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.”
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Beer Wall on Penn
619 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611