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
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

On A Roll Grill

On A Roll Grill Exterior

Editor’s Note: A sign on the door of On a Roll Grill says the restaurant is closed for the season and will reopen in spring.

This summer was one of the busiest that I can remember for new restaurant openings in Berks County.

Some received a lot of hype as they were preparing to open, others opened with little fanfare. Wernersville’s On A Roll Grill fits into the latter category.

On A Roll Grill Interior

The restaurant opened in late June in the Westgate Shops, a small strip mall along Route 422 on the eastern edge of Wernersville borough. It’s the first restaurant to occupy a space in the strip and they did a nice job turning it into a welcoming space.

There are plenty of tables and a handful of counter seats in the restaurant. When we arrived for our first visit it was shortly after 5 p.m. on a Friday night. There was a younger couple finishing their meal at the counter and another gentleman waiting for his takeout order to be completed. We grabbed a table in the middle of the room and waited to be served.

On A Roll Grill Interior

There was only one person working – a woman who I assume is the owner. She apologized for making us wait, though it had really only been a few minutes and it gave us a chance to look over the menu.

On a Roll’s menu is exactly what you expect: burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. That’s not to say there wasn’t variety. There are a dozen varieties of burgers and even more hot dog choices. There are also fries and tots along with pig wings (pork shanks) with 10 dipping sauces to choose from.

On A Roll Grill Coney Island Hamburger

I ordered one of my favorites, a Coney Island burger with a side of crab (Old Bay) fries while Julie ordered a pig-in-a-blanket hot dog with tater tots.

We were surprised by how quickly the food arrived. Despite only one person running the kitchen, our food was at our table in about 10 minutes.

My burger looked great as the caramelized onions were falling out the sides of the bun. The burger patty is not much to speak of – it was smaller than the bun and very thin, McDonald’s sized (and no, not the quarter-pounder) and kind of bland. But at least there was plenty of Coney sauce and onions. I actually really liked the sauce – the beanless chili had just a hint of spice to it – which is good because I would not want to eat the burger plain.

The fries were doused in Old Bay – probably a little too much as they were very salty. The fries, themselves, were the fresh-cut variety and good on their own. And I definitely wasn’t cheated on the portions as the fries easily filled the plate.

On A Roll Grill Pigs-in-a-blanket Burger

Julie’s pig-in-a-blanket burger was what she expected – a variation of the dish where the hot dog is served with a strip of bacon and cheese instead of being wrapped in it. There was a part of her that hoped for the real thing, but for what it was, it was good. The bacon didn’t fit very well into the bun but she managed, and she would have liked a little more cheese, but it was a good hot dog.

Where I ordered one of the specialty fries, Julie had ordered plain tater tots. Like the fries, the tots covered the plate and we were not cheated on portions. But where my fries were overly salty, Julie had to pour salt and pepper on the plain tots to give them a little flavor. But a little S&P went a long way.

On A Roll Grill Chicken Tenders

Jakob was along for our visit but was having one of those fussy eating days (as toddlers do) where all he wanted to do was use the chicken tenders we ordered for him as a spoon for eating ketchup.

The tenders were fried to a dark brown which is actually how I prefer them. I ate one (since he wasn’t) and enjoyed it. They were nice and crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside, just the way I like them. We took two tenders home for later (the fourth in the order was the one we cut for him that he never ate).

I will say this for On A Roll Grill, the prices are right. For all of our food and two bottles of water, we spent $20. Sure, the burgers and hot dogs aren’t gourmet, but a Coney Island burger is $2.25 so I’m not expecting to be blown away.

And despite being short on staff, the service was excellent, which is a big plus.

It may not be my favorite meal that I have ever had, but there is a definitely a place for restaurants like On A Roll Grill. The food won’t blow you away, but if you’re looking for a fast, cheap meal without the drive-thru, On A Roll fits the bill.

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

On A Roll Grill
600 E. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Diners Reviews

Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019

The crowd packed the streets of Hamburger on August 31 for the annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival.

The borough of Hamburg played host to the 16th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival on Saturday, August 31. Record crowds estimated in excess of 40,000 packed the streets (according to the Reading Eagle) to taste some of the best, most creative hamburgers around.

As has been our custom for the last five years, we spent our Labor Day Saturday in search of a great burger.

Going into the event, we combed the list of vendors looking for new burgers to try. We kept coming back to places we have visited in the past – Hamburg’s own 1787 Brewing Company (which we reviewed earlier this year), Brocmar Smokehouse (another favorite of ours), Spuds (one of our early reviews) and Dawn’s Deli.

The Taste of Italy burger from Dawns Deli was topped with their homemade bruschetta and mozzarella cheese, served on garlic bread.

We discovered Dawn’s during a visit to the festival in 2016. Julie was the one who ordered the Taste of Italy Burger, that year’s Grand Champion for restaurants. It was so good we made the trip to Lenhartsville just a few weeks later for second helping of Dawn’s burgers. Here’s what I wrote about it the Taste of Italy Burger at the time:

The Taste of Italy burger featured mozzarella, pesto mayo and homemade bruschetta on a garlic bread bun.

Why was it so great? The homemade bruschetta, for starters. It was as good as any Italian restaurant, with just the right amount balsamic. I could have eaten just the bruschetta with the bun and been happy. But add the pesto and mozzarella, and it turned into a hamburger masterpiece.

It’s one of the best burgers that I have had anywhere.

Read Full Review Here

This year, we decided it was time to go back and try two more of Dawn’s festival creations.

The fastnacht burger from Dawns Deli - a burger served on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and cheese.

The one that caught my eye was the Karen Haak Fastnacht Burger. The program described it as an “all-beef patty on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and powdered sugar.” Yes, please.

It was a beautiful sight to behold – the powdered sugar giving it a little panache. Everything about it was good, but I was left wanting a little more meat. Fastnachts are heavier than the glazed doughnuts that have become popular replacements for hamburger buns (see the line annually for the Deitsch Eck’s Luther burgers at the festival) so it was a little overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great fastnacht, but I would have loved a bigger burger patty. It was good, but didn’t live up to the Taste of Italy.

The Dutchie Burger from Dawns Deli - topped with lettuce, hot bacon dressing, hard-boiled egg, red onion and smoked Gouda cheese.

The Dutchie burger, on the other hand, exceeded our expectations. Julie ordered this one because it featured lettuce and hot bacon dressing (it also included a hard-boiled egg, chopped red onion and smoked gouda on a traditional sesame seed bun).

I am not nearly the fan of lettuce and bacon dressing that Julie is, but this burger was a masterpiece. The bacon dressing added a little vinegar base that soaked into the patty and made it extra moist. The smoked gouda added even more depth to the dish.

I can’t say with conviction that it was better than the Taste of Italy burger, but it is definitely on its level and probably the best we’ve had at the festival since.

Drinking milkshakes at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019
Never ask a toddler to smile for the camera when he has hamburger in his mouth.

After weighing our options, Julie and I both decided that instead of another burger, we indulge in the perfect burger go-with, a milkshake. And not just any milkshake – the famous PA Farm Show milkshakes from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

The soft ice cream-based shakes are always very good, but what I love is that you can order them “black-and-white” style with half vanilla and half chocolate. It’s like three milkshakes in one – the best part is halfway through when the vanilla and chocolate blend beautifully together.

Also while the burger lines were getting longer, the Dairymen have serving shakes down to a science so there was zero wait time.

Next year, we will spread the love, but this year was about rekindling our love of Dawn’s Deli.

Festival Results
*From Facebook.com/TasteofHamburger

Restaurant Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Kooper’s Chowhound
Appearance: Spuds
Taste: Kooper’s Chowhound
Originality: Spuds

Organization Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Salem Church
Appearance: Boy Scout Group #184
Taste: Leesport Odd Fellows
Originality: Salem Church

Mobile Food Trailer Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Appearance: Blazing Swine BBQ
Taste: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Originality: WOW Wagon

Newbie Best Burger
Lucky Penny Burger Co.

People’s Choice Best Burger
First Place: Deitsch Eck
Second Place: Dawn’s Deli
Third Place: Lucky Penny Burger Co.
Fourth Place: Christ Evangelical Free Church

Food Festivals & Events

Circle S Ranch House

The Ranch House is recognizable for its A-frame roof, faux fencing and neon orange sign.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

The dining room looks tired and worn with green cushions and cream curtains accenting worn-out wooden booths

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

The Wagon Wheel hamburger is served plain with no toppings (cheese optional) but does come with a boat load of fries.

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

The grilled pretzel sandwich is the most expensive sandwich on the menu at $8.19. It's served with fries and coleslaw. (Cheese is a 75-cent up-charge).

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt.  Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

The Bull Dog - a four-scoop ice cream sundae - is one of Ranch House's signature desserts and is only $5.

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

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

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

The Other Farm & Forge

I love walking through Berks County’s downtowns.

Julie, Jakob and I are fortunate to live within walking distance of West Reading and the shopping and dining district that is Penn Avenue.

But venture to the county’s eastern edge and you’ll find a downtown on the rise. Boyertown is anchored by incredible attractions in the Colebrookdale Railroad and the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles. The latter was our destination on an early spring day.

With time to spare and empty stomachs, we decided to take a walk through town and find a new place to try for lunch. It was early – only 11:30 a.m. – but lunch service had begun at most places, including The Other Farm Brewing Company

Farm & Forge is the brand used by the brewery for its restaurant and bar along Philadelphia Avenue. The tagline is “Food. Drink. Music. Community.” The first part was really the only one we cared about it.

Sure, we were a little early, but it was obvious that the Other Farm is not a lunch spot. There were only a handful of others in the restaurant – and that number only grew slightly during our visit. The impressive stage in the back of the dining room says that this a place for nightlife, not mid-day.

The food menu isn’t huge but there is decent variety among the salads, wood-fired pizza, “smaller plates” and “bigger plates.”

Among the bigger plates was a lamb burger that sounded too good to pass up. It was topped with roasted tomato chutney, sautéed spinach, fontina cheese and roasted garlic aioli.

It was an excellent burger. First, ground lamb makes an excellent base – it’s more flavorful and richer than beef. And the toppings were perfect – especially the tomato chutney which was sweet and a little tangy and made with cherry tomatoes so the big flavor came in big bites.

Of course any great burger must be served with great fries, and I can say the truffle Parmesan fries (an upgrade I couldn’t pass up) were truly great. They were loaded with shredded Parmesan cheese and parsley for an herby finish that was made a perfect partner for the burger.

Across the table, Julie ordered a chicken bacon ranch pizza, one of her favorite specialty flavors. It was topped with cheddar and fontina cheeses, red onion, and of course grilled chicken and ranch dressing.

It feels like every restaurant in Berks County now offers wood-fired pizza, but that’s not a bad thing. I much prefer the crisp crust produced by the wood-fired oven. It provides a much sturdier, and oftentimes, more flavorful base for the toppings.

The toppings on this pie were strewn about while the ranch was drizzled on in a spiral. Each bite was different, but all were very enjoyable.

Even our toddler enjoyed the slice that his mommy shared with him.

One other thing that I enjoyed was my soup. I had ordered the soup of the day as an appetizer, and it came served with delicious pita chips. The soup was creamy and a little nutty – unfortunately I never wrote down the exact description and because it was the soup of the day, I couldn’t find a description anywhere.

(I did send a Facebook message to Other Farm a week after our visit but only received an auto-response. Though I can’t blame them for not answering a crazy person asking about their soup).

Everything we had was very good, and it was pretty reasonably priced at around $40 for the whole meal.

Boyertown is home to many great restaurants (some we’ve visited include Firefly Cafe, CD’s Place and Jukebox Cafe) and you can count the Other Farm among those.

At this point, Boyertown’s dining scene may be an attraction in and of itself.

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

The Other Farm & Forge
128 E. Philadelphia Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Breweries & Wineries Reviews
1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

1787 Brewing Company

1787 Brewing Company

I’m sure I’ve said this before on the blog, but one thing everyone should know about me is that I love bar food. The only problem is, I don’t drink beer.

Because of that, I always feel a little awkward going to bars, especially microbreweries where most of the people coming in are coming for the craft brews.

1787 Brewing Company

Oftentimes, my love of food wins out, which is what happened on a recent visit to 1787 Brewing Company in Hamburg.

1787 opened in May 2018 in the former Miller’s 5 & 10 in downtown Hamburg. The old-time general store was a fixture along Fourth Street in the borough’s business district until it closed in 2015.

1787 Brewing Company

The name 1787 Brewing Company comes from the year the borough was founded, so it’s only right that it now takes up a historic building in the heart of town.

1787 Brewing Company

Julie and I were amazed by how deep the building actually is. The front bar is fairly large, but it opens into a larger dining room overlooking the brewing vats. Throughout the dining room there were nods to Hamburg’s history, including old signs from local businesses new and old, including Spokes Bike Shop, Schlenger Motors and the Windsor Press.

The food menu is certainly not robust, but it is well-curated, featuring a mix of burgers, sandwiches and flatbreads.

In addition, 1787 Brewing Company offers weekly specials. That’s where I found the honey ham flatbread.

1787 Brewing Company Honey Ham Flatbread

It was topped with ricotta, shaved ham, fig puree and cranberries, and it looked beautiful when it arrived with bubbly, slightly darkened cheese.

1787 Brewing Company Honey Ham Flatbread

And it tasted as good as I had imagined – a wonderful sweet and salty blend that was hearty and savory. The ham was (mostly) under the cheese which kept it from getting burnt. The fig puree ensured every bite had a note of sweetness, but the bites with the cranberries were the best. I look forward to trying more flatbreads from 1787 in the future.

Among the main menu selections are two “dietary accommodations.” One veggie burger with cheese and one vegan black bean burger. The latter was Julie’s selection.

1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

The black bean burger was topped with guacamole, salsa, romaine and red onion on a sweet potato bun.

Black bean burgers are a mixed bag. They are flavorful in a very different way from meat, but they don’t hold their shape very well. The patty was definitely soft and started to fall apart, but it had a great flavor, especially with the salsa and guac to complement it. The sweet potato bun was also very good and would be a great addition to any burger.

1787 Brewing Company Vegan Black Bean Burger

Neither of us are vegans, but we would definitely order it again.

On the side, Julie upgraded her chips to fries. They were thin-cut and fried to a dark brown, but not burnt. They were a nice side to complete a good meal.

Looking at the restaurant’s website, I knew 1787 had a kids menu, but I had no idea how accommodating they would be. Not only did they have ample high chairs, they offered us a choice of crayons or Play-Doh for our little 15-month-old.

1787 Brewing Company Chicken Fingers

Unfortunately Jakob was more interested in eating the crayons than the chicken fingers from his kids meal. I ended up eating some while we were there – not bad, but they were pretty basic (they are all-natural from Bell and Evans so that’s a definite plus). We took most of it home and Jakob did enjoy the leftovers, without the distractions of the restaurant.

We didn’t order beer – trust me, you wouldn’t want me reviewing beer anyway – but we did order a couple drinks: iced tea for me, soda for Julie. Along with our food, that brought our total bill to a little more than $35.

Truth be told, if Jakob had been more settled, we would have splurged on dessert. Lava cake, specifically.

But that will have to wait for another time. And there will be another time because at 1787 Brewing Company, the food is definitely worth it, whether you are a beer drinker or not.

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

1787 Brewing Company
43 S. Fourth St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

The Angry Anvil

The Angry Anvil

I always appreciate a restaurant that has a sense of place.

There are many restaurants that have a concept first, then force fit that concept into a location. But there are others that naturally flow with their environment and their location.

The Angry Anvil, which opened in Birdsboro at the end of 2018, certainly fits the town.

The Angry Anvil

It’s not just the historic photos and portraits on the wall or cleverly named menu items like the Birdsburger.

The restaurant sits at the end of a strip mall, overlooking the town from a slope on the south side. The spacious dining room – larger than it looks from the outside – features high- and low-top tables made of metal, an homage to the steel industry that once thrived in Birdsboro.

The Angry Anvil

Serving American pub fusion food with American craft beers – with a few imports – the menu isn’t small, but it is focused.

Dinner options include sandwiches and burgers, wraps, flatbreads and salads, with a range of appetizers that includes four kinds of specialty fries. It’s blue-collar food for a blue-collar town, just elevated.

Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

Looking over the menu, I was drawn to the ranch fried chicken sandwich: topped with bacon, spring mix, bruschetta and sweet corn ranch, and served with a side of beer-battered fries.

There was a lot to love about this sandwich. The fried chicken was flavorful on its own. The bruschetta, which seemed to be featured on half of the menu items, was fresh and bright. But what really separated this was the sweet corn ranch.

I’ve had ranch on corn before but never corn infused into the dressing. It’s a great flavor combination that led to a little sweeter dressing, one that paired perfectly with the rest of the sandwich ingredients.

The sandwich was served with a half-pound of beer-battered fries. Battered fries always seem to go down easier, even after I am already full. There wasn’t a piece left by the time I had finished.

The Angry Anvil Balsamic Bleu Burger

Julie opted for one of the Angry Anvil’s burgers – the balsamic bleu burger. It came topped with bruschetta, spring mix, balsamic reduction and bleu cheese spread.

It was another hit. The balsamic was strong without being overpowering and played really nicely with the bleu cheese. If anything was lacking it would be a little crunch from the toppings. But there were zero complaints about the flavor.

On the side, Julie swapped out her fries for an order of the Angry Anvil’s homemade chips. They were very good – crispy and lightly seasoned – in line with what we’ve found of similar offerings elsewhere.

The Angry Anvil

Along with a glass of wine and an iced tea, our total for the night was $33. When the highest-priced food item is $14, it’s easy to splurge on drinks without breaking the bank.

As we were getting ready to leave, the Angry Anvil’s owner stopped by our table (I recognized him from a photo from when the place opened) as he made his rounds. He was surprised that Julie and I had made the trip from Wyomissing to Birdsboro (it’s 15 minutes) but was glad to hear we enjoyed our meal.

We were glad, too. Glad to know that the Angry Anvil has added another quality option to Birdsboro and Berks County, and one that we will happily return to again.

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

The Angry Anvil
200 W. 1st St
Birdsboro, PA 19508

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Liberty Ale House G.O.A.T. Burger

Liberty Ale House

Liberty Ale House Exterior

Recently, I wrote about our second blog visit to an Alebrije restaurant and how it compared to our initial visit five years earlier.

Unintentionally, history repeats itself this week. You see, in 2016, Julie and I visited the Liberty Taproom in Exeter Township. We loved everything about our meal there and we were very excited when plans were announced for a sister restaurant, the Liberty Ale House, to be opened later that year.

Liberty Ale House Interior

The Liberty Ale House sits in a small building along Lancaster Avenue in Reading (the restaurant is within the city limits, but barely). From the outside, it looks more like a house than a restaurant, except for the enclosed porch filled with chairs and the string lights above the outdoor seating area.

When Julie and I visted in December, we were on our own (Jakob was spending some quality time with his  grandparents). We were seated at a high-top table for two just inside the door on what was a quiet Friday evening.

Liberty Ale House Interior 2

The menus at the Ale House and the Tap Room are similar. Both offer a selection of tacos, burgers and sandwiches, but there are noticeable differences. The Ale House menu is a little smaller with no pizza or Stromboli like the sister restaurant has.

One thing both offer is wings, but there are even differences here. During our visit to the Taproom, the standout of the night were the wings. Coated in Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce, they are among the best around.

Liberty Ale House Jerk BBQ Wings

The only BBQ options at the Ale House were sweet jerk BBQ and pineapple Siracha BBQ (there is also a Memphis dry rub, for those who like their barbecue without sauce).

We ordered five of the sweet jerk BBQ wings,  and I have say that I was a little disappointed. That’s not to say that they weren’t good – they were – but they weren’t as good as the Taproom, in my opinion. The sauce was fine, a little less thick, with a little sweet and spicy profile. They were good wings, but I was hoping for great.

Thinking back on our visit to the Taproom, I remembered how much I enjoyed the burger. So when I saw something on the ale house menu called the G.O.A.T. burger, how could I resist.

Liberty Ale House G.O.A.T. Burger

The Angus beef burger was topped with bacon, goat cheese, red onion and cranberry aioli.

It’s definitely not the “greatest of all time” but it’s a good burger. I love goat cheese on a burger – it adds a creamy element that you don’t get from sliced cheese and the tang works well, epsecially with bacon. I was a little let down by the cranberry aioli. It wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t feel like it added as much flavor as it could have.

Overall, though, I was happy with my selection – and with my decision to upgrade to fries. Sure, they are a little greasy, but they are good.

Liberty Ale House Thai Chicken Tacos (w/ Lettuce Wrap)

While my meal packed on the Calories, Julie went the other direction, ordering Thai chicken tacos while opting for the lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla.

The tacos featured tempura fried chicken, sweet Thai chili, shiso cucumber slaw, avocado and cilantro. We were both impressed. The Thai chili sauce was flavorful and it had some heat, but not too much. The slaw was very good. And the lettuce wraps actually added to the flavor in a way that a flour tortilla wouldn’t have. They also made the the order of the three tacos less heavy and more manageable.

In all, we spent about $35 on the night. It was a good meal, though I would add that our server was less than attentive considering how early we were and how few tables she was handling at the time.

Three years ago, our meal at Liberty Taproom set the bar high. My meal at the Ale House didn’t quite reach that bar, but I would definitely go back.

And I’m sure I would enjoy my meal even more the second time.

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

Liberty Ale House
1501 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19607

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

In October 2018, Arby’s tested a very unique sandwich at one of its Berks County locations. The Arby’s in Spring Township sold – and sold out of – the one-time-only duck sandwich.

It was a very different concept, especially for a national fast food chain. But it was met with positive reviews, and the line that morning when Arby’s opened up said there was a demand for it.

That’s where the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville comes in. They saw opportunity and capitalized on it, introducing duck on their menu in November.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

While duck is normally found on finer dining menus – five-spice duck breast at Savory Grille and ravioli with duck ragu at Salute come to mind – it’s not the first time I’ve had it in a more casual setting.

At the Liberty Taproom, I enjoyed a duck confit burger topped with duck sausage. And my first real taste of duck came at the relaxed Canal Street Pub.

But fast food is a different story. Walking into the Kwik Shoppe – a quintessential drive-in with hexagonal tile floor, booth seating and a claw machine behind the door – duck just doesn’t seem to fit.

The Kwik Shoppe has three different duck items on their menu: the pulled duck sandwich, duck fries and a duck sausage sandwich. All of them sounded good, but a photo of the pulled duck sandwich on the restaurant’s Facebook page had me sold before I got there.

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

The sandwich was topped with an onion ring and pineapple papaya sauce (barbecue sauce was also an option).

Before diving into the sandwich, I tasted the meat on its own. It was similar to a pulled pork but fattier with a deeper flavor. I was impressed.

On the whole, the sandwich was very good. There wasn’t a lot of sauce, but there didn’t need to be. It added some sweet and tangy notes that came through after the meat. The onion ring was a reminder that I was eating fast food. It wasn’t necessary, but I certainly didn’t mind it either.

I would go back for another.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Cheeseburger

Julie went with the much less exciting cheeseburger. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not going to win any best burger contests. It was also around $2 so we’re not going to complain.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In French Fries

Both of us did enjoy our fries. They weren’t anything special, just a really good fast food-style French fry. They were cut small so you could pop several of them at a time. I think their small size allowed them to retain more flavor from the fryer. After adding a little salt and pepper, they were just what we hoped they would be.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Mac and Cheese Bites

Jakob, our now one-year-old son, is now at the point that he can have his own food when we go out. So we got him an order for mac and cheese bites. He enjoyed them, eating two out of the five in the order (along with some fries and some duck). Again, nothing special, just a typical fried fast food side.

None of us really needed anything else to eat after our dinners, but the ice cream was right there, and we just couldn’t pass up the chance to indulge.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Ice Cream

I am a sucker for flurries so my go-to on this night was a brownie dough flurry. The flurry was actually mixed to the point that much of the brownie had broken off into small bits, making it look more like cookies and cream than brownie dough. But there were still some larger chunks that were definitely brownie. It was delicious, but a small was more than enough for me, especially after indulging at dinner.

Julie’s new favorite dessert is the dusty road sundae. Kwik Shoppe loaded theirs up with chocolate syrup, malt powder, whipped cream, crushed peanuts and the obligatory cherry on top. The soft-serve vanilla was very good and they didn’t skimp on the toppings. Julie couldn’t finish it, but made sure to eat “all the good stuff.”

We spent about $32 on our visit – $22 on dinner and $10 on dessert. The duck items are a little more expensive than the rest of the menu so we easily could have spent less and we easily could have spent more. But overall, it felt like a good value.

The service isn’t great (a little slow but not bad), but that’s to be expected when a group of four high school students are handling all of the orders behind the counter.

I went in to the meal with an open mind when it came to fast food duck. After eating the pulled duck sandwich, I think you can count me among the believers.

And I hope there are more believers out there because this was a sandwich I would like to have again.

BCE Rating
Food: Fair to Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Good
Value: Reasonable

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In
555 Shoemaker Ave
Shoemakersville, PA 19555

Dessert Drive-Ins Lunch & Dinner Reviews