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

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

Stampede Barbecue

I love to see a business prosper and grow, especially when its a local eatery.

One of the local restaurants that has grown and seems to be thriving is Stampede Barbecue.

Stampede Barbecue, formerly known as Stampede Smokin’ Barbecue, opened at a new location along Route 10 in Plowville. Technically, Berks County gained a new restaurant with the opening (the former location was a few hundred yards across the line in Lancaster County).

The restaurant now sits in what was once a garden store. It has been completely transformed into a two-story barbecue joint that looks like it could have been plucked out of the South and dropped in south-central Berks County.

The new location, unlike the old trailer, will operate year-round. And so far it also seems to be a boon for business. The line was nearly out the door when Julie, Jakob and I arrived with her parents on a recent Wednesday evening.

Our wait time to get to the front of the line was about 15 minutes. By the time we ordered, we were told that the pulled pork and ribs were both sold out. I looked behind us at a line that was now out the door and wondered how these customers were going to feel about it.

But that is the chance you take with barbecue – when you’re serving meats that are smoked for 12 hours or more, it’s not like you can just make more. It’s also a sign that the restaurant serves great food. And there was no denying that during our visit.

Most of my visits to the previous location – a stationary food truck with more parking than seating – were grab-and-go, as I bought meals to take home with me. This was a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy everything at its freshest.

I had really wanted a pulled pork sandwich but instead “settled” on smoked turkey. The sliced turkey breast was dipped in an au jus before being set on the potato roll (think a Martin’s roll, only a lot larger and more fresh).

I tried both of Stampede’s signature sauces – one sweet and one sweet and spicy – on the sandwich. I liked the sweet, but I didn’t think it fit very well with the turkey. But the spicy sauce mixed with the potato roll (which itself was already sweet) and the smoked turkey made for a delicious combination. However, the au jus was enough on its own and I would have been happy eating it without any sauce.

Julie’s beef brisket sandwich was no less enjoyable. The brisket was sliced fresh and very juicy. For my taste, the brisket was better with the sweet sauce. I also can’t speak highly enough about the rolls and how much they did for enhancing our meals.

We decided to split an order of fries, something that I don’t remember being on the menu at the other location (if it was, I don’t remember it. I do remember getting bags of Charles Chips, which I didn’t see at the new place). While the rest of the meal was ready when we paid, the fresh-cut fries were delivered fresh a short time later. To me, they were worth the wait.

Julie and I also ordered sides of our own. She really wanted to try the mac and cheese and I wanted some of their slaw. Both were very good, though I wouldn’t say they stood out among others that we have tried.

I did have an opportunity to try some of the BBQ beans that my in-laws had ordered, and they were great. It was closer to a chili than baked beans as far as flavor (my mother-in-law found them to be a little too spicy for her. I didn’t find them to be very spicy).

For Julie and I, our two meals with drinks ran us right around $30. That’s about average for a good barbecue place. Stampede’s entire menu is a la carte, there are no meals, per se, but the sides are reasonably priced so it all works out.

By the time we left around 7 p.m., they were hanging a sign on the door that read “Pickins are slim, folks. We’ll have everything tomorrow.”

Good thing we didn’t arrive any later than we did or we may have been very disappointed.

But selling out is a good thing for Stampede. It reflects well on the food, and it means that the restaurant is doing a great business.

And that’s always a good thing for Berks County.

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

Stampede Barbecue
4372 Morgantown Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

 

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Smokehouse Food Truck

Smokehouse Food Truck

The Conrad Weiser Homestead in Womelsdorf, Pa., has always had special meaning for me. Growing up in the Conrad Weiser Area School District, we had many field trips to the site. In college, many research papers were dedicated Conrad Weiser the man (a pre-Revolution German immigrant who rose to prominence in the local community as an interpreter with local native tribes) and Julie and I had our engagement photos taken there seven years ago.

In 2016, a new event debuted called Artisans in the Park, bringing local crafters to the historic site on the first Saturday in May. This year was the first time Julie and I (along with Jakob) were able to attend the festival as it was our first time in recent memory that we were home on the first weekend in May.

Jakob modeling his new bucket hat at the event

While we loved browsing the craft stands, and Julie picked up several nice Mother’s Day gifts, what you all want to know about was the food. Part of the draw of the event this year was the addition of food trucks, including The Perk-Up Truck, one of our favorites. The other two trucks in attendance were Fultz’s Pretzels and Smokehouse Food Truck.

 

The Smokehouse is a newer food truck, having debuted in 2017, serving Berks and Lehigh Counties from its home base in New Jerusalem.

(A few people at the festival also confused the truck with Johnny & Hon’s Smokehouse, located just a block from Conrad Weiser Park, but the two businesses are unrelated).

There was a long line for the truck around noontime when we arrived. It wasn’t surprising as the only other option for lunch food was pork barbecue and hamburgers from Zion Lutheran Church in Womelsdorf (my childhood church, which I love dearly, but a review of their food would be rather short).

Smokehouse Food Truck

What we didn’t realize was that the line was also so long because the truck was completely understaffed. As far as we could tell, there were only two people working. The owner, who was taking orders, and a cook was putting everything together, one at a time. Julie and I took turns standing in line to order, then took turns waiting even longer for our order to be ready.

In all, it was nearly an hour wait from the time we entered the line – we were probably about 10th in line to order – until our food arrived. And when the order came out, we were handed only half of it (thankfully, the other half was done and sitting on the counter and retrieved in short order).

I had the pulled pork sandwich; Julie had a beef brisket sandwich, and we shared a pair of sides – seasoned fries and cole slaw.

Smokehouse Food Truck Pulled Pork Sandwich

The pulled pork sandwich came topped with pickles, onions, Swiss cheese and Carolina gold sauce on a Kaiser roll. The menu listing the toppings was printed out and hanging in the window, but orders were being placed at the door where the sign board merely said “pulled pork.” We were only close enough to read the window sign while we waited for our food (which was served out the door as well).

I pulled off the pickles and the cheese – not my style when it comes to barbecue – and dug in. Maybe it was the hunger talking, but once I finally got to take my first bite, I thought it was a fantastic sandwich.

The pork was really well done with a decent spice rub. The caramelized onions were delicious. And the Carolina gold was a surprising hit. I normally shy away from mustard-based sauces, and probably would have passed on the pork had I known, but I thought it was the perfect sauce for this sandwich.

As hungry as I was, though, I didn’t take time to savor the flavor and instead finished off the sandwich very quickly.

Smokehouse Food Truck Beef Brisket Sandwich

Julie’s brisket sandwich was also a hit. It was topped with cheddar – not Swiss – and a sweeter, less tangy sauce. The meat was melt in your mouth tender and the sweet sauce really shone.

I think what I enjoyed most about my own sandwich was that it was different (at least from my usual). The brisket sandwich was good, but much more in line with what I would expect. Still, I can’t think of another barbecue joint in the area that puts cheese on their sandwiches.

While the mains were solid, the sides were a bit of a letdown. The cole slaw had a little pepper, but not a whole lot of flavor overall. It looked more flavorful than it actually was.

And the “seasoned fries” were generic French fries that were lightly salted. Maybe there were other spices, but I didn’t taste them.

And the fries were probably what slowed down our meal and others as they were the +only item on the menu that would be made to order. Unless the fries get a makeover, they’re just taking up space on an otherwise solid menu.

In the end, we spent about $30 on our two meals. Was it worth the wait? Probably not. But the barbecue, itself, was a definite hit. With a little faster service and a little more organization (and without the fries), it could be one of the best food trucks around.

But it’s not quite there yet.

BCE Rating
Food: Good to Very Good
Service: Poor
Ambiance: N/A
Value: A Little Pricey

Smokehouse Food Truck
Serving Berks and Lehigh Counties

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Reviews

HillBilly BBQ

Driving along Route 422 east toward Douglassville, the smoke rises from HillBilly BBQ. The trailer sits in a small parking lot in front of D&S Elite Construction.

There have been many roadside barbecue joints in and around Berks County over the years – Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ, Stampede Smokin’ BBQ and Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grille come to mind. And while others have either moved into permanent locations, closed or both, HillBilly still remains as a true roadside eatery.

I visited HillBilly BBQ for the first time in 2015. I only had a pulled pork sandwich, but I was impressed. I couldn’t wait to take Julie for a meal and a Berks County Eats review.

Three years later, that visit finally happened.

We stopped in on a cool Saturday afternoon – too cold to sit outside but too warm to sit inside our car to eat. The only real option was to order our lunch and take it back home to Wyomissing.  Thankfully, there’s a driveway connecting the restaurant to Monacacy Creek Road and the traffic light that leads to westbound 422.

Less than 20 minutes after getting our meals, we were unboxing them at our kitchen table. I couldn’t wait to dig into my half rack of ribs.

The ribs looked beautiful, dark in color from hours in the smoker and a heavy dry rub that I immediately fell in love with. It was simple sweet, salty and mildly spicy rub that was laid on thick.

At the counter, I was given the choice of adding “sweet sauce” to the ribs. There wasn’t much to the sauce – it was a little runny and pooled at the bottom of the box – but it really did add to the dish. If nothing else, it softened the texture and helped the meat soak in even more of the delicious rub.

The half rack was sliced in half with three-to-four bones in each. Each piece was unique. The top was fall-off-the-bone good. The second rack was the end piece and was more well done. It was no less flavorful, but the tips were crispy, bordering on burnt.

On the side, my coleslaw balanced out the meal. The creamy slaw was very good and did much to counterbalance the spice of the ribs.

When it comes to barbecue, Julie loves beef brisket. It’s her go-to whenever we go out. Her brisket sandwich from HillBilly BBQ featured a Kaiser roll overflowing with meat.

The brisket featured the same rub and was topped with the same sauce as the ribs. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of sandwich, smooth and flavorful. The Kaiser roll helped to soak up some of the juice and sauce – a traditional hamburger roll would have probably fallen apart by the time we got home. It also differentiated itself from similar offerings at other restaurants, and that’s never a bad thing.

For her side, Julie chose the mac and cheese. It was made with small shells in a gooey yellow cheese sauce. When we first got in the car, the shells were still smoking. They hadn’t cooled off much by the time we arrived at home. They were good, but not anything special.

One thing I love about barbecue is that it’s almost always priced right. At $25 for our two entrees and two sides (we didn’t order drinks because we were taking it home. That would have brought it closer to $30), HillBilly BBQ definitely priced its food right.

A note to those concerned about the divided highway: don’t be. Unlike some restaurants along that stretch of Route 422, HillBilly BBQ is actually easily accessible from both directions thanks to the Monacacy Road entrance.

That’s a big advantage, but the location isn’t without drawbacks. It’s still an unpaved parking lot with limited seating – and Route 422 isn’t exactly the most desirable backdrop for dining alfresco.

But the barbecue is hard to beat. And for a little roadside stand, that’s all that really matters.

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

HillBilly BBQ
908 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

HillBilly BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Brocmar Smokehouse – Shillington Farmers Market

One of the bigger stories in Berks County’s food scene last year was the sale of the Shillington Farmers Market.

Julie and I had visited the market about three years ago and were so disappointed in the offerings that we never went back.

But there’s a renewed energy around the market. New stands are opening, and old favorites like Betty’s Salads are returning.

Among the new stands to arrive is Brocmar Smokehouse. The barbecue business opened in the market in December after spending the summer building its brand at events around Berks County.

Reading Royals fans may already be familiar with the Brocmar name. Before opening their Shillington location, Brocmar got a head start, operating a small stand at the Santander Arena during Royals home games.

But the Farmers Market takes the business to another level, giving the business a physical location, regular hours and a greater potential reach.

The Farmers Market hours make it difficult for us to get there for dinner, but an underwhelming snowstorm was enough to close my office and allow us to make it to Brocmar long before the market’s 6 p.m. closing time.

While the Farmers Market is certainly a step forward for the business, it doesn’t allow for much of a dine-in experience. There are only two round tables – enough to seat eight at the most.

As Julie and I looked over the menu board, a woman sitting at one of the tables said “everything here is good.” She was waiting for a take-out order, her third in three weeks from the Smokehouse, she said.

A father and son stood in front of us in line, a written order in hand that seemed to include one of everything on the menu. That was fine with us as it gave us plenty of time to settle on our choices.

Julie and I pulled up chairs at one of the tables with Jakob in the stroller next to us. Fifteen minutes or so passed before our food was delivered and we got our first taste of Brocmar.

Passing on turkey, sausage, chicken and ribs, I instead went with my favorite barbecued meat – pulled pork – topping it with the Cripple Creek sauce, one of Brocmar’s six housemade options.

The sauce is a bourbon and brown sugar that’s bold and sweet, but not spicy. It really brought out the best in the pulled pork, which was tender with crispy charred ends that gave it a slightly crunchy texture.

It was a beautiful blend, and together the meat and sauce were a great combo.

On the side, I enjoyed an order of hush puppies and a cup of slaw.

While we were waiting for our food, we saw an order of hush puppies being carried across the market and back. I asked about it later. “The number one question we got when we opened was, ‘What are hushpuppies?’ but we now we sell them every day.” It turns out, Brocmar doesn’t have a fryer. Instead, they fry up the hush puppies at the cafe across the market.

That’s only part of the work that goes into one order of hush puppies. The deep-fried corn fritters are hand-rolled with fresh green onion. It’s all worth it though for what is a perfect accompaniment to the main course.

The coleslaw was also very good, but it was even better as part of the Brocmar taco, Julie’s entree choice for the evening.

Barbecue is one of those foods that just seems to work well as part of a more comprised dish. The Brocmar Taco is one of those dishes. It starts with a cornbread cake, then it’s topped with your choice of meat (brisket, for Julie), slaw and sauce.

There were a lot of flavors coming together. The cornbread – the taco “shell” – had a rich corn flavor. The brisket was tender and juicy. And the creaminess of the coleslaw soaked into every layer.

To top it off, Julie added the honey bee barbecue sauce, which added a sweetness and mild spice throughout. It all came together to create an excellent dish.

It was also a hearty dish that we were both surprised that Julie was able to finish. But for a reasonable $23, we weren’t too upset that there were no leftovers for later.

As a whole, Brocmar Smokehouse delivered. It was some very good barbecue that left us wanting to try even more.

And because of Brocmar, we will be back to the Shillington Farmers Market soon.

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

Brocmar Smokehouse
The Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Brocmar Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Indian Fort Inn Jagerschnitzel

Indian Fort Inn

Indian Fort Inn, Hamburg, PA

Most weeks on Berks County Eats, you’ll read about the culinary adventures of my wife (Julie) and I. But from time-to-time, other family members and friends will make cameo appearances, depending on the occasion and location.

Recently, I got together with my brother Matt, his wife Lauren and my friend Dennis for a night out in the Hamburg area.

We made the short drive west of town along Old Route 22 to the Indian Fort Inn.

Dennis and I had never visited before, but my brother and Lauren had been there often as my brother shot pool in the bar room regularly.

Indian Fort Inn

In just a few years, he said, the restaurant had been greatly improved. The food had always been good, but the dining room was always empty while everyone was in the bar.

Outside, it looks like a large stone house with a giant parking lot. There’s a patio out front that looked jam-packed during our visit. Inside, the wood walls, wooden tables and chairs, and dim lighting give the feel of an upgraded hunting cabin.

The meal did not start out well. First, they were out of the meal I really wanted to try: the German lasagna (which was made up of kielbasa, sauerkraut and other German favorites in a mushroom cream sauce).

Then, the salad was a swing-and-a-miss. I was the only person at the table to order an entree and the only person to get a starter salad.

Indian Fort Inn Salad...except they forgot the dressing.

It arrived quick enough, but without the salad dressing. Our waiter disappeared into the back before I realized the mistake so I had wait patiently for him to return to the dining room to wait on our neighboring table to flag him down, then wait for him to reemerge with my cup of ranch dressing.  He may or may not have brought me blue cheese instead.

Otherwise, the salad was unremarkable, standard greens with cherry tomatoes and croutons.

I was already in a slightly sour mood because I couldn’t try the German lasagna; this wasn’t helping things. For my entree, I settled on the Jagerschntizel.

Lucky for me, it redeemed the meal.

Indian Fort Inn Jagerschnitzel

The jagerschnitzel was a weekend special and included two deep fried pork cutlets smothered in mushroom gravy.

It was excellent. The cutlets were fried to a perfect golden brown that peeked out ever so slightly from beneath the mushroom cream sauce. The breading was fantastic and amplified the flavor of the pork. The cream sauce was very good as well, making the dish go down easily.

On the side were “Saratoga chips” and mixed vegetables. Real Saratoga chips are basically potato chips served warm (think Dutch fries, for anyone who visits the Kutztown Fairgrounds), but these were thick cut potato cubes, deep-fried and salted. I have zero complaints about them,  but they weren’t anything noteworthy.

Indian Fort Inn Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger

To my right, Dennis was enjoying his bacon and bleu cheese burger. It was topped with a roasted red pepper aioli that he thought played well with the bleu cheese crumble. Overall, he found it to be a very good burger.

Indian Fort Inn Bacon Cheddar Chicken Sandwich

To my left, my brother was digging into to a chicken sandwich with melted cheddar and bacon. Instead of a sliced cheddar, it was a blend of shredded cheddar. It was a good sandwich, but I know my brother’s favorite thing on his plate was the coleslaw (and I would have to agree, it was a well-made slaw, though I would have a hard time picking out exactly what made it better than most).

While my Saratoga chips were okay, the French fries were exceptional. Both Dennis and Matt ordered a side of fries with their sandwiches. The side of fries was a full basket, one that Julie and I would have needed to split had we been out for a dinner-for-two.

Indian Fort Inn French Fries

The fries were the fresh-cut style with skins still on the edges, and they were cooked perfectly. I got to try one or two of my brother’s fries. Otherwise, he took down the whole basket himself (Dennis left just a few in the bottom of his).

Indian Fort Inn Loaded Fries

Lauren ordered a plate of loaded fries and made it her meal. It was your typical baked potato toppings – bacon, sour cream, chives. Her plate was even larger so she couldn’t finish all of hers, but she did enjoy them.

Our server was kind enough to split the checks for us. I spent about $16 for my meal and glass of iced tea. Most of the dinners were around the same price with some of the steak offerings reaching the low-to-mid-$20 range.

It was a good meal made better by good friends and conversation. And The Fort just seemed like the right place for that.

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

Indian Fort Inn
1343 Hex Highway
Hamburg, PA 19526

Indian Fort Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gourmand Cafe at Fairgrounds Farmers Market – CLOSED

The Gourmand Cafe at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market is now closed. The location closed in late 2018.

It’s the last week in April, and that means this is our last stop (for now) on our tour of the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

We still had several places we wanted to visit, and the decision wasn’t easy, but we decided to go to someplace both familiar and new.

Gourmand has built a mini empire around its unique eats. It started with the Gourmand Artisan Street Food truck. That led to two cafes – one inside Body Zone and one in Wyomissing. In December, they added a third cafe, this one inside the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

It’s one of the larger food stands at the market today with counter seating for 20.

We stopped in on a Thursday evening just after 6 p.m. Many stands were closing up or already closed (the market officially closes at 7). Even at Gourmand, the clean-up process had already begun, but the lone employee behind the counter was more than happy to take care of us.

The menu features many of Gourmand’s greatest hits like the Berks (the grilled sweet bologna, cream cheese, apple butter and potato chip sandwich I tried at the food truck) and their signature loaded fries.

For my entree, I went with another Gourmand classic – the Burgh.

If you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh (and even if you haven’t), you most likely have heard of Primanti Brothers and their famous sandwich. The Burgh is Gourmand’s take on the classic.

The Burgh starts with pastrami and melted provolone. Like a Primanti Brothers sandwich, it’s topped with three things: tomatoes, coleslaw and French fries.

It’s an odd mix to be sure, but Pittsburgh is an odd city.

The contrast between the hot and cold elements is interesting. The fries cooled off with the tomatoes and coleslaw while the meat and cheese stayed warm.

My one wish for the dish would be to have the bread toasted. As it was, the bread got soggy from the greasy pastrami and the juice from the slaw.

If you’re into the Primanti Brothers, you’d probably be into the sandwich. I liked it, but I wouldn’t have to get it again.

Julie’s sandwich was more my speed.

The Chicago style Italian is reminiscent of a French dip – it’s served with a side of au jus – but does stray a little bit with the use of shaved Parmesan cheese and the addition of banana peppers.

It was a nice sandwich where the meat was able to really be the star. The au jus makes it go down a little easier and adds a little salt to the dish. I can’t speak to the banana peppers because Julie had already picked them off the sandwich by the time she offered me a bite (though I’m sure they add a pleasant kick to it).

I can’t talk about our meals without mentioning the potato chips.

Gourmand fries their own potato chips, and they are a highlight of any meal. Lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, the chips are beautifully crunchy. I would have eaten any amount that they put in front of me. Thankfully, they portioned it well to save me from myself.

Our two sandwiches were less than $20 – a bargain in our estimation, especially given that Julie took half of hers home. That’s the great thing about the Fairgrounds Farmers Market. Everywhere you go, you can find a great meal at a great price.

And the Fairgrounds Farmers Market is the perfect fit for Gourmand’s quick and quirky food, the perfect place to continue to experiment with the menu on a weekly basis.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Gourmand Cafe
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. Fifth Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Gourmand Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Reviews

Bernville Eagle Hotel

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Exterior

I love the character in historic inns and hotels, the places that have been serving food and drinks since the roads were dirt and transportation was four-legged.

Every small town and village had one, and many of them are still going. The Stony Run Inn, subject of last week’s blog, is one of those places.

This week, we paid a visit to another historic hotel, one that has been at the heart of Bernville since 1869.

That’s when the Eagle Hotel opened along Main Street in the little borough (now the only borough) in northwestern Berks County.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Interior

Nearly 150 years later, it’s still a gathering place where locals grab drinks and dinner six nights a week (closed on Sundays). Though I’m sure patrons in the late 19th century weren’t ordering from a Caribbean-inspired menu like the hotel offers today.

There is no separation between restaurant and barroom. The single dining room features a large center bar with tables lining the perimeter. The sound of crashing billiards balls echoed out of the back room.

The menu is mostly bar food, but there is a small selection of entrees (plus a few weekly specials). And everything is reasonably priced. Only two menu items cost more than $20, the full rack of ribs and my choice, the Cuban coffee crusted flat iron steak.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Flat-Iron-Steak

Served with plantains and a side of rice and beans, the steak was buried beneath a mound of onions and peppers.

It certainly wasn’t the largest steak that I have ever had, but it was flavorful. I’m not a coffee drinker, but the coffee crust was subtle while adding a crisp char to the outside. I love sautéed onions and roasted peppers so I had no qualms about digging in.

The rice and beans were good, but nothing compared to the more authentic Latin American restaurants that you find closer to the city. And there was certainly nothing to complain about with the portion size.

I’m a sucker for plantains so I was going to love them no matter what.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Salad

My meal was also served with a starter salad and roll. While the salad was nothing to speak of (spring mix with onions, cherry tomatoes, cheese and a cup of dressing), the roll was very enjoyable – soft and buttery.

Julie wasn’t quite hungry enough for the full rack of ribs, but she thought she could handle the half rack.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Ribs

The ribs were also given a little twist with chipotle barbecue sauce and diced mango on top. It was a little disappointing to find the mango was not reduced into the sauce. Ribs are not conducive to toppings so most of the mango fell off with every bone that was picked out. There was also just a little kick from the chipotle, but not too much.

We both enjoyed the fries. They’re the fresh-cut, skin-on kind. That’s the way I love my fries.

The meal was also served with baked beans and slaw. The beans were OK, but nothing special. And she wasn’t a fan of the slaw which she found to be all cabbage and little slaw.

My brother and sister-in-law were along for the visit, and the four of us all had good meals. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was certainly quality bar food. For our four meals (plus drinks – one beer, one sangria and one iced tea), it came to $86 so right around $20 per person for what were some hefty portions on everything.

The Eagle Hotel is your typical local bar and restaurant. The emphasis is clearly on the bar, but you can still enjoy a good, hearty meal, just as people have been doing for a century-and-a-half.

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

Bernville Eagle Hotel
301 N. Main St
Bernville, PA 19506

Bernville Eagle Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Basin Street Hotel

basin-street-hotel-exterior

Kutztown will always have a special place in my heart.

I don’t make it back there as often as I would like since graduating from KU in 2013. When it’s time for blogging, I try to time my visits so school’s not in session.

It’s not that I have anything against college students, but the summer months (and winter break) are slower times for many of the local restaurants. That means less crowds, shorter waits, and better service.

That’s why Julie and I waited until a Thursday night in June to pay a visit to the Basin Street Hotel. Two months from now, when class is back in session, I wouldn’t suggest going anywhere in town on a Thirsty Thursday night.

basin-street-hotel-interior

But the Hotel was calm and quiet when we arrived. Only one other booth was taken, though there were a few people hanging at the bar and a couple enjoying dinner outside on the cloudy evening.

During my time in Kutztown, I had never visited Basin Street. It’s almost on the wrong side of the tracks for college students, facing out to the train station and the Allentown and Auburn Railroad line.

Restaurants and inns have been operating on the location at the corner of Main and Willow Streets (ironically, there is no Basin Street) for more than 100 years, and the hotel maintains a certain old-time charm inside with high wooden booths, decorative ceiling tiles and historic photos of Basin Street and the town.

The only thing I really knew about Basin Street before arriving is that they are known for their wings, or at least, that’s what they tout on Twitter and Facebook so I knew where our meal was starting.

basin-street-hotel-wings

There are 22 flavors to choose from on the menu ranging from standard hot, mild and BBQ to original creations like the red pepper parm and drunken varieties.

We went with two of the more original flavors: enchilada and spicy lime.

The enchilada wings were tossed in oil and taco seasoning. Unfortunately, much of it ran off the wings so I had to continually dip it in the run-off on the plate to get that Mexican flavor I was looking for. It took some work, but I got. I just wish it had been stronger.

On the spicy lime, I got spice and very little lime. It was basically Buffalo sauce with a little after taste of citrus. (Unless I was accidently given hot wings and just imagined the lime). For Buffalo wings, they were really good.

The wings were also very meaty and filling, definitely more than we needed when we saw the size of our dinner.

Basin Street’s menu is all pub food: apps, salads, burgers and sandwiches. There are no entrees, no meals. But that’s OK. There are more than 40 burgers, wraps and sandwiches to choose from on the robust menu.

basin-street-hotel-the-golden-bear

On the “Collegiate Corner” part of the menu, all of the sandwiches were given KU-themed names, like the Golden Bear.

The Golden Bear is Basin Street’s take on a Primanti Brothers sandwich – roast beef with coleslaw and French fries served on top of the meat.

This is a sandwich that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, it’s average fries, good roast beef and tasty slaw, but together, it was a hearty, enjoyable sandwich.

From being between the hot roast beef and fries, the coleslaw warmed up quick so there was never a cold bite. The fries got a little soggy, but the thick French bread roll held up deliciously well. I probably shouldn’t have finished the whole thing, but I did anyway.

Julie went with something a little bit different as well, the turkey French dip.

basin-street-hotel-turkey-french-dip

French dip sandwiches, as you probably know, are generally made with roast beef and served with a cup of au jus (light gravy) on the side. The turkey French dip just substituted the meat on the sandwich and in the gravy.

It was a nice change of pace. Julie especially enjoyed it with the Provolone cheese she ordered on top. She also finished off everything on her plate, except a few chips that she left in the bag to take home.

The only downside to visiting Kutztown in the summer months is that a lot of the restaurants are running with short staffs. There was only one guy working as both server and bartender, and while he did well at taking our orders and bringing our food, we had to go up to the bar to get and pay our $30 check.

I’m sure there aren’t many nights when the Basin Street Hotel is as quiet as it was for our visit. But that’s why we went when we did.

I like to enjoy Kutztown – and its restaurants – at its best.

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

Basin Street Hotel
42 E. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Basin Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews