A&M Pizza and Grill – CLOSED

 

Update: A&M Pizza in Wernersville is now closed as of October 2018. No official word was given by A&M but the restaurant went dark starting in early October.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can never go back again?”

The idea is that no matter how good things were, you can’t replicate the success years later.

Ironically, this exact thing happened twice last year with Berks County restaurants. Dino’s Wings & Things reopened a second location in Birdsboro. And A&M Pizza returned to Berks County and to its former location in Wernersville.

Dino’s is closed less than a year after it reopened.  As for A&M? The Wernersville location is still going. Again.

A&M was a staple of my adolescence in western Berks County. I remember many stops at the old freight-station-turned-restaurant just off Penn Avenue in Wernersville.

All good things must come to an end, however. A&M moved out and the old station was home to a rotation of less-than-successful restaurants including The Trolley Stop, Feliciano’s, and DiCarlo’s.

The only way to satisfy a craving for A&M’s food was to make a road trip to Lebanon. The Cumberland Street location became a go-to for me, and eventually, Julie.

A highlight of every visit was listening to the owner mumble the order numbers over the restaurant’s PA system.

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But the other highlight was always the food – especially the sandwiches. A&M has a signature roll that’s flatter and more rectangular than a standard hoagie roll. The shape of the roll means that the sandwiches are almost always overflowing.

I love their meatball parm sandwiches. The meatballs and sauce are both very good (though I wouldn’t call them the best), but mixed with the roll, it is one of my favorite sandwiches.

As loyal A&M customers, you can imagine how excited we were when the Wernersville location reopened in 2017. An old favorite, back where it belonged.

It’s hard to remember what the restaurant used to look like inside, but the new incarnation of A&M is a cute little spot with a surprising amount of seating. There’s a TV on the back wall, a few assorted pictures and wall hangings, and a Coke dispenser with a sign asking to limit refills to one per customer.

We stopped in to pick up a couple pizzas to take to my parents’ house in Robesonia. And while take-out is probably the majority of the business at A&M, it’s certainly a place where you can sit down and enjoy a meal.

One pie was an old stand-by: pepperoni. The other was a little different, the Caprese.

The pepperoni pie was standard fare for a pizza place. The cheese was nearly covered with mild pepperoni. And it was greasy. This is what childhood dreams are made of.

As an adult, however, I much prefer the Caprese pizza. It most closely resembled a margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella instead of shredded cheese and fresh basil leafs on top. The biggest difference is the use of tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes that would be found on margherita pies.

The basil is what really makes this pizza. Bites that had leaves of the herb were sweeter and more rich in flavor than those that didn’t. More than anything, it accented the tomato sauce, making it taste sweeter than those bites without it.

Our two medium pies cost about $25. We didn’t place the most cost-effective order, but with six of us sharing the two pies, we had exactly enough slices for everyone. And $25 split six ways isn’t bad at all.

So, is the old adage true? Can you truly never go back again?

In our case, it’s not true. There’s no question that we will be going back to A&M again.

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

A&M Pizza and Grill
10 W. Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

A & M Pizza and Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Lunch & Dinner Reviews

PA BBQ Fest 2017

One of my favorite events of the year, the PA BBQ Fest in Leesport offers a chance to sample some of the finest barbecue restaurants, vendors and food trucks from Berks County and beyond.

Now in its third year, the festival is an annual tradition for Julie and I. We have had this year’s edition marked on our calendars since the date was announced and while we weren’t the first people in line when the gates opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were there by 11 for an early lunch.

This year there was a $3 cover charge to enter the event. I don’t mind paying because I know that in addition to the barbecue there is live entertainment throughout the day, and those bands aren’t showing up for free.

Festival goers can order from their favorite barbecue stands ala carte, or for $10, they can pick up a Pit Master sample card. The sample card includes six tear-off tabs that can be redeemed at one of about a dozen stands for two-ounce samples.

Our first stop was to Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine. I’m sorry to say that they had the most disappointing sample of the six we tried.

Now, I love Backwoods Brothers (you can read about our visit to the restaurant here), but the sample cup they gave us had a half-bite of smoked sausage. And it was cold. At $10 per sample card, that means Julie and I each paid $1.67 for that.

After that, we were a little more selective.

Our second stop was Fire and Spice Competition BBQ and Catering, a Fleetwood based company that we have only ever experienced at the PA BBQ Fest.

They were serving up pulled pork – the go-to sample for most restaurants – with your choice of sauce. Julie went sweet, I went bold. Both were excellent, but I especially liked the bold sauce and its molasses base. It gives it a sweetness but with bigger flavor and thicker texture that I love.

Stop #3 was certainly unique among the festival’s offerings. Ziggy’s Roasters, a food truck based in Harleysville, Montgomery County, was serving samples of their “Krazy Korn.”

Normally served on the cob, Krazy Korn is corn smothered in mayo, parmesan and Cajun seasoning. For their samples, it was taken off the cob and topped with pulled pork in barbecue sauce.

It was like nothing that I have ever tried before. I won’t say that it was the best barbecue that I had all day, but the corn was so different. It was creamy with a little bit of heat. And with the sweet and savory mix of the pulled pork, it just worked. There was a lot of flavor packed in that little sample cup.

Both of our next two stops were offering barbecue that went beyond pulled pork.

First up was Jake’s Place, a Hamburg restaurant that was offering pit beef. I have never had the opportunity to visit Jake’s Place nor had I encountered them at other festivals before.

I was pleasantly surprised by the pit beef. It was cooked perfectly – tender, juicy and all of the other adjectives that you use to describe well-crafted beef. I will definitely have to pay a visit to the restaurant sometime.

The next stop was another restaurant that I had never visited before, the K’Town Pub Taphouse & BBQ.

When I was a student at Kutztown University, the Pub wasn’t much to speak of. At best, it was a dive. But the restaurant is all-new from the place I remember and now barbecue is the focus of the food menu.

Their offering at the PA BBQ Fest was a barbecue meatball. It’s not on the regular menu (according to their website), but it should be. It was a delightful mix of meats, including beef and pulled pork. Topped with a shot of barbecue sauce, it was stellar. I would eat this as a sandwich any day.

Our sixth and final stop for our Pit Master card was an old favorite, It’s Just Barbecue (aka the Pink Pig). We got a sample of their pulled pork, something that we have tasted many times before at similar events.

After we finished with our Pit Master cards, it was time to find one more thing for lunch. Julie loves the Pink Pig so much that she jumped into their regular line to order a beef brisket sandwich.

The brisket is thick, not thin sliced, making the sandwich feel more hearty. She layered on plenty of sweet barbecue sauce for a deliciously satisfying sandwich.

For my course, I had to go back to Ziggy’s for more of their corn. When I got there, I saw that I could order either corn on the cob or a cup o corn that could be topped with pulled pork. There was never any doubt that I would get the option with the barbecue.

I also got to choose my add-ons for the corn. Instead of the Krazy Korn standards, I went with one of my favorite flavor combinations: garlic and Parmesan (with butter, of course). Both the corn and the pork were great, though I think I should have stuck with what I had previously because it didn’t quite have the same affect when it was mixed together.

Still, I didn’t regret my decision and I will definitely seek out Ziggy’s in the future.

And there is no doubt that we will be back next July for the fourth annual PA BBQ Fest. We’re already looking forward to it.

The PA BBQ Fest is held annually at the Leesport Farmers Market in conjunction with the Mid-Summer Craft Fair in early July.

Food Festivals & Events

Monte Lauro European Gourmet

A trip to Fairgrounds Farmers Market can be overwhelming for the unprepared.

There are sixty stands inside the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and at least 20 of them offer dine-in meals or snacks.

Even for Julie and I, deciding where to grab our meal is a daunting task.

On a recent Friday evening, we arrived at the market not yet knowing where to go. We surveyed our options as we paced up and down all of the aisles, hoping that something would catch our eyes.

That something was Monte Lauro European Gourmet.

The flagship location for the deli is on Mount Laurel Road in Temple (Monte Lauro is Italian for Mount Laurel) and is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays while the Farmers Market is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

One of the advantages that Monte Lauro has over other dining options is the common dining area across the aisle. On a Friday evening, when things are a little slow, there are plenty of seats to be had (you just may need to take a napkin and clean it yourself).

The selection is both limited and expansive at the same time, with eight cold sandwiches and five hot sandwiches, many of which are also available as paninis. There are also select salad options both as entrees and sides. The only other side available is French fries.

We placed our order, took our number and grabbed a seat. It was a short wait – maybe 10 minutes – until our number was called and I retrieved the tray.

For food being served on a cafeteria tray, it looked beautiful, especially my chicken cutlet sandwich.

Sliced in half, you could see the bright colors of the roasted red peppers and spinach that the cutlet sat upon.

I enjoyed the sandwich – particularly the roasted reds – but I wanted something a little more. The cutlet was OK, but nothing special, and I would have loved another slice of sharp Provolone.

Also, the roll was very good. It was heavy enough to soak up the juice from the roasted reds, but not too heavy to overpower the rest of the ingredients.

Julie’s homemade meatball panini looked just as good with beautiful grill marks on top, a hint of red from the marinara sauce and meatballs sliced perfectly for the grill press.

It was a good sandwich. The meatballs were solid though we’ve tried better. And I would have liked a little more sauce.

With little other choices, we decided to split a side of French fries to go with our sandwiches.

The thin cut fries were in the traditional fast-food style: skins off, cooked to a shade of golden brown and served in a paper bag. They were good and certainly helped fill us up, which is all you can really ask for from an order of fries.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Monte Lauro. It was fast, it was tasty and it was right around the $20 mark for the two of us.

I’d like to go back again to try the homemade sausage or one of Monte Lauro’s take-and-make Italian specialties.

Of course, we have many other stands to try first.

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

Monte Lauro European Gourmet
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2930 N. Fifth Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Farmers Market Meals Reviews Sandwich Shops

La Cantina Italian Restaurant & Pub

Sometimes, the most interesting part of a restaurant discovery story is how you find them in the first place.

La Cantina, located along New Holland Road in the village of Knauers, is a place that I’ve passed countless times without ever giving it a second glance.

Now I’m a regular.

I started frequenting La Cantina on Thursday nights after a friend told me it was a venue for the Riverchasers Poker Tour – a free poker league that hosts events in bars and restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

The weekly poker events are held in the Pub, a smaller room located behind the main dining room. The Pub features a full bar and an assortment of four-seat tables and high-tops.

In the months since I have been going to La Cantina, I’ve tried many of the items on the menu. I am a big fan of La Cantina’s pizza. If you’re looking for a gourmet pie, this isn’t the place. If you’re looking for something with a little more greasy goodness, this is your place.

Of course you can get a full-size pie, but the pizzas are also available by the slice (always appreciated) and in personal 12″ versions.

Also among my favorites is the meatball sub. It seems like such a simple thing – every Italian restaurant in the county has one – but I just really enjoyed La Cantina’s version.

Four large meatballs topped with cheese and sauce, lightly toasted: not much different than anywhere else. But these meatballs were well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After weeks of pre-poker handheld meals, I asked Julie to join me for a sit-down meal.

The restaurant features two dining rooms. On the right is the smaller of the two. One wall is completely covered in family photos.

On the left side is the main dining room. There were only a few tables claimed on our visit and the two of us had room to spread out at a table for four.

La Cantina’s entrees are served with a starter salad. It was nothing remarkable, except for the fact that I found a tiny ice cube in my salad. I’m not sure what ingredient was on ice before arrival, but safe to say I wasn’t expecting it.

A more redeeming dish is the homemade tomato soup. It was a creamy tomato soup that had just the right amount of herbs (basil chief among them). I would have gladly traded my salad for more of this delicious soup.

For my main entree, I went with the boring dish of spaghetti and meatballs with La Cantina’s homemade marinara sauce.

One look at it and I knew I would never be able to finish the whole thing. Three large meatballs topped the oversized bowl of pasta. A smattering of greens were scattered across the top of the dish for garnish – a nice touch to give a little character to the dish.

I have no complaints about the dish, though I found that I enjoyed the meatballs much more in the sandwich than on the pasta. I can’t say for sure what the difference was, but I could tell that it wasn’t quite the same.

The marinara sauce was good. It was thick and chunky, still holding the texture of the crushed tomatoes. With sauces like this, it sticks to the pasta in weird ways so some bites had plenty of sauces, others not enough.

Julie’s eggplant Parmesan was definitely a highlight of the meal. The breaded eggplant was tender and light. There was lots of cheese and plenty of sauce to compliment it.

Again, like my dish, there was no way that Julie would be able to finish this in one sitting so both of us had leftovers to take home after the meal.

On this night, our total bill was $36. When I’m on my own, I generally spend a little more than $10 for my sandwich, fries and iced tea.

Poker brought me into La Cantina for the first time. Good food and an attentive wait staff keeps me coming back every week.

You’ll know where to find me on Thursday nights.

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

La Cantina Family Restaurant & Pub
4312 New Holland Rd
Mohnton, PA 19540

La Cantina Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Italian Reviews

Sebastiano’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

sebastiano-s-exterior

You could divide all of the restaurants in Berks County into two categories: those that strive to attract out-of-towners and those that cater to the locals.

My goal with Berks County Eats is to find the best of both. And one place that kept popping up as a local favorite is Sebastiano’s in Reiffton, a small Italian restaurant in a strip mall along Perkiomen Avenue.

I had heard good things about Sebastiano’s, but had also heard about the limited parking and seating. The parking lot was almost full when we arrived, but there was spaces.

There were no tables, however, but thankfully there was only one other group ahead of us. Because of the lack of space, there’s no hostess stand. Instead, a clipboard hung on the wall with a sign above that said “sign in.”

This was a first.

sebastiano-s-interior

It honestly didn’t take long to be seated, only a few minutes before we were sat at one of about 15 tables.

Sebastiano’s could not fit another table in the room as space was tight between myself and the gentleman sitting at the table behind me.

Our waitress took our orders and offered us either a cup of soup or the salad bar with our meals. We both went salad bar (New Year’s resolutions).

sebastiano-s-salad-bar

Salad bars feel like they belong more in a diner than an Italian restaurant, but I rolled with it. There was a nice selection, not overwhelming that included all the standards plus a few surprises like roasted red peppers.

While Julie and I worked through our salads, our waitress dropped off our garlic bread – six small slices of an Italian roll (the Conshohocken Italian Bakery boxes gave away the source). One of the slices was a little burnt, but the rest were good.

sebastiano-s-garlic-bread

Our wait to be seated hadn’t been long, but the wait for our food felt like an eternity for two hungry eaters. It was about 45 minutes from the time that we ordered until our entrees arrived.

In that time, we watched several tables empty and fill up and countless people come through to pick up their takeout orders. (Our waitress had stopped by once to top off our drinks).

When they did arrive, they were piping hot (a relief because for a brief moment we were afraid our dinners were just sitting on a table in the back waiting for someone to find them).

sebastiano-s-pasta-ala-sebastiano

For my entree, I chose rigatoni with sauce ala Sebastiano’s, a red sauce with ground beef, bacon, mushrooms and cream.

I liked it, but I think it would have been better with a little more bacon. Every bite with the bacon had a nice smoky flavor that I thought really added to the dish. Without it, it was good, but essentially a rosé sauce with a few add-ins.

sebastiano-s-meatballs

Not wanting to stop there, I had also ordered a side of Sebastiano’s “famous” meatballs. This was easily the best thing that either of us ate. The meatballs were well seasoned and cooked perfectly. I wouldn’t say they were the best that I have ever had, but I would definitely get them again.

sebastiano-s-egglpant-parmesan

For her meal, Julie opted for eggplant Parmesan with angel hair pasta. The eggplant was very good and very tender. It was sliced lengthwise so as to create long slices and instead of smaller, rounder ones.

The red sauce, the same as what used on the meatballs, was good – better with a little Parmesan cheese.

One thing that I have to say, Sebastiano’s does not skimp on the portions. Our meals left no room for dessert, and we each took half of our dinners home with us. And our total bill was only $25.

Sebastiano’s definitely has a loyal following among locals. There were many times when the waitress or the counter workers stopped talked to customers like family. Customers greeted each other as long-time friends, too.

They were friendly to us as well and served us a good meal. It’s not high-end Italian, but that’s not really the point. It’s a local pizza place and Italian restaurant with good food.

And that’s all it needs to be.

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

Sebastiano’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
3227 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Sebastiano's Italian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Pizzerias Reviews

Windsor Inn at Shillington

windsor-inn-sign

The best meals are always the unexpected ones.

I had zero idea of what I was going to get last week when Julie and I visited the Windsor Inn at Shillington.

The only thing that I knew was that the owner’s daughter, Rachel, reached out to me over a year ago to come in and review the restaurant.

Fifteen months later, we were finally there. Better late than never.

windsor-inn-interior-2

I’m not going to lie. The inside is a little dive-y. We walked through the bar to a tired looking dining room. On the yellow walls were photographs from when the building was a doctor’s office in the 1950s. Behind me was a fireplace, it’s mantle lined with vintage cameras.

windsor-inn-interior-1

It wasn’t a busy night; there was only one other couple in the dining room and a handful of customers sitting at the bar when we arrived. Our waitress was doing double-duty, handling orders in both rooms with help from an assistant.

The waitress also happened to be Rachel, and she was more than happy to talk to us about the food: how it’s locally sourced whenever possible, how they make a different pasta in-house every day, and how they had in-season peaches for their martinis and margaritas.

windsor-inn-peach-margarita

The last one caught Julie’s attention. She nursed her peach margarita throughout the meal, leaving nothing but a little peach pulp at the end.

The name “Windsor Inn” certainly doesn’t scream Italian the way others do, but the menu certainly gave it away. Cioppino (mixed seafood simmered with tomato and wine) and carciofi (veal sautéed with artichokes, dried tomatoes, dill and cream) were among the unpronounceable dishes for a man with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

I also found out I have been pronouncing gnocchi wrong all my life. Apparently it’s not NOH-chee, it’s NYOK-ee. Who knew?

windsor-inn-meatballs

We started our meal with something easy to pronounce: gigantic Windsor meatballs.

They were certainly big — gigantic is stretching it a little — but they were delicious. There is nothing like a homemade meatball from a real Italian kitchen. The hand-formed meatballs had plenty of nooks and crannies to grab the sauce that was just as good. What little sauce was left, I made sure to soak up with some bread so it didn’t go to waste.

windsor-inn-pepper-parmesan

Along with the meatballs came the optional Parmesan cheese and red pepper, the latter being made in-house. Our waitress warned me that because it was freshly made, it would be stronger than a typical red pepper. I ignored her warning and quickly found out she was right. Tread lightly with the pepper. It’s fantastic, but it is hot.

We were happy to have ordered the meatballs because the courses were slower to arrive because so many things were made from scratch and everything was beautifully prepared. Even the salads were crafted, not made.

Salads usually don’t make it into my reviews because more often than not, it’s nothing more than mixed greens with a cup of Kraft dressing. That’s not the case here. The restaurant was serving three homemade salad dressings so Julie and I each got to try a different one. I chose raspberry herb for mine; Julie chose garlic dill for hers.

windsor-inn-salad-garlic-dill-dressing

I really like creamy salad dressings. The garlic dill was certainly that, having the consistency of a good ranch dressing but with the very distinct flavors of garlic and dill mixing together beautifully.

windsor-inn-salad-raspberry-vinaigrette

My raspberry herb was also very enjoyable: a little puckery and a little sweet with fresh raspberries scattered throughout.

By this point, we were very excited to see our main courses, both of which were daily specials and highly recommended by our waitress and rightly so.

windsor-inn-stuffed-eggplant

The stuffed eggplant, my choice for the night, was a beauty of a dish. It was almost a shame that I had to ruin it by digging in. The eggplant was stuffed with ricotta and peppers and topped with prosciutto. On the side was fresh made pasta with the house tomato sauce.

I absolutely loved it. The eggplant was cooked so it was perfectly tender. The ricotta and the prosciutto played extremely well together. And the pasta was delicious. Even the portion was perfect. While it looked small on the plate, it was just the right amount to be filling.

windsor-inn-shrimp-gnocchi

Julie’s bowl wasn’t quite as nice to look at, but it sure tasted good. She went with the shrimp and gnocchi. Julie likened it more to a gumbo than your expected pasta dish, with everything tossed in a nice broth-like sauce. It was a heartier meal than my own, but Julie managed to finish it.

Neither of us were really hungry for dessert, but I had overheard the dessert options when they were read to the other table and upon hearing the words “flaming peaches” I knew we would be getting dessert no matter what.

windsor-inn-flaming-peaches

It was a few minutes before the dish arrive: pound cake topped with mascarpone cheese and fresh peaches in Bacardi rum (with whipped cream and a cherry on top, of course), aflame upon delivery to our table.

Like two kids with trick candles on their birthday cake, we struggled to blow out the flames and dig in. Once we did get to it, it was good to the last drop. The pound cake had absorbed the melting cheese (and a lot of rum). The peaches were warm, sweet and melt-in-your-mouth good. I have absolutely no regrets about ordering it.

Even our final bill didn’t leave us with any regrets. It was about $65 for the two of us, three courses with two drinks (one non-alcoholic). I’ll gladly pay that for quality food.

The Windsor Inn at Shillington provided one of the most memorable meals of the past year for me. Before we left, we got a frequent customer card.

For every $15 you spend, you get a stamp. Five stamps equals $10 off your next meal. We’re three-fifths of the way there.

I plan to fill out that card sooner than later.

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

Windsor Inn at Shillington
38 W. Lancaster Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Dessert Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

D&J Sandwich Shop

d&j-interior

A good sandwich is never hard to find in Berks County. There are dozens of great sandwich shops that offer quick meals for lunch and dinner.

You’ll find at least one in almost every little town. And like with pizzerias, everyone has their favorite sandwich shop.

For Julie and I, one of our favorites has always been D&J Sandwich Shop on the edge of Wyomissing and Shillington.

Julie and I have both been to D&J often. I needed an outsider’s perspective for the blog so I called up my brother, Matt.

d&j-exterior

The location is not ideal for a restaurant — or any business. The corner of Revere Boulevard (Route 724) and Old Fritztown Roaddone a tremendous  is heavily trafficked, but the restaurant lacks parking.

Customers are welcome to pull up in front of the building in unlined spaces. It can be challenging to get in and out, however, especially if another car is entering or leaving the lot. It’s also a challenge if you drive a Toyota Tundra like my brother.

But there was still a steady flow of customers while we were there so they either found space out front or did what we did and park along Old Fritztown Road.

d&j-barstools

D&J’s interior has been retrofitted, literally, with the classic look of a 1950s-era diner. The stainless steel counter stools are covered in teal and purple leather seats. The same colors are used on the chairs around the half dozen tables that sit on the black and white checkered floor.

Everything else seems to have a Coca-Cola logo on it, from the napkin dispensers to the ceiling fans, where every blade is in the shape of a glass Coke bottle.

After ordering at the counter, my brother and I took a seat and waited for dinner to arrive.

We ordered a lot of food: two sandwiches, an order of fries and some mini tacos that my brother ordered on a whim (because I was buying).

d&j-mini-tacos

The mini tacos were the size of a folded over tortilla chip, filled with beef and deep fried. And they were actually pretty good. I’m sure I could find something similar in the freezer section of the grocery store, but we downed them quick.

d&j-meatball-sub

I ordered a meatball sub for my main dish. I’ve had them before at D&J and always enjoyed them. The meatballs are big; the sauce is good; and they always add the right amount of peppers and onions. With all of the other food, I probably should have just had a small, but I managed to finish it.

Matt felt guilty about ordering his ham and cheese because he thought it was boring. It actually was anything but.

d&j-grilled-ham-and-cheese

D&J doesn’t make their grilled ham and cheese with slabs of lunch meat, but with chopped ham. It looked like a steak sandwich where someone grabbed the wrong meat. But the chopped ham worked, and little bro enjoyed it.

d&j-french-fries

One of my favorite things about D&J is the fries: crinkle cut, crispy (but not burnt), well-salted and addicting. Matt agreed.

Fries here are shareable, even for two hungry eaters like us. (If you’re going solo, ask for the more manageable half-order).

Our more than $30 total was a little more than I usually expect to pay at D&J, but we can blame that on getting large sandwiches and an extra side (plus our two drinks).

D&J has been one of our favorite sandwich shops for many years now. And after taking my brother, I think there was another convert.

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

D&J Sandwich Shop
200 Revere Blvd
Reading, PA 19609

D & J Sandwich Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Diners Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip – Zia Maria Eatery & Pub

zia-maria-exterior

Adamstown is so close to us that it feels like it should be in Berks County. It’s only 12 miles from the city of Reading and more than double that to Lancaster, yet it resides just over the county line.

It’s famous for its antique markets, drawing dealers and shoppers from all around to peruse the aisles of dozens of stores.

And when you’re in town, you have to eat. On our visit to town, that meant a stop at Zia Maria Eatery & Pub.

Zia Maria doesn’t feel like an Italian restaurant. The dining room, at least the one we were in, lacks a certain vibe that you expect.

zia-maria-interior

The walls were a boring cream with green trim. There were art prints on one wall, Reading Eagle covers from World War 2 on another, a television on another. Around the top was a small ledge that was filled with knickknacks.

We received the largest bread basket we have seen on our Berks County Eats adventures. Four garlic bread sticks, four garlic knots and two slices of Italian bread were delivered to us.

zia-maria-bread-basket

For a table of two, it was way too much. The garlic knots were great and the breadsticks were really good, too. One of each would have been enough to hold us over until our meal.

It was not until our bread basket arrived that I realized how bare the table was. There were no pre-set plates so we had to use the basket for our bread in between bites.

Both Julie and I ordered a cup of soup from the daily specials – I got chicken lemon with orzo while she got Tuscan crab.

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There was definitely more than a hint of lemon in the soup, with the lip-puckering citrus coming through in every sip of the thick soup. I enjoyed it, but it might have been too much for some people.

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Julie’s Tuscan crab was closer to a traditional vegetable soup, but with the addition of crab instead of beef. There was not a lot of crab, but enough to give it the distinct flavor you’d expect.

Our meals arrived a short time later, and they were as generously portioned as the bread basket.

Zia Maria has a build-your-own pasta option with your choice of six pastas and multiple sauces and meats. I went simple with fettuccine, meatballs and red sauce.

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The sauce was light with a good amount of diced tomatoes — my favorite part — and a sprinkling of basil. I really enjoyed it, especially the little bursts of flavor that came with every piece of tomato.

My meatballs, listed as homemade, were okay, but weren’t the best that I have had. I regretted not opting for the sausage.

Julie went with one of the baked pasta options: penne Siciliana. The penne pasta was sautéed with ricotta, ground beef and tomato sauce, then topped with mozzarella and baked.

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The soft ricotta was reminiscent of lasagna, but the penne pasta and mozzarella on top made it eat more like baked ziti. It was an enjoyable cross between the two, one that Julie got to enjoy a second time for lunch the next day.

Our pastas were very reasonably priced, though our cups of soup drove up our final bill to $35. With such large portions of pasta (and overly generous bread basket), we didn’t really need the soup anyway.

Zia Maria is not a place for a fancy Italian dinner, but it is good. With so many great Italian restaurants around us, we wouldn’t go out of our way to visit Zia Maria.

But if we find ourselves in Adamstown around dinnertime, Zia Maria isn’t a bad option.

Zia Maria Italian Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Italian Reviews

6th Street Deli

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Most times, I only get to visit a restaurant once before writing a review. But in the past two months, I have had two meetings in downtown Reading — one over breakfast and one over lunch — and both were at the previously unknown-to-me 6th Street Deli.

You won’t find the 6th Street Deli on Yelp. Or TripAdvisor. Or Zomato. They have a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2012 and a website that isn’t much newer.

My first visit came on a Wednesday morning in early December. It was late in the breakfast service, about 9 a.m. Everyone was already at work leaving the restaurant mostly empty.

The hot bar was only about half-full and probably wouldn’t be restocked until lunch. I filled a Styrofoam clamshell with a little bit of everything. Meals are priced out by weight at the counter so I kept that in the back of my mind while dipping out my meal.

After paying a little more than $5 at the register (I also had a Clover Farms chocolate milk), I retreated to the back of the restaurant where most of the seating is located.

Six or seven round tables are set in the dining area (a handful of two-person tables are in the front as well). A TV on the wall was playing an old direct-to-video holiday special that I didn’t recognize.

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My meal was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar breakfast foods. Nothing is labeled so I am still not exactly sure about everything that was on my plate.

What I did recognize were the breakfast potatoes, yucca and the sausage patty. The potatoes were good, diced and cooked like a typical American diner would do them.

The yucca was very different. It was cooked in the Dominican style with onions and vinegar that gives it a slightly sour taste. But it’s an enjoyable sour in the same way as sauerkraut. I also took a scoop of mashed yucca, which had pickled onions, but a little less pungent flavor.

Also on the plate was queso frito, a fried cheese dish that is another Dominican breakfast staple. It looks kind of like the insides of a mozzarella stick, but was surprisingly tasty. I wish I had gotten there when it was fresh out of the pan because it would probably would have been my favorite thing on the plate.

A month later and I returned to the 6th Street Deli for another meeting, this time over lunch. It was a rare opportunity for me to experience two meals at a restaurant before writing a review.

I’m glad I waited because lunch was delicious.

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It was about 1 p.m. when I arrived, and the lunch rush was still in full swing. The hot bar was fully stocked, as was the salad bar on the opposite wall which I hadn’t even noticed on my first visit.

Skipping the salad, I filled up on a variety of hot items including rice and beans, meatballs in marinara sauce, candied sweet potatoes, fried plantains, baked beans and more yucca.

The rice and beans were excellent, as was the soupy, baked-bean like dish that I found next to it. The candied sweet potatoes were very good as well (especially with the little bit of marshmallow I found with it). The yucca was just as good as I remembered. And the plantains were a sweet little ending to the meal.

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What I, and the other five people I was with, hadn’t counted on was being delivered a complimentary plate of pineapple bread pudding.

Cut up in bite size pieces for us to try, we all happily dug in. It was incredible. The pineapple filling oozed out from between the layers of bread. The whole thing just melted away in your mouth.

Like breakfast, my lunch was inexpensive, coming in at just over $7 (obligatory chocolate milk included).

The restaurant is one of many in the city that caters to those who work downtown, offering weekday-only breakfast and lunch service (though I did see them open in the evening prior to a concert at the Performing Arts Center). Because it’s a self-serve buffet, the wait is never very long so go during the busiest hours to ensure you’re getting the freshest food and the best experience.

There’s not much parking on 6th Street, but that’s OK. You don’t go into the city to visit the Deli; you go to the Deli because you’re in the city.

And while I probably won’t make a special trip downtown just to eat there, I’ll certainly eat there again when I find myself downtown.

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

6th Street Deli
34 N. 6th St
Reading, PA 19601

Breakfast & Brunch Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Shady Maple Smorgasbord

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Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 23 miles southwest of Reading to East Earl, PA.

I think everyone has a birthday tradition.

For myself, and many people who live within driving distance of Lancaster County, that tradition includes a birthday feast at one of the best buffets in the entire country.

Every year on May 30, my wife and I make the short drive south to East Earl to join the throngs of thousands that pour into Shady Maple Smorgasbord daily.

East Earl, a community of just over 1,000 people, doubles in size during the evening dinner rush. That’s the way it has been since Shady Maple expanded its smorgasbord more than a decade ago to create the glorious food paradise it is today.

The only exceptions are on holidays and every Sunday when the restaurant is closed, perhaps so we can all atone for committing the deadly sin of gluttony during our visit.

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It’s easy to get lost among the food, which is why signs point the way to both the east and west buffet. Combined, there are 10 islands, four carving stations and three drink stations. A pair of dessert stands bookend the room. Walking from one end to the other is nearly impossible as you bob and weave your way around a hundred other people, all seemingly waiting in line for the same thing you are.

But with limited stomach to work with, scoping out the entire buffet is a must. Otherwise you may miss the carved-to-order prime rib or the ICEE machine.

As much as I appreciate a good salad, the two stations full of greens are off-limits during my visits. I can get a free salad with a meal anywhere.

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Instead, my first plate included a cup of tomato basil soup, broccoli, a pierogi and a sweet and sour meatball. The soup was a beautiful shade of light orange, a result of the added cream that gave it its rich flavor. A heaping helping of peppers and onions came along with the pierogi, but it could easily stand on its own. And the meatball was more like a miniature meatloaf, packed with spices in a ketchup-based barbecue sauce. I also added on an onion biscuit, just for good measure.

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Plate number two was all about the meat as I took a slab of beef brisket and a heaping helping of roast beef. A fistful of carrots and a drop of bread filling helped balance out the plate. The brisket was a featured meat at one of the carving stations. Unfortunately the heat lamps at carving stations rarely keep meats hot, and this was no exception. It was lukewarm, and the fact that it was oven-roasted made it taste more like an ordinary slice of beef. The actual roast beef, however, was amazing. It was tender and moist, everything the brisket was not.

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My third plate was my “healthy” vegetable plate. It featured baked lima beans, which were done in a very nice, thick barbecue sauce (I wish I that for the brisket); mashed potatoes; mashed sweet potatoes, which were topped with raisins and nuts; and some of the best (and wettest) dried corn I have ever tried. All the juice you see on the plate was from the dried corn, and it was excellent.

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Dessert was a (small) slice of shoofly pie and a dish of raspberry and vanilla soft serve. The wet-bottom pie was alright, but it had obviously been chilled which hurt the filling a little bit.

After dinner, Shady Maple encourages their guests to work off their dinners and shop off some dollars in the expansive gift shop, located beneath the smorgasbord. The store is as large as the buffet, filled to the brim with everything from wind chimes and bird houses to Elvis collectibles and Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks.

If you’re looking for a little taste of Shady Maple to take home, the farmer’s market offers a large selection of fresh produce and many of the smorgasbord’s famous desserts.

Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up, Shady Maple is worth the price of admission. Dinner buffets vary depending on the featured entrees, but average around $20.00 per person. If you do happen to be celebrating, all you need is your ID and a paying guest and you’ve got your very own birthday feast on the house.

Shady Maple Farm Market & Smorgasbord on Urbanspoon

Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews