Wide shot of food trucks in a picnic grove

Truck N Brew

Now that Berks County has entered the green phase of reopening, restrictions are starting to be lessened for area restaurants and eateries, but restrictions remain in place.

The new rules and regulations have forced businesses to adapt and innovate, from the way the food gets from kitchen to consumer (contactless delivery, curbside pickup) to how seats are arranged – inside and out.

Food trucks parked on gravel with picnic tables in the foreground

One of the innovations that has come out of the restrictions on dining is Truck N Brew, a weekly event at Willow Glen Park in Sinking Spring.

Photo of a food truck called Uncle Buck's that's shaped liked a retro camper

Willow Glen is best known as the site of Shocktoberfest, the Apple Dumpling Festival, weekly outdoor flea markets and countless other events throughout the year. But on Friday and Saturday nights, Willow Glen is now home to Truck N Brew, an outdoor dining and entertainment venue with food trucks and concessions.

Food trucks parked on a lawn with cars in the background

Not being ready for a dine-in experience quite yet, Truck N Brew seemed like a great alternative for a Saturday night dinner.

Picture of a food stand under a pavilion with a sign advertising Spanish food

We arrive at 5 p.m. just as the stands were opening. We weren’t the first ones there, but there weren’t too many others around as we bounced from food truck to food truck and stand to stand in search of our meals.

The lineup of food trucks changes every week – this week featured wood-fired pizza, tacos, Cuban sandwiches, barbecue and more – but the venue is owned and operated by Konopelski Katering, and their concession stands are the anchors of the event.

A photo of a tent set up in front of a building for Fat Jack's at Truck N Brew in Sinking Spring

One of those stands is Fat Jack’s, which operates out of a large kitchen at the end of the row of eateries. The menu was also the most varied of all the options with burgers, sandwiches, fried foods and more.

We both opted for burgers – Julie got the guac and bacon burger while I went with the fajita burger.

Photo of a big yellow food truck called the Biggest Cheese next to a tree

For Jakob, we stopped at a food truck called The Biggest Cheese where mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches dominate the menu. Actually, there’s mac and cheese in the grilled cheese sandwiches, but they were accommodating and made a plain old grilled cheese for our toddler to enjoy.

Seating was plentiful. There is a large pavilion with picnic tables spread out (it’s also where the bar is set up – the brew in Truck N Brew). And many more tables surrounding the pavilion. There’s also some wooden counters set up along the lawn’s edge, a place to stand and enjoy your drinks.

We snagged one of the tables outside the pavilion. Despite our car’s thermometer reading 90 degrees, the shaded picnic area felt very comfortable. And we were well-distanced from the nearest occupied table, making it easy to enjoy our delicious burgers.

Close up of a burger with cheese, lettuce and tomato and a side of fries in a to-go boat

My fajita burger came topped with grilled peppers, grilled onions lettuce, tomato and jalapeno cheese.

I personally love grilled peppers and onions on my burgers (they are among my go-to toppings at Five Guys), but I wasn’t sure what to expect with the jalapeno cheese. It added only a little heat to the dish, but it certainly added some flavor.

Overall, it was a very satisfying burger.

Photo of a burger topped with guacamole and bacon in a to-go boat with french fries

Julie was also satisfied with her guac and bacon burger. As you might guess, the featured toppings were guacamole and bacon (with lettuce and tomato). You can’t really go wrong with either of those on a burger.

Both of us got a side of fries with our burgers. The small, fresh-cut fries were very good though a little on the salty side (not too salty to stop me from eating them).

Toddler eating a grilled cheese sandwich at a picnic table

Meanwhile Jakob seemed to enjoy his grilled cheese (Julie tried some and said it was good. The bread was toasted well – not burnt – and was nice and buttery). However he was a little distracted because from his seat, he was looking directly at the Sweet Ride Ice Cream truck.

Photo of the Sweet Ride Ice Cream food truck under a tree

I ventured over and grabbed us some dessert, a cup of vanilla ice cream for Jakob, a cup of banana peanut butter chip ice cream for Julie and an orange cream float with chocolate ice cream for me.

Sweet Ride has always been good, but we’ve enjoyed them even more since they started making (most) of their own ice cream. Julie loves their banana peanut butter chip with the creamy banana base so there was never a doubt as to which flavor she would get.

Close up of two cups of ice cream and one large cup with orange soda

My float was also very good. The chocolate ice cream was rich and I always enjoy the mix of chocolate and orange. It was definitely worth the extra calories.

It wasn’t the cheapest night out we’ve had but it was still pretty reasonable. Our burgers and fries were less than $25. Jakob’s grilled cheese and bottle of water were around $7. And the ice cream added another $12, bringing our total for the night to right around $45. That’s not bad for three meals and three desserts.

We kept our expectations low going into the evening, but were pleasantly surprised all around. There was more than enough seating to spread out (even at 6 p.m. when we left). There was a great variety of food, and what we had was very good. While I would say the majority of the other patrons weren’t wearing masks, a few were. And all of those working, at least the ones I could see that were interacting with customers, were wearing masks and gloves.

Really, it’s a great idea, one that was obviously fueled by the restrictions of the yellow phase of reopening. But it’s an idea we hope keeps going because we enjoyed it and would definitely go back.

Truck N Brew
94 Park Rd
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

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

Dessert Food Trucks
Three-chambered Styrofoam takeout container with lamb kabobs over rice, a fattoush salad, and hummus

Berks County Eats Update

selfie of a man with glasses wearing a checkered flag mask

Three months. That’s how long it has been since my last post on Berks County Eats.

A lot has happened since the stay-at-home order was announced in March. What hasn’t happened in that time: restaurant reviews.

It’s not for a lack of caring. If you follow us on Instagram, you know that we have been continuing to support restaurants in Berks County through takeout and delivery – supporting old favorites and trying new places.

I was planning to do reviews throughout. The first weekend of the stay-at-home order, we ordered from Brewers Bar & Grill in West Reading and a couple burgers delivered to the house.

close-up photo of waffle fries and a burger in a styrofoam takeout container

They were very good, everything that you could want in a pub burger. But when I went to write about our meal, it didn’t feel right. There wasn’t enough meat on the bone, so to speak, to do a true review. Yes, the food was great, but that’s was all I could say.

I couldn’t write about the ambiance because I never stepped foot inside the restaurant.

I couldn’t write about the service because I never saw an employee from the restaurant (shout out to Delivery Dudes who has provided amazing service every time we’ve ordered delivery, though).

I couldn’t write about the presentation because there’s nothing appealing about clamshell packaging.

I couldn’t write about any of the other things I would write about either: Were they busy? What is parking like? Are they kid-friendly? What makes them unique?

The last question – what makes a restaurant unique – is really the hardest part. As a writer, I am drawn to the details. Food is always a full sensory experience, but when I’m eating my meal at the same dining room table I take every other meal, my senses aren’t being stimulated enough.

Without enough to write about, I turned to Instagram. At least I could show that I was supporting our local restaurants. And we have been supporting our local restaurants, ordering takeout or delivery at least once a week (admittedly some of the meals weren’t Instagram-worthy).

If I would have had any motivation to write a blog that first week, it was quickly lost when I spiked a fever for three days. I tested negative for the flu and strep and then had to go through the discomfort of a COVID-19 test. I tested negative for that, too, but the pandemic became very real for us during that time and we’ve proceeded with caution ever since.


On the Move

Before all of this, Julie and I were in the process of looking for a new house and selling our own. We love where we live, but there are days when it feels like our house is bursting at the seams. The real estate industry, like many others, came to a standstill during the stay-at-home order. As soon as it reopened in May, we were back on the hunt.

The housing market is crazy right now, which added quite a bit of stress to our lives. That stress increased after we lost out on a house that we loved even after making what we thought was a very generous offer.

Then we put our current house on the market, thinking it would take several weeks of showings before it would sell. Instead we had 20 showings in a weekend and had an offer at our asking price by Sunday evening.

The good news for us is that we found another house, one that we love. And the best news is we’re not going far. We’ll be staying in the Wyomissing area. Our new home will be a little bit larger with more rooms (I get my own office!).

My favorite part about the new house is that it has an incredible kitchen. Julie and I are both looking forward to having more space to be creative at mealtime. Maybe we’ll even be able to show off some of our work on the blog.

(There’s also a dishwasher, something we haven’t had in the nearly nine years that we’ve been in this house).

We settle on both houses in mid-August so we will be a little busy between now and then.


More Distractions

In the absence of Berks County Eats, I filled my time with more distractions, some productive, some not.

I’ve spent a lot of time doing more creative writing projects. I started a novel – the dream of every writer. We’ll see if I ever finish it or if it ever sees the light of day. Either way, it has felt good to broaden my horizons, and I would like to think that it has made me a better writer as a result.

During the pandemic, I have also taken full advantage of Penn State Extension’s free course offer. I completed a course in grant writing and am in the process of completing a course called Food for Profit, all about starting your own food business.

No, I’m not going to start a food business, but the course has given me a new perspective on many facets of the industry – health and safety regulations, start-up costs, pricing and more. It has been a bear of a course, but one that has been worth the time and energy.

Then there is the fact that I have a 2 1/2 year-old at home. A very active 2 1/2 year old. He spends his days with his grandmother where he is a perfect angel. Then he comes home and is a (sometimes uncontrollable) ball of energy for mommy and daddy. By the time we get him to bed around 8-8:30, neither of us have the energy to focus on much else.


Berks County Eats Moving Forward

Through the beginning of March, I was so excited about Berks County Eats.

Launching the new website last year gave me a renewed enthusiasm about the blog. Then we started this year with some really great meals at places like Judy’s on Cherry and Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant, the Greenhouse Cafe, and even a cooking class at the Culinary Kitchen.

2020 was going to be the best year ever for Berks County Eats. And then it all stopped. When the blogs stopped, I kept up with the news for another week or two, but then I stopped that as well. That’s my biggest regret throughout this – not keeping up with the industry like I had done for the last six years.

We lost some great restaurant as a result of the pandemic, including Winedown Cafe, but I know of only three such closures that can be attributed to the pandemic. Of course there are many more temporary closures, and the fallout is likely not over. But Berks County is resiliant. New restaurants opened before (and even during the pandemic).

Unfortunately I wasn’t there to share their stories. I had disconnected totally and while I can’t say I’m fully reconnected, I’m well on the way. Our news pages have been updated. Our directory now features tags on every post based on their current status: open for takeout, delivery available, outdoor dining, or temporarily closed (for those where the information can be confirmed).

I’m not going to promise weekly blogs anytime soon, but I will promise that Berks County Eats will once again be the resource I have promised it will be. We will once again be on top of all the news in the Berks County restaurant scene with updates on Facebook as we hear about them.

With outdoor dining already an option now and indoor dining (with restrictions) returning with the green phase, you will start seeing some blogs pop up here and there, but it won’t be weekly. Not yet, anyway.

We’ll definitely still be supporting our local restaurants, and we hope you will be, too. Takeout. Delivery. In-person dining. However you can support our restaurateurs, we hope you do.

And we promise to do the same.

Uncategorized
A plate of schnitzel topped with red peppers and onions with a side of red cabbage and German potato salad from the Reading Liederkranz

The Reading Liederkranz

Tables and chairs at the Reading Liederkranz with an Alpine mural in the background

Guten tag, Berks County.

I, like a lot of Berks Countians, can trace my family history back to Germany. And I also happen to love German food, like what can be found at the Reading Liederkranz, a private club that bills itself as a “German Singing and Sport Society.”

I have been to the Liederkranz many times, but it was always for events (Oktoberfest and Christkindlmarkt) and never for a sit-down meal in the dining room.

Not being a member, that was never really an option until Julie and I were invited by our friends (and members) Jerry and Lisa to join them for dinner recently.

A view of two rows of tables at the Reading Liederkranz

I don’t know what I was expecting to find inside the clubhouse, but this wasn’t it. For the most part, there’s nothing remarkable about the dining area. The diner chairs and vinyl tablecloths are a dark maroon while the walls are off-white with wood around the bottom. It’s all set against a drab gray carpet. The old-fashioned numbers on the tables made it feel even more like a diner in need of an upgrade. The bar area, as well, just felt like a bar when I walked past.

The only real distinguishing feature is the wooden dance floor which is set in front of a wall painted with a beautiful Alpine scene.

A basket with four rolls and butter at the Reading Liederkranz

One thing that was clear from the start: if you’re in a hurry, this is not the club for you. There were a few tables taken in the large dining area (it was about 6:30 on a Thursday when we arrived). After being told to sit anywhere, it was a good 10 minutes before our server came to our table with menus.

As a German club, it’s not surprising that the menu at the Liederkranz is filled with a variety of traditional German meals. But there are other additions like burgers and sandwiches. Thursday is also wing night, but we decided to pass.

A large salad with jumbo shrimp and four lemon wedges from the Reading Liederkranz

Julie, along with our friends Jerry and Lisa, decided to get the weekly special – a three-course meal that started with jumbo shrimp and a salad.

It was an interesting first course, jumbo shrimp being the least German item on our table throughout the night. The salad was good if you like lemon vinaigrette because it was strong and puckery. I happened to enjoy the bite I had, but I don’t think I could have handled the whole salad.

The entree for the three-course special was sauerbraten with a side of spätzle and red cabbage. Sauerbraten is a German pot roast that has been heavily marinated with pickling spices, making it slightly sour but also very tender.

A square black plate with an order of sauerbraten, spaetzle and red cabbage from the Reading Liederkranz

The roasted beef is almost always served with gravy, but this version was different. The gravy was thick and had raisins throughout. The sweetness from the dried fruit gave the whole dish a sweet-and-sour spin that is very pleasant and helped it stand out from similar dishes.

The spätzle (German pasta) were very finely cut noodles. They were a little crispy in some bites – so small that they seared quickly in the pan. Still, they were enjoyable as was the red cabbage – a personal favorite of mine from our visits to the Oktoberfest celebration.

Red cabbage was also one of my choices for a side to go with my schnitzel.

A plate of schnitzel topped with red peppers and onions with a side of red cabbage and German potato salad from the Reading Liederkranz

The menu includes the “Schnitzel Ecke” (schnitzel corner) where you can choose from three styles of schnitzel and two cuts of meat – pork or chicken. I went with the “gypsy style.” The fried chicken cutlet came topped with pan-fried onions, peppers and paprika.

I’ve had plain schnitzel at Oktoberfest and enjoyed it each time. This was better. The paprika gave it just a hint of heat while the onions and peppers popped in every bite. It was just what I was hoping for.

The other item on my plate was the German potato salad. It’s a cold potato salad that features large chunks of potato with herbs and vinegar. It’s slightly sour – like a lot of German foods – but so good. I won’t eat the Pennsylvania Dutch version of potato salad, but I love this.

A plate with two slices of apple strudel, a pool of custard and four dollops of whipped cream from the Reading Liederkranz.

When she came to clear our plates, our waitress asked if I wanted to order anything for dessert since everyone else would be getting it with their meals. Julie was gracious enough to share her apple strudel with me so I didn’t have to order one of my own.

The plate had two slivers of strudel with a pool of custard and four dollops of whipped cream. Another favorite of ours from our Oktoberfest visits, the strudel is delicious. The apple and pastry crust melt in your mouth while the custard is rich and sweet. It doesn’t get much better than this.

It was a little while again before our checks arrived. Our server was very nice but it was a good thing we weren’t in a hurry. Our final tally for the night was $40 which seems like a fair price for quality food.

The waiting aside, it was an enjoyable evening with friends and good food. I would consider a membership in the future, but with 300 restaurants in Berks County left to explore, I don’t think I would get my money’s worth out of it right now. But we definitely got our money’s worth for this meal.

Danke schön, Liederkranz.

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

Reading Liederkranz (Members and Guests Only)
143 Spook Ln
Reading, PA 19606

Lunch & Dinner
A bowl of edamame, quinoa, chickpeas and cranberry from the Greenhouse Cafe

The Greenhouse Cafe

A view of the outside of the Greenhouse Cafe from the parking lot.

The arrival of a new restaurant to Berks County is always welcomed. But when that eatery offers something different – when it adds a little more variety to the dining scene – it’s a little more exciting.

A little something different is exactly what the Greenhouse Cafe promises as Berks County’s newest vegan spot.

The Cafe is located in an outbuilding on the property of the Bell Tower Salon & Spa in Wyomissing (just off of State Hill Road near the intersection with Penn Avenue). I have never had a reason to go to Bell Tower myself, but Julie tells me the space was at least partially a retail store previously.

The main dining area of the Greenhouse Cafe with silver tables and chairs and brown walls.

Walking in the door, you don’t get the Greenhouse feeling. It’s very minimalist with plain brown walls and simple silver-colored tables and chairs opposite the large windows. The dining room to the right is where you really feel the Greenhouse and feel at home. Natural light pours in from the sides and from above. The seating is varied with both high-tops and more relaxed sitting areas. We sat on cushioned benches around a low-top table. A faux fireplace was unlit on the wall next to us.

The interior of the sunroom dining area with high top tables and cushioned benches at the Greenhouse Cafe

With the opening of the Greenhouse Cafe, Berks County now has four fully dedicated vegan eateries with Chen Vegetarian House in West Reading, the Firefly Cafe in Boyertown and HIVE in Kutztown being the other three.

A look at the rear of the sun room at Greenhouse Cafe, including bench seats and a high-top table.

The Cafe opened at the end of November with just drinks and baked goods. They slowly expanded their food offerings to include hummus and soups. The full lunch menu debuted on February 15.

Small plates include hummus and bean dips. There are several homemade dressings for your salad or grain bowl (including lemon tahini and ginger sesame). And entrees include chickpea by the sea (mock tuna), an egg-less salad sandwich and hummus and veggie sandwich.  

A plate with a chana masala sandiwch on a hoagie roll and a small cucumber salad from the Greenhouse Cafe

When it came to deciding on an entree, I was torn between the hummus sandwich and the rotating special, a chana masala sandwich. The special sounded too good to pass up.

Masala is an Indian tomato sauce (chicken tikka masala is probably the most well-known version of the dish in America); chana masala features chickpeas as the primary “protein” in the dish. For the special, the chana masala came served on a hoagie roll topped with pickled cabbage.

A plate with a chana masala sandiwch on a hoagie roll and a small cucumber salad from the Greenhouse Cafe

It was an excellent entree. The masala sauce was very nice and the chickpeas were cooked well but still had texture to them. There were times while eating the dish where the sauce and the roll reminded me of a Berks County cheesesteak. (The roll was delicious, by the way).

The sandwich came served with a side of cucumber salad. It was good, but there wasn’t much to it.

Julie made a meal out of a small plate of hummus and a side grain bowl of edamame, chickpeas, cranberry and quinoa.

A bowl of edamame, quinoa, chickpeas and cranberry from the Greenhouse Cafe

The bowl came out first with my sandwich. The server then appeared with a hummus sandwich only to retreat back into the kitchen for the plate of hummus that Julie had ordered.

Julie started on the bowl, which was very good. We make a quinoa dish at home with dried cranberries that we really like and this was even better. The edamame was softened just enough that it wasn’t crunchy but was still a little firm. The cranberries and (surprise) golden raisins added the sweetness that it needed to tie everything together.

A plate of hummus and pita wedges with carrots and celery from the Greenhouse Cafe

When Julie’s hummus plate arrived a few minutes later, it was worth the wait. The hummus was much thicker and more textured than store-bought hummus. It was also more flavorful with a nice dusting of spices on top. Julie was excited to come back and buy some hummus to-go so she could enjoy it at home, too.

It wasn’t just the hummus, though. The pita it was served with was as good, if not better, than we have found elsewhere. It was more dense than others and was packed with flavors (of course neither of us could put our fingers on what those flavors were that were shining through). We loved everything about it.

The only thing that was a little confusing to me was the menu said it was topped with shawarma. I only know shawarma as the meat that is sliced from the spit. I can only assume that it was a shawarma spice that was on top.

A green mug filled with chai tea latte from the Greenhouse Cafe

Beyond the food, I was very excited to try their house blend chai tea.

I don’t drink coffee, but I love a good chai latte. The Greenhouse has their own special chai spice blend and they use oat milk to keep it vegan. It didn’t have a foamy head like a lot of chai that I’ve had, but it had a nice aroma and flavor from the spices. The oat milk even added a little bit of an earthy flavor as well that I really enjoyed.

The sizing of our drinks didn’t make much sense, though. Julie ordered a small while I ordered a large. They were served in the exact same size cups. Hers was just filled slightly less than my own.

Our lunch was a little on the pricey side at $37 (about $10 of that were the drinks), but we thought it was worth it. The service was definitely a little off. It wasn’t just the sandwich/hummus plate mix-up either. As we were leaving, a line was growing as two employees looked over the screen of their point-of-sale system trying to find the menu item the customer wanted to order.

Those hiccups will get better with more time and practice. The food is already on-point, and that’s the most important part.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent (in the Greenhouse Dining Area)
Service: Good
Price: A Little Pricey

The Greenhouse Cafe
18 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Cafes & Coffeeshops Indian Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian
A dish of baba ghannouj with olive oil drizzle from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

An exterior view of Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

When I was working in King of Prussia, there were options when I wanted Mediterranean food – schwarma, falafel, kebabs, etc. In Berks County, those are rarities on our restaurant menus.

But I did find all of those and more at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant in West Reading.

Aladdin has been around since 2009 when the restaurant renovated a former gas station adjacent to the West Reading Diner (now Americana Diner). More than 10 years later, Aladdin is still going strong, as we found out on a recent Saturday night.

A view of one of the dining areas at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant with a table for four in the foreground and a fireplace in the background

We arrived around 5:30, a little early for dinner, and found just a couple other tables taken in the dining room. Aladdin offers two dining areas. We were seated in a booth by the window in the standard dining room. It featured a large fireplace at one side with photos of beautiful coastal towns, musical instruments and other keepsakes from the old country adorning the walls.

A look at one of the dining areas at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant with red cushioned seats with pillows along a wall in front of large windows covered with red curtains.

The second room (on the right-hand side when entering the restaurant) has a completely different feel to it. Red curtains cover the windows behind a long row of cushioned bench seats with red and black throw pillows to support diners.

I didn’t remember until I did a little research that the building that currently houses the restaurant was formerly a Getty gas station. It certainly shows no signs of that today.

A plate with six rolled and stuffed grape leaves and a side of yogurt for dipping from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

At our table, I was struggling to make a decision as I looked over the menu. Aladdin promotes itself as offering the “best quality Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes,” and there are a lot to choose from. The one easy decision was choosing an appetizer – Julie and I agreed on stuffed grape leaves.

I first discovered stuffed grape leaves at the annual Greek Food Festival. I really enjoyed them there. And I enjoyed them even more at Aladdin.

Stuffed grape leaves opened to show a mixture of seasoned rice and ground beef from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

The stuffed leaves were shaped – and sized – like cigars and filled with rice and seasoned ground beef (a vegetarian option is available). The filling was very good; the beef had hints of many different seasonings and spices that I couldn’t immediately identify. The tangy leaves were done well, and it was a great beginning to the meal. Even Jakob, our often fussy two-year-old, ate his (the filling, at least).

Deciding on the main course was more difficult. Entrees at Aladdin include kebabs; schwarma; rack of lamb and lamb chops; various sautes and a range of vegetarian options. I settled on the chicken saute.

A plate with a stir-fry mix of chicken, green peppers, onions and tomatoes and a side of rice pilaf at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

Though it sounds boring, it was anything but. The chicken breast was sauteed with green peppers, onion and tomato in a garlic sauce. I really enjoyed the olive oil-based sauce. It had enough garlic to really pop without overpowering the flavors on the plate. The tomatoes really stood out for me, too. They were diced and cooked so tender that they practically melted away. The tomatoes were like little bites of marinara sauce throughout the dish.

Many of the entrees, including both mine and Julie’s, are served with rice pilaf. The pilaf was lightly seasoned, but good. I did enjoy using it to soak up some more of the garlic sauce at the end.

A dish of baba ghannouj with olive oil drizzle from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

Because that wasn’t enough food, the meal also came with a side: your choice of hummus, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh or fattoush.

A plate with three thin pitas in the foreground with a glass of rose iced tea and a plate of stuffed grape leaves from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

I love baba ghannouj and was excited to try Aladdin’s version. I didn’t have to wait long as it was actually served as an appetizer along with a basket of pitas. Baba ghannouj, if you’re not familiar, it is basically hummus but it’s made with pureed eggplant as the base instead of chickpeas. It’s more moist than hummus, a texture I like better. I also prefer the flavor as it’s less nutty.

Aladdin’s version was everything I wanted it to be.

A skewer of lamb and onions atop a bed of rice pilaf with hummus in the background at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

While this was my first visit to Aladdin, Julie has actually been there twice for business lunches. And she has had the same thing on each visit: lamb kebabs.

The skewers feature large chunks of lamb mixed with onions, served over rice pilaf and choice of two sides. Lamb meat is so rich; I always enjoy it. But while it was grilled, it picked up this nice char that trapped in even more flavor. It was very good, and I understand why Julie loves it so much.

For her two sides, Julie ordered tabbouleh and hummus. The hummus came on the plate with the kebabs. It’s a very good hummus, but I still prefer the baba ghannouj (that’s just me, though).

A small plate of tabbouleh (parsley salad with tomatoes and lettuce) from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

The tabbouleh actually arrived early as an appetizer. Tabbouleh is a Mediterranean salad that uses parsley as the base green. Aladdin makes theirs with cracked wheat, tomato, oil and lemon juice (with some lettuce thrown in).

It’s really flavorful. I think the lemon juice shines nicely giving the whole salad a bright citrus flavor. I would order the salad as an entree on a return visit.

A plate with three chicken fingers and a handful of fries from Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

Not knowing how Jakob would take to the cuisine, we played it safe and ordered him chicken fingers and fries off the kids menu. We hadn’t anticipated that he would fill up on grape leaves and tabbouleh before it even arrived. Though he did eat some, we brought most of it home for him to have later in the week.

Two glasses of rose iced tea on a table at Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant

We were all stuffed by the end of the meal and didn’t have room for the baklava sundae that we really wanted. We did splurge a little when we ordered rose tea for our drinks. The iced tea was given a little rose flavoring (I believe it was from a syrup). It was almost like sweet tea but with a little extra herbal flavor that we found refreshing.

I have to admit that the meal was more expensive than we had anticipated at $78. Part of that was our rose tea ($4 each) and also the fact that we ordered an appetizer ($12). The entrees were $22 and $25, respectively. When you look at the portion sizes, though, I didn’t feel cheated at all.

Aladdin’s food is serving a niche here in Berks County, and I’m glad for it. The next time I have a craving for baba ghannouj, I know where to turn.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: A Little Pricey

Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant
401 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Lunch & Dinner
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