COVID-19 Forces Restaurant Changes

Updated March 16, 2020 3:15 p.m.

Governor Tom Wolf has ordered all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania to close for two weeks over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). As part of the announcement, restaurants are allowed to continue operating but as takeout only. The content below was last updated before the Governor’s announcement. Be sure to check with your favorite restaurant to see if they will continue to offer takeout during this time.

Amid the ever-changing situation regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Berks County restaurants are taking extra precautions to keep customers safe. Some have moved to takeout only; some have added curbside service; and others have made the hard decision to temporarily close. We’ve compiled a (partial) list of restaurants that have made these changes as precautionary measures.

Temporary Closings

CD’s Place
Boyertown

CD’s Place announced it will be closed starting March 12. The restaurant will remain closed as long as schools are closed. According to Facebook: “I’m going to be closed for as long as the schools are closed… It’s a better decision for my family to work their jobs and for me to watch my Granddaughter rather than vice versa…. At this point it’s more important to be Pop-Pop than to be CD… This isn’t done out of panic and hysteria. It’s the most logical thing at this time.”

Firefly Cafe
Boyertown

After switching to takeout only for the weekend, the Firefly Cafe in Boyertown will be closed for at least a week beginning Monday, March 16. From Facebook: “Michael and I have decided to take the week to regroup and have some family time. Never thought our first time off in years would be due to a global pandemic, but it seems like the right time to take a short breather. During this week we will be working on our online store to allow contactless buying from the Outpost, as well as a delivery service that will hopefully get our employees some income in the coming weeks.”

Good Life Organics
Shillington

Good Life Organics announced that they will be closed for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16. From their Facebook page: “Hello to all. Good Life Companies has made the decision to close for two weeks, and we have made the decision to follow their lead until further notice.”

Morgantown Coffee House
Morgantown

The Morgantown Coffee House has announced that will be closed until further notice. According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, “We want to be in front of this pandemic and do our part by being responsible for those who work here and for our local community.”

New Jerusalem Inn
Fleetwood

The New Jerusalem Inn will be closed through April 1. According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, “Due to the unfortunate circumstances our Nation is facing right now, NJI has decided to take the Governor’s recommendation and close starting today March 13, 2020 until April 1, 2020. Everyone stay healthy!”

Saville’s Diner
Boyertown

After previously announcing that the restaurant would continue to operate with reduced staff and a limited menu, Saville’s announced on Monday, March 16, that it would be closing through March 30. Despite its Boyertown address, Saville’s is technically in Montgomery County where the governor has issued stronger restrictions on dine-in restaurants.

Tom Cat Cafe
Sinking Spring

The Tom Cat Cafe is temporarily closed, beginning March 13. According to Facebook: “As a non-essential business, we feel like we can do more good by closing temporarily than by staying open. Several of our staff have family members who are high risk and ultimately this was too much risk for us to bare right now.”

Temporary Service Changes

Angry Anvil
Birdsboro

The Angry Anvil has announced that the restaurant will be moving to takeout only for the foreseeable future. Curbside pickup will be available.

Basin Street Hotel
Kutztown

Basin Street Hotel has added curbside pickup for to-go orders.

Beer Wall on Penn
West Reading

Beer Wall on Penn will operate as normal on Tuesday, March 17, but has indicated that changes to hours will be coming beginning on Wednesday, March 18.

Benchwarmers Coffee
West Reading

Benchwarmers Coffee will be moving to takeout only with call-ahead orders strongly encouraged. Additionally, the cafe will close at 4 p.m. each day.

Brakeman’s Cafe
Boyertown

Brakeman’s Cafe has instituted takeout and curbside only pickup beginning Monday, March 16.

Brooks Cafe
Douglassville

Brooks Cafe is offering their full menu for takeout and has added family meal deals for breakfast and lunch with no-contact options for customers.

Canal Street Pub
Reading

The Canal Street Pub has temporarily altered their hours for the restaurant. View the current hours on the Canal Street Facebook page.

Dan’s Deli
Boyertown

While Dan’s Deli is still offering dine-in, they are now offering car-side service for patrons who request it.

Firefly Cafe
Boyertown

Boyertown’s Firefly Cafe is currently taking phone orders and payment only. No in-person orders or payments will be accepted, and the Outpost – Firefly’s vegan market – is temporarily closed.

Go Fish! Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Sinking Spring

Go Fish! is continuing to operate as normal but they have added curbside pickup for takeout orders. The restaurant also offers free delivery to Sinking Spring borough.

Herman’s Drive-In
Topton

Herman’s Drive-In in Topton was scheduled to open for the season on March 19. The opening date has been pushed back by a week to March 26.

Klinger’s of Fleetwood
Fleetwood

Beginning Monday, March 16, Klinger’s of Fleetwood will be doing takeout only with the full menu available.

Longacre’s Modern Dairy
Barto

Longacre’s Modern Dairy continues to offer takeout for meals and ice cream; They are not currently offering dine-in services, and they have discontinued to the use of ice cream cones temporarily.

Mama’s Pizza
Reading, Kenhorst

Mama’s Pizza has announced that delivery drivers and cashiers will now be wearing gloves, along with increased disinfecting of their locations.

Mark’s Sandwich Shop
Kutztown

Beginning Monday, March 16, Mark’s Sandwich Shop in Kutztown has temporarily discontinued dine-in service. Delivery and modified pick-up will continue.

Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
Fleetwood

Mazzola’s is operating as usual and has also added curbside service for takeout orders.

Nuse’s Deli
Morgantown

Now through March 30, Nuse’s Deli will be takeout only. They are also recommending – but not requiring – that customers call ahead for faster service. Curbside service will also be available.

Paolo’s Restaurant and Bar
Shillington

Paolo’s is continuing to offer full service in their restaurant, but they have temporarily closed the self-serve soup and salad bar.

Park Road Cafe
Wyomissing

Beginning Monday, March 16, customers will not be able to dine in at the Park Road Cafe. The restaurant will still offer takeout (with curbside service) and delivery through Delivery Dudes.

Sly Fox Wyomissing Taphouse
Wyomissing

Sly Fox’s Wyomissing location will continue to operate with its normal business hours, but special events have been cancelled. In addition, curbside takeout will be available.

Stony Run Inn
Kempton

The Stony Run Inn will be temporarily limiting seating, operating at 50% capacity to increase distance between tables.

The Market Cafe
Topton

The Market Cafe will continue to operate normal hours and menu, but with less items in the common area: coffee accessories, salt and pepper shakers and condiments will be behind the counter for the time being.

Tony’s al Taglio
West Reading

Tony’s al Taglio is temporarily closing its dining room. All orders must be placed online with a credit card. Deliveries will also be limited to the elderly and shut-ins.

Union Jack’s Olde Congo Hotel
Barto

The Olde Congo Hotel limited the bar menu and hours beginning Sunday, March 15.

Food News
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
A tray of freshly rolled potato gnocchi

The Culinary Classroom

Teams of people working in a kitchen

For years – long before I started this blog – my wife Julie and I have been wanting to take a cooking class together. We both love the time we get to spend in the kitchen (though now that we have a two-year-old running around the house, we don’t really have the option to be in the kitchen together). 

I finally resolved to make the class happen. For Christmas, I bought Julie and I two spots for a lesson called “Italian Comfort – Gnocchi” at the Culinary Classroom in Reading. The class cost $85 each, but I will tell you up front, it was worth every penny.

 A sign highlighting the menu we would be preparing

The Culinary Classroom is hosted by Chef Linda Bell, who holds classes in her home, which includes a spacious kitchen with two separate cooking areas – perfect for intimate classes of 6-8 people (we had 10 in our class and though it was a little snug, there was still enough space and food).  

Chef Linda runs the classroom with her husband – and sous chef – Mike. She is a retired educator who has combined her passion for teaching and cooking into a business where she imparts that same love of cooking onto her students.

Chef Linda Bell (foreground) and her husband Mike lead the classes at the Culinary Classroom.

The evening began at 6 p.m. with an introduction to basic kitchen rules: never hand someone a knife, always set it down for them to pick up; always announce when you are walking behind someone else; and always gather your ingredients before you begin cooking. 

Mise en place is the proper term for the latter. It’s French for “everything in its place,” and it’s a lesson I needed to hear. In my own kitchen, I have been guilty of making several trips to the pantry for ingredients that I should have had in front of me the whole time. 

After learning the rules of the kitchen, we talked gnocchi. The Italian pasta is most commonly made from potatoes and rolled into oblong dough balls. But really, gnocchi can be made with just about anything and can be shaped in multiple ways.

A hand whisks a cheese sauce for the gnocchi

Our first gnocchi, the gnocchi alla Romana, was made with semolina flour. For this, we mostly watched as Linda went over the basics. Instead of rolling the gnocchi right away, this particular recipe called for spreading the mixture onto a buttered parchment-lined tray then cooling it in a refrigerator or freezer. The pasta would later be cut into rounds and layered to be baked into more of a casserole-type dish. 

The gnocchi di zucca con salvia e Parmigiano was our second dish to cook. We first had to make butternut squash gnocchi; then we made the sage butter sauce. With this, we got a few takeaways to use in our everyday cooking. 

a stainless steel pan of sage brown butter

First, always save a cup of starchy water after you drain your pasta. You can use it to thicken your sauce. 

Second, always use kosher salt, not iodized salt. It has better texture and ensures you don’t over-salt your dish (also, when the recipe says “add salt to taste,” make sure you taste it so you know how much salt you are adding). 

Third, stainless steel pans are better than black-bottomed pans because you can see your butter brown a lot better. 

Two trays of riced potatoes in the center of a wooden table

For the second half of our lesson, we needed the more traditional potato gnocchi. Russet potatoes were baking in the oven while we worked on our other two varieties. This creates a drier gnocchi than boiling the potato. It also meant that the potatoes were very hot as we peeled the skins off. 

The next step was to rice the potatoes. This makes the starchy tuber a lot easier to work with when combined with the other ingredients. 

Eggs are dropped into the center of the flour and potato mixture

Linda combined the ingredients using the traditional method of gathering the potatoes and flour, then putting eggs in the middle, slowly incorporating the ingredients together into a dough ball (helpful hint: never add all of the flour the recipe calls for at the beginning – add it as needed because you may need more or less depending on the size of the eggs and how starchy the potatoes are). 

A tray of freshly rolled potato gnocchi

Then we got to roll the gnocchi. You can buy a gnocchi roller – a small board that will add grooves to the dough – or you can use a fork for the same effect. Either way, the grooves and ridges are key to allowing the sauce to stick to the pasta. 

A sauce pan filled with a reddish-orange fennel sausage and porcini cream sauce

From here, we split into teams to work on our sauces. One team was tasked with creating a fennel sausage and porcini cream sauce (with homemade marinara sauce as a base).  Our team was in charge of the gnocchi alla bava, literally translated as “drooling gnocchi.” It’s not the most appealing name, but it is a delicious cream sauce that includes Parmigiano-Reggiano and Fontina cheeses. 

Fontina cheese, I found out, is very soft and very difficult to shred, but I managed. And everything managed to come together nicely and almost at the same time. 

It was about 9 p.m. when all of the meals were done. Though the time had gone by very quickly, we were more than a little hungry by this point and couldn’t wait to taste-test all of our dishes. 

Maybe it was because I was so hungry, but I think these were the four best gnocchi dishes that I have ever tried. 

Plates of prepared gnocchi waiting to be served

The semolina gnocchi is one that Linda recommends being served as an appetizer. Because it is baked with cheese and not sauced, it is an easy snack that can be eaten like finger food. 

A plate with three kinds of gnocchi and a small side salad

Julie and I both love butternut squash gnocchi (and ravioli) and sage butter sauce. We are so glad that we now know how to make it ourselves because this was better than any store-bought variety and the butter sauce turned out perfect (in a way I have never been able to pull off). 

A large blue bowl filled with potato gnocchi topped with the fennel sausage and porcini cream sauce

The fennel sausage and porcini cream sauce was amazing. We were all invited to taste the marinara sauce before it was added to the cream and that on its own was amazing (the key is using real San Marzano tomatoes). With the cream and the slightly spicy sausage, it was perfect.

A plate of gnocchi alla bava - drooling pasta

My favorite, though, was the alla bava. Maybe it’s because I helped make the sauce. Or maybe because it was so rich and creamy that I could eat it as dessert. Either way, I loved it. 

One other thing I should note: the class was listed as running from 6 to 9 p.m. but we were there until almost 10. The food was worth the wait, though.

We learned a lot more during the class than will fit into this column. But beyond that, we also had a great time with the other eight people that were in the class with us (and Linda and her husband). Everyone else in the class was either a repeat student or came with someone who had taken a class before. The Culinary Classroom is certainly creating a loyal following, and it’s easy to see why. 

Linda was an excellent teacher and there were plenty of laughs to go with plenty of delicious food. 

Julie and I were both very glad to have taken the class. And I’m sure someday we, too, will be repeat students. 

Italian Reviews