A plate with a filet Mignon, serving of mushroom risotto, seafood cake topped with lime ailoi, green beans and a purple flower from the Inn at Centre Park

The Inn at Centre Park

The exterior of the Inn at Centre Park at twilight

Valentine’s Day has always been a big deal for Julie and I. With our anniversary being in mid-August, Valentine’s always marks the halfway point in another year for us. 

It’s also a great excuse to find a new place around the county for a romantic dinner.

A wooden staircase in front of art glass windows at the Inn at Centre Park

This year was a little different for us. Yes, we stayed in Berks County – the city of Reading, to be precise – but we didn’t go to a restaurant. Instead, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with dinner at the Inn at Centre Park, a bed and breakfast and event space in the Centre Park Historic District.

A table for two is set up in a corner room with large picture window and greenery at the Inn at Centre Park

Each month, the Inn at Centre Park opens for dinner – usually on the third Friday. In February, the monthly dinner was moved up a week in honor of Valentine’s Day (and Saturday dinner service was added). The meals are all prix fixe; in this case, it was a four-course meal with appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. 

A private dining room with a table for 10 is set up in front of a fireplace at the Inn at Centre Park

There was only one seating for the meal – 6:30 p.m. We were among the first to arrive which gave us a chance to look around at the elegantly appointed rooms throughout the first floor of the inn. 

An archway leads into a white-painted room with a chandelier at the Inn at Centre Park

Known as the Wilhelm Mansion, the building that now houses the Inn at Centre Park was the home of Charles Wilhelm for more than 50 years. However, it was originally built and occupied by Reverend Mark Anthony DeWolfe Howe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese. Our table for two was nestled at a door that featured original stained glass windows that depict two angels, one blowing a horn, the other singing.

Every nook and cranny of the house is filled with incredible detail, from the tall archways to the intricate moulding. This was certainly the lap of luxury in the late 19th Century and remains so today. 

A plate with three medallions of fried goat cheese with pear jam in the center and a balsamic drizzle from the Inn at Centre Park

After satisfying our curiosity, we settled in for the first course: fried goat cheese with crispy prosciutto and pear jam. 

It was a perfect beginning to the meal with a variety of flavors and textures. The soft, creamy goat cheese was countered by the crunchy, salty prosciutto. The pear jam sweetened the whole plate. The balsamic drizzle added another layer of sweet and sour. 

The first course really blew us away and set the stage for a great meal. 

A single roll on a plate with a butter knife at the Inn at Centre Park

In between courses, we were served fresh-baked rolls to enjoy with our salad. Homemade honey butter was already waiting on the table. Ours didn’t last that long. The soft, pillowy rolls were too good. With the sweet butter, they just melted in your mouth. 

Leaves of Bibb lettuce topped with apples, walnuts, celery and grapes from the Inn at Centre Park

Our second course was a Waldorf salad, and while it wasn’t a revelation the way the fried goat cheese was, it was still delicious. 

It was a traditional Waldorf with apples, grapes, celery and walnuts, but it was just done very well. And it was served atop large leafs of Bibb lettuce which was a nice choice for the greens.

A plate with a filet Mignon, serving of mushroom risotto, seafood cake topped with lime ailoi, green beans and a purple flower from the Inn at Centre Park

The entree course was a surf-and-turf plate with filet Mignon and seafood cake served with green beans and mushroom risotto. 

The filet was served with a simple herb butter, and it was good, but it didn’t really stand out compared to the rest of the meal. It was cooked well, but there wasn’t a “wow” to it like there was to the other three courses. 

I would say the same for the risotto and the green beans. (I am not a seafood fan so I have to take Julie’s word for the seafood cake, which she felt the same about). Filet Mignon is always good, and I will never complain about eating it. It just felt “safe” compared to the other courses. That’s the best way I can describe it. 

A plate with a chocolate dome sprinkled with red raspberry sea salt from the Inn at Centre Park

Dessert, though, was definitely a highlight. The fourth course consisted of chocolate “domes” with a ganache and raspberry center. The heaping dessert was sinful and delicious from the first bite to the last.

What really set the dish apart was the dusting of raspberry salt. Sweet and salty always works for me, and the concentrated raspberry flavor really added to the chocolate base. 

Really, I can’t think of a better way to finish the meal. 

A husband and wife sitting at a table in front of a stained glass window at the Inn at Centre Park

The four-course meal cost $60 per person, which seemed like a very good price for the amount and quality of the food that we had. Non-alcoholic beverages were included in the price (for those looking for a little something more, the dinners are BYOB). Also, there is very limited space so reservations are must for the Inn’s public dinners.

I’m sure the Inn does a good amount of catering events throughout the year because the staff seemed very much on top of their game. Everyone’s food arrived within minutes of each other and always tasted freshly prepared. The servers worked as a team and were very attentive throughout the meal. 

And, of course, the venue was amazing. It’s an ambiance you can’t get anywhere else in the county. 

Everything combined to make this one of the most special Valentine’s Day dinners yet. 

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: A little pricey (but worth it)

The Inn at Centre Park
730 Centre Ave
Reading, PA 19601

Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Jambalaya J’s – Fairgrounds Farmers Market

jambala-j

I have explored many of Berks County’s culinary hot spots: places like West Reading, Wyomissing and Kutztown have been good to me since starting this blog.

But there is one place in the county that has a higher concentration of restaurants than anywhere else. No, it’s not a town. It’s the Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

The 60 stands at the market feature fresh produce, butchered meats and bulk foods. But among the poultry and vegetable stands are more than a dozen places to enjoy a hot meal on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

One of those stands is located right inside the front door, and is the place I was eyeing up for my first market meal: Jambalaya J’s.

Jambalaya J’s is one of 60 stands inside the market. Opened in 2000, the stand has been offering Cajun fare for 15 years.

jambalaya-j-menu

The menu is narrowly focused with only a few options every week. The constants are jambalaya and crab cakes, two items that appear weekly on the menu board. The rest of the offerings are constantly changing. A range of po’ boy sandwiches, soups, sides and barbecue are offered each week.

We placed our order at the counter and the food was ready in a snap. The challenge was finding a pair of seats. The stand, itself, only offers a couple counter seats and a two-seat table that felt like it was a mile long. Thankfully there was a small table open in the seating area across the aisle.

I pulled up a chair and dug into my meal: a pulled pork sandwich combo with jambalaya and cole slaw.

jambalaya-j-pulled-pork

The sandwich was gargantuan, served on an oversized, dusted kaiser roll. The sauce, sweet and rich, made a mess of my hands as it dripped out of the bun. The pork didn’t need much help as it was very flavorful on its own. With the sauce, it was up there with some of the best pulled pork I have tried.

With a name like Jambalaya J’s, the jambalaya has to be good. And this did not disappoint. While the Andouille sausage added some kick, it was not overly spicy. Instead, the thick rice creation was a little sweet. It was only when I got a little piece of dried chile pepper that I really got hit with the heat. That’s when the cooling, creamy cole slaw came in handy.

jambalaya-j-crab-cake

Julie’s Blue Plate Special was also covered in jambalaya, but with the addition of a pair of crab cakes topped with remoulade sauce. The remoulade really made the dish, adding a sweet and spicy element to the perfectly fried cakes.

The Cajun cuisine was not only delicious, but nicely priced as we only spent $20 for what was a very filling meal.

My first meal at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market did not disappoint. It was a delicious, filling meal that I would definitely order again.

But it might be a while until I get to try it again. After all, I still have dozens of other stands to visit.

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

Jambalaya J’s
2930 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Jambalaya J's on Urbanspoon

Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews