well.

The lettuce with hot bacon dressing was among the best that Julie has had with no skimping on bacon. She also enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese.

After all that food (Julie had to take half of hers home), there was definitely no room for dessert. That said, I actually thought about trying to force some banana pudding after I saw it on the menu board.

Instead, we called it a night. While paying our $30 bill, we saw the Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame, adorned with photos of all those who have attempted the “Big Pig Challenge,” five pounds of food and a 30-minute time limit.

“You want to try the ‘Big Pig’?” the owner asked after I questioned her about the challenge.

“Not tonight,” I said.

I’m sure it will make an entertaining blog someday.

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

Smokin’ Brays BBQ
278 W. State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Smokin' Brays BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

It’s Just Barbecue (The Pink Pig) – CLOSED

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Editor’s Note: It’s Just Barbecue is now closed. The restaurant’s last day of business was September 29, 2019. The family announced in a Facebook post that they are stepping away after 12 years in business.

For the last two years, I’ve been teased with tastes of It’s Just Barbecue and the restaurant’s signature sauces.

We’ve sampled their pulled pork at Iron Chef competitions at Wilson and Hamburg (including the 2015 event where pit master Jeff Stumpf competed in the live cook-off). Every time, we say that we need to try it.

So finally, on an unseasonably warm Saturday, we decided to make the drive north on Route 61, a few miles over the county line to Deer Lake for the full experience.

There’s nothing fancy about the place. If not for the bright pink pig-shaped smoker out front, the restaurant is nearly invisible, set on the back side of the building facing away from traffic.

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The pig is so recognizable that most people know the restaurant as the Pink Pig.

Inside, it’s much of the same. Pigs of varying shapes and sizes can be found wherever there is a ledge. Trophies from their barbecue competitions and the Hamburg Iron Chef fill in the bare spots.

After ordering at the counter, most people take their meals to go because the dining room consists of just six wooden picnic tables.

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While a steady stream of customers poured in while we were there, we were the first (and for a long time, only) ones to grab a table and enjoy our meal in the restaurant.

The menu doesn’t offer much in the way of variety — it fits on a tri-folded sheet of ordinary paper — but what It’s Just Barbecue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.

What I really wanted to try was their ribs, but they were already sold out for the day (like any great barbecue restaurant, the meats are slow-cooked for hours in the smoker so when an item is gone, it’s gone).

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Thankfully everything else was still available so I went with a beef brisket platter with baked beans and cinnamon apples on the side.

The brisket is simply outstanding. Though it was pulled apart, you could still see the distinct pink smoke rings, a sign of well-prepared barbecue. And from the first time my fork touched it, the meat fell apart.

Even without the sauce, the meat was juicy and flavorful. The tables all had a bottle of the original house barbecue sauce (which I found to be too sweet for my tastes), I doused my brisket in a full cup of hot and sweet sauce that had just the right amount of after-burn.

The baked beans, like those at any good barbecue joint, are cooked with a little bit of leftover meat. There was just a little bit of pulled pork in mine, and I found myself wanting a little bit more.

The cinnamon apples were also very good, so much so that I was scraping the bottom for the extra syrup that remained when the apples were gone.

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Julie’s meal was a little bit lighter than my own. She went with a smoked chicken breast sandwich and a side order of chili.

The chicken, like the brisket, was delicious on its own. It really captured the flavor from the smoker. After pouring on some honey barbecue sauce and closing the bun, it made for an excellent sandwich.

Her chili was a little lacking so she added some of that same honey barbecue sauce to it to give it a little more flavor. I would have probably done the same thing with the hot and sweet sauce if I had ordered the chili; it just needed a little something more.

But it’s hard to complain when the barbecue was as perfect as you will find. The price was great too, with our two meals (plus a couple bottles of iced tea) coming in at just over $25.

It’s Just Barbecue is worth the drive for any lover of smoked meats.

It’s a restaurant that truly lives up to its name.

It's Just Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews