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

5 Favorite Entrees of 2018

Our annual end-of-year tradition continues as we take a look back on the best things we tried this year. Today: our five favorite entrees of 2018.

Brocmar Taco – Brocmar Smokehouse

When we visited Brocmar Smokehouse for our first blog of 2018, it was a relative newcomer to the Shillington Farmers Market. When we left, it was our new go-to spot for barbecue in Berks County thanks to the inventive Brocmar taco – a fried Johnny cake topped with choice of meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce. Between return visits to the market and sandwiches at Brocmar’s Reading Fightin Phils stand, it was probably our most-visited restaurant of the year. Read Full Review

Savory Grille Five Spice Duck Breast

Five-Spice Duck Breast – Savory Grille

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that duck – when done right – is one of my absolute favorite foods. The five-spice duck breast from Savory Grille may be the best that I’ve tried. At the time, I described it as one of the best dishes I have ever tried – thanks to the addition of blueberry compote and sauce gastrique that gave it a complex sweet and sour flavor. It was an absolute highlight in one of the best meals we had all year. Read Full Review

Sal's Pizza Style Stromboli Pizza

Stromboli Pizza – Sal’s Pizza Style

I’m not going to go so far as to say this is my favorite pizza in Berks County (that honor still goes to the Chicago-style pie at Romano’s) but it is certainly the most original pizza – or Stromboli – in Berks, and that’s reason enough to make the list. Taking a traditional Stromboli and using the top fold as the base of a pizza is brilliant. It’s also very good and something that’s worth trying at least once. Read Full Review

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken – Fork  & Ale

Hands-down the best chicken dish that I have tasted on Berks County Eats. The Moroccan chicken from Fork & Ale featured confit chicken in an incredible spice blend, served over housemade pasta. The addition of sweet golden raisins and crunchy chickpeas gave it additional flavor bursts and needed texture and helped make it one of the most memorable dishes we have tried. Read Full Review

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Pulled Duck – Kwik  Shoppe

This may not have been the gourmet-style duck described above from Savory Grille, but I have to give kudos to the Kwik Shoppe for creating a fast-food style pulled duck sandwich that exceeded my expectations. The subtle sweet and tangy sauce and the crispy onion ring on top were nice additions. Is it a five-star meal? Absolutely not. But it’s a unique only-in-Berks County dish and that’s reason enough to make this list. Read Full Review

Best of Berks County Eats Entrees
Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Fork & Ale – Return

Editor’s Note: Chef Seth Arnold left Fork & Ale in July 2019 for a position at Terrain Cafe in Devon.

One of the hardest things about doing weekly Berks County Eats blogs is not being able to return to the restaurants that we have enjoyed.

In March 2017, we made our first visit to Fork & Ale – the new gastropub that had opened in the former Tim’s Ugly Mug outside Douglassville just a few months before. We had enjoyed everything we had, especially their take on poutine, but we had no real motivation to return with so many restaurants left to visit.

Then a new chef arrived on the scene.

Chef Seth Arnold started at Fork & Ale at the end of May. By mid-summer, he was tagging @BerksCountyEats on every Instagram post. At the end of July, he sent me a direct message, introducing himself and inviting me out to the restaurant for a visit.

Fork & Ale Menu

Over the next weeks and months, Fork & Ale was always in the back of my mind and at the top of my Instagram feed. Finally, Julie and I made plans for a date night. We found a babysitter for Jakob and headed east for dinner on a Saturday evening in early December.

We arrived around 5 p.m., beating the dinner crowd and taking a table for two. Fork & Ale does not take reservations so we wanted to make sure we had a seat, not knowing how full it would get by night’s end. The dining room looks exactly as we remembered with painted brick walls, Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling and reclaimed wood furniture.

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

One thing I learned through Instagram is that the chef loves introducing creative specials every night. On the specials menu during our visit was an appetizer we had to try – uova da raviolo – egg yolk ravioli.

The pasta pouches were filled with herbed ricotta and egg yolk, topped with smoked bacon, rainbow chard, purple cauliflower and a sage butter sauce.

Fork & Ale Uovo da Raviolo

Eating it was quite the experience. Pressing into the ravioli, the egg yolk began pouring out, mixing with the sage butter sauce on the plate. It added a completely different dimension to the dish that I enjoyed. And with the savory bacon and slightly bitter chard, it was full of flavor.

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

The main menu has completely evolved in the 20 months since our last visit (no more poutine). The only common item between the two menus being the Fork & Ale Burger. One new dish that caught my attention was the Moroccan chicken.

The dish featured confit chicken served over house-made Fettuccini with golden raisins, bell pepper, arugula, crispy chickpeas, Marcona almonds and a Moroccan-spiced butter sauce.

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

I absolutely loved it. It was one of the most flavorful dishes that I have had in a long time. The sauce was incredible (for the record, I still have no idea what spices constitute “Moroccan spice”), and there were little surprises throughout. The chickpeas added needed crunch to the plate while the raisins were little bursts of sweetness throughout. I can’t say enough good things about it, and neither could Julie when she had the leftovers a few days later.

For her meal, she went with the warm Brussels sprouts salad. The waitress recommended adding the grilled shrimp (grilled chicken was also an option) and Julie was glad for it.

Fork & Ale Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

The composition was interesting – the sprouts were shaved like cabbage and drizzled with balsamic, always a good pairing. The fatty pork belly was a great addition and made it a truly savory dish. All in all, it was well done.

Being a date night, dessert was almost mandatory. There were two dessert options the night of our visit, a crème brulee that sounded delightful and our selection, the butterscotch lava cake.

Many places will do a chocolate lava cake – chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center. The butterscotch version was similar with a melted butterscotch center that was topped with housemade whipped cream.

Fork & Ale Butterscotch Lava Cake

Neither of us are big butterscotch fans but it sounded too good to pass up, and it more than lived up to our expectations. The cake was dense but flavorful and the filling was perfect. It was sweet but not too sweet, buttery but not overpowering. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal, one of the best meals we have had in many months.

Our total bill for the evening (one unsweetened iced tea included) was around $60. It was a bit of a splurge for us, but with both an appetizer and dessert, it felt like a fair price for an exceptional dinner.

If you haven’t been to Fork & Ale in the two years since it’s been open, or if you haven’t been there since Chef Arnold arrived in May, do yourself a favor and make the trip.

I know we will be back sooner than later.

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

Fork & Ale
1281 E. Main St
Douglassville, PA 19518

Bars & Pubs Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant Margherita Pizza

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant

When it comes to meals for Berks County Eats, I’ve found that some of best meals are the ones that are unplanned. They are the places we go on the spur of the moment or out of necessity.

Recently, we had to make a trip to the Berks County Recycling Center to drop off some old electronics. The Recycling Center is located near the new Reading Fairgrounds and Berks Heim. There are no restaurants in the immediate area, but there a few that are nearby on Route 183, including Plum Creek Farm (which we visited in July) and the Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant.

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant – formerly the Blue Marsh Canteen – is owned and operated by the same group as Gino’s Cafe and Gino’s Grille in Shillington.

Last year, we paid a visit to Gino’s Grille to try their new wood-fired pizza. It was a good, but slow meal. The menu at Blue Marsh had some similarities so it seemed like a good place to try, especially being just five minutes away.

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant

We arrived around 11:30 a.m. for an early lunch. When Jakob is along, we try to eat early so he doesn’t become too much of a distraction (or nuisance) to other patrons. Having the dining room to ourselves is just fine with us.

Apparently we were the earliest Saturday customers ever for our server Kailey. She told us that she has never really had anyone before 2:30.

While there are a lot of Italian dinner options, the menu does lend itself well for lunch, especially with the sandwich selections.

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant Chicken Caprese Sandwich

Julie ordered a small hot chicken Caprese sandwich. It came topped with mozzarella, tomato, chicken, basil and balsamic vinegar.

The sandwich was very good, from the toasted roll to the fresh basil leaves, it had good flavor throughout. It was exactly what she expected out of a Caprese salad-inspired sandwich.

And it was the perfect size for lunch. Served with chips, it was light but filling.

Craving a good pizza, I ordered a small (12-inch) margherita pizza, knowing that I wouldn’t finish the whole pie during lunch.

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant Margherita Pizza

Margherita pizza is a personal favorite of mine. The fresh mozzarella – not shredded – along with tomato and basil make a delicious combination. And the sparse toppings allow me to taste every ingredient for what it is.

I was very impressed. The sauce was delicious, a little on the sweet side. The mozzarella was nicely spread out on the pie. I was surprised by the sliced tomatoes. It’s not uncommon on margherita pizza, but I’ve found more crushed tomato on the pies I’ve tasted around Berks. I certainly didn’t mind it either.

I found the crust to be solid as well, crispy around the edges but not burnt. The slices did sag when picked up, though. But I have zero complaints about the flavor.

I also have no complaints about the price. For the pizza, sandwich and a glass of iced tea, it was only $20 and change. That’s not bad at all for what turned out to be a private dining experience.

And while no one else joined us in the dining room, there were plenty of takeout orders and even a few customers that made their way to the bar located on the other side of the building.

If we find ourselves in the area again, I could easily see us making another stop.

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

Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant
5035 Bernville Rd
Bernville, PA 19506

Italian Pizzerias Reviews
Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits Tuscan Pasta

Brickstone’s Mighty Fine Food & Spirits

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits

At the end of 2017, Berks County lost a mainstay of the finer dining scene when ViVA Good Life Bistro (then known as Fields Kitchen & Bar) closed its doors.

The Wyomissing restaurant had been ahead of its time – at least by Berks County standards – with a modern menu and a younger vibe.

When the restaurant closed, I had concerns about whether a replacement would appear. Sure, it had high visibility from Penn Avenue, a large parking lot and a hotel next door. But it was also one of the largest spaces in the county (that means a larger staff) and the construction (or is it deconstruction?) across the street at the former VF Outlet doesn’t help the ambiance.

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits

But my fears were unfounded and a new restaurant has taken over the space: Brickstone’s Mighty Fine Food & Spirits.

Brickstone’s is the newest offering from the owners of Austin’s, Coastal Grille, and the region’s J.B. Dawson’s restaurants (Select Grille LLC).

Inside, it hasn’t changed much since the days of ViVA. From the main dining area to the bar and lounge, it feels very much like the former restaurant.

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits

The menu is a great complement to Austin’s. There is some crossover, and the types of foods offered are similar, but Brickstone’s has built upon the familiar to create something new.

And the menu knows no cultural boundaries. Tikka masala, pad Thai, enchiladas and the South Philly spaghetti and meatballs can all be found in one place at Brickstone’s.

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits Tex-Mex Egg Rolls

Julie and I started our meal with the Tex-Mex egg rolls, a delicious cultural mash-up with chicken, corn, black beans and cheese.

I’ve had similar before, but that didn’t make this any less appetizing. Everything about it worked, especially the avocado ranch dipping sauce. It added a nice, cooling touch to the mild spice.

For our main courses, we went in completely different directions.

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits Tuscan Pasta

I went Italian with the Tuscan pasta. It featured penne pasta with chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a Parmesan cream sauce.

It felt like a dish I had before at Austin’s – maybe it was a special once, I’m not sure – but it was very good.  I love sun-dried tomatoes, and Julie and I are always looking for recipes that use them. The sauce was rich and creamy. Even the spinach was a nice little throw-in.

All in all, it was one of the best pasta dishes that I have had outside of a traditional Italian restaurant. And it’s definitely one that I would order again (perhaps for Julie and I to split as half of it went home with us).

Brickstone's Mighty Fine Food & Spirits Coconut Curry Bowl

Julie’s dish was more reminiscent of south Asia. Her coconut curry bowl included chicken, carrots, broccoli, onions, green beans and zucchini in a Thai red curry sauce, served over rice.

The vegetables were fresh, the chicken was done well, but the real flavor in a dish like this comes from the sauce.

At first, she didn’t even notice the heat. But as the dish went along, her bites got more and more spicy. Now, neither of us will ever claim to have a high tolerance for spicy food so this may taste milder to others. The spice level was certainly high for Julie, but not high enough that it made the dish unenjoyable.

She brought some of her dish home, but not as much as I did.

Julie also added a drink (not pictured). This being a date night, and one of the few evenings where Jakob – now 10 months old – was not with us, it seemed the perfect opportunity for us to unwind a little.

With entrees, appetizer and drinks (I had an iced tea), our total was between $45 and $50. Our service throughout the night was very good, though it seemed to take a while for us to get our check (we were happy to savor the alone time so we didn’t mind).

It was a great night at what is surely to be another hit for the popular restaurant group.

And it certainly is a great fit for a location that could have easily fallen away with the closure of ViVA.

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

Brickstone’s Mighty Fine Food & Spirits
901 Hill Ave
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Calabria Italian Restaurant

There’s always an anticipation around a new restaurant opening. Sometimes there’s a lot of hype; sometimes there’s only a little. But there’s always people who are anxious to try it and anxious to taste it.

When the restaurant is reopening, that anticipation is even greater. A loyal customer base is waiting to return. And the longer the wait, it seems, the larger that customer base becomes as word spreads.

Calabria Italian Restaurant built up two-and-a-half years of anticipation for its reopening.

In December 2015, a fire broke out in the restaurant. It seemed like a small fire and that clean up and repairs wouldn’t take too long.

But days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. Instead of repairing the building, it had to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. Driving between Wernersville and Robesonia on Route 422, we could watch the painfully slow progress that was being made.

In late April of this year, we drove past and for the first time in 29 months, the parking lot was filled with customers and not construction equipment. Calabria was back.

 

Fast forward to June, and we paid our first ever visit to Calabria. Despite growing up in Robesonia, I had never stepped foot in the old Calabria. I remember the building looking more like a dive, but the rebuilt restaurant is a thing of beauty. The outside is clean and modern with large curved windows and a hint of Old World in the brick facade.

Inside, the bar and dining area are much nicer than I would have imagined. The black tablecloths with white disposable covers make it feel like a premium dining experience. While the blue uplighting at the ceiling and around the bar make it feel cool.

Julie, Jakob and I were joined by our friends Matt and Tori. Matt is a lifetime resident of Wernersville, and like me, had never eaten at the old Calabria.

It was a Wednesday evening, and the parking lot was packed. We didn’t have reservations, but we only had to wait a minute or two for a table to be cleared before we were seated.

Our meals started with a basket of garlic bread, complimentary with the purchase of an entree. The bread was sliced small so the slices were easily snackable. Though not toasted to a total crisp, there was plenty of garlic and butter flavor throughout. We ate through them quickly and almost finished the entire second basket that came during our dinner.

Entrees were also served with a simple house salad or Caesar. The house salad came with mixed greens, two large slices of tomato and cucumber – the usual. It was topped with shredded mozzarella, a nice touch, and served with your choice of dressing. There were no complaints at all from the table about the salads.

Our entrees arrived relatively quickly. Each of us ordered a different Italian pasta dinner. For me, it was the tortellini in vodka sauce.

Vodka sauce (a creamy tomato sauce infused with vodka) is not something that I normally order when I dine out, but it caught my eye and I had to give it a try.

It was a good dish. The tortellini (I choose meat instead of cheese) was small so it looked like I ate more than I actually did. The sauce was good and very creamy. There wasn’t a lot of herbiness to it, but it was still a good dish, overall.

Julie ordered her favorite Italian meal: baked ziti. This was different than most versions of the dish that she has tried. Normally, it’s a lot of the traditional red sauce with cheese on top. This version was cheesier with a mix of red sauce and ricotta that gave it a different texture and a slightly different flavor.

It was a good change of pace, something that definitely stood out. She wouldn’t call it her favorite version, but it was good.

Matt’s manicotti was loaded with both ricotta and red sauce. The oversized stuffed pasta was a hit. I got to try a bite. I thought the red sauce was good, nothing outstanding, but the dish overall was good.

Tori also enjoyed her chicken Parmesan. There was more than enough chicken – plenty of it went home – and the rest of the plate was filled with pasta. As far as our party was concerned, we had four meals, and four winners.

For Julie and I, our total bill came to about $35, average for what a similar meal would cost at Italian restaurants across Berks County.

I have to say, Calabria made a great first impression on us. The food was very good. The service was great. And the building, itself, just seemed to enhance the experience.

And judging by the parking lot every time we drive past, it’s made a good impression on a lot of others, too.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Great
Ambiance: Great
Value: Reasonable

Calabria Italian Restaurant
6646 Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

Berks County is full of restaurant success stories. One of those stories is Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe, the downtown Reading restaurant that has been serving traditional Latin American cuisine for more than a decade.

We visited Mi Casa Su Casa’s Penn Street location for a review in 2015 and have enjoyed the cafe’s food many times since. When a second location opened in the Shillington Farmers Market in April, we were more than a little excited.

It’s not that we won’t go into the city, but the hours at the downtown cafe make it harder for me to get there (the cafe closes at 4 p.m. I get home at 6 during the week). But with the market open until 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Mi Casa Su Casa just became a viable option for dinner.

And we took advantage of that recently with a Friday night visit to the market stand.

We arrived around 6:15 and had nearly the whole market to ourselves. The warming table at Mi Casa Su Casa was still well-stocked with entrees and sides.

It’s a simple menu  with four proteins (baked or stewed chicken, peppered steak and roast pork), eight sides (rice and peas, rice and beans, mac and cheese, mixed vegetables, sweet or fried plantains, yuca fries and potato salad), empanadas, sorullos and desserts.

I made a platter with peppered steak, rice and peas, and mixed vegetables.

The peppered steak, in my opinion, was the best thing that either of us tried. It looked like a hearty beef stew but with meat that pulled apart like pot roast. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth good in a gravy-like sauce. It was well-seasoned, slow cooked to perfection, and absolutely delicious. There was also one piece of potato. I’m sure other servings probably got more, but more meat is fine with me.

The rice and peas were fine. I always like rice and beans but wanted to give the peas a try and it was good, but nothing real special. The mixed vegetables were very good with lots of cauliflower, root vegetables and squash.

One thing to point out, and Julie agreed with this, is that the food could have been a little hotter. It wasn’t cold, but it had definitely cooled off on the warming table. Had it been made to order, it would have truly made the meal great.

Julie’s meal consisted of baked chicken, plantains, and a guava and cheese empanada.

She found the chicken to be very good. It was moist and coated in traditional Latin American seasonings to give it a salty and slightly spicy flavor.

The plantains were delicious as always. The empanada was a surprising hit. We’ve tried their savory empanadas before – the beef and chicken are both winners – but this was our first taste of a sweet empanada. Julie felt the best comparison was to a cheese Danish. I would tend to agree, but I think the fried dough made it feel less dessert-like, and more like a side or entree.

While there are three counter seats at the stand, we took our food to the small seating area at the other end of the market. Seating is at a premium at lunchtime, but at dinner, that wasn’t a problem.

With our two drinks, the total bill came to $32 (empanadas don’t count as a side when building a platter so Julie had to order it a la carte). The two platters, themselves, were $12 each which seemed like a very reasonable price for what was actually a lot of food.

Having another location for Mi Casa Su Casa is a great thing for Berks County and for the Shillington Farmers Market.

While we were there, Julie picked up a card for the Mi Cocina School, cooking classes that are held at the Penn Street location. I think the next time that I review Mi Casa Su Casa, it will be reviewing my own cooking.

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

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe
Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews