A styrofoam container with a stir-fry, including chicken, carrot, green beans, onion and red and green bell peppers from Eve's Thai Kitchen

Eve’s Thai Kitchen

A look at the owners working behind the counter at Eve's Thai Kitchen

In the last two years, I have found myself more and more at the Shillington Farmers Market. The Farmers Market of Wyomissing – just a few blocks from our house – is still our go-to for our fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, but it just can’t compare with Shillington when it comes to take-out meals.

Brocmar Smokehouse has been one of my favorites since it opened. Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe is always good. And we even enjoyed our simple breakfast we tried at the Market Cafe.

Last year, the market added a new stand that brought even more variety to the market: Eve’s Thai Kitchen.

The Specials of the Day sign at Eve's Thai Kitchen with menu items written in colored chalk

Eve’s Thai Kitchen opened in May, offering a selection of made-to-order dishes from southeast Asia. The menu is limited but still offers variety with both noodle and rice dishes and appetizers that include spring rolls, cheese rolls, soup and chicken satay.

Like most farmers market stands, Eve’s has a pretty simple setup. Guests order at the counter and wait, either hanging out until the food is ready or making a couple stops around the market while the food is prepared. Eve’s does have the advantage of having two dedicated tables with six chairs across the aisle.

Pineapple fried rice with chicken, broccoli and carrot from Eve's Thai Kitchen

I made my first visit to Eve’s back in August and was very impressed with both the service and my order of pineapple fried rice with chicken.

The dish is a great blend of savory and sweet. The pineapple is wonderful and the fruit definitely stars in the dish. But there are more hits of sweetness from the dried cranberries that were mixed in. Cashews added some crunch while the addition of broccoli and carrots both added color and made me feel less guilty about finishing the whole thing.

My first impression made me want to come back and try even more, but it took several months before I found time to return. This time, I brought along Julie and our little man, Jakob.

A styrofoam container of pineappel fried rice with shrimp and vegetables from Eve's Thai Kitchen.

Like me, Julie couldn’t resist the pineapple fried rice. But instead of chicken, she ordered hers with shrimp. And she enjoyed it just as much as I had. She had enjoyed the addition of the shrimp.

She shared everything with Jakob. While he refused the shrimp, he loved the rice and kept asking for more. He also liked the baby corn, which I hadn’t remembered from my order of the pineapple rice. The baby corn is a favorite of mine as well and was a nice addition.

For my second visit, I decided to try something different. On the specials menu, I saw a basil stir-fry. It included your choice of meat (chicken, for me), green beans, onion, carrots and bell peppers over white rice.

A styrofoam container with a stir-fry, including chicken, carrot, green beans, onion and red and green bell peppers from Eve's Thai Kitchen

It was very good and used fresh basil that gave the deep brown sauce a nice herby flavor. I enjoyed everything about it. I especially liked that it was served over white rice instead of fried. While fried rice is good, I always prefer white rice because it soaks up the flavor of everything around it so well. It makes for a much more complete dish, in my opinion, and in this case it allowed the basil sauce, chicken and vegetables to really shine.

Also, I should mention that Eve’s allows you to choose your level of spice: none, mild, medium, hot or Thai hot. Julie went with “none” while I went with “mild.” I didn’t find mild to be very spicy at all, but that doesn’t mean I’m brave enough to raise my spice level next time.

Our food didn’t take long either. Though it was obviously made fresh, it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before it was ready for us. And the price was right as well. Adding on two bottles of water, it was less than $25 for our meals.

On both of my visits, Eve’s Thai Kitchen really delivered with impressive food done well – and done quickly – at a very reasonable price (as you would expect at a farmers market stand).

And it fits in well at the Shillington Farmers Market, which has become a destination for great food here in Berks.

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

Eve’s Thai Kitchen
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Asian & Pacific Islands Reviews
An order of chicken Paremsan, featuring an extra large chicken breast topped with red sauce on a bed of spaghetti, from Temple Family Restaurant.

Temple Family Restaurant

A view of the entrance to Temple Family Restaurant.

I have always enjoyed a good diner, but I’ve found that I appreciate them even more since becoming a father because I know they are a safe bet for a night out with my son.

Diners always have plenty of seating (including high chairs), the service is quick and there are always kids options on the menu.

So when we were struggling to decide on a place to go for a family dinner on a Sunday in December, my mind went to diners. And that’s how we ended up at the Temple Family Restaurant.

A view of Temple Family Restaurant's large dining room, featuring tables, booths and blue accent lighting at the ceiling.

It had been years since Julie and I last visited Temple Family Restaurant – at least five because we hadn’t been back since Berks County Eats became a thing. We had always enjoyed it, but with so many places to visit, it had fallen off our radar.

Julie, Jakob and I arrived around 5 p.m. and found the restaurant to be busy, but not crowded. The dining area is very large with booths lining every wall and free-standing tables in the middle.

Our waitress was very attentive, arriving at our table within moments of being seated. She was happy to help as we worked to keep Jakob occupied – providing us with an extra menu for him to entertain himself with and also ensuring that his applesauce arrived with our salads.

Mixed greens topped with croutons, cheese and red onions, served with a side of Ranch dressing at Temple Family Restaurant

The menu is large and varied, but all of the “American Classics,” “Pasta Specialties,” and “Steaks and Chops” are served with a choice of soup or salad.

The salads were simple, mostly greens and croutons topped with shredded cheese, onions, green pepper slices and cherry tomatoes. It also came with more than enough salad dressing – at least twice as much in the cup than we usually see with diners.

A pair of dinner rolls in a basket with 10 packets of butter

Our meals were also served with fresh rolls and butter. The rolls were served warm and were very good. They also came with a pile of butter packets (I think I used half of a packet for mine).

For my entree, I chose the chicken croquettes. I have always enjoyed the fried chicken dish, but it’s not something I order very often. I was, however, very glad that I ordered it here.

Two chicken croquettes and a side of potato filling, smothered in gravy, from Temple Family Restaurant

The croquettes were delicious. The breading was nicely seasoned and the chicken had a great flavor to it. And as simple as it was, the bed of mashed potatoes the croquettes were served on were a perfect complement. And the croquettes were huge. I decided to save one for later rather than overdoing it at the restaurant.

Was it a steak dinner at a five-star restaurant? Absolutely not. Was it delicious comfort food? Absolutely.

Not taking the time to study the menu as much as I should have, I ordered potato filling as a side – even though the meal already came with mashed potatoes. (Full disclosure: when I was a teenager, I would do this on purpose when we went to diners. That was not the case here). The filling was fine, but nothing special. I actually enjoyed the mashed potatoes a little bit better.

An order of chicken Paremsan, featuring an extra large chicken breast topped with red sauce on a bed of spaghetti, from Temple Family Restaurant.

Julie had ordered the chicken Parmesan (both of our meals were listed as “homemade” in the menu and had pictures to further sway us on our decisions). It, too, was very good. The chicken breast had a crisp breading on the outside. The sauce was a little sweet and a little thicker than some places. But I thought it all came together very well.

And it was also huge. The chicken breast covered nearly the full length of the oblong plate. Julie didn’t even attempt to finish the whole thing, bringing home half for a later meal.

Her meal also came with a slice of garlic toast. It was not as good as the dinner roll. I thought it tasted more like Texas toast. Either way, it was completely unnecessary given the size of the chicken breast and the fact that we already had bread at the table.

The kids personal pan pizza at Temple Family Restaurant

The kids menu isn’t huge, but there are enough choices to keep most children happy. Jakob was pleased with his personal pan pizza. It didn’t look like anything I would eat, but Jakob finished every bite so I guess it served its purpose well.

He did not want his applesauce, though, so I ended up giving him my buttered corn, which he happily ate for me.

A small cup of rice pudding topped with whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon from Temple Family Restaurant

At the end of the meal, having saved a little bit of room, Julie decided to splurge for some rice pudding for her and Jakob. It came topped with whipped cream and was dusted with cinnamon. Rice pudding is not my favorite – it’s a texture thing for me, mostly – but Julie loves it, especially at diners. Jakob didn’t have much interest in anything other than the whipped cream so I ended up eating most of his share.

We certainly got a lot for our money during our meal as our two entrees, kids meal and rice pudding cost us $31.

It was an enjoyable meal, and kid-friendly at that. Mommy, daddy and Jakob all enjoyed our food and were happy with our decision.

Diners are once again moving to the forefront for me. And Temple Family Restaurant has earned a place near the top of our list.

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

Temple Family Restaurant
4949 N. 5th Street Hwy
Temple, PA 19560

Dessert Diners Lunch & Dinner
Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

Latin Taste

Latin Taste occupies a corner space in the Berkshire Mall food court

In the last few years, all the news around the Berkshire Mall has been the negative – the closings of Sears and Bon-Ton at the top of the list.

But even with their loss, the Mall remains the largest shopping center in Berks County. And with the holidays approaching, the crowds have returned once again.

A look behind the counter at Latin Taste

We were among the crowds that headed to the mall on a Sunday afternoon in early December. We were there to shop, but we were also there to get a taste – at Latin Taste.

Latin Taste is one of seven options – the others are Chick Fil-A, China Max, Lola’s Ice, Ray’s #1 Pizza, Subway and Taco Casa – in the Berkshire Mall’s food court. It’s also the newest, having opened a little more than a year ago in November 2018 (Lola’s Ice having opened the month prior).

Latin Taste features warming tables for most of its foods

The stand features warming tables with most of the dishes ready-made for eating in or taking home. And before you scoff at the idea of someone going to the mall for take-out, consider that the Grub Hub delivery driver picked up a large order while we were there.

We looked at everything on display, but in the end both Julie and I went with our favorites: pollo al horno (baked chicken) for her, and pernil (Spanish pulled pork) for me.

Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

This was a very good version of my favorite Latin American dish. The flavors from the seasoning and marinade were very strong and the fatty parts were melt-in-you-mouth.

A close-up picture of pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

One thing I have always found with pernil is that it is richer than an American barbecue pulled pork. This was no exception. As much as I enjoyed it, I had to leave a little on my plate because it was just too much for me.

Same with the rice. There was no skimping on the portions as half the plate was covered in the yellow rice. I liked it, just as I like almost all Spanish rice. It was just a lot.

A close-up of baked chicken with macaroni salad and yellow rice in the background, from Latin Taste

Julie’s baked chicken, like my pernil, was very well seasoned, with the flavors soaking through the skin into the meat. I’m not normally a fan of baked chicken, but I found this to be flavorful and anything but dry – always my biggest concern.

In addition to rice, Julie had a side of macaroni salad, which actually was a macaroni and tuna salad. It was creamy and very good. The tuna was just a little unexpected. (Even Jakob, our two-year-old, didn’t mind the tuna as he ate almost all of the salad that Julie shared with him).

A bowl of fried plantains from Latin Taste

Unable to resist, we had also ordered a side of sweet plantains. There were none ready on the warming table so this was one item that was made fresh for us. They were also very good, but you don’t have to do a whole lot to plantains (other than cook them) to make a delicious side.

Overall, we were more than satisfied with everything that we ordered. The price was right, too. Our bill was $25, but we had a coupon for $7 off a $25 order so we got everything for $18. (Next time you get the Valpak coupons in the mail, at least pull out the one for Latin Taste. It’s a great deal).

While the Berkshire Mall may not draw the crowds it did when it opened, and there are two very noticeable empty spaces, the mall still has a lot to offer. Especially if what you’re looking for is good Latin food.

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

Latin Taste
Berkshire Mall
1665 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner
Lo mein from San's Asian Food

San’s Asian Food

A row of chairs from San's Asian Food

In 2017, I got my first taste of 1 Potato Two and their signature spudwich. It was so unique – and delicious – that I named it one of my five favorite entrees of 2017.

The stand was still brand new at the Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market when I visited. Now, about two-and-a-half years later, 1 Potato Two is gone.

But the space has already been filled by San’s Asian Food.

San’s opened in August in the already crowded market, taking over the former site of 1 Potato Two at the Mall end of the Market. Unlike their predecessor, San’s has taken full advantage of a less-than-desirable space. A warming table and sushi cooler faces the main aisle. In the space between San’s and the next stand, they have added a pair of two-seat tables to complement the counter seating.

Warming tables filled with Chinese food entrees and sides from San's Asian Food

The new stand has a little bit of everything: a warming table with your standard Chinese food fare and rotating specials, a cooler filled with sushi (for those looking for a sushi review, I’m sorry. I am not a seafood fan so you would not want to hear from me), and a full menu to order from if you don’t mind waiting.

I made two visits to San’s – both for lunch – so I could get a better taste for their food.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

On my first visit, I wanted to try the classics. Among the limited selections waiting on the warming table were General Tso’s chicken and sesame chicken, two of my favorites. I got the two-entree lunch combo with a side of fried rice.

The General’s chicken was interesting. Usually it’s a sweet and spicy dish, but this had more of a tangy flavor to it. It wasn’t bad – I actually did enjoy it – but it wasn’t what I was anticipating. Unfortunately the sesame chicken was a let down for me. There wasn’t much of a sauce, and what little I had didn’t have a whole lot of flavor. It wasn’t bad tasting, it just didn’t have much of a taste.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

I did enjoy the rice, which had what seemed to be fresh vegetables in the form of carrots, peas and onions (there was also just a little bit of meat). It wasn’t flashy, but it was a good side.

Both entrees used real white meat chicken, which is something I really appreciated. I’ve cut into too many pieces of General’s chicken only to find a mix of processed white and dark meat. That was not the case at San’s, which set it apart.  

On my second trip, I changed it up and ordered teriyaki chicken and lo-mein.

Teriyaki chicken from San's Asian Food

All around, it was a better meal than my first visit. The chicken had a very good flavor to it – salty and a little sweet as expected from a teriyaki base. The actual meat, though, was the stereotypical “pieces” that you find most often with the dish. It brought it down a little bit for me, but again, the flavor was really strong – probably the best of the three chicken dishes that I tried at San’s.

Lo mein from San's Asian Food

I also enjoyed the lo mein. It was tossed with broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables. The noodles were good and I enjoyed all of the vegetables. It was simple, but good.

In addition to the warming table, San’s does have a full menu so you can order your meal fresh. With limited time on my lunch, I appreciated the ready-made meals. If I had more time – say at dinner – I would love to go back and see how much better the food would be if it was made fresh.

Also, the small prices are a big plus. The two-meat combo is less than $10 (the single is $7).

San’s may not have jumped to the top of my list for Asian food in Berks County, but that’s ok. It has some good offerings at a very good price. It’s also really convenient.

That’s the makings of a farmers market stand built to last.  

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

San’s Asian Food
Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Asian & Pacific Islands Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews
el jefe taco with steak, onion and chorizo from Comalli Taqueria

Comalli Taqueria

Looking at the blue front door of Comalli Taqueria

The transition from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant is something we’ve seen before in Berks County. Two notables come to mind: Gourmand and Sweet Ride. Gourmand now operates two locations in addition to the food truck, while Sweet Ride has it’s ice cream parlor in West Reading (where they are now making their own ice cream) to go along with a truck and the original ice cream cart.

With its recent opening in West Reading, you can now add Comalli Taqueria to that list.

The spacious interior of Comalli Taqueria

It was last fall that Comalli Taqueria debuted its food truck, crisscrossing the county and the region serving artisan tacos. We first gave them a try early this summer at the inaugural Berks County Taco Fest.

We enjoyed everything that we tried so when it was announced that Comalli would be opening a small restaurant in West Reading, it got us excited.

A skull and other sculptures sit on the counter at Comalli Taqueria

The restaurant celebrated a grand opening on November 2, and one week later, we were stopping by to get take-out for the first time.

Comalli offers online ordering so I took advantage of that, placing an order for pick-up “ASAP.” Originally, I was given an estimate of 35 minutes. I got a text message that it was ready less than 20 minutes later (thankfully, I was actually pulling into a parking space in front of the building at the time, taking a chance that it would be ready a little early).

A Coke cooler in an otherwise empty part of the dining area of Comalli Taqueria

While we weren’t dining inside, there was a couple sitting at one of the four tables in the dining room. It’s a nice space, if not a little understated. A few decorations hang on the walls and from the ceilings, but along with blue accent walls, they provide the only real bursts of color in an otherwise monotone space. I think it’s more pronounced because there was actually a large empty space in the room that could hold a few more tables and chairs.

My food was being packed up when I arrived, and a minute or so later I was back out the door and headed home with six tacos – one of each variety offered – and a quesadilla for our toddler. (Comalli also offers a limited selection of sides, including chips with guacamole, rice and beans).

Julie and I each chose three tacos.  For me, it was the al pastor, el Nopal, and el Brulee.

el nopal taco with grilled cactus, avocado and pico de gallo from Comalli Taqueria

The el Nopal was the first one that I had tried at the Taco Fest. It features grilled cactus with pico de gallo and avocado. The cactus has a little bit of a kick to it, which I remembered from before. I like the flavor, but I have to admit, I still haven’t quite gotten used to the texture of the plant. It’s a little gummy, but once you get past that, it’s very good.

Al Pastor Taco topped with pork pineapple, cilantro and onion from Comalli Taqueria

Julie had the al pastor at the festival so I gave it a try this time. The corn tortillas (all of the tacos were served on grilled corn tortillas) were filled with marinated pork and pineapple with cilantro and onion. I really enjoyed the tender meat, and I am always a fan of pairing pork and pineapple. The simple onion and cilantro were understated additions to the sweet and savory tacos.

el brulee taco topped with chicken, rice, queso fresco, mole poblano sauce and bananas from Comalli Taqueria

I do love the combination of sweet and savory, and that’s why I was really excited to try the el brulee. The el brulee is topped with pulled chicken, rice, mole poblano, double cream queso fresco and – here’s the kicker – brulle bananas.

After eating it, I may have a new favorite taco. All of the ingredients were loaded with flavor. The mole poblano (my favorite sauce) had a nice sweet heat which contrasted beautifully with the cool, creamy queso fresco. The pulled chicken and rice both were well-seasoned. And then there were those bananas. They added so much flavor and there were enough that I found some in every bite. It was a great taco.

As I was savoring my three tacos, Julie was tasting the other half of Comalli’s menu.

el jefe taco with steak, onion and chorizo from Comalli Taqueria

The el jefe featured steak with onion and cilantro. It’s the simplest taco on the menu, but when you’re dealing with quality steak meat, you don’t want to hide that flavor. And this was quality, the base of a very good taco.

Chicken tinga taco (topped with chicken, cilantro and onion) from Comalli Taqueria

Her chicken tinga taco was another that we had tried at the food truck. The tinga features chicken that has been slow-cooked in a chipotle, onion and tomato sauce topped with onion and cilantro. The marinade for the chicken is, as I described it before, perfect.

For both of these, Julie added a little bit of the mild avocado salsa (not to be confused with guacamole – the salsa was much more sauce-like) that Comalli offers. It was a little spicier than she expected, but very good and a nice change of pace from the standard tomato salsa.

el gallo taco topped with chorizo, avocado, queso fresco and pico de gallo from Comalli Taqueria

But Julie’s favorite was the el gallo. It had a lot of flavors with chorizo sausage in whipped eggs with pico de gallo, queso fresco and avocado. The creamy cheese and the avocado paired well with the mildly spicy chorizo. It was delicious.

A plain quesadill and a taco at Comalli Taqueria

For Jakob, we had ordered a plain quesadilla. The cheese came packed in between two of Comalli’s signature corn tortillas. Julie and I really enjoyed them. Jakob, however, didn’t care for them, but he opened up the quesadilla and ate all of the cheese. That’s a two-year-old for you.

At least Julie and I really enjoyed our meal. And not only was it convenient, but it was reasonably priced, too. For six tacos and a quesadilla, it cost us $25. Most of the tacos (and the quesadilla) were $3 apiece. The more “premium” tacos like the el gallo and el brulee were $4. That’s not a bad price to pay for quality.

With the food truck, we probably would have visited again if the line wasn’t too long. With the restaurant, we will definitely be back again soon.

Comalli Taqueria is just that good.

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

Comalli Taqueria
701 Court St
West Reading, PA 19611

Mexican Reviews
Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale logo on exterior wall

When you look at the best downtown dining in Berks County, there is no doubt that Boyertown is an up-and-coming destination. Between Philadelphia and Reading Avenues, you’ll find diners, a brewery, sandwich shops, bars and even a vegan cafe. New restaurants have opened and more are on the way.  

And that momentum has continued outside the downtown, as well. The new Barrel & Ale is a great example. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I met my friend and former colleague Joe for lunch and lots of catching up.

Looking at the front of Barrel & Ale restaurant from Reading Road

Barrel & Ale opened in August, taking over the former Pit Stop Tavern, a mainstay since the 1950s just east of town. Now the restaurant is owned by the same group behind  Iezzi’s on Third (a mainstay in downtown for even longer). Much like they did with Iezzi’s, the ownership group completely renovated the tavern – which had just been converted earlier this year from the racing-themed Pit Stop to the short-lived, prohibition-themed Decades Speakeasy.

Black chairs with wooden tabletops on the hardwood floor in the dining room.

Now the building has a rustic chic feel to it from the clapboard exterior to the hardwood floor in the dining room. Black chairs and accents add a modern touch (along with the flat screen TVs, of course).

Barrel-shaped lights hang from the ceiling in the barroom at Barrel & Ale

I also appreciated the barrel-shaped lights hanging in the bar room and the extra-tall menu that features a barrel on the front and back covers.

Beyond the design, one of the things that appealed most to me about the menu was the array of German entrees. Pork schnitzel, wurst and sauerbraten shared the page with steaks, seafood and pasta. And the sauerbraten sounded too good to pass up.

Sauerbraten topped with gravy; spaetzle; and red cabbage from Barrel & Ale

Sauerbraten is a traditional German roast beef that has been heavily marinated in herbs and spices, giving it a slightly soured, pickled taste. It’s a unique flavor combination and Barrel & Ale captured it well in their version of the dish. The light gravy on top enhanced, rather than hid, the flavors of the dish.

Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

The dish was served with a pair of colorful sides: spaetzle (small German noodles) and braised red cabbage. The spaetzle was bright yellow and looked like corn at first glance. The red cabbage had a much deeper, almost wine color to it.

Of the two, the cabbage was my favorite – and probably my favorite thing on the plate. It had bits of beef throughout that added unexpected, but welcomed, savory notes that broke up the vinegary flavor of the braised cabbage. The spaetzle was fine but didn’t have much flavor on its own, but paired well with the sauerbraten.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

Across the table, Joe ordered from the sandwich side of the menu, opting for the grilled chicken. The grilled chicken breast was topped with roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto aioli. Joe found it to be a really good sandwich that was highlighted by the aioli, the primary source of flavor.

The sandwich was served with housemade chips and a pickle. The chips were good, though some of them were a little soft, a little under-done. But they were well-seasoned and had good flavor.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

The pickle, Joe said, was obviously not store-bought. (A Facebook post from when Barrel & Ale first opened showed craft pickles from Tennessee). It was an added touch that didn’t go unnoticed.

At the end of the meal, our total bill was around $35, my meal making up more than half it. (Really, the sauerbraten is a dinner entree, not a lunch, and it’s priced accordingly at $17.95).

We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but it wasn’t full by any means. Lunch doesn’t seem to have taken off yet at the Barrel & Ale, though their Facebook page has been promoting that an expanded lunch menu is coming soon so that could change.

And I would go back to try something new, for sure. It was a good first impression and between the flavorful foods and enjoyable ambiance, Barrel & Ale has the makings of a new long-lasting restaurant.

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

Barrel & Ale
961 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Bars & Pubs Reviews
Rangoli Indian Street Food Exploding Samosa

Rangoli Indian Street Food

A View Outside Rangoli Indian Street Food in Shillington

Fred’s Music Shop was an institution in Berks County for 45 years. In addition to guitars and music instruments for all genres, Fred’s also operated Tasty Licks, a barbecue supply store that served a completely different clientele.

But this blog isn’t about what once was. It’s about what is now. And since February, the former Fred’s Music Shop has been home to a new restaurant: Rangoli Indian Street Food.

It’s been quite a transformation for the storefront along Route 724 in Shillington. The old Fred’s sign has been wrapped with one promoting the new restaurant.

Rangoli Indian Street Food

Outside, the building is still rather dull with brown siding and black trim. Inside, it’s a different world with bright primary colors popping everywhere from the walls to the pillars to the drape hanging from the ceiling. Rangoli being a traditional and colorful art form in India, it is only fitting that the dining room pops with reds, blues and yellows.

Indian cuisine is nothing new in Berks County. Aayshiyana Indian Cuisine operated for several years downtown (with other restaurants coming and going in its wake) while Laxmi’s Indian Grille and Nirvana Indian Bistro operate blocks apart in Wyomissing.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Interior

Rangoli is intentionally different. “Street Food” isn’t just a marketing tagline, it’s a true differentiator for the new restaurant. There are a number of dishes that will be familiar – dal, paneer, chana and a chicken dish similar to tikka masala.

But then there is everything else. The Street Food section of the menu includes “Naughty Naan,” egg rolls and a tandoori chicken burger.

It also includes exploding samosas and sassy fries, two dishes that I just had to try.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Exploding Samosa

Samosas, fried dumplings filled with seasoned potatoes and peas, are a staple at Indian restaurants. The “exploding” samosas take the dumplings and load them up with a mountain of toppings that includes chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, green chutney, tamarind and yogurt sauces and crunchy noodles. You can also choose chicken or paneer for an added topping – I chose chicken.

There were so many flavors popping in this dish that it’s hard to choose a place to start. One thing that came through strong was the yogurt sauce, cool and refreshing with a little sweet-and-sour flavor thrown in.

It was also obvious just by looking at the inconsistent sized and shaped pieces that the restaurant uses fresh chicken (the owner, who took our orders and visited our table pointed out that they have no freezer in the kitchen). And the chicken itself had a nice flavor to it – even though I asked for very low spice on my dish.

Rangoli Indian Street Food

On the side, my sassy fries were interesting. The standard French fries were coated in a special seasoning, more salty and herby than hot. They came served with the house special dipping sauce, a tangy green sauce that really enhanced the flavor and made them feel unique.

Julie does not like spice at all so she asked for no heat in her paneer dish. This also made it possible to share with Jakob, our now 17-month-old who is definitely not ready for even the mildest of Indian spices.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Paneer

The paneer – a traditional Indian cheese – came served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic, coriander and the house blend spices. Paneer reminds me a lot of tofu in that it picks up the flavors of whatever it is paired with (and it’s a little chewy). Bits of cilantro added pops of flavor throughout.

One thing that was pointed out to us is that Rangoli does not add any “filler” to its tomato gravy. That is, there is no milk to make it creamy and no shortcuts like canned tomatoes – just fresh ingredients that are brought together to create a delicious dish, one that both Julie and Jakob enjoyed.

The dish was served with a choice of naan or white rice (Julie actually got both so she could share with Jakob). The rice is not basmati like patrons find in most Indian restaurants. Instead it is a more standard white rice – used because basmati has a higher amount of carbs. Rangoli’s naan was noteworthy because of its delicious seasoning that was heavy on the garlic.

We were joined on our visit by my friend Josh, who was visiting from Washington, D.C., and was taking full advantage of a cheat day from strict keto diet. His father has traveled to India multiple times and has hosted friends and colleagues from the Indian subcontinent at the family’s home in Oley so Josh has a much larger knowledge of the food than us.

He also has a much greater tolerance for heat and asked for his meal spicy – specifying that he wanted it spicy by American standards, not Indian standards.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Chicken

Josh had ordered the chicken off the “Village Dishes” portion of the menu. The chicken pieces were served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic and house spices. Despite the fact that it was a similar base to Julie’s paneer, the two dishes tasted nothing alike thanks to the change in spice level.

I tried one bite, and that’s all I could handle. I was happy to try it because despite the high-intensity heat, it was a delicious dish. The peppers used weren’t just hot, but flavorful as well and I really enjoyed it. There was just no way I could have eaten a whole plate. By the time Josh was finished, sweat was visible from his brow as his faced picked up a red tint that it hadn’t had before.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Samosas

Thankfully he ate that first before moving on to two dishes that were much more mild. First, two samosas (non-exploding). The dumplings were a great way to cool off, even with the sweet and spicy chili sauce on the side.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Pav Bhaji

After that, he tackled an order of pav bhaji: mixed vegetables with buttery tomato gravy served with buttered rolls – toasted hamburger rolls that served as good vessels for the excellent vegetable mash. It was a much lighter dish than others and made a great finish to his makeshift three-course meal.

Between all of us, we spent about $70. That included two cans of Limca – India’s answer to Sprite – and a ton of food.

Rangoli Indian Street Food Limca

Another great thing about Rangoli is their commitment to community – both locally and globally. A portion of the proceeds from every meal goes to charities supporting the underprivileged. One such charity, Prasana India provides medical care, nutrition and more to the destitute tribal and untouchable communities of India.

A restaurant with great food and an even better mission? Now that’s a place I can really get behind. Hopefully others get behind Rangoli and it creates a long-lasting legacy of its own.

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

Rangoli Indian Street Food
212 W. Lancaster Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Indian 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

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
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