Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub

Saucony Creek Franklin Street Brewpub Exterior

One of the most exciting developments in Downtown Reading in recent memory is the reimagining of Franklin Street Station as a brewpub.

Saucony Creek Brewing Company’s Franklin Station Brewpub opened in July to much fanfare. Plans for the restaurant had been revealed in early 2018 but the project was delayed until the proper permits and zoning were in place. Other than a brief stint as an inter-city bus terminal in 2013 and an interactive art installation in 2017, it’s the first life this former passenger rail station has seen since the last SEPTA train rolled out 38 years ago.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We made our first visit on a Saturday afternoon in September, arriving before 5 p.m. for an early dinner. We got the last parking space on the restaurant’s parking lot (there is plenty of additional parking in the adjacent garage – and it’s free if you spend more than $10) and were seated right away.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

The building is impressive inside. It retains the feel of a classic train station with high ceilings and large windows. Rows of benches – like the ones that would have been used by waiting passengers 90 years ago – are the anchors of the dining area. The tables and chairs are arranged to utilize the long benches, creating wide aisles for the wait staff and patrons. In the far end of the room near the kitchen is a small display case filled with model trains, Monopoly game pieces (for the Reading Railroad, of course) and other railroad memorabilia.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We had plenty of time to admire the building, too, because though we were seated promptly, no server stopped by for more than 15 minutes to even bring water. Our toddler was ready to eat so the wait was not very welcomed at our table.

The restaurant seemed to have both not enough and too much help simultaneously. While we were waiting, servers continued to congregate near the host stand (including our eventually server).

Once we ordered, it only took about 10 minutes for our appetizer and Jakob’s kids’ meal to arrive. From there, the meal was much easier.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

For our appetizer, we ordered the avocado tacos. The order consisted of two tacos: corn tortillas topped with beer-battered avocado slices, roasted corn, tomato, onion and cilantro. On the side was a cup of thick salsa that was very good and had a spicy after-taste. The tacos, by themselves, were a little bland compared to a Mexican restaurant, but with the spicy salsa, it was much better. It needed that little kick to bring everything together.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Kids Quesadilla

Jakob certainly enjoyed his food. Their kids menu isn’t huge, but it does have a decent variety. In the end, though, we went with Jakob’s favorites – a quesadilla with corn on the cob. The corn lasted all of about five minutes (at least it felt that way) as he ate through it in a hurry. The quesadilla was a little more work for him but he managed to eat about half of it at the restaurant with us taking the rest home.

Our dinners arrived just a short time later. The menu of large plates – “Masters” as they are called on the menu – features a diverse selection that leaned toward higher-end dishes. For example: my coconut braised beef cheek.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Coconut Braised Beef Cheek

Beef cheek is not found on a lot of menus, probably because it is a tougher cut of meat that has to be slow-cooked. It’s also very rich, as I discovered with my first taste. It reminded me a little of duck – not in flavor – but in the richness. The flavor, though, was very good. It was braised in one of Saucony Creek’s signatures beers so it picked up some of those flavor notes with subtle hints of coconut.

It came served in a bowl of sweet potato puree that added a sweet and savory contrast to the dish. It was also topped with a watermelon radish that served more for garnish than flavor. As I look back on the menu, it also said it was to be served with creamy blue cheese. There was definitely no blue cheese on the plate. I’m not sure how it would have changed what was a very good dish, but now I’m curious.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Franklin Street Burger

Nothing was missing from Julie’s plate. She ordered the Franklin Station Burger which came topped with bourbon bacon jam, Boston Bibb lettuce and Swiss cheese.

It was an awesome burger where the bacon jam really shined. The salty, savory and slightly sweet spread is always a great burger topper. This version had a deeper flavor thanks to the bourbon, and it really shone through on the burger.

The burger was served with fries on the side. As our server described them, they are boardwalk-style fries: skin-on and well-seasoned. They were a little peppery at times, but very enjoyable, especially paired with the homemade ketchup. The ketchup was not as sweet or as thick as the store-bought variety, but it perfectly complemented the already flavorful fries.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Ice Cream

While Julie and I did not save room for dessert, Jakob’s kids meal came with a scoop of ice cream. His generous scoop of peanut butter ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry cheesecake were the other flavor choices) was topped with a mound of whipped cream and a cherry that elicited a loud, “ooooh,” from our son when he saw it.

I think Jakob ate most of the whipped cream while Julie took care of the ice cream that he didn’t finish. It was around this time that we heard the unmistakable air horn of a freight train approaching.

Norfolk Southern trains frequently use the former Reading Railroad tracks and a train’s arrival is a big deal at the bar. Upon hearing the horn, doors were opened and everyone cheered loudly until the engines passed. Jakob, like all young boys, loves trains. He joined in with a loud, “Choo Choo!” as the train rolled past.

If there’s a downside to the building, it’s that the cavernous dining room echoes. It can get loud quickly. That’s a good thing when cheering on a passing train, but it can be a little distracting if you’re trying to have some quiet conversation.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Exterior

We paid our bill – $61.01 – and went outside to watch the tail end of the train from the old station platform. The scene would have looked a lot different 90 years ago when a steam engine would puff into the station to pick up and drop off passengers.

While the hungry diners aren’t at the Franklin Street Station to grab a train to Philly, the historic building is once again bustling with people.

Sure, there are some issues to work out as there are with all new restaurants. But Saucony Creek could keep the passenger benches full at Franklin Street Station for a long time to come.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: A Little Pricey

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub
690 Chestnut St
Reading, PA 19602

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Relish the Deli-sh

On Berks County Eats, we are always looking for the best dining in Berks County – whether sit-down or take-out.

And as new parents, Julie and I are also looking for easy meals that we can make at home.

We found both at the Relish the Deli-sh.

Not to be confused with Relish, West Reading’s breakfast and lunch spot, Relish the Deli-sh is located in an otherwise residential section of Wyomissing.

As the name suggests, it is, first and foremost, a deli. But for locals, it serves multiple roles. It’s a place to do light grocery shopping. In the summertime, it’s a spot for kids to grab a cone of ice cream. And it is also a place to get a quick a meal – either grab-and-go sandwiches or prepared meals that can be reheated at home.

We were interested in trying both of the meal options: fresh-made sandwiches and something to make for dinner the next day.

The meal menu is actually quite large, all things considered. It features nine cold sandwiches, eight hot sandwiches, two dinner salads and a range of side salads (pasta, potato, etc.).

One man was working both the cash register and deli station. He grilled my hamburger, built Julie’s sandwich, scooped out our prepared meal and rang us up. It took about 15 minutes – my burger was grilled to order – before we were on our way back home.

I had kept it simple by ordering a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion. A half-pound patty, and all the fixings were stacked on an ATV Bakery roll.

The burger exceeded all expectations. Even after a ride home in a plastic clamshell, it was delicious. The vegetables were fresh and flavorful. The burger, itself, was high-quality. And the roll was just the right size so it didn’t get in the way.

It was simple, but it was one of the best burgers I have had on a Berks County Eats visit.

One of the many things that Julie had a craving for during her pregnancy was an Italian sandwich. For nine months, cold cuts were off-limits. But Jakob is with us and this was a chance to satisfy her craving.

Relish doesn’t do a standard Italian sub. The deli offers the garlic Italian. It features all of your standard ingredients – meats, cheese, LTO. Then it gets kicked up a notch with garlic aioli and ciabatta bread.

Julie loved both additions. The aioli provided additional depth of flavor while the ciabatta bread was better than a boring hoagie roll. Overall, it was a great sandwich that more than satisfied her craving.

At the checkout counter, we made an impulse purchase of two white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

I’ve never met a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie that I didn’t like, and these were no exception.

So our first meal was a winner. What about the next night? That’s when we would try the Asian beef and white rice from the prepared foods.

I cooked off some baby carrots in the skillet before adding in the beef, rice and a little water to steam it in. The reheating process actually went better than I expected, and within a few minutes, we had a good looking meal on our plates.

And the taste was up there as well. The beef was actually cuts of steak, prime meat that was marinated in a sweet and salty sauce. It was simple, but very good. And the flavor held up, even after soaking into the rice.

It was a very good dish, and I look forward to trying other meal solutions from Relish the Deli-sh, but I probably wouldn’t get this again. Though good, I would probably just pick up Chinese take-out if I didn’t feel like making a similar dish myself.

That said, Relish the Deli-sh is certainly somewhere that we will return. With a newborn at home, we’re going to doing a lot of takeout and looking for a lot of easy meals. This is a place where we can do both.

And all for a reasonable price. Our two meals cost us a total of $30. It felt like a real value, especially for new parents like us.

But I’d recommend it for anyone who is looking for a quick bite or an easy-to-make meal at home.

Relish the Deli-sh does both. And they do both very well.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Relish the Deli-sh
105 Evans Ave
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Relish the Deli-sh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Pho House

Berks County has seen its restaurant scene grow by leaps and bounds over the past three-and-a-half years since I started doing regular reviews on this blog.

In that time, I have tried to visit as many of the new restaurants as I can, but some have just slipped through.

One of those restaurants that I had missed, the Pho House in Wyomissing, I can now cross off my list.

It’s been two years since the Pho House opened in the former Alebrije, in a strip mall that also houses Laxmi’s Indian Grille and one of two locations for the Original Mama’s Pizza. Of the three, the Pho House occupies the largest space spanning multiple storefronts on the far right side of the strip.

There are booths on either side of the spacious dining room with tables throughout the center. Paintings hang on the walls on either side, but there’s nothing truly remarkable about the decor – that is to say that the Pho House is decidedly non-stereotypical in the decor.

When it comes to the menu, it is distinctly Vietnamese – 19 different varieties of pho, eight rice platters, 10 vermicelli bowls and an assortment of noodle dishes.

Of course, when you visit a restaurant called the Pho House, the only real question is “what kind of pho do I want?”

Five different cuts of beef – eye-round, brisket, flank steak, meatballs and tendon – are available as add-ins for the pho. Choose one or mix-and-match. (Chicken, shrimp and tofu are also available).

All pho dishes are also serve with a mound of bean sprouts to add to the dish. These were delivered to the table first, awaiting their brothy bath.

For my protein, I chose flank steak and brisket. I grabbed a healthy handful of bean sprouts and tossed them in to the mix before taking my first bite.

The thin slices of flank and brisket was almost interchangeable – the brisket having just a little more fat around the edges. Otherwise, they had much the same flavor when mixed with the broth.

Pho is traditionally served with rice noodles, and the Pho House certainly does not skimp. There had to be three or four servings of noodles bundled at the bottom of the bowl so there were plenty of noodles in every bite.

It was definitely a hearty dish and very enjoyable. Scallions, salt and pepper provided much of the flavor for the dish, and the noodles soaked up every bit.

Julie’s combination of eye-round and tendon was also good, though her meat was a lot fattier than my own. Otherwise, it was the same dish as my own (though she didn’t add any bean sprouts).

We had also ordered some Vietnamese eggrolls as an appetizer, but the service was so fast that everything came out together.

I don’t know that there was anything distinctly Vietnamese about them, but they were different from other eggrolls, mostly thanks for a thinner, crispier outer shell. The dipping sauce they were served with made all the difference. It was like a duck sauce but with some additional spices thrown in. If only we had ordered a few more.

I mentioned the speed with which our food was delivered. We were finished with our meals, check in hand and asking for two to-go containers within a half-hour of our arrival.

Pho is a great comfort dish that I do not get to eat often enough. Two years was way too long to wait for a visit to the Pho House.

And I still have a lot more catching up to do. I wonder what else I have been missing?

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

Pho House
1816 State Hill Road
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Pho House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands 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.

smokin-brays-interior-2

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.”

smokin-brays-interior-1

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.

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-1

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).

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-2

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.

smokin-brays-smoked-sausage

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

Station House Grille

station-house-grille

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).

station-house-grille-sign

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.

station-house-grille-beef-brisket-pork-bowl-loaded-tots

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.station-house-grille-dining-room

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

Station House Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Chen Vegetarian House

chen-vegetarian-house

It is very hard for a Chinese restaurant to set itself apart. With so much competition—it seems as though there is at least one in every town—there has to be something unique, a hook that separates it from the pack.

One West Reading restaurant found a way to make its mark on the Berks County food scene by taking Chinese food in a new direction by giving it a vegetarian twist and making it more healthy.

That’s what makes Chen Vegetarian House different from the rest.

In addition to healthful foods, Chen offers a range of healthful drink options including 18 fruit and vegetable juices, five dairy-free smoothie flavors, and four kinds of hot teas.

chen-vegetarian-house-papaya-smoothie

I was craving something sweet so I went with a papaya smoothie. Papaya has always been one of my favorite fruit flavors, but it’s one that isn’t readily available. The fruit has a light sweetness, a perfect base for a refreshing drink.

chen-vegetarian-house-apple-pineapple-ginger-juice

Of the 18 juice bar options, more than half start with carrot. The rest are pure fruit, most mixed with ginger to add a little spice to the sweetness. Julie’s juice cocktail was a combination of apple and pineapple with a hint of ginger.

Chen Vegetarian House has some familiar sounding entrees on its menu: General Tso’s chicken, beef teriyaki, and sweet and sour chicken. But as a vegetarian restaurant, all of the “meat” is made from soy  and wheat. The shapes and textures are meant to resemble the real thing because sesame chicken sounds a whole lot more appealing than sesame tofu.

My original plan was to try the vegetarian version of General Tso’s, but the description of the mango chicken sounded so good that I changed my plans. And it was the right decision.

chen-vegetarian-house-mango-chicken

The dish included strips of mango, “chicken,” onions and peppers tossed in citrus sauce and served inside a mango shell. The best part of the dish was the fresh mango, which took center stage over the tofu that was there strictly to absorb the sweet sauce and make the dish more filling.

I was actually happy that there was no meat in this dish because chicken would have made it too heavy. It was hard enough to finish the giant plate of food as it was, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste.

chen-vegetarian-house-orange-beef

Across the table from me, Julie went with the orange flavored beef. The tofu in this case was made to look and feel more like strips of steak and served atop a bed of broccoli. The orange tangerine glaze was thick and stuck to the tofu.

The flavor was spot on, sweet and tangy with just a little spice. The tofu came close to the right consistency, though it was a little chewier, closer to beef jerky than steak. Still, it was a great dish, one that Julie got two meals out of (it was just as good heated up as it was fresh, the mark of good Chinese food).

Not only are Chen’s dishes comparable to its meatier counterparts, but the prices are similar as well. Entrees are all in the $10-12 range. Our two specialty drinks put our final bill right at the $30 mark.

Chen Vegetarian House is truly unique in Berks County, a place that serves one-of-a-kind dishes not found anywhere else around.

And it’s meals like this that make Chen as good as, if not better than, all of the other Chinese restaurants out there.

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

Chen Vegetarian House
709 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Chen Vegetarian House on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Thaiwat

thaiwat-1

Never judge a book by its cover.

In the two years since I started Berks County Eats, I have found that old cliché rings true more often that not.

While many chain restaurants lure customers with their elaborate exteriors, the real draw to restaurants is the food, no matter what the outside looks like.

I’ve found amazing food in roadside trailers, former factories and fire companies. But one place I keep finding myself is strip malls, spaces I once believed were reserved for chain sandwich shops, cookie-cutter Chinese restaurants and average pizza.

But I have been proven wrong over and over again.

The Berkshire shopping plaza in Wyomissing doesn’t look like a place for a foodie, with a Wal-Mart, Taco Bell and a Burger King, but take a closer look.

In the Redner’s strip mall, tucked between Jake’s Coin Laundry and Sally’s Beauty Supply, is Thaiwat, a small restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine.

thaiwat-menu-1

The menu tells the story of the tiny restaurant, which literally means “Thai temple.” It’s only appropriate then that Buddha stands guard over the dining room from his perch along the back wall.

Decorative wall panels helped make the restaurant feel more like a building in Thailand than a Berks County strip mall.

For those who are new to Thai cuisine, a guide in the front of the menu illustrates the differences between common Thai spices like sweet basil, galangal and kaffir lime.

thaiwat-thai-tea

One of the most common spices used in Thai cooking is ginger, which is found in most of the dishes on the menu ,including the traditional Thai iced tea, which is made from tea, milk (or cream) and ginger for added flavor. The dairy made it a lot thicker and creamier than any iced tea I have tried before, and the spiciness of the ginger gave it a completely different, but completely enjoyable flavor.

There’s also a guide to Thaiwat’s heat scale, where one pepper is a “stimulating kick to the lips and tongue,” two is a “tingling sensation and spreads a hearty glow,” and three is a “raging fire represents the exotic flavors of Thailand.”

thaiwat-evil-jungle-princess

For my meal, I opted for the “Evil Jungle Princess.” Despite its foreboding name, it only registered a single pepper on Thaiwat’s scale.

The dish consisted of spiced chicken and a vegetable medley tossed in red curry with coconut milk. There was definitely some heat in the curry, but the coconut milk helped cut the spice, giving it a delicious sweet heat.

All of the entrees at Thaiwat are served with Jasmine rice on the side. For our party of two, a super-sized rice ball was brought out to split between us.

thaiwat-thai-basil-2

While the red curry heated up my plate, Thai basil leaves were the main spice in my wife’s dish, appropriately called “Thai Basil.” The dish featured beef, green beans, carrots and ginger with a gentle, yet flavorful, spice. The sauce was more broth-like, but all of the ingredients, especially the rice, soaked it up well.

“Good things come to those who wait,” is another clichĂ© that seemed appropriate on our trip. There was only one server working during our visit so service was a bit slower, but it was well-worth it when the cook (yes, the cook), brought our meals out to our table.

Thaiwat also offers vegetarian entrees, duck prepared three ways, Thai noodle dishes and curry. And everything is very reasonably priced with no entrees above $20.

The book that Thaiwat is writing is a small piece of Thailand just outside Reading, with good food in a unique atmosphere. But you would never know that from the outside.

Just remember, when it comes to restaurants, don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge it by its food.

Thaiwat may have some of the best food in Berks County.

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

Thaiwat
1145 Berkshire Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Thai Wat Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

G.N.A. Ristorante

G.N.A.

Location makes a big difference when it comes to the success of a restaurant. Finding a place that is in the right neighborhood, is the correct size or has the right ambiance can be difficult.

Sometimes you get it right the first time, but sometimes a restaurant has to adapt, and that can necessitate a change in location.

For G.N.A. Ristorante, West Reading was the right place, but it took a move of three blocks down the street before they found the perfect location in 2006.

I can remember the old restaurant – a pizza parlor that happened to sell great pastas. The room was simple, with a handful of Formica booths and some small tables. It was simple, but always packed with people, especially those standing in line for take-out.

G.N.A.’s current location is much more elegant. The walls, with their partially exposed bricks and simple painted vines, make the building look and feel much homier.

The take-out area has been partitioned off from the dining area, which is, itself, divided into four separate seating areas. To the left is the pizzeria, with high-cushioned booths to fit six and smaller tables in the center.

In the middle is the bar, with its high-top bistro tables and flat screen TV’s. To the right a more refined dining room. Floral centerpieces sit atop table linens in the light of the large picture windows. The seating continues outside where metal bistro tables are adorned with green, white and blue umbrellas.

The full menu is offered in all of the dining areas so we opted for comfort and took our seats in the pizzeria.

Much of the menu is standard Italian restaurant fare: hot and cold sandwiches, pizza and Stromboli, and all the familiar pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and baked ziti.

But they do offer many unique items like veal-stuffed tortelloni, salmon in a champagne, tomato and basil sauce, and homemade fettuccine and tagliatelle pasta.

G-N-A-Lamb-Shank

Looking for something a little different, myself, I went with the Gamboncello D’ Agnello, lamb shank sautĂ©ed in olive oil and Chianti wine served with beef braised ravioli.

The lamb shank cast a large shadow as it more than filled the plate, the thick bone protruding off the side. Lamb shank can be a tough cut of me, especially if not cooked properly. But this was braised perfectly, creating a very tender, very moist dish. With the addition of the subtle sauce, which featured small bits of carrots and onion, the meat took on a flavor similar to a pot roast, but with richer flavor.

On the side were four of the beef braised raviolis, which had a complex flavor from a mix of herbs and a heavier presence from the Chianti. I wish this variation of raviolis was a menu item of its own so I could get a full order of them on my next visit.

G-N-A-Tuna-Melt

The beauty of the G.N.A menu is that while I was enjoying a true culinary experience, my wife was sitting next to me with a tuna melt.

Dating back to the days at the old restaurant, G.N.A.’s tuna melt has been one of my wife’s favorite sandwiches. She has never been able to pinpoint an exact reason, but she has yet to find a tuna sandwich that can match it, with its warm, toasted roll, melted cheese and flavorful tuna mix.

With such a wide variety on the menu, G.N.A. also offers dinners in a wide range of prices. While my lamb shank was one of the higher priced items at just over $20.00, the small tuna melt came in under $5.00.

When a restaurant finds the right mix of great food with the perfect location, you get a place like G.N.A., a place that offers whatever dining experience you are looking for with an excellent food selection to suit every taste.

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

G.N.A. Ristorante
421 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

GNA Ristorante e Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre on Urbanspoon

Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews