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
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 kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Pop’s Malt Shoppe

The stone exterior of Pop's Malt Shoppe in Kutztown

Who wants ice cream in the cold of winter? This guy.

I’ve never believed ice cream to be a summer-only treat. It’s year-round goodness. Especially on special occasions – like when mommy has to go away for work and leaves daddy home alone with a two-year-old.

But where to get ice cream – and a meal – in January? One option is Pop’s Malt Shoppe in Kutztown.

Red and white leather booths against a pink wall covered in retro signs in Pop's Malt Shoppe's dining room

Pop’s Malt Shoppe takes on the look and feel of a 50s/60s diner and soda fountain: the checker board floor, the red tables with stainless steel accents, the Elvis music playing through the speakers.

It’s not a unique concept in Berks County – Bel-Air in Bechtelsville and Scoupe DeVille in Birdsboro both have similar concepts. But unlike those, Pop’s is open year-round. So even when there’s snow on the ground and the temperatures are below freezing, Pop’s is open.

A close-up of the retro signs and a mirror on a pink wall in Pop's Malt Shoppe

That was one of the reasons I decided to stop in on a Sunday night in January – that and the fact that they had recently posted about their newly renovated dining area. It was just Jakob and I, and it took him a few minutes to realize where we were. “Ice cream shop?” he asked. My two-year-old is obsessed with our collection of Curious George books, including Curious George Goes to the Ice Cream Shop. I guess Pop’s has a look that’s easily recognizable.

Julie and I had actually never visited Pop’s while we were students at Kutztown. But we did stop in for ice cream a few years ago.

Jars of ice cream toppings in front of a chalkboard with toppings listed on it
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

We were only in the take-out area, but it still had the same vibe as the dining room with pink walls covered in retro signs.

The cookie monster sundae featuring chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

On that visit, we both ordered sundaes: a brownie sundae and a cookie monster sundae. The latter featured Pop’s fresh-baked cookies with choice of ice cream. Photos of fresh-baked cookies have been a staple on Pop’s social media accounts and taste as good as they look – especially with ice cream.

A brownie sundae featuring brownie bites, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

Similarly, the soft, chocolatey brownies were baked in-house as well. It’s a nice touch that helps to set Pop’s apart from other places.

For Jakob and I, ice cream would have to wait until after dinner.

Pop’s food menu is what you would expect – burgers, dogs, a handful of sandwich options, lots of fried foods and salad, in case you want to feel a little less guilty about that ice cream afterward.

A sloppy Joe sandwich, pile of fries and a cup of ketchup on checkered paper

I decided to order Pop’s homemade barbecue sandwich with fries. It was a standard sloppy Joe – ground beef with onion and tomato mixed in with a little barbecue sauce. The roll was smaller than I was expecting, though that could have just been from its obvious trip to the panini press. It was good, but nothing to write home about. The meat was falling out of the bun so it was still a hearty meal, too.

The fries were good, as well. They were crinkle-cut and done well, though I needed to add a little salt for some extra flavor.

A sloppy Joe and fries with a cup of ketchup served on checkered paper atop a melted vinyl record plate

One cool thing that I only picked up on because I heard another table mention it is that the food is served on plates made of melted vinyl records (or at least are made to look that way).

A kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Jakob’s meal also arrived in style. Kids meals are served in paper models of classic cars, and Jakob’s grilled cheese and mac and cheese bites cruised in on a Ford Fairlane.

Close-up of Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

He enjoyed the grilled cheese. The kids meal is actually a half sandwich using a single slice of bread which actually works out well because it means less crust, which Jakob is currently rejecting.

Four fried mac and cheese triangles on checkered paper

But he certainly didn’t reject the mac and cheese bites. The meal came with four of them, and he happily finished them off without leaving a trace. They were a simple, kid-friendly side not unlike anywhere else, but Jakob enjoyed them, and that’s all that mattered to me in the moment.

With our meals finished, I couldn’t resist ordering us a treat (this is what happens when dad is left in charge for the night). We got a soft-serve sundae with Oreo cookies, strawberries and chocolate syrup (plus the obligatory whipped cream and cherry on top).

An ice cream sundae with vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, strawberries, Oreo cookie crumbles, whipped cream and a cherry

It was wonderful. The vanilla soft serve was nice on its own, but the toppings are what made it. There were 22 toppings to choose from so narrowing it to three (the first topping is free, the rest are 50 cents each) wasn’t easy, but they were all good decisions.

There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of any single topping.  The Oreos were concentrated on one side and the strawberries on the other so every bite was a little different, but no less enjoyable. The ice cream was easily the best part of the meal.

During our visit, the dining room was filled mostly with college students (a few had family members with them) returning for the spring semester, but Pop’s is certainly a family friendly destination in the college town. The price is right for a family meal as well. With dessert, it was about $25.

Our service was good as well. Two different waitresses helped us at different times as they worked as a team to cover a fairly busy dining room. At one point one of them apologized for the wait and said there was a mix-up with my meal. I honestly would not have even known because it was only about 15 minutes from the time we ordered until the food arrived.

It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it didn’t need to be. We were there for the ice cream, and that didn’t disappoint.

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

Pop’s Malt Shoppe
208 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Dessert Diners
A bowl of beef stew - roast beef, carrots, potatoes, onion and celery - from Pied Piper Diner

Pied Piper Diner

The exterior of the Pied Piper Diner at night

Good diners can be found everywhere. What I have come to realize is that they come in all shapes and sizes. Not every diner “looks” like a diner with stainless steel inside and out. Sure, there are many of those in Berks County, but there’s also diners in strip malls and in farmers markets, diners that look like ranches and even one shaped like a cup.

The Pied Piper Diner just outside Bally also would fall into the “unique” category.

Assorted cakes and pies in the display case at the Pied Piper Diner

Outside, the Pied Piper looks like no other diner in Berks County with its copula in the center and turrets flanking either end of the building. Inside, though, it’s all diner. There’s the tile floor, counter seating for faster service, extensive salad bar and an expansive menu .

A row of booths at the Pied Piper Diner

The menu is 10 pages and includes everything you would expect: comfort foods, pastas and stir-fries, soups and sandwiches, and breakfast served all day.

It can be hard to decide with so many choices, but I found the one word that makes a dish standout above all others: “homemade.” As in the homemade beef stew.

A bowl of beef stew - roast beef, carrots, potatoes, onion and celery - from Pied Piper Diner

The oversized bowl was filled with large chunks of beef, carrots, celery, onions and potatoes. I definitely made a good decision. It was so hearty and the beef was perfectly tender and flavorful. But what really set it apart was the broth which was perfectly seasoned and soaked in to every bite.

One thing you can be sure of when you visit a diner: if you go home hungry, it’s your own fault. Entrees are served with your choice of side, a trip to the salad bar, choice of soup and homemade breads.

A cup of split pea soup from the Pied Piper diner.

The two soup choices during our visit were split pea and Italian wedding. I went with the split pea because Italian wedding seemed too close to the beef stew I would be enjoying. Split pea isn’t much to look at, and it’s not the most flavorful soup to begin with. But it was fine and along with the bread, it held me over until dinner.

A slice of cornbread and a dinner roll from the Pied Piper Diner

Not wanting to fill up too quickly, I skipped the salad bar, though it looked impressive enough. I did enjoy both the cornbread and dinner roll that I was served. Our waitress actually said she doesn’t care for the cornbread because there’s vanilla in it. I actually enjoyed the hint of vanilla. The roll was also very good, and neither was too big to spoil my appetite.

Corn, carrots, green beans, Lima beans and peas at the Pied Piper Diner

For my side, I kept it very plain with the mixed vegetables. It was a mix of corn, lima beans, peas, green beans and carrots. It was what it was, but that’s all I expected. (Seriously, though, what do you get for a side when your entree includes potatoes, carrots and celery)?

A Monte Cristo sandwich and fries with a cup of syrup for dipping from the Pied Piper Diner

Julie went with one of the diner’s sandwich options: the Monte Cristo (turkey, ham and Swiss on French toast). It was served with a cup of Smucker’s pancake syrup for dipping. The syrup definitely helped. The sweetness was needed to cut through the savory meats. And it had just a touch of sweet-and-salty with the ham.

I really liked the fries on the side. They were the battered kind, fried to a golden brown. They are the kind of fries you start eating and keeping eating long after you’re full.

A wide shot of the salad bar at the Pied Piper Diner

What I really loved about the meal was the (small) size of the check. We paid about $17 for our dinners. There aren’t many places where you can get that much food (served to your table) for under $20.

The Pied Piper may not have the stainless steel diner car look, but it is all diner, and a good one at that.

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

Pied Piper Diner
1605 PA 100
Barto, PA 19504

Diners Lunch & Dinner
Oliverio's house special pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onion and peppers

Oliviero’s Pizzeria & Restaurant

A view of the brick facade at Oliverio's Pizzeria in Douglassville

In the first five years of Berks County Eats, we’ve seen a number of restaurants come and go, and more than once we’ve revisited old locations that now have new restaurants.

That was the case on our recent visit to Oliviero’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in Amity Township.

Oliviero’s is located in a strip mall along Route 422 just west of Douglassville. The location is a challenge for two reasons. One, it’s located along a part of 422 that is a divided highway. Two, the strip sits perpendicular to the highway with the restaurant at the far end.

Pizzas, pepperoni bites, and sweets behind the counter at Oliviero's in Douglassville

The last time I was at the location, it was Kathryn’s Grille, a short-lived BYOB that we visited in late 2017. Kathryn’s closed in early 2018. Oliviero’s debuted a few months later in July with a menu that features pizza shop standards with a few additions including a selection of Chicago deep dish pies and artisan pan pizzas. They also offer a selection of pastas, including weekly specials.

In the summer, Oliviero’s satisfies everyone’s sweet tooth with an outdoor ice cream shack and year-round with tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, and other sweets available in the restaurant.

Booths and tables in Oliviero's dining room

The dining area has been updated to add color. Yellow booths with wood-grain seats have replaced the dark wooden tables and vibrant posters pop against the gray walls. The space feels brighter and more inviting than it felt before.

But on this visit, I didn’t get to enjoy a sit-down meal. Instead, I was grabbing our dinner and taking it back home to Wyomissing.

It’s about a 20 minute drive (because when you have pizza in the car, you trigger every red light on 422), but the food traveled well. As hungry as Julie and I were until I got home, neither of us was as excited as our toddler who could barely contain his excitement at the sight of the pizza box.

Oliverio's house special pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onion and peppers

We ordered a medium house special pizza. It comes topped with pepperoni, sausage, onion, mushrooms and peppers. All three of us really enjoyed it.

The sauce was on the sweet side, and the use of red onions added to the overall sweetness of the dish while the pepperoni and sausage provided the savory side. I appreciated the use of thin-sliced sausage which I prefer to the ground topping at other places. The cheese was pretty standard as was the crust, but overall it was enjoyable.

A box loaded with Oliverio's French fries

We really didn’t need the fries – we had two slices of pizza left after dinner – but we couldn’t help ourselves. They were pretty good, more of the battered style fries than the fresh-cut style, and made a nice complement to the pizza.

As is the case with most pizza places, the price was right. The pizza and fries came in just under $20. It was also ready for me less than 20 minutes of calling in the order, but we had ordered a little after 4 p.m. so not their busiest time. I imagine if I had waited an hour or two, the wait would have been longer.

Oliviero’s made a very good first impression on us, and it has passed the one-year mark at this point, a milestone always worth celebrating for a restaurant.

Here’s hoping that it will anchor the strip mall for many years to come.

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

Oliviero’s Pizzeria & Restaurant
101 Park Ln
Douglassville, PA 19518

Pizzerias Reviews
Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

Beer Wall on Penn

Beer Wall on Penn

Oftentimes, a bar is just a bar. It’s a place to get a drink, eat some fried food and watch a game.

But sometimes, a bar isn’t just a bar. West Reading’s Beer Wall on Penn is not just a bar. In fact, it’s one of the few places in Berks County that can truly be called, “unique.”

Beer Wall on Penn Dining Room

Sure, there’s a bar. And dining room seating. And table service. But then there are the 38 self-serve taps where anyone (over the age of 21) can pour their own beer. Each beer is priced per ounce and customers are in complete control over how much beer they pour. A card is swiped at the tap, adding up your tab as you go.

Beer Wall on Penn Wall of Taps

The taps are a sight to behold – all of them in a single row along a wall (except for a few stragglers located on the top floor – more on that later). I don’t drink, but I brought along my buddy Josh to test out the taps. He lives in D.C. but was back in the area for the week (and who enjoys a good beer or two on his cheat days).

Beer Wall on Penn Taps

“This is cool,” he said. “I can’t believe they don’t have one of these in D.C. yet. It would do really well.” It is a cool concept, and one that actually puts Berks County on the cutting edge.

But the Beer Wall isn’t just about the booze – the restaurant is serving up a unique food menu that includes tacos, burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers and a handful of large plate entrees.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

Josh and I both opted for appetizers. For me, it was the duck fat fries.

For the duck fat fries, Beer Wall takes its thick-cut fries and cooks them in duck fat, topping them with truffle zest, shaved Parmesan and scallions. It also comes with a side of roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Beer Wall on Penn Duck Fat Fries

I love the richness of duck and it definitely adds another layer of flavor to fries. I also appreciated the large parmesan shavings. But for me, it was the scallions that really took everything to the next level. That strong, concentrated onion flavor was the perfect addition and paired nicely with the fries and the tangy aioli.

Beer Wall on Penn

Across the table, Josh was enjoying an order of pretzel nuggets. He graciously allowed me to try one of the parmesan and parsley-coated pretzels, and it was delicious. But what really surprised me was the lager mustard dip. I don’t like mustard and I don’t drink beer, but somehow this combination worked so well and made for a perfect complement to the pretzels.

Both our appetizers left a great first impression.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-n-Cheese

I passed on the tacos and burgers in favor of one of Beer Wall’s entree plates, the brisket mac-n-cheese. It featured braised brisket, sautéed onions and cavatappi pasta in a white cream sauce, all topped with bread crumbs, chives and parmesan cheese.

This is a case where I thought the individual ingredients were better than the dish as a whole. I really liked the brisket. It had a nice, smoky flavor, but I thought it was masked by the cheese sauce.

Beer Wall on Penn Brisket Mac-N-Cheese

On the flip side, I thought the bread crumb mixture was a welcome addition and brought out the best flavors of the cheese. It was a good meal, but personally, I would have enjoyed everything just a little bit more if the brisket had been served on top of, or beside the mac. (It was also a lot of food, especially after finishing off the duck fat fries. I took half of it home in a box at the end of the meal).

Josh had decided to go with one of the burger options, the banh mi. It featured an eight-ounce patty of beef and pork (Beer Wall’s standard burger base) topped with pickled vegetables, fried pork belly, seared tomato, cilantro, a fried egg and balsamic reduction.

Beer Wall on Penn Banh Mi Burger

He and I argued over whether pork belly belongs on a banh mi (in my world, it certainly does), but there was no arguing about the beauty of the burger in front of him. Unfortunately Josh is one of the unfortunate souls who suffers from an aversion to cilantro and somehow forgets until he tastes it. That kind of marred what was a good burger.

The prices for food at the Beer Wall are pretty reasonable for the amount and quality of the food. I spent about $25 for my entree, fries and an unsweetened iced tea. For those who enjoy craft beer, you can expect to add 50 to 70 cents per ounce to your tab at the end of the night.

Beer Wall on Penn Arcade

When our meal was finished, we ventured upstairs where Beer Wall not only has additional taps, but also vintage arcade games that you can play for free. Mortal Kombat and the Simpsons are among the machines you’ll find. Before we left, I schooled Josh in a game of NBA Jam, dropping 3s from the corner with Scottie Pippin.

Maybe the novelty of pouring your own beer will wear off. Then again, maybe not.

Either way, Beer Wall on Penn is not just another bar. It’s something different, and different is a good thing for Berks County.

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

Beer Wall on Penn
619 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Bars & Pubs Reviews
Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub

Saucony Creek Franklin Street Brewpub Exterior

One of the most exciting developments in Downtown Reading in recent memory is the reimagining of Franklin Street Station as a brewpub.

Saucony Creek Brewing Company’s Franklin Station Brewpub opened in July to much fanfare. Plans for the restaurant had been revealed in early 2018 but the project was delayed until the proper permits and zoning were in place. Other than a brief stint as an inter-city bus terminal in 2013 and an interactive art installation in 2017, it’s the first life this former passenger rail station has seen since the last SEPTA train rolled out 38 years ago.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We made our first visit on a Saturday afternoon in September, arriving before 5 p.m. for an early dinner. We got the last parking space on the restaurant’s parking lot (there is plenty of additional parking in the adjacent garage – and it’s free if you spend more than $10) and were seated right away.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

The building is impressive inside. It retains the feel of a classic train station with high ceilings and large windows. Rows of benches – like the ones that would have been used by waiting passengers 90 years ago – are the anchors of the dining area. The tables and chairs are arranged to utilize the long benches, creating wide aisles for the wait staff and patrons. In the far end of the room near the kitchen is a small display case filled with model trains, Monopoly game pieces (for the Reading Railroad, of course) and other railroad memorabilia.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Interior

We had plenty of time to admire the building, too, because though we were seated promptly, no server stopped by for more than 15 minutes to even bring water. Our toddler was ready to eat so the wait was not very welcomed at our table.

The restaurant seemed to have both not enough and too much help simultaneously. While we were waiting, servers continued to congregate near the host stand (including our eventually server).

Once we ordered, it only took about 10 minutes for our appetizer and Jakob’s kids’ meal to arrive. From there, the meal was much easier.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Avocado Tacos

For our appetizer, we ordered the avocado tacos. The order consisted of two tacos: corn tortillas topped with beer-battered avocado slices, roasted corn, tomato, onion and cilantro. On the side was a cup of thick salsa that was very good and had a spicy after-taste. The tacos, by themselves, were a little bland compared to a Mexican restaurant, but with the spicy salsa, it was much better. It needed that little kick to bring everything together.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Kids Quesadilla

Jakob certainly enjoyed his food. Their kids menu isn’t huge, but it does have a decent variety. In the end, though, we went with Jakob’s favorites – a quesadilla with corn on the cob. The corn lasted all of about five minutes (at least it felt that way) as he ate through it in a hurry. The quesadilla was a little more work for him but he managed to eat about half of it at the restaurant with us taking the rest home.

Our dinners arrived just a short time later. The menu of large plates – “Masters” as they are called on the menu – features a diverse selection that leaned toward higher-end dishes. For example: my coconut braised beef cheek.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Coconut Braised Beef Cheek

Beef cheek is not found on a lot of menus, probably because it is a tougher cut of meat that has to be slow-cooked. It’s also very rich, as I discovered with my first taste. It reminded me a little of duck – not in flavor – but in the richness. The flavor, though, was very good. It was braised in one of Saucony Creek’s signatures beers so it picked up some of those flavor notes with subtle hints of coconut.

It came served in a bowl of sweet potato puree that added a sweet and savory contrast to the dish. It was also topped with a watermelon radish that served more for garnish than flavor. As I look back on the menu, it also said it was to be served with creamy blue cheese. There was definitely no blue cheese on the plate. I’m not sure how it would have changed what was a very good dish, but now I’m curious.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Franklin Street Burger

Nothing was missing from Julie’s plate. She ordered the Franklin Station Burger which came topped with bourbon bacon jam, Boston Bibb lettuce and Swiss cheese.

It was an awesome burger where the bacon jam really shined. The salty, savory and slightly sweet spread is always a great burger topper. This version had a deeper flavor thanks to the bourbon, and it really shone through on the burger.

The burger was served with fries on the side. As our server described them, they are boardwalk-style fries: skin-on and well-seasoned. They were a little peppery at times, but very enjoyable, especially paired with the homemade ketchup. The ketchup was not as sweet or as thick as the store-bought variety, but it perfectly complemented the already flavorful fries.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Ice Cream

While Julie and I did not save room for dessert, Jakob’s kids meal came with a scoop of ice cream. His generous scoop of peanut butter ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry cheesecake were the other flavor choices) was topped with a mound of whipped cream and a cherry that elicited a loud, “ooooh,” from our son when he saw it.

I think Jakob ate most of the whipped cream while Julie took care of the ice cream that he didn’t finish. It was around this time that we heard the unmistakable air horn of a freight train approaching.

Norfolk Southern trains frequently use the former Reading Railroad tracks and a train’s arrival is a big deal at the bar. Upon hearing the horn, doors were opened and everyone cheered loudly until the engines passed. Jakob, like all young boys, loves trains. He joined in with a loud, “Choo Choo!” as the train rolled past.

If there’s a downside to the building, it’s that the cavernous dining room echoes. It can get loud quickly. That’s a good thing when cheering on a passing train, but it can be a little distracting if you’re trying to have some quiet conversation.

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub Exterior

We paid our bill – $61.01 – and went outside to watch the tail end of the train from the old station platform. The scene would have looked a lot different 90 years ago when a steam engine would puff into the station to pick up and drop off passengers.

While the hungry diners aren’t at the Franklin Street Station to grab a train to Philly, the historic building is once again bustling with people.

Sure, there are some issues to work out as there are with all new restaurants. But Saucony Creek could keep the passenger benches full at Franklin Street Station for a long time to come.

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

Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub
690 Chestnut St
Reading, PA 19602

Bars & Pubs Breweries & Wineries Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

On A Roll Grill – CLOSED

On A Roll Grill Exterior

Editor’s Note: In early fall 2019, a sign on the door of On a Roll Grill said the restaurant was closed for the season and would reopen in spring. Indications now are that it will not reopen.

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

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
The Bull Dog sundae from the Ranch House: Three large scoops of ice cream topped with strawberries, cherries, peanuts, pretzels and whipped cream.

Circle S Ranch House

The Ranch House is recognizable for its A-frame roof, faux fencing and neon orange sign.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

The dining room looks tired and worn with green cushions and cream curtains accenting worn-out wooden booths

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

The Wagon Wheel hamburger is served plain with no toppings (cheese optional) but does come with a boat load of fries.

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

The grilled pretzel sandwich is the most expensive sandwich on the menu at $8.19. It's served with fries and coleslaw. (Cheese is a 75-cent up-charge).

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt.  Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

The Bull Dog - a four-scoop ice cream sundae - is one of Ranch House's signature desserts and is only $5.

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

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

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews