Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Road Trip: The Belvedere Inn

Belvedere Inn

In the first five years of Berks County Eats, we have taken 19 road trips to select restaurants around Pennsylvania – some near, some far; some good, some bad – but all of them notable.

We’ve done less road trips recently – only two in 2018 – but there are a select number of noteworthy restaurants still worth traveling for and writing about.

One of those is Lancaster’s Belvedere Inn.

Belvedere Inn

The Belvedere was recently ranked as one of the Top 100 most romantic restaurants in the country by users of OpenTable so it seemed like the perfect place for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner.

Among the growing downtown dining scene in downtown Lancaster, The Belvedere is the elder statesman. The Victorian-style mansion was converted to a restaurant in 1998, long before the city’s recent restaurant Renaissance.

The restaurant sits on the corner of Queen and Lemon Streets, and while it doesn’t offer private off-street parking, there’s a public garage right behind the restaurant (we spent $4 to park).

Belvedere Inn

Candlelight and mirrors add glow to the dining areas. Highlights of the dining room – really two or three rooms that have been opened up to create a space that spans the depth of the building – include a stunning chandelier, a large fireplace and the leopard print carpet (still trying to understand that one).

The Belvedere’s menu is fitting of a romantic restaurant: higher end entrees with a range of appetizers and desserts and a robust drink list.

Belvedere Inn Roasted Vanilla Pear

As we were celebrating, Julie ordered a roasted vanilla pear. The mixed drink was made with vanilla vodka, St. Germaine, roasted pear puree, pineapple and citrus soda with a ring of sugar around the glass for even more sweetness, which is what she was looking for.

I had been to the Belvedere once for a business meeting so I knew all about their famous grilled Caesar salad, and I was thrilled to see that they had a petite version on the dinner menu so we could both order it as an appetizer.

Belvedere Inn Grilled Caesar

Caesar salads are always enjoyable, but the Belvedere’s grilled Caesar is on another level. First, grilling the Romaine just adds such a different feel to it and somehow enhances the flavor that’s already there. The dressing is excellent, and it’s topped with plenty of croutons and cheese.

On my first visit six months ago, I had the full version as a lunch entree (with grilled chicken). I thought I had overhyped it for Julie, but she was not disappointed. It’s an excellent start to a meal – or a meal in and of itself.

Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Getting it as an appetizer allowed us to try some of their other entrees. I decided on the four-hour braised short ribs, served with red wine demi, green beans and three cheese macaroni gratin.

The meat was excellent with enough fat to make it flavorful but not too much to take away from the meat. The demi was semi-sweet and really helped highlight the flavors of the meat. It was very well done and very satisfying.

I enjoyed the macaroni gratin – a grown-up mac and cheese with a flavorful crust on top. The green beans were fine and made better by the fact that they were also sitting in the red wine demi. Overall, I was very happy with my choice.

Belvedere Inn Stuffed Lobster Tail

Julie was also happy with her decision to order the crab-stuffed lobster tail, a special of the day.

It was one of the best lobsters she has ever had. The crab and lobster were both very good and neither overpowered the other. And she was thrilled to not find any crab shell in the filling.

It was served with fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Both were simple but enjoyable.

Belvedere Inn Chocolate Mousse

As is usually the case when we enjoy a romantic night out, we couldn’t leave without sharing dessert. All of the options sounded decadent, but we decided on the layered chocolate mousse.

It featured chocolate mousse, vanilla cake, Grand Marnier, orange zest and raspberries. It was sweet and satisfying. The mousse was chilled, making it much denser and more solid. The cake was nice, but my favorite part were the bites with raspberry. The fresh berries just added a nice flavor note.

Belvedere Inn Rolls

The meal was close to perfect. The only real hiccup was that the assistant server didn’t bring the rolls and butter around until after our entrees. Honestly, though, we could have done without the rolls. It’s not that they weren’t good, but we had more than enough food with what we had ordered.

On special occasions like Valentine’s Day, we always expect to spend more than we would for almost any other meal, and that was the case here. Our final total was $120, and while we won’t go out of our way to spend that on a meal, we don’t mind it once or twice a year.

Between the food and ambiance, it is easy to see how a restaurant like the Belvedere could make it onto anyone’s list of most romantic restaurants.

After our visit, it certainly makes our list.

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

The Belvedere Inn
402 N. Queen St
Lancaster, PA 17603

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Stonersville Hotel

If you follow my blog every week, you may remember reading in last week’s blog about visiting Intel’s Pennside Drive-In as a back-up plan.

Last week’s Plan A was the Stonersville Hotel, but after making the drive along Route 562 in Exeter Township, we had to keep moving because the entire parking lot was filled. And being in Stonersville, a village of a few dozen, there isn’t exactly an abundance of places to park.

So this week we went early, arriving around 5 p.m. for dinner in order to beat the crowd and get a seat.

The building may look big from the outside, but the restaurant takes up just two rooms – one for the bar, and one for the cozy dining room and its 12 tables.

A full parking lot is probably a good indicator that those tables are full.

The walls of the dining room were covered in original paintings, antique dinnerware and photographs. Above the doorway to the bar is a wooden, handmade Stonersville Hotel sign.

With a historic restaurant, diners expect old-fashioned comfort food. Stonersville’s menu is much more than that, though. Sure, there’s a variety of steaks and seafood options, but there’s also flatbread pizzas (including an intriguing lemon pizza), crab quesadilla, wings and wraps.

Our waitress tried to talk us into one of the restaurant’s never-frozen appetizers, like hot crab dip, breaded zucchini or fresh bruschetta. We saw an order of the bruschetta arrive at a nearby table – it looked tempting but was way too much to be split by two people.

Instead, we each started our meals with an order of soup. I went with the baked tomato and mushroom soup, one of two that are available daily on the menu.

The soup came topped with mozzarella cheese and was served in a crock ala French onion soup. It was a hearty and creamy soup with a few mushrooms – not enough to get them in every bite, but enough to get the flavor.

I thought it was excellent, one of the better and more original tomato soups that I have tried. The mozzarella was what really put it over the top for me. Tomato and mozzarella are such a superb combination, and especially so in this.

Julie’s soup came off the weekend specials. It was a peach and ginger gazpacho topped with slivered almonds. Chilled soups are always among our favorites – it’s like eating dessert first. The “soup” was smoother than a smoothie or milkshake, but just as sweet. And the hint of ginger was just enough to add flavor without taking over the whole dish. It was a pleasant surprise to find something like this at an old country inn.

For my entree, I went with some old-school comfort food and the shepherd’s pie.

When it arrived – and it arrived quick, just five minutes after our soup – it was already clear that some of it was going home in a box. The large casserole dish was packed with ground beef, corn, carrots and peas, and the whole thing was topped with a mountain of mashed potatoes.

The meat and vegetable mix was thickened with just a hint of gravy. I thought there was just the right amount of gravy to keep everything together without becoming overbearing as it may have been with gravy ladled on top.

As good as it was, I could only finish about two-thirds of it.

Just as I had too much food for one meal, Julie also couldn’t finish off her shrimp and crab pasta.

Served in a pesto cream sauce, the dish was one of three pasta choices on the menu. The crab was shredded up in the sauce and tossed with the spaghetti with a half-dozen shrimp on top.

The sauce was extremely rich, but enjoyable. It was one of the more expensive items on the menu, but Julie thought it was well-worth the splurge.

With us each having to take a box home with us, there was just no room left for dessert. It’s a good thing we weren’t looking forward to dessert, too, because our waitress told us that the only options were ice cream and a chocolate peanut butter cake.

In fact, there were also multiple menu items that were not available either because our timing was poor. The Stonersville Hotel is going to be closed between now and August 16 for vacation.

So instead of dessert, we paid our $45 bill and headed home, full and very satisfied having finally paid our first visit to Stonersville.

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

Stonersville Hotel
5701 Boyertown Pk
Birdsboro, PA 19508

Stonersville Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Revere Tavern

Revere Tavern, a historic restaurant attached to the Best Western in Paradise, Pa.

Berks County Eats takes a road trip to Lancaster County this week for a meal at the historic Revere Tavern in Paradise.

Lancaster County is teeming with great restaurants. The problem is getting to those restaurants – especially during the height of summer tourist season.

A drive on Route 30 is more like a crawl with out-of-state license plates parading along the highway on their way to catch a glimpse of the Amish at work in the field.

So finding a place for dinner on a Saturday night in Lancaster is tricky, unless you venture a little farther outside the city limits.

The entrance to the historic Revere Tavern

That’s where we found the Revere Tavern.

The address is Paradise, an ambitious name for a settlement that never really grew beyond a village.

We had driven past the tavern and the adjacent Best Western hotel many times, mostly to visit Rainbow’s Comedy Playhouse, a dinner theater set a few hundred yards behind the historic building.

But in need of a quiet place away from the rush of the city, we found exactly that at the Revere.

Historic Revere Tavern in Paradise was once owned by President James Buchanan.

The tavern is steeped in history, serving as a roadside inn since before the 1800s. At one time, it was owned by President James Buchanan. How it got the name the Revere Tavern, I’m still not sure.

It’s exactly the restaurant you expect when you hear the name. A stone hearth still protrudes from the wall of the King George dining room. Along the tops of the walls is a display of century-old China, decorative plates adorned with floral patterns, portraits and country scenes.

There are two other spaces as well – a smaller dining room and a bar, both located across the hallway from the table of four where Julie and I sat with her parents.

A table for six in front of the fireplace at Revere Tavern

We had come from a matinee at Sight & Sound Theatre and were ready for a hearty meal.

The menu features a selection of about 10 entrees – classic meals like scallops, prime rib, chicken breast and lamb chops that are expected fare at a restaurant like the Revere.

Revere Tavern Rolls and Butter

Before the meal, a basket of warm rolls were delivered to the table along with tiny cups of whipped cinnamon butter. It was a nice little start to the meal. Warm bread is always a nice touch and the little extra effort with the butter was appreciated.

Revere Tavern Salad

Our salads were next – each entree coming with a choice of Caesar or field green salad. We all opted for the field greens – romaine lettuce, red onion, carrots, cucumber and cherry tomato.

It was your basic starter salad, nothing more and nothing less. It served its purpose of holding us over until the main course arrived.

My entree choice was the wild mushroom ravioli with grilled chicken breast.

Revere Tavern Wild Mushroom Ravioli

The ravioli was served in a madeira wine sauce with caramelized onions, spinach, chopped walnut and more mushrooms.

It was a heavy sauce, creamy and thick, that made the ravioli feel a lot more dense. The grilled chicken breast on top was a perfect addition (it’s optional for those who prefer a meat-free meal). I found it cooked perfectly, lightly seasoned to add flavor that worked well with the sauce.

The spinach and walnut were both nice touches, especially the walnut which added much-needed texture to the dish while also giving a pop of flavor every few bites.

What I could have done without was the additional mushrooms. I would not have minded a few on the side, but I felt overwhelmed by the tiny white fungi that were swimming on my plate.

I left a lot of them sitting, but I happily finished off the remainder of the dish.

Revere Tavern Crab Cakes

Julie’s entree was a crab cake (she opted for one instead of two). She definitely didn’t get cheated on her one as the six-ounce cake looked to be about the size of a baseball on her plate.

The crab cakes were meaty and satisfying – not the best that Julie has ever had, but certainly not the worst. The lemon aioli was a great complement, elevating the dish.

It was served with a vegetable medley of corn, potatoes and tomato with a bed of arugula, all sitting in the lemon aioli. The potatoes were diced like breakfast hash. None of the three items truly stood out, but they were enjoyable together for a nice side.

Amazingly, neither of us had anything left that was worth bringing home. It wasn’t that the portions weren’t generous – they were – but we were both looking forward to finishing everything on our plates.

When the final bill was tallied, it was about $45 for the two of us (that included my glass of unsweetened iced tea). We’ve certainly paid more than that for history so I don’t think we were cheated at all.

The Revere Tavern may not be the most recognized name in the Lancaster food scene, nor the most sought-out, but the quiet little restaurant delivered a nice meal during our visit.

And that’s all we were really hoping for.

Revere Tavern
3063 Lincoln Highway
Paradise, PA 17562

Revere Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn

crab-barn-exterior-1

In my time doing Berks County Eats, there has been no more highly anticipated restaurant than Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn.

In February 2013, the Reading Eagle reported that the new restaurant would open that summer.

It was 45 months later, November 2016, when the doors finally opened to the public.

Nothing builds anticipation like a four-year wait.

We waited just a couple months after the official opening before making our first trip to the Hampden Boulevard landmark, just north of the Reading city limits.

Look for the barn with the giant crab hanging off the front. You can’t miss it.

Having never been to the original, I had no frame of reference for what to expect.

crab-barn-bar-1

Walking in, I was impressed. The main entrance opens to the lower-level bar and waiting area. A boat propeller and other nautical memorabilia hung on the wooden walls (the Goldfish crackers for bar snacks were a nice touch).

As we were led upstairs to the dining area, I was even more impressed.

It’s very hard to combine rustic barn and nautical theming, but the Crab Barn does it. A painted on American flag takes up much of the roof. The far wall is painted to resemble a vintage barn-side advertisement, but instead of Mail Pouch tobacco, it beckons you to chew “Male Crabs.”

crab-barn-interior-1

There’s also a swordfish, the back half of a boat, oars and two mounted elk heads (one of these things doesn’t belong).

Clearly a lot of work went into the building. One thing that could still use a little work is their system of seating customers. The hostess is downstairs. The dining room is upstairs. Staff came and went while we waited. Then, after we were led upstairs, we waited again while they fixed a table for us.

Service was a lot better after we were seated.

At this point, I need to mention that I don’t like crabs (or anything, generally, that swims). I have tried to like them. Not happening.

crab-barn-dungeoness-crab

Julie, on the other hand, loves crabs. On her business trips to Seattle and Portland, she especially grew to love Dungeness crabs.

Though she was a little worried about having them 3000 miles away, she couldn’t help herself.

And she was very pleased. The meat came out in nice chunks, and there was plenty of it to enjoy as she cracked open every leg and claw.

To go with the crabs and the other entrees, the Crab Barn offers nine side choices, many of them unique to the restaurant, like the tomato cucumber salad.

It was a light side, a good change of pace, served in a nice lemon basil dressing. Julie’s second side, the basil redskin mashed potatoes were also quite flavorful.

crab-barn-steak-tips

So, what does a land lover do at the Crab Barn? Well, they are prepared for customers like me with several turf options to go with the surf.

My choice was the marinated beef tips.

The small sirloin pieces were marinated in Sriracha bourbon marinade. There was only a hint of heat from the Sriracha, but it picked up rich flavors from the bourbon. I really enjoyed it, though the half pound portion felt small.

For my sides, I went with fried plantains and Island cilantro rice. I loved the plantains (if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know there was never any doubt). The rice was good, too, but I would have liked a little more cilantro.

Several of the items on the menu, including the Dungeness crab, are listed as market price on the menu. That was about $25 on our visit. With my beef tips and iced tea, our total for the two of us was about $45.

It was a four-year wait to get crabby at Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn. Judging from the full dining room, we weren’t the only ones who were anxious to try it.

Now that we’ve been there, we’re excited to go back.

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

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn
2613 Hampden Blvd
Reading, PA 19604

Gettin' Crabby at the Crab Barn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Coastal Grille

coastal-grille

As a general rule, I will never visit a restaurant during their first month in business.

It’s not that I’m not anxious to try new places. I am.

It’s not that I don’t want to give them business. I do.

It’s that I don’t want my opinion of a restaurant to be clouded by a bad experience early in its life. I hear stories all the time from people who go to a restaurant during its first two weeks, and all they talk about is how long the wait is, and how long it took to get drinks, and how long it took to get food.

So I wait. Not in an hour-long line to get in, but until the restaurant has had some practice. No amount of mock service days can prepare you for when the open sign comes on for the first time and you have customers waiting out the door.

That’s why I waited until recently to make my first trip to Coastal Grille.

Coastal Grille opened in late September in the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center, taking over a building that has seen Uno Chicago Grill, Mason’s Chophouse and, most recently, Seafood Shanty come and go.

Like Seafood Shanty before it, the new restaurant plays heavily toward the seafood lover. The connection to the ocean is apparent from the moment you walk through the door and see the large aquarium that separates the main dining room from the bar. Silver sculptures of deep sea fish hang on the wall, shimmering brilliantly between the windows.

More than a month removed from their opening, Coastal Grille was still packed on this Saturday night. Many more people streamed in behind us during our 30-minute wait until we were escorted to our table.

coastal-grille-ciabattta

The menu is heavily inspired by the sea, but it does borrow a few favorites from its sister restaurant, Austin’s, including baby back ribs and shoestring fries. And like Austin’s, you have the option to begin your meal with a loaf of bread. In this case, it’s a warm, fresh-baked ciabatta that required all the willpower we had not to devour before our food arrived.

As someone who prefers animals that graze to those that swim, I passed on the surf and opted instead for turf with the Reggae Ribeye.

coastal-grille-reggae-steak

The menu describes the Reggae Ribeye as a 12 oz. steak that was marinated and basted in a sweet and spicy sauce. I was expecting a typical steak that had maybe been brushed once or twice during cooking. What I got was a beautiful cut of meat, glistening from the reflection of the light on the sticky sauce.

A rush of flavors hit my tongue on the first bite. The sauce tasted like a mixture of teriyaki, barbecue and chili oil, a mild kick tempered by the cooling sweetness, with a hint of salt besides. Cooked medium well, with just a hint of pink in the middle,  it was one of the best restaurant steaks I have ordered.

All of their grilled specialties, and most of the entrees on the menu, are served with the vegetable of the day and a choice of side. While I love Austin’s shoestring fries, I knew I needed to change things up so I opted for house-made chips instead. The kettle-cooked chips were extra dark—not burnt—sealing in the flavors absorbed during the cooking process.

coastal-grille-salad-1

While none of the entrees include a starter salad, you can substitute a salad as one of your sides. That’s exactly what Julie decided to do, opting for Caesar. The leafy greens were piled high on the plate and topped with deliciously flavorful croutons that were obviously homemade.

coastal-grille-baked-haddock

Deciding that at least one of us had to order seafood, she decided on the Boston baked haddock for her entree. The fish was topped with a garlic cream sauce with lumps of shrimp and crab. The dish offered a mix of flavors and textures, with the cream sauce bringing everything together in a coherent dish.

Sadly, dinner proved too much for me and dessert was not in the cards. It was especially disappointing after seeing a Chocolate Bag walk past me. The Chocolate Bag is a dessert unique to Coastal Grille: hardened chocolate in the shape of a small bag, filled to the brim with whipped cream and topped with cherries. I may or may not have let out an audible “oooh” when it came near.

Instead we called it quits after our entrees, our total bill coming out to about $45.

After waiting a month (and an extra 30 minutes) my first visit to Coastal Grille did not disappoint.

I’m happy we waited, and will be even happier when we go back again soon.

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

Coastal Grille
2713 N. Meridian Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Coastal Grille on Urbanspoon

Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Chef Alan’s American Bistro

Chef-Alan-sBerks County has experienced an amazing culinary renaissance in recent years.

New restaurants have arrived, bringing new ideas to compliment the area’s old favorites.

Nowhere is that more evident than along Penn Avenue in West Reading.

The town’s main street has seen an incredible resurgence over the past decade as storefronts have filled up with boutiques, shops and, of course, restaurants.

But in order to build West Reading into what it has become, West Reading had to have anchors in place to build around.

Chef Alan’s American Bistro is one of those anchors.

For two-and-a-half decades, Chef Alan’s has helped anchor West Reading’s downtown. The business has gone through many changes during that time, including the opening (and subsequent closing) of a second location in the Fairgrounds Square Mall.

Even the West Reading location has gone through several changes in the past 25 years, most notably the loss of a large amount of banquet space, where I had attended numerous receptions and events over the years.

Somehow, though, I had never actually sat down to a full dinner in Chef Alan’s dining room.

The room is dimly lit, with single lamps hanging above each table. The lamp shades are the same deep shade of purple, part of Chef Alan’s odd color palette that includes yellow walls with purple window trim and purple napkins.

The unique colors echo the bistro’s unique menu. Like the town, it is a blend of old and new. There are standard items like chicken Parmigiana, build-your-own burgers and steaks and chops. But there are plenty of unique dishes as well, including the grilled salmon BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato) and eight individual pizza creations.

Italian-Wedding-Soup-Chef-Alan-s

My meal began with an old favorite: Italian wedding soup. The tiny meatballs packed a lot of flavor and the chunks of chicken breast were a welcome addition. Though the broth was a little on the salty side, it was a very good cup of soup, just a teaser of things to come.

Chicken-And-Biscuits-Chef-Alan-s

Chicken and biscuits is a dish you would see on a diner menu, not something you would expect from a chef, but this was unlike any chicken and biscuits I had before.

First, the presentation was beautiful, with peas, shredded carrots and parsley sprinkled atop two halves of a flaky biscuit and a perfectly seared chicken breast.

What looked like standard chicken gravy was a rich sauce. The addition of mushrooms to the sauce gives it a unique flavor, a creamy broth crossed with Marsala for a completely unique flavor combination.

Garlic-Mashed-Potatoes-Chef-Alan-s

Every element worked together to create a harmonious flavor. Add on a side of garlic mashed potatoes, which looked more like a bowl of soft ice cream, and it made up one of the best dishes I have tasted on my journey across Berks County.

Crabby-Seawich-Chef-Alan-s

Across the table from me,  my wife enjoyed the crabby seawich-Chef Alan’s take on the classic crab cake sandwich served on wheat bread with cheddar cheese. The best part though, were the bistro fries, which we sprinkled with sea salt and the peppercorn medley that were available on the table.

Lemon-Berry-Cake-Chef-Alan-s

Somehow we also managed to force dessert. After forcing our waitress to hold the dessert tray a little longer than we probably should have, we opted for a slice of lemon berry cake. The white cake was loaded with blueberries with a layer of lemon cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Four dollops of whipped cream sat in the corners of the plate, which was drizzled with strawberry sauce.

The sauce was very sweet, which played well against the lemon cream. Together they made for an amazing dessert, one that we had no problem finishing after our big meals.

Top to bottom, my meal at Chef Alan’s was one of the best I have had since starting Berks County Eats. I did miss having a starter salad, but the addition of the $2 soup helped make up for it. In all, we spent about $35 for our meals and shared dessert.

After heading outside, I took a look down Penn Avenue – there are restaurants to the left, restaurants to the right and restaurants right across the street.

As West Reading’s reputation continues to grow and new restaurants continue to pop up, it’s good to know that Chef Alan’s will continue to be one of the cornerstones.

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

Chef Alan’s Restaurant and Bar
525 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Chef Alan's American Bistro on Urbanspoon

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews