Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

It was hard to ignore the signs. On seemingly every corner in West Reading and Wyomissing, signs proclaimed the arrival of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food. Then the Instagram posts and stories started arriving, and it was even harder to ignore.

Mecca celebrated their grand opening in September 2018. That’s when the signs started appearing.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I’ve wanted to go ever since, but hadn’t had a chance until a recent Thursday night. On my way home from work, I took a detour through West Reading to the corner of Second and Franklin Streets to get a taste of Mecca.

The location is a little off the beaten path, a couple blocks off Penn Avenue. Like most of West Reading, finding a place to park can be a challenge. I got lucky and got the last spot on the block so I didn’t have to walk too far.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I walked in around 5 p.m. and was the only customer. I’m not going to lie: it was a little worrisome. But it actually worked out to my advantage because I was able to get great customer service and an explanation of all of the dishes that were on the warming table.

There were between a dozen and 15 items between the warming table and the heat lamp (where the fried chicken and other fried items were found) and most sounded like things that I would enjoy, but I had to narrow it down.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I ordered two Mecca meals, essentially they are sample platters where customers get their choice of main and sides to fill the large Styrofoam box. Dessert is also included in the meal.  (I also ordered a separate bowl of mac and cheese for my 15-month-old son).

The first box – mine – included ribs, rice and beans, collared greens and candied yams.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

The ribs were more like riblets – small pieces that had a decent amount of meat on them. The sauce was super sweet, but I liked it. There was more fat on the ribs than I would have liked, but I enjoyed all of the meat that I ate off the bone.

The barbecue sauce from the ribs also made a great topping for the rice and beans. It was my server’s suggestion to drizzle some over the rice and beans. It was a great combination and I ended up pouring the rest of the sauce over them.

But the best thing on my plate was the candied yams – I believe the Instagram post that day called them butterscotch yams. They were more like a dessert than a side dish, the yams having been reduced into a sweet puree.

The only downer for me were the collard greens. They weren’t bad, but I have had better (Signatures by Angell comes to mind).

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Julie’s box, which I picked out for her, included jerk chicken, mac and cheese, cilantro white rice and more of the yams.

The chicken was very good but definitely on the spicy side (as jerk chicken should be). The white rice was pretty good on its own, but I preferred the yellow rice from my dish.

Both Julie and Jakob enjoyed their mac and cheese – Jakob cleaned his plate while Julie saved a little of hers for later.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food Pumpkin Pie

Dessert was pumpkin pie. There were no options, but I wasn’t mad about it. I enjoy pumpkin pie, and this was a very good version of the southern staple. It was a sweet with a good amount of pumpkin spice and a nice crust. No complaints about the way the meal finished.

Honestly, I have no complaints about the meal at all. There were a couple truly great items and everything else was good enough. I thought my $30 was well-spent.

Mecca may be a little off the main drag, but it’s still a convenient place for a good grab-and-go meal, one that I will take advantage of again in the future.

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

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611

Caribbean & Latin American Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
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

Signatures by Angell Cafe – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace closed at the end of March 2019, just a few months after opening. Signatures by Angell continues to operate as a catering and meal prep business in Delaware.

In early November, a newspaper story caught my attention. It wasn’t in the Reading Eagle, but in LNP, Lancaster’s local paper.

The article announced the arrival of the Morgantown Farmers Marketplace, a 25-vendor market located behind the Dollar General and Kog Hill Winery – just over the border in Lancaster County.

What caught my attention more than anything wasn’t the farmers market, itself, but the paper’s mention of a stand selling Southern comfort food.

A couple months later in early January, Julie, Jakob and I made the drive down I-176 and the Morgantown Expressway to check it out.

The Marketplace is an eclectic group of vendors. There were hemp products, sports figures, soaps and vintage arcade games, all under one roof. It’s not much of a farmers market, though.

There’s a small produce stand and a deli. And then there’s Signatures by Angell Cafe.

Chef Angell is a celebrity chef from the Greater Philadelphia area, teaching classes and hosting cooking demonstrations around southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware – where her catering business is based.

The Morgantown cafe is an extension of the catering, a place to get her “signature” soul food every Thursday through Sunday. It features a limited menu that rotates weekly, but two items that seem to be on the menu every week are fried chicken and southern smothered chicken.

Smothered chicken is slow-cooked chicken served in sausage gravy. It’s a simple dish, but Angell does it very well. It’s fresh chicken, not processed strips, and there was plenty of it. The sausage gravy was heavy but good. I was surprised by how well the sausage and chicken worked together. And the potato roll hiding underneath the gravy – while a small touch -added a mild sweetness to the dish.

I would definitely order it again.

For my two sides, I ordered the braised collard greens and sweet potato soufflé. The collards were tossed with smoked turkey, giving it a savory and salty flavor to go with the bitter greens. The soufflé was excellent: sweet and hearty.

Julie was really hoping to try an order of fried chicken, but they were sold out for the day by the time we arrived. (When she didn’t see a fryer in the open kitchen, she was ok with not having any).

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – Julie also ordered the smothered chicken. She also doubled on the sweet potatoes (the cafe has a very limited menu of three entrees and three to four sides each week) but for her second side chose the macaroni and cheese.

The idea was to share the mac and cheese with our one-year-old son Jakob, but he was too busy watching everything going on around him to eat. The Hunger Games  was playing on the TV behind us, just what we wanted him to watch.

Julie enjoyed it, though. Because mac and cheese is one of Jakob’s favorite dishes, Julie has also eaten a lot of macaroni lately. This was one of the better ones that she has had recently.

The only real negative we had about our meal is that we had to hold Jakob throughout the meal. There was plenty of seating – picnic tables and cafe seats – but no high chairs and no chairs with backs where we could secure his portable chair we carry with us. That’s on the market, though, not the cafe.

Everything about the Cafe was very good – even the $35 price tag felt reasonable for the quality of the food that we received.

The Morgantown Farmers Marketplace could use a little work yet, but Signatures by Angell Cafe is a great anchor to have. Our meal certainly makes me want to go back.

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

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

In October 2018, Arby’s tested a very unique sandwich at one of its Berks County locations. The Arby’s in Spring Township sold – and sold out of – the one-time-only duck sandwich.

It was a very different concept, especially for a national fast food chain. But it was met with positive reviews, and the line that morning when Arby’s opened up said there was a demand for it.

That’s where the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville comes in. They saw opportunity and capitalized on it, introducing duck on their menu in November.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

While duck is normally found on finer dining menus – five-spice duck breast at Savory Grille and ravioli with duck ragu at Salute come to mind – it’s not the first time I’ve had it in a more casual setting.

At the Liberty Taproom, I enjoyed a duck confit burger topped with duck sausage. And my first real taste of duck came at the relaxed Canal Street Pub.

But fast food is a different story. Walking into the Kwik Shoppe – a quintessential drive-in with hexagonal tile floor, booth seating and a claw machine behind the door – duck just doesn’t seem to fit.

The Kwik Shoppe has three different duck items on their menu: the pulled duck sandwich, duck fries and a duck sausage sandwich. All of them sounded good, but a photo of the pulled duck sandwich on the restaurant’s Facebook page had me sold before I got there.

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

The sandwich was topped with an onion ring and pineapple papaya sauce (barbecue sauce was also an option).

Before diving into the sandwich, I tasted the meat on its own. It was similar to a pulled pork but fattier with a deeper flavor. I was impressed.

On the whole, the sandwich was very good. There wasn’t a lot of sauce, but there didn’t need to be. It added some sweet and tangy notes that came through after the meat. The onion ring was a reminder that I was eating fast food. It wasn’t necessary, but I certainly didn’t mind it either.

I would go back for another.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Cheeseburger

Julie went with the much less exciting cheeseburger. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not going to win any best burger contests. It was also around $2 so we’re not going to complain.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In French Fries

Both of us did enjoy our fries. They weren’t anything special, just a really good fast food-style French fry. They were cut small so you could pop several of them at a time. I think their small size allowed them to retain more flavor from the fryer. After adding a little salt and pepper, they were just what we hoped they would be.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Mac and Cheese Bites

Jakob, our now one-year-old son, is now at the point that he can have his own food when we go out. So we got him an order for mac and cheese bites. He enjoyed them, eating two out of the five in the order (along with some fries and some duck). Again, nothing special, just a typical fried fast food side.

None of us really needed anything else to eat after our dinners, but the ice cream was right there, and we just couldn’t pass up the chance to indulge.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Ice Cream

I am a sucker for flurries so my go-to on this night was a brownie dough flurry. The flurry was actually mixed to the point that much of the brownie had broken off into small bits, making it look more like cookies and cream than brownie dough. But there were still some larger chunks that were definitely brownie. It was delicious, but a small was more than enough for me, especially after indulging at dinner.

Julie’s new favorite dessert is the dusty road sundae. Kwik Shoppe loaded theirs up with chocolate syrup, malt powder, whipped cream, crushed peanuts and the obligatory cherry on top. The soft-serve vanilla was very good and they didn’t skimp on the toppings. Julie couldn’t finish it, but made sure to eat “all the good stuff.”

We spent about $32 on our visit – $22 on dinner and $10 on dessert. The duck items are a little more expensive than the rest of the menu so we easily could have spent less and we easily could have spent more. But overall, it felt like a good value.

The service isn’t great (a little slow but not bad), but that’s to be expected when a group of four high school students are handling all of the orders behind the counter.

I went in to the meal with an open mind when it came to fast food duck. After eating the pulled duck sandwich, I think you can count me among the believers.

And I hope there are more believers out there because this was a sandwich I would like to have again.

BCE Rating
Food: Fair to Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Good
Value: Reasonable

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In
555 Shoemaker Ave
Shoemakersville, PA 19555

Dessert Drive-Ins Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Stampede Barbecue

I love to see a business prosper and grow, especially when its a local eatery.

One of the local restaurants that has grown and seems to be thriving is Stampede Barbecue.

Stampede Barbecue, formerly known as Stampede Smokin’ Barbecue, opened at a new location along Route 10 in Plowville. Technically, Berks County gained a new restaurant with the opening (the former location was a few hundred yards across the line in Lancaster County).

The restaurant now sits in what was once a garden store. It has been completely transformed into a two-story barbecue joint that looks like it could have been plucked out of the South and dropped in south-central Berks County.

The new location, unlike the old trailer, will operate year-round. And so far it also seems to be a boon for business. The line was nearly out the door when Julie, Jakob and I arrived with her parents on a recent Wednesday evening.

Our wait time to get to the front of the line was about 15 minutes. By the time we ordered, we were told that the pulled pork and ribs were both sold out. I looked behind us at a line that was now out the door and wondered how these customers were going to feel about it.

But that is the chance you take with barbecue – when you’re serving meats that are smoked for 12 hours or more, it’s not like you can just make more. It’s also a sign that the restaurant serves great food. And there was no denying that during our visit.

Most of my visits to the previous location – a stationary food truck with more parking than seating – were grab-and-go, as I bought meals to take home with me. This was a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy everything at its freshest.

I had really wanted a pulled pork sandwich but instead “settled” on smoked turkey. The sliced turkey breast was dipped in an au jus before being set on the potato roll (think a Martin’s roll, only a lot larger and more fresh).

I tried both of Stampede’s signature sauces – one sweet and one sweet and spicy – on the sandwich. I liked the sweet, but I didn’t think it fit very well with the turkey. But the spicy sauce mixed with the potato roll (which itself was already sweet) and the smoked turkey made for a delicious combination. However, the au jus was enough on its own and I would have been happy eating it without any sauce.

Julie’s beef brisket sandwich was no less enjoyable. The brisket was sliced fresh and very juicy. For my taste, the brisket was better with the sweet sauce. I also can’t speak highly enough about the rolls and how much they did for enhancing our meals.

We decided to split an order of fries, something that I don’t remember being on the menu at the other location (if it was, I don’t remember it. I do remember getting bags of Charles Chips, which I didn’t see at the new place). While the rest of the meal was ready when we paid, the fresh-cut fries were delivered fresh a short time later. To me, they were worth the wait.

Julie and I also ordered sides of our own. She really wanted to try the mac and cheese and I wanted some of their slaw. Both were very good, though I wouldn’t say they stood out among others that we have tried.

I did have an opportunity to try some of the BBQ beans that my in-laws had ordered, and they were great. It was closer to a chili than baked beans as far as flavor (my mother-in-law found them to be a little too spicy for her. I didn’t find them to be very spicy).

For Julie and I, our two meals with drinks ran us right around $30. That’s about average for a good barbecue place. Stampede’s entire menu is a la carte, there are no meals, per se, but the sides are reasonably priced so it all works out.

By the time we left around 7 p.m., they were hanging a sign on the door that read “Pickins are slim, folks. We’ll have everything tomorrow.”

Good thing we didn’t arrive any later than we did or we may have been very disappointed.

But selling out is a good thing for Stampede. It reflects well on the food, and it means that the restaurant is doing a great business.

And that’s always a good thing for Berks County.

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

Stampede Barbecue
4372 Morgantown Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

 

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

HillBilly BBQ

Driving along Route 422 east toward Douglassville, the smoke rises from HillBilly BBQ. The trailer sits in a small parking lot in front of D&S Elite Construction.

There have been many roadside barbecue joints in and around Berks County over the years – Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ, Stampede Smokin’ BBQ and Templin’s Soggie Bottom Grille come to mind. And while others have either moved into permanent locations, closed or both, HillBilly still remains as a true roadside eatery.

I visited HillBilly BBQ for the first time in 2015. I only had a pulled pork sandwich, but I was impressed. I couldn’t wait to take Julie for a meal and a Berks County Eats review.

Three years later, that visit finally happened.

We stopped in on a cool Saturday afternoon – too cold to sit outside but too warm to sit inside our car to eat. The only real option was to order our lunch and take it back home to Wyomissing.  Thankfully, there’s a driveway connecting the restaurant to Monacacy Creek Road and the traffic light that leads to westbound 422.

Less than 20 minutes after getting our meals, we were unboxing them at our kitchen table. I couldn’t wait to dig into my half rack of ribs.

The ribs looked beautiful, dark in color from hours in the smoker and a heavy dry rub that I immediately fell in love with. It was simple sweet, salty and mildly spicy rub that was laid on thick.

At the counter, I was given the choice of adding “sweet sauce” to the ribs. There wasn’t much to the sauce – it was a little runny and pooled at the bottom of the box – but it really did add to the dish. If nothing else, it softened the texture and helped the meat soak in even more of the delicious rub.

The half rack was sliced in half with three-to-four bones in each. Each piece was unique. The top was fall-off-the-bone good. The second rack was the end piece and was more well done. It was no less flavorful, but the tips were crispy, bordering on burnt.

On the side, my coleslaw balanced out the meal. The creamy slaw was very good and did much to counterbalance the spice of the ribs.

When it comes to barbecue, Julie loves beef brisket. It’s her go-to whenever we go out. Her brisket sandwich from HillBilly BBQ featured a Kaiser roll overflowing with meat.

The brisket featured the same rub and was topped with the same sauce as the ribs. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of sandwich, smooth and flavorful. The Kaiser roll helped to soak up some of the juice and sauce – a traditional hamburger roll would have probably fallen apart by the time we got home. It also differentiated itself from similar offerings at other restaurants, and that’s never a bad thing.

For her side, Julie chose the mac and cheese. It was made with small shells in a gooey yellow cheese sauce. When we first got in the car, the shells were still smoking. They hadn’t cooled off much by the time we arrived at home. They were good, but not anything special.

One thing I love about barbecue is that it’s almost always priced right. At $25 for our two entrees and two sides (we didn’t order drinks because we were taking it home. That would have brought it closer to $30), HillBilly BBQ definitely priced its food right.

A note to those concerned about the divided highway: don’t be. Unlike some restaurants along that stretch of Route 422, HillBilly BBQ is actually easily accessible from both directions thanks to the Monacacy Road entrance.

That’s a big advantage, but the location isn’t without drawbacks. It’s still an unpaved parking lot with limited seating – and Route 422 isn’t exactly the most desirable backdrop for dining alfresco.

But the barbecue is hard to beat. And for a little roadside stand, that’s all that really matters.

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

HillBilly BBQ
908 Benjamin Franklin Hwy
Douglassville, PA 19518

HillBilly BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Boursin fried chicken from Franklin House Tavern

Road Trip: Franklin House Tavern

Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown, PA

Berks County Eats takes a road trip to Lebanon County this week for a meal at the historic Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown.

It’s been a long time since we took a road trip for Berks County Eats. Our last stop outside the county was in July of last year, eight months ago when we visited the Revere Tavern in Lancaster.

Ironically enough, our next road trip takes us to another historic inn named after a famous figure from the past: the Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown.

I have a vague childhood memory of a family meal at the Franklin House. It had to have been 20 years ago when my grandparents still lived on a farm outside of Schaefferstown.

Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown, PA

In the years since, Julie and I have driven by the restaurant countless times. But it was never our destination. But the more we drove through Schaefferstown, the more we wanted to stop.

Our first visit finally happened in late February. We dropped Jakob off at my parents and continued on to the Lebanon County landmark for a Saturday evening dinner.

The historic inn is essentially divided into two sides – the restaurant and the tavern. We were on the restaurant side, the more refined, finer dining experience.

The Washington Room

We were led back into the Washington Room, a small-ish dining space with our table for two, three tables for four, a table for six, and a table for 10. In buildings this old – it was erected in 1746 – rooms are small and seating can be tight. But we were comfortable at our little table in the corner of the room.

Inside the Washington Room at the Franklin House Tavern

During our meal, there were only two other tables occupied in our dining room, but we saw at least five different servers and runners coming through. Our waitress was the second person we saw, after another waiter in the room breezed by after taking another order. “Be there in a sec,” was the gist of what he said. Thankfully, he wasn’t our server.

House Salad at the Franklin House TavernThe meal started with salads. I stuck with the house salad with ranch dressing while Julie upgraded to the Caesar.

The presentation on both was beautiful, and the house salad included one nice addition: fresh Parmesan cheese. It was a subtle enhancement.

Caesar salad from the Franklin House Tavern

Julie’s Caesar salad shined thanks to attention to detail. The lettuce was grilled, bringing out more flavor and making it feel special. A small crostini was served on the side and it was better than any crouton that would have been served on top. It was worth the $3.25 upgrade charge.

Dinner roll and oil from Franklin House Tavern

Between our salad and meal, we were served a pair of dinner rolls. Set on the table was an oil and balsamic blend for dipping. Oil is great. Balsamic is not. To me, it was an attempt to be too fancy. The rolls would have been better served with butter.

Next out were our entrees. For me, it was the “Jacked Mac.” The menu listed it as “cavatappi pasta, Parmesan cream, house smoked sweet Italian sausage, roasted cauliflower, rum raisins and sweet peas.”

The Jacked Mac from the Franklin House Tavern

I found it to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, I loved the additions to the dish – the sausage was very good, and the rum raisins provided sweet little flavor bursts.

On the other hand, I was really hoping for more of a cream sauce and less of a traditional mac-and-cheese. The Parmesan cream didn’t jump out. On the contrary, I didn’t taste much Parmesan. And I felt like my meal had been completed before Julie’s and was sitting for a few minutes. Not that it was cold, but I could tell that the cheese had cooled slightly.

Overall, it was still a good dish but it could have been great. Like the Boursin fried chicken. That was Julie’s meal, and it was a great dish.

Boursin fried chicken from Franklin House Tavern

The Boursin fried chicken was on the specials menu, and there wasn’t much description of it, other than that it would be served atop a waffle with prosciutto and a honey drizzle.

It was a beautiful presentation with a lightly breaded chicken breast topped with the cheese and a slice of prosciutto. The only thing better than how it looked was how it tasted.

Boursin cheese, as we would come to find out, most closely resembles cream cheese. It essentially took the place of a sauce, giving a sweet, creamy flavor that was in every bite. The prosciutto added another savory element while also giving salty notes to the dish. Even the waffle added additional depth to the dish.

I was in love Julie’s entree, and I definitely had food envy.

We weren’t celebrating a special occasion, but we decided to make it special by adding dessert. Of the four choices on the dessert tray, the one that appealed most was the lemon berry cake.

Lemon berry cake from Franklin House Tavern

The cake was layered with Mascarpone cheese and topped with raspberries and blueberries and a concentrated raspberry sauce. The cake reminded me of a lemon cream cookie, but the addition of the berries put it over the top. It was definitely worth saving room for this.

Even with dessert our night out didn’t break the bank. Our total bill was $55. While it’s a little more than we pay for everyday dining, I was expecting $60 or more for our meals. And we would probably spend that on our next visit because our entrees were at the low end of the price scale.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but the Franklin House Tavern really did impress in many ways. We enjoyed some exceptional dishes in an incredible historic setting.

And now I have another memory from the Franklin House that I’ll remember for a long time.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable (for finer dining)

Franklin House Tavern
101 N. Market St
Schaefferstown, PA 17088

Franklin House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
The Napoleon Dynamite at Mad Dogs

Mad Dogs

Mad Dogs

Editor’s Note: Julie took the lead on this blog, visiting Mad Dogs with her parents (leaving me behind, sadly).

One cold Friday in February, I was looking to get out of the house with Jakob. My parents are retired so I suggested that we go to Kutztown for old time’s sake. (Zach and I are both graduates of Kutztown University). I always enjoy driving down Main Street to see what is new and what has stayed the same.

Just off of Main Street on Constitution Boulevard sits a brick building with two parking lots on each side. There is an outside seating area shared with a cigar store. While it was too cold to eat outside, we walked in the large warehouse door that I had walked through many times before – but for the first time at Mad Dogs.

Mad Dogs Daily Specials

The building previously housed CC’s Wooden Grill, once one of my favorite BBQ joints in Berks County, and Potts U, a spinoff of the popular Lehigh Valley hot dog chain.

As we walked through the door, the space looked very familar. The order counter and tables were basically the same as the last time we had visited Potts nearly two years ago.

Inside Mad Dogs Kutztown

The only difference was a few drink coolers along one of the walls which held your typical soda products and my favorite: Pure Wild Tea. (Another Berks County business). There were hot dog signs leftover from Potts U and movie posters added to go along with Mad Dogs Hollywood-themed menu.

The Throwback Lounge at Mad Dogs

Through a doorway, in an area that was previously an office, is the Mad Dogs Throwback Lounge. It was pretty cool space that looked like a fun place to hang out. There were bean bag chairs, retro furniture and flat screen TVs.

We found a seat at one of the very familiar tables and browsed the extensive menu of 21 different specialty hot dogs. Mad Dogs’ menu also has a burger, pulled pork and various sides.

Plain Jane Hot Dog from Mad Dogs

The menu also includes combo specials, which my dad took advatange of. He’s not always the adventurous type when it comes to food, so he had one plain Jane hot dog with relish, ketchup and onions (toppings are 50 cents each), mac and cheese, and a drink. There isn’t much to say about the plain Jane hot dog, but he really enjoyed the mac and cheese.

Mad Dogs Mac and Cheese

It was a unique version of the dish with tri-color noodles that looked like carrots and peppers. But they were definitely noodles. There were also pieces of hamburger, onion and bacon mixed with what tasted like a Cheez Whiz sauce.

I really wanted to experience one of the specialty hot dogs so I got the Napoleon Dynamite. I have to be honest, I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but one of my favorite childhood food memories is of hot dogs stuffed with cheese and bacon wrapped around them. The Napoleon Dynamite was the closest to that memory.

The Napoleon Dynamite at Mad Dogs

It is a grilled dog with tater tots, bacon, cheese sauce and Mad Dog sauce. Overall it was a good hot dog. The bacon and hot dog rested in the roll with cheese sauce and three smashed tater tots drizzled with Mad Dog sauce. The Mad Dog sauce didn’t quite shine through with the other flavors on my dog so it is hard to say what that actually tasted like.

They have an interesting selection of sides including fried cauliflower and sweet potato fries. But I opted for basic fresh-cut Yukon Gold french fries. The menu says that they are tossed in a special seasoning, but I don’t remember tasting it. That aside, they were very good fries. I also ordered Maple Mayo dipping sauce (they have 9 different dipping sauces to choose from), but never received it and didn’t remember that I ordered it until I was in the car driving home.

Mad Dogs Hot Dog and Tater Tots

Lastly, my mom built her own plain Jane dog with bacon and baked beans on top with a side of tater tots. The bacon was chopped up and mixed with the baked beans. She liked all of her items as well.

My only complaint was the presentation, and it’s not something you will notice in my photos. The food was brought out in long wire baskets that looked really neat. The problem was they weren’t organized by meal. One basket had two dogs, another basket had a dog and side and the rest of the food came out without baskets. It would have been nice if my hot dog and fries would have been together, my dad’s hot dog and mac and cheese together, and my mom’s hot dog and tater tots together. It would have saved a lot of shuffling and confusion at the table.

Mad Dogs seems like it’s caught on in its first year – the restaurant celebrated its first anniversary in January – because as we were there I saw more people come through the front door than on any of our visits to CC’s or Potts.

They have a good product with interesting twists and customizable options fit for anyone looking for a good hot dog. And being that it is in a college town, I’d say it’s a good value for what you get (we spent about $25 for the three of us).

I hope the next time I make my way through the doors of this building that I am still eating at Mad Dogs.

Berks County Eats Rating:
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Service: Good
Value: Reasonable

Mad Dogs
100 N. Constitution Blvd
Kutztown, PA 19530

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Sandwich Shops

Smokin’ Brays BBQ

smokin-brays-exterior-night

One of the reasons that I try to hit all of the food events and festivals around the county is so that I can try things that are new (or new to me).

Oftentimes, I end up seeing the same old restaurants serving the same old samples. But it’s always exciting when a new place pops up.

At the Iron Chef Hamburg event in November, I sampled pulled pork from Smokin’ Brays BBQ in Hamburg and was immediately a fan.

I had already visited Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine earlier in the year, but had no idea there was now a second barbecue restaurant, this one across the street from The Westy.

smokin-brays-interior-2

The restaurant opened in April after the owners closed the original Smokin’ Brays in Dale City, Virginia, and moved to Hamburg to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Our Virginia restaurant was open seven days a week,” I was told by our hostess, who I later found out was Betty Bray, co-owner with her husband Keith.

“We’re only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s almost like retirement.”

smokin-brays-interior-1

After we were seated, a woman came in with a little girl, dolly in tow. “I guess we need a table for three,” she joked.

But to their surprise, a high-chair was delivered to the table and dolly was strapped in for dinner, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

That’s how you do customer service.

The wait for our food wasn’t as long as it felt. I realized that the only noise – other than the two other diners that joined us – was coming from a radio in the corner.

So many restaurants today have at least one television in the room that I found myself looking around for a distraction that wasn’t there.

When the food arrived, it was the feast that I had expected.

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-1

Nearly every barbecue restaurant that I have ever been to has offered some sort of sampler platter. And I guess it’s because there are enough people like me who will order it every time.

At Smokin’ Brays, the smallest sampler is three meats (promising at least 3/4 pounds of meat). I got babyback ribs, beef brisket and pulled beef.

I haven’t found pulled beef on any other menus locally so I had to try some. It may look like pot roast, but it sure didn’t taste like it. There was no sauce, just a spice rub that had absorbed into the meat during cooking.

The flavor was great on its own, though I couldn’t stop myself from adding some of Smokin’ Brays classic barbecue sauce. A sweet sauce with just a little tang and no heat (there was also a hot version, plus a vinegar sauce, for those with differing tastes).

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-2

I really enjoyed the brisket. It was well-flavored, sliced thin and melt-in-your mouth good. The ribs were not my favorite. They were too fatty for my taste. I like my ribs leaner and more heavily seasoned.

Not that I needed anything else, but the meal also came with two sides and choice of roll or cornbread. I really only wanted something light so I went with baked beans and applesauce. The beans were alright but I was too full from my meal to really enjoy them. I did really like the cornbread, though it fell apart when I tried to butter it.

smokin-brays-smoked-sausage

Julie’s meal consisted of smoked sausage with mac and cheese, lettuce with hot bacon dressing and cornbread.

The sausage was excellent, a little smoky but not too much. And it wasn’t smoked to the point that the outside was too crispy. It was done very well.

The lettuce with hot bacon dressing was among the best that Julie has had with no skimping on bacon. She also enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese.

After all that food (Julie had to take half of hers home), there was definitely no room for dessert. That said, I actually thought about trying to force some banana pudding after I saw it on the menu board.

Instead, we called it a night. While paying our $30 bill, we saw the Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame, adorned with photos of all those who have attempted the “Big Pig Challenge,” five pounds of food and a 30-minute time limit.

“You want to try the ‘Big Pig’?” the owner asked after I questioned her about the challenge.

“Not tonight,” I said.

I’m sure it will make an entertaining blog someday.

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

Smokin’ Brays BBQ
278 W. State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Smokin' Brays BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Say Cheese Restaurant & Cheese

say-cheese-exterior

The great thing about living in Wyomissing is the amazing selection of restaurants we have between our town and neighboring West Reading.

The downside about having a food blog is that I have to spread out my visits to the closest places in order to cover the entire county.

I hadn’t visited a West Reading restaurant since October and our National Pizza Month visit to Georgio’s.

Three months is about as long as I can stay away, especially with a gift card to Say Cheese burning a hole in my pocket.

Of West Reading’s abundance of restaurants, Say Cheese has one of the most desirable locations, sitting on the corner of Penn and Sixth Avenues. In the summer, outdoor seating adds to the ambiance, but that feels like an eternity away.

say-cheese-interior

Five years ago, if you would have told Julie that I wanted to go to a cheese-themed restaurant, she would have laughed in your face.

At the time, I thought I hated cheese. As it turns out, I don’t hate cheese. I just hate American cheese, and anything made by Kraft.

There’s definitely no Kraft Singles at Say Cheese.

In addition to the restaurant, Say Cheese serves as a fine cheese shop, with a wide selection of artisan cheese from around the world to take home with you.

This allows for creative cuisine, and, with the marketplace right inside the door, a unique set up to the dining area. Our table was at the very front of the building in what would have once been the window display for a retail store.

say-cheese-reading-draft-soda

For those who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, Say Cheese has plenty of options to pair with your meal. For those, like me, who prefer something a little softer, they have Reading Draft Soda.

The closest I got to ordering alcohol was my cup of cheddar beer soup, the day’s special.

say-cheese-cheddar-beer-soup

It was simple but good, with the namesake ingredients shining through. Thick croutons and bacon were added to the creamy soup, adding much-welcomed texture and a little bit of salt. All in all, it was a great first impression.

Our entrees arrived shortly after I finished my soup. For me, it was braised short ribs and hominy grits.

say-cheese-braised-short-ribs-hominy-grits

The boneless short ribs were pull-apart tender (no knife needed) and the demi glace wasn’t bad, but what really made the dish was the herb mascarpone chevre (goat’s cheese). It was creamy and sweet and really complemented the demi very well.

Hominy grits aren’t my favorite side, and these were ok, a little buttery for my taste, but I enjoyed the vegetables – Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and tomatoes.

say-cheese-salmon-mac-and-cheese

Julie was a fan of her smoked salmon mac n’ cheese. According to the description, it was a six-cheese blend with smoked salmon, white wine and chives topped with asiago bread crumbs.

We both expected to taste the salmon more than we did, but instead what we got was the nice smoky flavor of the meat, always a great addition to mac and cheese. And the bread crumbs added a much needed crisp texture to the creamy dish.

A small portion of the mac and cheese came home with us. I left nothing on the table.

Our final total was just under $50. I had a $30 gift card to help (otherwise, I probably would have let the Pennsylvania Dutch in me come out and not ordered the soda or the soup).

Say Cheese is certainly among the best that West Reading has to offer. It was a very good meal. I just wish I could have gone sooner.

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

Say Cheese Restaurant & Cheese
600 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Say Cheese! Restaurant & Cheese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finer Dining Reviews