On A Roll Grill

On A Roll Grill Exterior

This summer was one of the busiest that I can remember for new restaurant openings in Berks County.

Some received a lot of hype as they were preparing to open, others opened with little fanfare. Wernersville’s On A Roll Grill fits into the latter category.

On A Roll Grill Interior

The restaurant opened in late June in the Westgate Shops, a small strip mall along Route 422 on the eastern edge of Wernersville borough. It’s the first restaurant to occupy a space in the strip and they did a nice job turning it into a welcoming space.

There are plenty of tables and a handful of counter seats in the restaurant. When we arrived for our first visit it was shortly after 5 p.m. on a Friday night. There was a younger couple finishing their meal at the counter and another gentleman waiting for his takeout order to be completed. We grabbed a table in the middle of the room and waited to be served.

On A Roll Grill Interior

There was only one person working – a woman who I assume is the owner. She apologized for making us wait, though it had really only been a few minutes and it gave us a chance to look over the menu.

On a Roll’s menu is exactly what you expect: burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. That’s not to say there wasn’t variety. There are a dozen varieties of burgers and even more hot dog choices. There are also fries and tots along with pig wings (pork shanks) with 10 dipping sauces to choose from.

On A Roll Grill Coney Island Hamburger

I ordered one of my favorites, a Coney Island burger with a side of crab (Old Bay) fries while Julie ordered a pig-in-a-blanket hot dog with tater tots.

We were surprised by how quickly the food arrived. Despite only one person running the kitchen, our food was at our table in about 10 minutes.

My burger looked great as the caramelized onions were falling out the sides of the bun. The burger patty is not much to speak of – it was smaller than the bun and very thin, McDonald’s sized (and no, not the quarter-pounder) and kind of bland. But at least there was plenty of Coney sauce and onions. I actually really liked the sauce – the beanless chili had just a hint of spice to it – which is good because I would not want to eat the burger plain.

The fries were doused in Old Bay – probably a little too much as they were very salty. The fries, themselves, were the fresh-cut variety and good on their own. And I definitely wasn’t cheated on the portions as the fries easily filled the plate.

On A Roll Grill Pigs-in-a-blanket Burger

Julie’s pig-in-a-blanket burger was what she expected – a variation of the dish where the hot dog is served with a strip of bacon and cheese instead of being wrapped in it. There was a part of her that hoped for the real thing, but for what it was, it was good. The bacon didn’t fit very well into the bun but she managed, and she would have liked a little more cheese, but it was a good hot dog.

Where I ordered one of the specialty fries, Julie had ordered plain tater tots. Like the fries, the tots covered the plate and we were not cheated on portions. But where my fries were overly salty, Julie had to pour salt and pepper on the plain tots to give them a little flavor. But a little S&P went a long way.

On A Roll Grill Chicken Tenders

Jakob was along for our visit but was having one of those fussy eating days (as toddlers do) where all he wanted to do was use the chicken tenders we ordered for him as a spoon for eating ketchup.

The tenders were fried to a dark brown which is actually how I prefer them. I ate one (since he wasn’t) and enjoyed it. They were nice and crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside, just the way I like them. We took two tenders home for later (the fourth in the order was the one we cut for him that he never ate).

I will say this for On A Roll Grill, the prices are right. For all of our food and two bottles of water, we spent $20. Sure, the burgers and hot dogs aren’t gourmet, but a Coney Island burger is $2.25 so I’m not expecting to be blown away.

And despite being short on staff, the service was excellent, which is a big plus.

It may not be my favorite meal that I have ever had, but there is a definitely a place for restaurants like On A Roll Grill. The food won’t blow you away, but if you’re looking for a fast, cheap meal without the drive-thru, On A Roll fits the bill.

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

On A Roll Grill
600 E. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Diners Reviews
Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

Gourmand Cafe – West Reading

Gourmand Cafe West Reading Exterior

By now, most Berks County residents know the name Gourmand. It started with the food truck that introduced the county to “artisan street food.” That was followed by multiple brick-and-mortar locations (some that have already come and gone).

The Gourmand brand has truly been everywhere around Berks County.

In March, Gourmand expanded their empire again, this time opening a cafe amid the busy dining scene in West Reading.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 2

The Gourmand Cafe sits on the 700 block of Penn Avenue in the former Relish, a cafe and coffee shop that operated for about two years.

I visited on a Friday afternoon in July and found a much quieter place than I was expecting. Only one other table was filled  as a mother and daughter enjoyed lunch by the front window.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 1

The menu written on the chalkboard behind the counter didn’t match the printed one. The burgers advertised on the chalkboard, I was told, were no longer available. Unfortunately a chalkboard artist had not been brought in yet to scroll the new menu.

What was left on the menu was mostly light fare like avocado toast, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and salads. A few sandwiches were available and ultimately I settled on a veggie panini.

It was a surprisingly hearty vegetarian entree consisting of (as listed on the menu) pressed sourdough with hummus, cucumber, mushroom pate, avocado, arugula and balsamic reduction.

Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

The hummus was easily my favorite part. It has a great flavor (read Julie’s review of the other Gourmand Cafe for more on their hummus) and it is an excellent base to start a sandwich. The cucumber, especially, mixed really well with it, and avocado is always a hit with me. It’s not the gut-busting Berks sandwich, but it was very good.

With no fryer, there are no fries. Instead, all sandwiches are served with Gourmand’s seasoned pretzels. The broken hard pretzels are coated with ranch flavoring for a simple, but good side.

On a whim, I also ordered a strawberry bubble tea to accompany my meal. It was refreshing and a nice change of pace from my usual unsweetened iced tea.

Gourmand Cafe Strawberry Bubble Tea

I certainly enjoyed my meal, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Gourmand’s West Reading location doesn’t really fit with the brand. My past Gourmand experiences have included a fried sweet bologna sandwich, pastrami and cheese-topped fries, and an Italian steak sandwich. The West Reading menu is the complete opposite.

It doesn’t help that the updated menu (sans burgers) isn’t available online. The only menu posted on Gourmand’s Facebook page is from the restaurant’s opening and includes four burger options. Gourmand’s website only features the menu for the Berkshire Cafe with items like truffled goat cheese fries and ahi ceviche fish tacos. 

The food was very good. The cafe had a nice vibe to it. Even with the bubble tea my meal was less than $15. And I can’t complain about the service, but I still felt a little disappointed.

As I finished up my meal, I heard the manager tell someone that the Cafe is Gourmand’s healthy alternative.

I guess I’m just more of an “artisan street food” kind of guy.

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

Gourmand Cafe
715 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Cafes & Coffeeshops Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019

The crowd packed the streets of Hamburger on August 31 for the annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival.

The borough of Hamburg played host to the 16th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival on Saturday, August 31. Record crowds estimated in excess of 40,000 packed the streets (according to the Reading Eagle) to taste some of the best, most creative hamburgers around.

As has been our custom for the last five years, we spent our Labor Day Saturday in search of a great burger.

Going into the event, we combed the list of vendors looking for new burgers to try. We kept coming back to places we have visited in the past – Hamburg’s own 1787 Brewing Company (which we reviewed earlier this year), Brocmar Smokehouse (another favorite of ours), Spuds (one of our early reviews) and Dawn’s Deli.

The Taste of Italy burger from Dawns Deli was topped with their homemade bruschetta and mozzarella cheese, served on garlic bread.

We discovered Dawn’s during a visit to the festival in 2016. Julie was the one who ordered the Taste of Italy Burger, that year’s Grand Champion for restaurants. It was so good we made the trip to Lenhartsville just a few weeks later for second helping of Dawn’s burgers. Here’s what I wrote about it the Taste of Italy Burger at the time:

The Taste of Italy burger featured mozzarella, pesto mayo and homemade bruschetta on a garlic bread bun.

Why was it so great? The homemade bruschetta, for starters. It was as good as any Italian restaurant, with just the right amount balsamic. I could have eaten just the bruschetta with the bun and been happy. But add the pesto and mozzarella, and it turned into a hamburger masterpiece.

It’s one of the best burgers that I have had anywhere.

Read Full Review Here

This year, we decided it was time to go back and try two more of Dawn’s festival creations.

The fastnacht burger from Dawns Deli - a burger served on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and cheese.

The one that caught my eye was the Karen Haak Fastnacht Burger. The program described it as an “all-beef patty on a grilled fastnacht topped with cheese, Turkey Syrup and powdered sugar.” Yes, please.

It was a beautiful sight to behold – the powdered sugar giving it a little panache. Everything about it was good, but I was left wanting a little more meat. Fastnachts are heavier than the glazed doughnuts that have become popular replacements for hamburger buns (see the line annually for the Deitsch Eck’s Luther burgers at the festival) so it was a little overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great fastnacht, but I would have loved a bigger burger patty. It was good, but didn’t live up to the Taste of Italy.

The Dutchie Burger from Dawns Deli - topped with lettuce, hot bacon dressing, hard-boiled egg, red onion and smoked Gouda cheese.

The Dutchie burger, on the other hand, exceeded our expectations. Julie ordered this one because it featured lettuce and hot bacon dressing (it also included a hard-boiled egg, chopped red onion and smoked gouda on a traditional sesame seed bun).

I am not nearly the fan of lettuce and bacon dressing that Julie is, but this burger was a masterpiece. The bacon dressing added a little vinegar base that soaked into the patty and made it extra moist. The smoked gouda added even more depth to the dish.

I can’t say with conviction that it was better than the Taste of Italy burger, but it is definitely on its level and probably the best we’ve had at the festival since.

Drinking milkshakes at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival 2019
Never ask a toddler to smile for the camera when he has hamburger in his mouth.

After weighing our options, Julie and I both decided that instead of another burger, we indulge in the perfect burger go-with, a milkshake. And not just any milkshake – the famous PA Farm Show milkshakes from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

The soft ice cream-based shakes are always very good, but what I love is that you can order them “black-and-white” style with half vanilla and half chocolate. It’s like three milkshakes in one – the best part is halfway through when the vanilla and chocolate blend beautifully together.

Also while the burger lines were getting longer, the Dairymen have serving shakes down to a science so there was zero wait time.

Next year, we will spread the love, but this year was about rekindling our love of Dawn’s Deli.

Festival Results
*From Facebook.com/TasteofHamburger

Restaurant Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Kooper’s Chowhound
Appearance: Spuds
Taste: Kooper’s Chowhound
Originality: Spuds

Organization Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Salem Church
Appearance: Boy Scout Group #184
Taste: Leesport Odd Fellows
Originality: Salem Church

Mobile Food Trailer Best Burger
Overall Best Burger: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Appearance: Blazing Swine BBQ
Taste: Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels
Originality: WOW Wagon

Newbie Best Burger
Lucky Penny Burger Co.

People’s Choice Best Burger
First Place: Deitsch Eck
Second Place: Dawn’s Deli
Third Place: Lucky Penny Burger Co.
Fourth Place: Christ Evangelical Free Church

Food Festivals & Events

Works at Wyomissing

The Works at Wyomissing isn't just a restaurant, it's an entertainment destination that also includes a ball pit, go-karts, trampoline park and arcade (pictured).

When we were still in college, Julie and I started going regularly to the Works at Wyomissing for their Tuesday night trivia games. For years, it was our place. The service could be hit or miss, but the food was good and it was always a great time with friends.

One by one, our friends started moving away, or having kids, or both. The routine got monotonous, and it was harder to find players. Eventually we stopped going altogether. It had been at least two years since our last visit to the dining and entertainment destination, but now that we have our own toddler, it seemed like the right time to go back for some food and fun.

It was a Thursday night around 5 p.m. when we arrived. The hostess was on her phone and seemed inconvenienced to have to take us to our table. She never smiled and barely said a word as she took us to our table. We weren’t even sure she was going to bring the high chair because instead of saying “I’ll be right back with your high chair,” she said, “enjoy your meal” as she walked off. (She did bring it).

Our waitress was much more pleasant with us and our little Jakob, who always seems to bring out a smile from our servers.

The spacious dining room - highlighted by this large stone fireplace - was mostly empty during our visit.

There weren’t many people in the dining room – a few families, one couple and a group of college students were all that were found in the spacious dining room.

Our orders were taken quickly, which was good because Jakob was hungry and restless. We wouldn’t have felt as awkward about him acting up if there had been more people, but in the near-empty cavern of the dining area, every little noise echoed louder around the room.

Caesar salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Thankfully my Caesar salad arrived quickly and Jakob was occupied with a couple croutons. The salad was pretty hefty for a starter, but it was good, your typical Caesar.

A cup of French onion soup from the Works at Wyomissing.

Julie had ordered a cup of French onion soup for an appetizer. It was always a favorite of our friend Mike during our trivia days, and it was still good. Ordering a cup meant that it wasn’t the typical presentation – cheese covering the top of a crock. But the smaller portion was still good with plenty of gruyere on top and a nice amount of onions inside.

Because we were also tending to Jakob, it took us a little longer to finish our appetizers, and our food arrived while I was still finishing up my salad.

Steak frites with French fries and asparagus from the Works at Wyomissing.

For my entree, I ordered the steak frites. The 10-ounce sirloin was sliced thin and served atop a bed of crispy Parmesan fries. The steak was good but didn’t have a whole lot of flavor to it.

As I write the blog, I’m looking back at the menu and realize that it was supposed to be served with garlic butter and a spicy aioli. I had neither, which probably explains why the steak was a little underwhelming. It was still a good cut of meat, but the garlic butter would have been nice.

The fries were very good. They were thick-cut and tossed with plenty of Parmesan cheese. There was just a lot of them, especially considering the entrees are also served with two sides. I ended up eating only a small portion of the fries and taking the rest home.

Corn on the cob from the Works at Wyomissing.

Not wanting to be a complete pig, I ordered asparagus and corn on the cob for my sides. The asparagus was fine, but they were cooked a little past al dente and were a little softer than I normally like.

The corn on the cob was good, but I was honestly expecting it to be cut in half like I see at many restaurants. Instead, it was a full cob. Thankfully, Jakob has all of his front teeth that he needs to bite into, and enjoy, corn on the cob so he helped me with it. It was good and tasted fresh so I had no complaints there.

The barbecue chopped salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Because she really wanted the soup, Julie decided to get an entree salad for her main meal. The barbecue chopped salad featured chicken, chopped lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, avocado, corn, tortilla strips, black beans and ranch dressing.

The grilled chicken was tossed in barbecue sauce. We’ve always been fans of the Works’ barbecue sauce and it was good on the salad. The avocado was a nice touch and the ranch dressing went well with the mix – just like eating it with barbecue wings.

Like all things at the Works, the portions are huge and was stacked high on the plate. It’s definitely a filling salad.

From the Works at Wyomissing's kids menu: chicken fingers and mandarin oranges.

With the Works being such a kid-friendly place, the children’s menu is large – both in the amount of food and the physical size – four pages that kids can color with a four-pack of crayons that are provided.

We went with a safe bet: chicken fingers with Jakob’s favorite fruit, mandarin oranges. The orange slices were gone in what seemed like seconds. He was a little slower with the chicken, but then he dipped it in Julie’s ranch dressing and it went a lot faster.

All three of us left the table full after a $50 meal. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we’ve ever had, but it also isn’t bad given the portions.  (We also had a $30 gift card, which is always helpful).

Ballocity - located upstairs at the Works at Wyomissing - is like a cross between a ball pit and a giant obstacle course.

The real fun began after the meal. While I waited to take care of the bill, Julie and Jakob went off to the game area where she won him a new bouncy ball from the claw machine. From there, we headed upstairs to Ballocity, the Works’ indoor ball pit.

When it first opened, we were very disappointed to find out that adults could only enter if accompanied by a child. Having Jakob along meant it was our first time to experience the attraction. Toddlers are free with paying adults – $3.95 after using the $1 off coupon that was on the kids menu.

Jakob and Julie had a great time while I waited outside. They played for about a half-hour before we headed home.

While the service could have been better – and that has always been the case at the Works – it was still a great night out. And for $65, we had three meals, played games and took a turn through Ballocity. It sure beat a rainy night at home.

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner

Allgyer's BBQ Corner features two warming tables full of meats and sides.

A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food stands that the crowded market offers.  But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half the market.

When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals from the past and checking off more places on my list.

One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.

Chipped meats, roasted potatoes, and baked beans are among the items available at Allgyer's.

Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and sides.

I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their dinner entrees – beef cubes.

Allgyer's served its beef cubes in a Styrofoam cup.

The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).

Meals at Allgyer's are served with a dinner roll. They also offer fresh-brewed sweet tea.

It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides, a roll and a drink.

For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.

The barbecue carrots were were rolled in aluminum foil to keep them hot.

The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.

Instead of the standard fries or wedges, Allgyer's serves potato skins .

Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.

Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.

Allgyer's pulled pork sandwich was topped with their homemade BBQ sauce.

The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.

It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.

The sweet potatoes aren't much to look at, falling apart in the aluminum foil, but they were delicious.

But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it. While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.

The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands, is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined were less than $20.

Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to get back to the office.

Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would enjoy again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: A Bargain

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews