Belly Kitchen Pan Perdu

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

Goggleworks Center for the Arts

Seven and a half years ago, in August 2011, Julie and I were married. And we celebrated with a reception at the Goggleworks. The downtown art center was the perfect venue for us.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, as Julie and I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that it had been seven and a half years since my last visit.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

We were back, this time to check out Belly Kitchen & Drinkery, the on-site bar and restaurant that opened last year. Located just off the main entrance, Belly’s dining area blends into the galleries. Our high top table had fine crafted wooden stools. The table itself was filled with sawdust – presumably from the wood studio. Stark metal tables and chairs were spread throughout the rest of the space. A duo – guitar and keyboard – played from a spot along the wall.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

I had heard good things about Belly’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The weekly brunches started in December and feature a special menu with live local jazz musicians.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

The rest of the week, Belly is open for lunch and dinner with a menu that includes salads, sandwiches and apps. On Sundays the offerings expand to include inspired breakfast entrees like blueberry cheesecake crepes and breakfast nachos and lunch items like the vegetarian roast beet. They also have a full bar with mixed drinks and Sly Fox beer on tap.

Goggleworks Center for the Arts

Meals are ordered at the bar/counter area. I noticed a large box full of novelty stress toys on the counter. These were handed out to customers in lieu of numbers.

I was handed a lightbulb. “I’ll give you this because you look bright.”

“Tell that to my wife,” I replied, getting the slightest obligatory laugh.

A day before our visit, I saw a Facebook post advertising the brunch. It featured a photo of the Brooklyn pan perdu. It was not a dish that I had heard of or seen on any other Berks County menu, but the moment I saw it, I knew I had to try it.

Belly Kitchen Pan Perdu

It looked like French toast, and it essentially is, but instead of a white bread, it’s made with Green’s chocolate babka, a sweet kosher bread. After an egg wash and some time on the grill, it was topped with a salted caramel maple drizzle and served with a yogurt “smear” with pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Belly Kitchen Brooklyn Pan Perdu

While it may have looked like French toast, there was no mistaking this for any other dish  I have ever tried. It was so rich and the chocolate flavor really shined through in every bite. The glaze melted away and made it perfectly sweet. I savored every bite of my two slices of babka. When I was done, I wished I had another order that I could dig into, not because I was hungry, but because they were that good.

Belly Kitchen Durham Plate

Julie’s brunch was even more intricate. She had ordered the Durham plate, two stacks of breakfast goodness that started with a buttermilk biscuit. The biscuits were topped with fried green tomatoes, maple glazed sausage patties, pimento cheese, poached eggs and cornbread crumble.

Every ingredient was done to perfection and they came together so well. In the bite she let me try, the sausage shined through, but for Julie, the first thing she noticed was the fried green tomatoes. The egg ran into the nooks and crannies of the biscuit. Every bite was a little different, but all of them were delicious.

Belly Kitchen Durham Plate

The plate was garnished with potato sticks, another classic snack from childhood that neither of us had tasted in a long time, but one that was definitely enjoyed.

Add on a strawberry lemonade and a bottle of water from the fridge and we spent around $30 for our meal.

And it was a memorable meal at that.

I won’t say that our visit to Belly Kitchen & Drinkery was as memorable as our wedding reception – that would be hard to top.

But when it comes to the food, Belly Kitchen wins, hands down. Our wedding made the Goggleworks a special place for us. Belly makes it a place we want to hang out all the time.

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

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery
Goggleworks Center for the Arts
201 Washington St
Reading, PA 19601

Breakfast & Brunch Reviews

Signatures by Angell Cafe – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace closed at the end of March 2019, just a few months after opening. Signatures by Angell continues to operate as a catering and meal prep business in Delaware.

In early November, a newspaper story caught my attention. It wasn’t in the Reading Eagle, but in LNP, Lancaster’s local paper.

The article announced the arrival of the Morgantown Farmers Marketplace, a 25-vendor market located behind the Dollar General and Kog Hill Winery – just over the border in Lancaster County.

What caught my attention more than anything wasn’t the farmers market, itself, but the paper’s mention of a stand selling Southern comfort food.

A couple months later in early January, Julie, Jakob and I made the drive down I-176 and the Morgantown Expressway to check it out.

The Marketplace is an eclectic group of vendors. There were hemp products, sports figures, soaps and vintage arcade games, all under one roof. It’s not much of a farmers market, though.

There’s a small produce stand and a deli. And then there’s Signatures by Angell Cafe.

Chef Angell is a celebrity chef from the Greater Philadelphia area, teaching classes and hosting cooking demonstrations around southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware – where her catering business is based.

The Morgantown cafe is an extension of the catering, a place to get her “signature” soul food every Thursday through Sunday. It features a limited menu that rotates weekly, but two items that seem to be on the menu every week are fried chicken and southern smothered chicken.

Smothered chicken is slow-cooked chicken served in sausage gravy. It’s a simple dish, but Angell does it very well. It’s fresh chicken, not processed strips, and there was plenty of it. The sausage gravy was heavy but good. I was surprised by how well the sausage and chicken worked together. And the potato roll hiding underneath the gravy – while a small touch -added a mild sweetness to the dish.

I would definitely order it again.

For my two sides, I ordered the braised collard greens and sweet potato soufflé. The collards were tossed with smoked turkey, giving it a savory and salty flavor to go with the bitter greens. The soufflé was excellent: sweet and hearty.

Julie was really hoping to try an order of fried chicken, but they were sold out for the day by the time we arrived. (When she didn’t see a fryer in the open kitchen, she was ok with not having any).

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – Julie also ordered the smothered chicken. She also doubled on the sweet potatoes (the cafe has a very limited menu of three entrees and three to four sides each week) but for her second side chose the macaroni and cheese.

The idea was to share the mac and cheese with our one-year-old son Jakob, but he was too busy watching everything going on around him to eat. The Hunger Games  was playing on the TV behind us, just what we wanted him to watch.

Julie enjoyed it, though. Because mac and cheese is one of Jakob’s favorite dishes, Julie has also eaten a lot of macaroni lately. This was one of the better ones that she has had recently.

The only real negative we had about our meal is that we had to hold Jakob throughout the meal. There was plenty of seating – picnic tables and cafe seats – but no high chairs and no chairs with backs where we could secure his portable chair we carry with us. That’s on the market, though, not the cafe.

Everything about the Cafe was very good – even the $35 price tag felt reasonable for the quality of the food that we received.

The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace could use a little work yet, but Signatures by Angell Cafe is a great anchor to have. Our meal certainly makes me want to go back.

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

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Cheers American Bistro

There are many great reasons to visit downtown Reading, but none are as high profile as the 18-month old DoubleTree Hotel.

The DoubleTree is a big deal. The hotel brings meetings, conventions and visitors that would otherwise be staying outside the city. And it also brought a highly regarded restaurant.

I have eaten in a lot of hotel restaurants, very few of them offering anything remarkable, but Cheers American Bistro gets high marks across all of the major review sites (4.5 stars out of 5 on both Yelp and TripAdvisor).

While I have wanted to go in for dinner, my first opportunity to try Cheers was a Sunday brunch with Julie and 10 members of our church congregation.

Because of our large numbers, we were seated in the Boscov Executive Board Room, a private space normally reserved for small meetings.

It was a different experience from the dining room – private and quiet with desk chairs around a boardroom table.

The brunch buffet was on the other side of two small sets of stairs. On my two trips to the buffet, I peeked into the dining room – lots of tables for two, a combination of booths and tables (and some seats that were a mix of both). If not for our large numbers, we wouldn’t have needed reservations as there were plenty of seats available.

The buffet was fairly standard. It was dominated by breakfast foods, the lone exception was the tray of meatballs in marinara sauce. After surveying the landscape, I went to the made-to-order omelet station.

Mine was stuffed with onions, red bell peppers, spinach, tomato and cheese. On the side, I had a dollop of fresh made tomatillo salsa (the three salsas were labeled – hot, hot and very hot).

The omelet was very good. The ingredients were fresh and vibrant. But the hot salsa made it memorable. It had heat but also a great flavor that accentuated the vegetables instead of hiding them.

On my second trip, I loaded up on breakfast buffet staples: French toast, home fries and a biscuit with cream chipped beef.

The French toast was just a small piece, but it was rich and tasty, if a little crispy from sitting in the warming dish. The home fries were well-seasoned and enjoyable.

But the most remarkable item on the plate was the cream chipped beef. It was very rich with a buttery note. On the buffet, it seemed runny, but it thickened up nicely atop the biscuit and I found myself really enjoying it. The biscuit, like the French toast, had been on the hot bar for a little while, but it wasn’t bad.

If I have one regret, it’s that I did not have room to indulge in any of the dessert pastries. The strudel bites, cinnamon rolls, Danishes, muffins and assorted breads all looked delicious.

Overall, everyone was very happy with the experience and food at Cheers. It wasn’t the variety that Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery offers, but it was enough to please everyone at the table.

And the $14 per person price tag was in line with what I would expect to pay for a good breakfast buffet. (And you don’t have to pay to park because the restaurant will validate the parking for you, as long as you use the DoubleTree’s lot).

The DoubleTree Hotel will continue to bring thousands of people to downtown Reading year after year. Those people will come to stay, to explore and to eat.

And it will bring me back to try dinner.

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

Cheers American Bistro
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
701 Penn Street
Reading, PA 19601

Cheers American Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brunch Buffets Finer Dining Reviews

Chef Alan’s American Bistro

Chef-Alan-sBerks County has experienced an amazing culinary renaissance in recent years.

New restaurants have arrived, bringing new ideas to compliment the area’s old favorites.

Nowhere is that more evident than along Penn Avenue in West Reading.

The town’s main street has seen an incredible resurgence over the past decade as storefronts have filled up with boutiques, shops and, of course, restaurants.

But in order to build West Reading into what it has become, West Reading had to have anchors in place to build around.

Chef Alan’s American Bistro is one of those anchors.

For two-and-a-half decades, Chef Alan’s has helped anchor West Reading’s downtown. The business has gone through many changes during that time, including the opening (and subsequent closing) of a second location in the Fairgrounds Square Mall.

Even the West Reading location has gone through several changes in the past 25 years, most notably the loss of a large amount of banquet space, where I had attended numerous receptions and events over the years.

Somehow, though, I had never actually sat down to a full dinner in Chef Alan’s dining room.

The room is dimly lit, with single lamps hanging above each table. The lamp shades are the same deep shade of purple, part of Chef Alan’s odd color palette that includes yellow walls with purple window trim and purple napkins.

The unique colors echo the bistro’s unique menu. Like the town, it is a blend of old and new. There are standard items like chicken Parmigiana, build-your-own burgers and steaks and chops. But there are plenty of unique dishes as well, including the grilled salmon BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato) and eight individual pizza creations.

Italian-Wedding-Soup-Chef-Alan-s

My meal began with an old favorite: Italian wedding soup. The tiny meatballs packed a lot of flavor and the chunks of chicken breast were a welcome addition. Though the broth was a little on the salty side, it was a very good cup of soup, just a teaser of things to come.

Chicken-And-Biscuits-Chef-Alan-s

Chicken and biscuits is a dish you would see on a diner menu, not something you would expect from a chef, but this was unlike any chicken and biscuits I had before.

First, the presentation was beautiful, with peas, shredded carrots and parsley sprinkled atop two halves of a flaky biscuit and a perfectly seared chicken breast.

What looked like standard chicken gravy was a rich sauce. The addition of mushrooms to the sauce gives it a unique flavor, a creamy broth crossed with Marsala for a completely unique flavor combination.

Garlic-Mashed-Potatoes-Chef-Alan-s

Every element worked together to create a harmonious flavor. Add on a side of garlic mashed potatoes, which looked more like a bowl of soft ice cream, and it made up one of the best dishes I have tasted on my journey across Berks County.

Crabby-Seawich-Chef-Alan-s

Across the table from me,  my wife enjoyed the crabby seawich-Chef Alan’s take on the classic crab cake sandwich served on wheat bread with cheddar cheese. The best part though, were the bistro fries, which we sprinkled with sea salt and the peppercorn medley that were available on the table.

Lemon-Berry-Cake-Chef-Alan-s

Somehow we also managed to force dessert. After forcing our waitress to hold the dessert tray a little longer than we probably should have, we opted for a slice of lemon berry cake. The white cake was loaded with blueberries with a layer of lemon cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Four dollops of whipped cream sat in the corners of the plate, which was drizzled with strawberry sauce.

The sauce was very sweet, which played well against the lemon cream. Together they made for an amazing dessert, one that we had no problem finishing after our big meals.

Top to bottom, my meal at Chef Alan’s was one of the best I have had since starting Berks County Eats. I did miss having a starter salad, but the addition of the $2 soup helped make up for it. In all, we spent about $35 for our meals and shared dessert.

After heading outside, I took a look down Penn Avenue – there are restaurants to the left, restaurants to the right and restaurants right across the street.

As West Reading’s reputation continues to grow and new restaurants continue to pop up, it’s good to know that Chef Alan’s will continue to be one of the cornerstones.

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

Chef Alan’s Restaurant and Bar
525 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Chef Alan's American Bistro on Urbanspoon

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews