Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Road Trip: The Belvedere Inn

Belvedere Inn

In the first five years of Berks County Eats, we have taken 19 road trips to select restaurants around Pennsylvania – some near, some far; some good, some bad – but all of them notable.

We’ve done less road trips recently – only two in 2018 – but there are a select number of noteworthy restaurants still worth traveling for and writing about.

One of those is Lancaster’s Belvedere Inn.

Belvedere Inn

The Belvedere was recently ranked as one of the Top 100 most romantic restaurants in the country by users of OpenTable so it seemed like the perfect place for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner.

Among the growing downtown dining scene in downtown Lancaster, The Belvedere is the elder statesman. The Victorian-style mansion was converted to a restaurant in 1998, long before the city’s recent restaurant Renaissance.

The restaurant sits on the corner of Queen and Lemon Streets, and while it doesn’t offer private off-street parking, there’s a public garage right behind the restaurant (we spent $4 to park).

Belvedere Inn

Candlelight and mirrors add glow to the dining areas. Highlights of the dining room – really two or three rooms that have been opened up to create a space that spans the depth of the building – include a stunning chandelier, a large fireplace and the leopard print carpet (still trying to understand that one).

The Belvedere’s menu is fitting of a romantic restaurant: higher end entrees with a range of appetizers and desserts and a robust drink list.

Belvedere Inn Roasted Vanilla Pear

As we were celebrating, Julie ordered a roasted vanilla pear. The mixed drink was made with vanilla vodka, St. Germaine, roasted pear puree, pineapple and citrus soda with a ring of sugar around the glass for even more sweetness, which is what she was looking for.

I had been to the Belvedere once for a business meeting so I knew all about their famous grilled Caesar salad, and I was thrilled to see that they had a petite version on the dinner menu so we could both order it as an appetizer.

Belvedere Inn Grilled Caesar

Caesar salads are always enjoyable, but the Belvedere’s grilled Caesar is on another level. First, grilling the Romaine just adds such a different feel to it and somehow enhances the flavor that’s already there. The dressing is excellent, and it’s topped with plenty of croutons and cheese.

On my first visit six months ago, I had the full version as a lunch entree (with grilled chicken). I thought I had overhyped it for Julie, but she was not disappointed. It’s an excellent start to a meal – or a meal in and of itself.

Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Getting it as an appetizer allowed us to try some of their other entrees. I decided on the four-hour braised short ribs, served with red wine demi, green beans and three cheese macaroni gratin.

The meat was excellent with enough fat to make it flavorful but not too much to take away from the meat. The demi was semi-sweet and really helped highlight the flavors of the meat. It was very well done and very satisfying.

I enjoyed the macaroni gratin – a grown-up mac and cheese with a flavorful crust on top. The green beans were fine and made better by the fact that they were also sitting in the red wine demi. Overall, I was very happy with my choice.

Belvedere Inn Stuffed Lobster Tail

Julie was also happy with her decision to order the crab-stuffed lobster tail, a special of the day.

It was one of the best lobsters she has ever had. The crab and lobster were both very good and neither overpowered the other. And she was thrilled to not find any crab shell in the filling.

It was served with fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Both were simple but enjoyable.

Belvedere Inn Chocolate Mousse

As is usually the case when we enjoy a romantic night out, we couldn’t leave without sharing dessert. All of the options sounded decadent, but we decided on the layered chocolate mousse.

It featured chocolate mousse, vanilla cake, Grand Marnier, orange zest and raspberries. It was sweet and satisfying. The mousse was chilled, making it much denser and more solid. The cake was nice, but my favorite part were the bites with raspberry. The fresh berries just added a nice flavor note.

Belvedere Inn Rolls

The meal was close to perfect. The only real hiccup was that the assistant server didn’t bring the rolls and butter around until after our entrees. Honestly, though, we could have done without the rolls. It’s not that they weren’t good, but we had more than enough food with what we had ordered.

On special occasions like Valentine’s Day, we always expect to spend more than we would for almost any other meal, and that was the case here. Our final total was $120, and while we won’t go out of our way to spend that on a meal, we don’t mind it once or twice a year.

Between the food and ambiance, it is easy to see how a restaurant like the Belvedere could make it onto anyone’s list of most romantic restaurants.

After our visit, it certainly makes our list.

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

The Belvedere Inn
402 N. Queen St
Lancaster, PA 17603

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

WOW Wagon

wow-wagon

One of my favorite events every year is the Garden Party at the Reading Hospital.

In addition to benefitting a great cause, the organizers always bring in some of the best in local eats. This year, they brought in some of the area’s best food trucks, including Gourmand, the Potato Coop, Scott’s Hot Spot and the Gilbertsville-based WOW Wagon.

Julie and I made our way through the sea of people, trying to decide where to go. The WOW Wagon was at the end of the row, and with no line, it was an easy choice for two people who were ready to eat.

wow-wagon-white-pizza

I first tried the WOW Wagon a year ago at the VF Outlet Center Food Truck Festival. That day’s menu featured artisan pizzas, like the white pizza with broccoli, green peppers and sun-dried tomatoes that I got to enjoy.

But the menu is ever-changing, and at the Garden Party, there were no pizzas to be had.

Instead, they offered a six-item, limited menu that included an item called Pig Dippers that sounded too good to pass up.

wow-wagon-pig-dippers

The fair food-inspired treats featured candied maple bacon, rolled in funnel cake batter and deep-fried (topped with obligatory powdered sugar).

Pig Dippers are also sometimes referred to simply as cholesterol. Delicious cholesterol.

Biting into one is a truly unique taste experience. First, you have that familiar funnel cake flavor. Then you get the bacon, with strong maple overtones. It’s a sweet and savory explosion. Together, it was almost reminiscent of breakfast.

They came in orders of two. I thought when I finished that I would need something else to eat. I didn’t. I felt great after eating one. The second one was almost too much, too heavy (but I finished it anyway).

wow-wagon-lobster-roll

Also on the menu during our visit was something completely different: lobster rolls.

The New England specialty was meaty and delicious. The roll was overstuffed with chunks of lobster meat and one lone slice of lettuce to add a bit of crunch.

It wasn’t quite like getting a fresh lobster roll in Maine, but it was darn good for Pennsylvania.

During the Garden Party, all purchases are made in tickets, but our total worked out to be around $20 (this did not include drinks, which had to be purchased from another stand).

The WOW Wagon definitely brought a wow factor to its items on this day.

I don’t know that my heart could take another order of Pig Dippers, but I will definitely keep an eye out for the WOW Wagon at future events.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Giannotti’s Country Manor

giannotti-s-country-manor-patio

Two weeks ago we visited Giannotti’s Italian Kitchen in Robesonia. It was an alright meal, but we were certainly hoping for something better.

I always feel guilty about writing less-than-stellar reviews because that’s not why I write these blogs. I know that there are items on the menu that I would love, but I can only write about what I ate and the experience that I had.

On the same weekend that I visited my old hometown, I made a visit to another Giannotti family establishment: Giannotti’s Country Manor.

Giannotti’s Country Manor is just a short drive north of the city along Route 12, right next to Chatty’s, another restaurant that we’ve visited, and almost across the street from the original Muddy’s location.

giannotti-s-country-manor-iced-tea

It was a beautiful Friday night so we decided to enjoy our meal out on the patio. The dining rooms were empty as it seemed everyone who came in either grabbed a seat at the bar or took their meal outside.

The traffic on Route 12 wasn’t too loud to bother us. The only time that we wished to be inside was when a guy pulled up in a bright yellow, 1930s-era pickup truck that was spitting exhaust across the patio.

One thing that’s clear right away is that Giannotti’s Country Manor is not an Italian restaurant. Sure there are a few pasta dishes and pizzas, but the menu highlighted their steaks and seafood.

giannotti-s-country-manor-bread

While we waited for our meals, the first thing to arrive was our bread basket, a nice sized loaf of Italian bread. It was excellent. I always appreciate good bread before the meal, especially on a night when we were both extra hungry.

giannotti-s-country-manor-salad

Both of our meals came with starter salads, but we could have easily done without them. A pair of cherry tomatoes, some croutons and a little bit of red onion were the only additions to the lettuce.

I had a hard time making a decision for my entree, but finally settled on Giannotti’s “often imitated, never duplicated” prime rib (which is only available Thursday through Sunday).

giannotti-s-country-manor-prime-rib-steak-fries

The prime rib is available in two sizes – 16-ounce and the King size 24 ounce. I wasn’t feeling very regal so I stuck with the one-pounder.

It looked massive compared to the cup of au jus that shared the plate. It was also really moist, to the point where the plate was wet all around.

I sliced off my first piece and dipped it in the au jus, and have to say that it tasted better than it looked. It was on par with a good French dip sandwich. Not the best prime rib I have ever eaten, but solid.

My only problem was that there was just so much of it. Even without touching the fatty chunks, there was a half-pound of meat on the plate.

Plus all entrees come with two sides so I had a plate of steak fries and a cup of applesauce to get through as well. At this point the salad seemed completely unnecessary.

The steak fries were good, but nothing special. I’m guessing they’re not homemade, but I still made them disappear.

Normally I wouldn’t even mention applesauce when I get it, but I really enjoyed it here. It had a sweeter, almost caramel flavor to it that was better than the typical side.

giannotti-s-country-manor-lobster-tail-steak-fries

While I went turf with my dinner, Julie went surf with hers, ordering the 8-ounce lobster tail, the smallest of the three sizes available.

Julie reminded me that she had lobster on the beach in Malibu once. This wasn’t the same, but she enjoyed it for what it was: a seafood dish served in the hills of Berks County.

Neither of us had any thoughts of dessert when we were finished. We were more concerned with divvying out what we were taking home with us.

The bill for the day came in at around $50 for the two of us (the lobster is market price so it could be more or less on any given day).

Giannotti’s Country Manor had its share of really good and okay items. That’s to be expected at a restaurant that has such a large menu.

The trick is to find something you enjoy. Because the only thing that matters is whether you enjoyed it.

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

Giannotti’s Country Manor
Giannotti's Country Manor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Salute Ristorante Italiano

salute

There’s something about a nice Italian restaurant on Valentine’s Day. The two just seem to go together, the perfect match for a romantic night out.

Last year for our romantic splurge, we visited Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette, one of the oldest restaurants in Berks County. This year, we visited Salute Ristorante Italiano, one of the county’s newest.

Salute opened in November, taking over the former Frank’s NY Pizza in Sinking Spring, and bringing fine dining to the former take-out counter.

The aesthetic improvement is evident immediately as the entrance to the strip mall spot has been given a stonework facade. Inside, the restaurant is much-improved as well. Tables and booths line two seating areas, one raised a step above the other. When we arrived, a heart was tied to the back of each chair with lacey ribbon; the napkins beautifully folded into fans.

For Valentine’s Day, Salute offered a pared down version of its dinner menu in prix-fixe form: for $50, each person received an appetizer, entree and dessert. A small welcome cocktail was also included in every dinner.

salute-love-potion

The Love Potion was comprised of chocolate vodka, crème de cacao, fresh strawberry puree, and half and half, all topped with a chocolate covered strawberry.

salute-caprese-salad

We put in our appetizer order while we pondered the entree choices. As our starters, we opted for the Carpese salad and bruschetta. The Carpese salad was good, with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, but it paled in comparison to the bruschetta which was some of the best I have had.

salute-bruschetta

The perfectly toasted bread was topped with mounds of diced tomatoes and shaved Parmesan cheese. It had just a hint of balsamic mixed with a very flavorful olive oil, and mixed with the tomatoes, it made for a sweet, tasty appetizer.

We were surprised to find that in addition to the appetizers, every entree also included a cup of soup or starter salad. We both opted for soup: I went with fava bean while Julie chose Italian wedding.

salute-fava-bean-soup

My fava bean soup was delicious. The consistency reminded me of a split pea where there is little broth to speak of and the flavor comes almost entirely from the vegetables. But the real highlight here was the homemade crouton: two pieces of fried bread. It was dark and crispy like melba toast, but absorbed a lot of flavor from the frying, giving it a unique flavor that was perfect for dipping.

salute-wedding-soup

Julie’s wedding soup was also interesting (and excellent) as it was more of a cream base than a broth base, which made it extra hearty.

salute-norcina-ravioli

My main course arrived with a special Valentine’s Day touch. I ordered the norcina ravioli¸ a potato and ricotta ravioli with sausage and mushrooms in a cream sauce, all topped with a heart-shaped piece of dough. For added style, the plate was brushed with blue and yellow coloring. I knew what the norcina ravioli would include, but I didn’t expect it to be constructed quite as it was. There were four small ravioli buried beneath a mound of mushrooms and ground sausage that provided most of the flavor. It was a much heartier dish than I was expecting.

salute-lobster-over-linguine

Across the table, Julie decided to spoil herself with lobster. The lobster half was served atop a bed of linguine in a light sauce with tomato slices, freshly chopped basil and minced garlic. Again, the chef +went the extra mile on presentation by painting the plate red and black. The linguini had a little extra texture which allowed the sauce to better stick to the pasta, making for a delectable dish.

salute-puff-pastry-with-custard-and-wild-berry-reduction

Of course you can’t take your sweetheart out to Valentine’s Day dinner without enjoying some sweets, and Salute did not disappoint. Our waitress brought out a plate with both of the night’s featured desserts: almond parfait and a puff pastry with custard and wild berry reduction.

salute-almond-parfait

The puff pastry was good though I would have liked just a little more custard to cut through the concentrated sweetness of the reduction. The almond parfait was on an entirely other level. Made from almond ice cream topped with chocolate and crushed almonds. The semi-bitter dark chocolate hardened atop the ice cream, creating a contrast in texture and flavor.

On a normal night, we would have never ordered so much food, and our bill would have probably been significantly less. But for our one-night-a-year splurge, it was well worth the $100 price tag.

It was a near-perfect night out: incredible food in a great atmosphere making for a memorable Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a salute to Salute, a great addition to the Berks County restaurant scene.

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

Salute Ristorante Italiano
4718 Penn Ave
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Salute Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Dessert Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews