A plate of tortellini topped with meat sauce, peas and mushrooms from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Gino’s Cafe

A view of the front window of Gino's Cafe from the parking lot

In October 2017,  we made a visit to Gino’s Grille just outside Shillington. The restaurant had just opened two months prior, giving Gino’s a second restaurant. The original – Gino’s Cafe – continued to operate a few blocks away.

Despite what appeared to be creating its own competition, Gino’s Cafe is still going strong. A few weeks ago, we made our first visit to the flagship restaurant in Gino’s portfolio.

Unlike Gino’s Grille which sits right along Lancaster Pike, the Cafe is located off the main drag in a strip mall on Broad Street, across the street from Geoff Penske Buick GMC.

Tables along a wall decorated with generic images of Italy at Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Taking up just one storefront in the strip, Gino’s certainly doesn’t have the largest dining room in Berks County but the tables are packed in, and they needed everyone of them when we visited on a recent Saturday night. We arrived early – Julie, Jakob and I. It was around 4:30, and the Cafe was already busy. It only got busier. By the time we left, there wasn’t a seat left.

Our waitress arrived fairly quickly to take our orders and we had our salads within 10 minutes of sitting down.

A salad plate with lettuce, red onion, cucumber, two cherry tomatoes and a disposable cup of ranch dressing from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

The salads are simple with lettuce, some tomatoes, a slice of cucumber and red onion that was sliced paper thin. It wasn’t anything special, but it served its purpose.

We had a much longer wait after the salads. Twenty minutes went past and instead of food being delivered to our table, we received a basket of garlic bread that we assume was meant to be delivered with the salad, if not before. “I think this is for your table,” I heard our waitress say.

A basket of thin-sliced garlic bread from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

In the cramped confines of the Cafe, the waitresses had nowhere to hide their frustration – and sometimes, confusion. We were seated in the first row of tables, right in front of the counter and the soda fountain where drinks were refilled. I heard the waitresses trying to figure out who should take the next table that arrived. I heard confusion in the take-out area about order numbers.

It’s the type of confusion and controlled chaos that probably happens at a lot of places. But here, with no place to hide, I could see and hear it all unfolding in front of me.

The good news is that our meals were delivered right after the bread. I should also note that the garlic bread was very good. The bread was sliced thin and every piece was very buttery with just enough garlic to give it a nice flavor. I could have eaten them as a snack.

For my entree selection, I had a hard time deciding. For a small restaurant, the menu is disproportionately large. There are more than 25 options in the pasta section of the menu, and that doesn’t include another 25 or so dinners that are served with pasta on the side (not to mention the subs, burgers, pizza, salads and wraps).

A plate of tortellini topped with meat sauce, peas and mushrooms from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

Eventually I settled on the “Chef Tortellini” which had tortellini pasta with Bolognese sauce, peas and mushrooms. I always enjoy tortellini, and I’ve had it plenty of times before on the blog, but I’ve never had it with Bolognese.

I enjoyed the combination of the tortellini with the flavorful meat sauce. I thought it went very well together. The Bolognese had a nice, meaty flavor to it. But I didn’t think the mushrooms and peas added much to the overall dish. I certainly didn’t mind them being there, but neither flavor really stood out against the strong sauce.

It was also a heavy dish. I had to take half of it home with me when the meal was done.

A plate of baked ziti topped with mozzarella cheese from Gino's Cafe in Shillington

The same was true for Julie with her baked ziti. It was your typical baked ziti with a sweet marinara sauce topped with mozzarella. The addition of a little ricotta cheese gave the dish a bit of creaminess and a little different texture from other baked ziti dishes we’ve tried. It was very good, but like my own, half of it came home with us at the end of the meal.

Gino’s has a decent kids menu, mostly pasta with a few sandwiches thrown in (and pizza, of course). We ordered Jakob the kids’ ravioli. The pockets of pasta were smothered in a mound of mozzarella cheese. The full-size raviolis were good, but Jakob probably would have been happy just eating all that cheese.

A mound of mozzarella covers an order of kids lasagna at Gino's Cafe in Shillington

(At one point I gave him one of my tortellini and he kept asking for more of my food instead of eating his own).

Our final bill at the end of the night was right around $40. It’s a fair price, especially for the hearty portions. And other than the garlic bread arriving late to the party, our service was good. What I saw and heard just seemed like the staff wasn’t exactly working like a well-oiled machine, at least during our visit.

Still, we found Gino’s worth a visit. Maybe next time I’ll request a table by the window, at the far end of the dining room, away from the commotion.

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

Ginos’ Cafe
400 W. Broad St
Shillington, PA 19607

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Firefly Cafe

firefly-cafe-sign

For all the great diversity in Berks County’s restaurant scene, there is always room to grow. The key is opening a restaurant that is different, that isn’t serving the same food as the place down the street.

Find the right niche and serve great food and drinks, and the eatery is likely to be a success.

A vegan/vegetarian cafe in downtown Boyertown? Now that’s a niche.

Open since April, the Firefly Cafe is a place unlike any other in the county.

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Specializing in breakfast and lunch, it’s one of just a handful of meatless restaurants in the region (along with places like Chen Vegetarian House in West Reading and the iCreate Cafe in Pottstown).

In addition to its normal hours, Firefly opens up for dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s when we made our trek eastward for a taste.

Two warm fireplaces greeted us inside. One, a large video screen above the restrooms. The second, a faux fireplace, one of the smallest I have ever seen, was sitting near our table giving off a charming glow.

There was one couple leaving with a to-go package when we arrived with a few more groups coming and going during the 45 minutes we spent at the cafe.

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Our table was by one of the front windows where we could enjoy the nightscapes of Boyertown. Our server – one of the owners – dropped off a pair of menus and some infused water (cucumber for me, orange for Julie) and told us she would take our orders at the counter when we were ready.

I had perused the menu before we arrived so I was feeling good about my decision – the vegan pulled pork sandwich.

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What’s a vegan pulled pork sandwich? Well it looks a lot like the real thing, but jackfruit (a fruit in the fig family, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia) takes the place of the meat. It was topped by vegan tri-color slaw (carrots and cabbage in a plant-based cream).

It was a delicious recreation. The barbecued jackfruit made for a much sweeter sandwich, but the phenomenal multi-grain roll helped balance it out. The slaw was great, adding more flavor with a crunchy texture.

Could you tell it wasn’t meat? Yes. Did I care? No.

All dinners come with a side of greens and choice of house-made dressings. I went with the carrot ginger.

It was a light, chunky dressing with lots of carrots and pinch of ginger. Easily one of the best salad dressings that I’ve tried in my Berks County Eats adventure.

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For her meal, Julie went for the vegan lasagna, whole wheat noodles with tomato sauce, vegetables and vegan cheese.

Again, it wasn’t the same as eating true Italian lasagna, but it was enjoyable. Among the vegetables inside were carrots and olives. The tomato sauce was definitely fresh. The vegan cheese was tasty. And it had a nice crumbly top layer that added texture to the dish.

And it was surprisingly filling for a meatless dish.

On her side of greens, Julie opted for the lemon miso-tahini dressing. It had a vibrant citrus flavor and was much creamier than mine (thanks to the tahini). It was another winning creation.

We felt so good about having eaten a health-conscious meal that we skipped the dessert (though chia pudding is about as guiltless as you can get) so our final total was right around $25.

The Firefly Cafe is different from anything else in Berks County, and that’s a great thing.

And whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore or carnivore, it’s definitely worth trying.

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

Firefly Cafe
12 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Firefly Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian
Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery won best breakfast

Wyomissing Restaurant and Bakery

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“Shady Maple north east.”

Those are the words of Hamid Chaudhry as he described his vision for the Wyomissing Family Restaurant to the Reading Eagle in December, shortly after he became the new owner.

Lofty goals, indeed for a restaurant that had fallen on hard times in the years before. On our walks and drives through town, we could see the number of cars in the parking lot slowly start to shrink.

But new ownership has breathed new life into the location, and spawned a new name, the Wyomissing Restaurant and Bakery.

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When Julie and I visited for Sunday brunch a few weeks ago, the parking lot was fuller than we could remember seeing in a long time. Thankfully, despite the crowd, there was no wait for a table for those of us doing the brunch buffet.

We were seated with all of the other buffet-goers in what would be the banquet room. With no large groups closing off the space, it was the closest seating to the all-you-can-eat  smorgasbord.

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Five stations of varying size waited for me and my fellow eaters. On the left sat a small table where I found my orange juice and assorted breads for toasting.

Against the back wall was the griddle, where pancakes, French toast and omelets were made to order. A hot bar in the middle featured breakfast favorites: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon and three kinds of potatoes, as well as a couple lunch options like mac and cheese.

I started among these three stations, choosing cream chipped beef over toast, homefries and French toast for plate number one.

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I was expecting one slice of French toast with my order. I got three, and loved them. The powdered sugar was there for you to sprinkle on yourself so I added just the right amount of sweetness for myself.

The chipped beef was also very good (had I known I was getting three slices of French toast, I probably would have skipped it, though). It was rich, but not too much. The homefries were good, though I had to add a little salt and pepper to them.

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Julie’s seasoned potatoes were quite the opposite. If anything, they were a little oversalted. She enjoyed her French toast as well (throwing a few chocolate chips on for good measure). The bite-sized sausage links were very flavorful, and the eggs were also nicely done.

Not a bad first plate for either of us.

With plate two, we both migrated to the middle island and lunch. The full salad bar was open with two kinds of soup and two pasta options (the soup, salad and pasta buffet station is available for lunch every day).

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I had a bowl of cream of broccoli soup with a helping each of vegetable lasagna and penne pasta with clam sauce.

The vegetable lasagna was delicious, with layers of pasta, cheese and plenty of veggies (broccoli, carrots, and more). The cream of broccoli soup was good, too, though if I wasn’t blogging, I probably wouldn’t have needed both the soup and the lasagna. I’m also not a fan of clams, but I tried the pasta and actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t too clammy, though you could definitely taste it.

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Julie’s second plate was a little lighter as she went for the more traditional salad options. She was happy to see that her favorite item from the old salad bar was still there: Jell-O. The options were actually very impressive, with a wide variety to build a nice side salad or even make it an entree.

The final station was serving up sweets: waffles and soft ice cream. For research purposes, Julie and I both made mini sundaes to cap off our brunch.

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For $15 per person (discounts for seniors and children), the brunch buffet is definitely priced right. The buffet definitely seems like the way to go, with reasonable prices for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week.

While we were at the ice cream station, we had a chance to chat with Hamid Chaudhry. In between hosting duties, he was greeting regulars and striking up conversation with newcomers.

“What do you think of the changes?” he asked.

Julie and I both agreed, the changes are positives.

It’s not Shady Maple, but as long as the restaurant holds on to those aspirations, it will be a great buffet.

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

Wyomissing Restaurant and Bakery
1245 Penn Ave
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Wyomissing Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Breakfast & Brunch Buffets Dessert Diners Reviews
A large plate of spaghetti covered in marinara sauce

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette

Mom Chaffe Menu

For such a small town, West Reading has a seemingly endless array of restaurants.

No less than 30 restaurants and cafes are packed into the town’s 1.5 square miles. From French cuisine to fried chicken and from vegetarian to Mediterranean, foodies can find a world of flavors in this tiny borough.

While most will never venture from the Penn Avenue and the vibrant downtown area, there is much more to this wonderful small town.

Tulpehocken Avenue shoots off from the 5th Avenue traffic circle. Blink and you may miss it and the hidden gem that it holds.

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette looks like every other home on the block, except for the brightly lit sign proclaiming “Italian Food” and “Cocktails.”

A small brass plate on the front has a simple inscription: “Mom Chaffe’s Est. 1936.”

It is amazing that any restaurant could survive for nearly 80 years, especially one like Mom Chaffe’s, which still does not have a website, a Facebook page or any other online presence. What it does have are loyal customers and 78 years of history on its side.

Like West Reading, itself, Mom Chaffe’s packs a lot into a small space. At times it is too much as the wait staff is forced to navigate a maze of tables and chairs in the main dining room. Even the walls are cramped, with dozens of paintings fighting over the limited space.

What’s not cramped is the menu. It’s very limited-two pages of pasta, antipasto and entrees with a handful of specials added daily.

One of the specials on this night was the Italian fried hot peppers, which were served as an appetizer with sliced tomato and mozzarella over lettuce.

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Though the dish was served cold, there was no escaping the heat. These were some very spicy peppers, loaded with heat and flavor. The creamy chunks of mozarella were a perfect compliment to the peppers, and along with the tomato and lettuce helped cool the taste buds.

While I was adventurous with the appetizer, I played it conservative with my meal and opted for fedelini with tomato sauce and meatballs.

The two meatballs were massive, clearly hand-formed and full of flavor. The sauce was bright red and thick, one of the best I have found in the area. My only complaint is that there was enough of it to mix with the mound of pasta that was buried underneath.

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Across the table, my wife went with the lasagna (which is only available Thursday through Sunday). I wish I had made the same decision because the one bite of hers I tried was delicious. The lasagna featured both ground meat and thinly sliced sausage layered with pasta and cheese and topped with the same thick tomato sauce as my pasta. It was a meaty, yet balanced dish that I enjoyed as much as any lasagna I’ve tried (and was enough that she took home half for the next day’s lunch).

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The dessert tray was sitting on a table near us, and after staring at it for most of our meal, there was no way we were going to be leaving without some. It was all fairly standard cakes and cheesecakes (I would venture to guess that these were not made in house, but at another local business). I went with a chocolate cake with a filling of ricotta and dried fruit. The cake itself was very dark, but the filling was incredibly sweet, with pieces of pineapple, apricot and other fruit mixed in for added texture.

In a restaurant with such limited seating, I had expected the prices to be higher to compensate. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the prices were in line any other restaurant with entrees falling in the $15-25 range. For our appetizer, two entrees and two slices of cake, our final bill was just over $50.

Overall, Mom Chaffe’s is a great little place for fine Italian food. If you go, make sure you save room. And be sure to call ahead or there may not be room for you.

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

Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette
148 Tulpehocken Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Mom Chaffe's Cellarette on Urbanspoon

Classics Dessert Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews