Allgyer’s BBQ Corner

Allgyer's BBQ Corner features two warming tables full of meats and sides.

A few years ago, I dedicated a month to exploring the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and trying some of the many restaurants and food stands that the crowded market offers.  But even with a few more visits thrown in, we’ve only covered about half the market.

When I started a new job in Muhlenberg Township, I knew that I would be spending many a Thursday and Friday in the market, revisiting meals from the past and checking off more places on my list.

One of the stands that I was anxious to try was Allgyer’s BBQ Corner.

Chipped meats, roasted potatoes, and baked beans are among the items available at Allgyer's.

Formerly known as the Country BBQ Corner, Allgyer’s sits next to Matt’s Coney Island near the center of the market. It’s a relatively large stand with two sets of warming tables holding an assortment of meats and sides.

I decided to make a pair of visits to the stand to get a broader taste of their offerings. On my first trip, I went with one of their dinner entrees – beef cubes.

Allgyer's served its beef cubes in a Styrofoam cup.

The cubes were served in a Styrofoam cup (either the server assumed I was taking it to go or she was afraid I wouldn’t find a seat and would need to take it to go).

Meals at Allgyer's are served with a dinner roll. They also offer fresh-brewed sweet tea.

It was packed with the chunks of roast beef of varying sizes. They weren’t bad, but I was hoping for a more tender meat. I had to use a knife to cut the larger pieces, not an easy task when they are in a cup. But the flavor was good, especially toward the bottom where the peppery spice had collected in the pool of juice. I would consider getting it again, but definitely not at lunch time, especially because it came served with two sides, a roll and a drink.

For my sides, I ordered carrots and potatoes.

The barbecue carrots were were rolled in aluminum foil to keep them hot.

The barbecue carrots were very similar to those that I’ve enjoyed at Fisher’s Barbecue at the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing. They are my go-to at that stand, and I really enjoyed them here.

Instead of the standard fries or wedges, Allgyer's serves potato skins .

Allgyer’s potatoes were actually a little better than Fisher’s. Instead of cutting them into wedges or fries, they were cut more like potato skins so they had some size and depth to them. Fried up, they were still soft. They were probably my favorite part of this visit.

Two weeks later, I was back again. This time I was going to keep the meal a little lighter with a sandwich and one side.

Allgyer's pulled pork sandwich was topped with their homemade BBQ sauce.

The stand was advertising their new pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce. I couldn’t resist.

It was a mixed bag for me. I liked the sauce – it was definitely on the sweeter side and very enjoyable. But the meat was otherwise dry. Instead of serving it with a cup of sauce on the side, my server put it on for me, and it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the dryness of the pork. If they had been tossed together or I had a little bit more sauce for dipping, I think it would have been a much better sandwich.

The sweet potatoes aren't much to look at, falling apart in the aluminum foil, but they were delicious.

But the sweet potatoes I had on the side made up for it. While they aren’t much to look at – so soft that they fell apart when wrapped in the foil – they were delicious. I love the flavor of sweet potatoes and Allgyer’s didn’t have to add much as far as seasoning. If I went back, it would be hard to decided between the regular and sweet potatoes for my side dish.

The best part of Allgyer’s, like many of the market stands, is the price. There’s so little overhead compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant that stands can charge a much lower price. My two meals combined were less than $20.

Timing is everything with the line. Sometimes you have to take a number, othertimes you could be the only one at the counter and be served right away. I was lucky on both of my visits that I had no wait, leaving me plenty of time to find a seat and enjoy my lunch without having to rush to get back to the office.

Allgyer’s is another solid market stand, another piece of the diverse offerings at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and one that I would enjoy again.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: A Bargain

Allgyer’s BBQ Corner
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Barbecue Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

5 Favorite Entrees of 2017

Every December, we take a look back at our favorite dishes of the past year. We’re finishing our year-in-review with the main course. Here are our five favorite entrees we tried in 2017.

1 Potato Two – Eggplant Parmesan Spudwich

For the uninitiated, a spudwich is a sandwich where the bread or roll has been replaced by a deep-fried potato sliced lengthwise. The novelty of it was intriguing. But the taste, that was amazing. It was messy, it was greasy, but it was delicious. The fried eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese may not have been as much of a standout on its own, but in a spudwich, it was memorable. Read Full Review

Billy Burger & Bakery – The Ranch Burger

Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

The last time a burger made our end-of-the-year favorites list was in 2014 (Frank and Diannah’s). This year, Billy Burger made the cut with its Ranch Burger. The burger starts with lettuce and tomato, but then it gets crazy with the addition of a grilled poblano pepper and buttermilk peppercorn ranch dressing. The cool ranch mixed with the mild pepper and a well-cooked burger made it one of my favorite handhelds of the year. Read Full Review

Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant – Ragu alla Bolognese

Cosa's ragu bolongese has layers of flavor from the sauce, homemade pasta and herbs

Cosa is a newcomer to Berks County – opening in the former Basil Restaurant and Pizzeria location outside Sinking Spring. The ragu alla Bolognese was a stand-out dish. Featuring house-made pappardelle pasta tossed in a veal and sofrito ragu, I became an instant fan of Cosa. Read Full Review

Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery – Drunken Pasta

The second pasta dish on the list is nothing like the first. The drunken pasta at Folino Estate is infused with red wine to give it a distinct purple hue, then it was cooked in wine (for good measure) and served with chicken and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese. It was unlike anything that I have ever tried, and it’s a must-try (and I’m not even a wine lover). Read Full Review

Willoughby’s on Park – Dry-Aged Ribeye

The 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye at Willoughby's on Park

This year, I saved the best for last. It’s almost not fair to compare a steak from Willoughby’s on Park to anything else in Berks County because the high-end steakhouse feel of Willoughby’s is unlike any other restaurant experience in the county. And my steak, combined with the mission fig Cabernet reduction (for a non-wine drinker, I certainly ordered a lot of wine-infused meals) was about as close to perfection as I could have wanted. Read Full Review

 

Best of Berks County Eats Entrees

1 Potato Two – CLOSED

1 Potato Two at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market

Editor’s Note: 1 Potato Two is now closed. August 10 was the stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market. The owners of the stand still operate a food truck based in New Jersey.

Berks County has never really been known for creativity – at least when it comes to food.

The Pennsylvania Dutch are not exactly the most adventurous eaters in the world either.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to introduce something new, something different, something unique.

Unique is the best word to describe the spudwiches at 1 Potato Two at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

The concept for 1 Potato Two began as a food truck in New Jersey. The best in the state, according to the USA Today article that hangs from one wall at the stand.

1 Potato Two Features a Rotating Menu of Spudwiches

(Almost) everything at 1 Potato Two is built around – you guessed it – potatoes. There are tater tots with multiple topping choices. There are potato balls, deep-fried bites filled with potato, meat and cheese. And then there are the spudwiches.

So what exactly is a spudwich?

It’s a sandwich, but with no bread. Instead, the filling is placed between two carved out potato halves.

It’s genius.

Over the weekend, I visited the stand with my friend Dennis, already a fan of the spudwich. We ordered our two spudwiches and waited for a few minutes while the potatoes and some of the ingredients took a quick bath in the deep fryer.

The selection of spudwiches rotate weekly, and there is quite the variety. I ordered the eggplant parmigiana while Dennis ordered the buffalo chicken.

Our spudwiches were delivered to our seats. “You’re nice guys so I’m going to leave you these,” said the cook as he laid down some extra napkins. They came in very handy.

My spudwich was fantastic. The fried eggplant was light and tender. The mozzarella and tomato sauce were nicely portioned. But the best part about it is the potato.

I could have eaten the potato by itself. Give me three or four of them, and it would be the best potato skin appetizer I have ever tried. But as part of the spudwich, it is actually very complementary to the other ingredients.

Now, I have to point out that it is greasy – the potato and eggplant having both come out fresh out of the fryer – so if that does not appeal to you, you probably won’t enjoy the spudwich. If you don’t mind a little fried food every now and then, this is right up your alley.

Dennis’ spudwich, I dare say, may have been better than mine. It was certainly more robust than my own, with chicken strips spilling out over the sides.

The chicken was delicious. I’m not a big fan of buffalo sauce, but Dennis allowed me a small piece and I was impressed.

What really worked – and what Dennis found to be the best part – was the combination of the buffalo chicken with the bacon. And the potato made for the perfect addition.

It was so good that he completely forgot about the cup of blue cheese on the side. Quite frankly, it didn’t need it.

Together, our two spudwiches were just short of $20 ($8.99 each). For me, the spudwich was hearty enough on its own that I didn’t need anything else for my lunch.

One other note: the challenge of dining at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market is seating. We were lucky to grab two of the four stools at 1 Potato Two’s counter. It was a win for us because the Saturday lunch rush makes it hard to find a seat in the Market’s main dining area.

1 Potato Two certainly brings a new perspective and a whole new idea to Berks County.

And it’s an idea that I can really get behind.

1 Potato Two
Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. Fifth Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

1 Potato Two Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Farmers Market Meals Reviews

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn

crab-barn-exterior-1

In my time doing Berks County Eats, there has been no more highly anticipated restaurant than Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn.

In February 2013, the Reading Eagle reported that the new restaurant would open that summer.

It was 45 months later, November 2016, when the doors finally opened to the public.

Nothing builds anticipation like a four-year wait.

We waited just a couple months after the official opening before making our first trip to the Hampden Boulevard landmark, just north of the Reading city limits.

Look for the barn with the giant crab hanging off the front. You can’t miss it.

Having never been to the original, I had no frame of reference for what to expect.

crab-barn-bar-1

Walking in, I was impressed. The main entrance opens to the lower-level bar and waiting area. A boat propeller and other nautical memorabilia hung on the wooden walls (the Goldfish crackers for bar snacks were a nice touch).

As we were led upstairs to the dining area, I was even more impressed.

It’s very hard to combine rustic barn and nautical theming, but the Crab Barn does it. A painted on American flag takes up much of the roof. The far wall is painted to resemble a vintage barn-side advertisement, but instead of Mail Pouch tobacco, it beckons you to chew “Male Crabs.”

crab-barn-interior-1

There’s also a swordfish, the back half of a boat, oars and two mounted elk heads (one of these things doesn’t belong).

Clearly a lot of work went into the building. One thing that could still use a little work is their system of seating customers. The hostess is downstairs. The dining room is upstairs. Staff came and went while we waited. Then, after we were led upstairs, we waited again while they fixed a table for us.

Service was a lot better after we were seated.

At this point, I need to mention that I don’t like crabs (or anything, generally, that swims). I have tried to like them. Not happening.

crab-barn-dungeoness-crab

Julie, on the other hand, loves crabs. On her business trips to Seattle and Portland, she especially grew to love Dungeness crabs.

Though she was a little worried about having them 3000 miles away, she couldn’t help herself.

And she was very pleased. The meat came out in nice chunks, and there was plenty of it to enjoy as she cracked open every leg and claw.

To go with the crabs and the other entrees, the Crab Barn offers nine side choices, many of them unique to the restaurant, like the tomato cucumber salad.

It was a light side, a good change of pace, served in a nice lemon basil dressing. Julie’s second side, the basil redskin mashed potatoes were also quite flavorful.

crab-barn-steak-tips

So, what does a land lover do at the Crab Barn? Well, they are prepared for customers like me with several turf options to go with the surf.

My choice was the marinated beef tips.

The small sirloin pieces were marinated in Sriracha bourbon marinade. There was only a hint of heat from the Sriracha, but it picked up rich flavors from the bourbon. I really enjoyed it, though the half pound portion felt small.

For my sides, I went with fried plantains and Island cilantro rice. I loved the plantains (if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know there was never any doubt). The rice was good, too, but I would have liked a little more cilantro.

Several of the items on the menu, including the Dungeness crab, are listed as market price on the menu. That was about $25 on our visit. With my beef tips and iced tea, our total for the two of us was about $45.

It was a four-year wait to get crabby at Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn. Judging from the full dining room, we weren’t the only ones who were anxious to try it.

Now that we’ve been there, we’re excited to go back.

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

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn
2613 Hampden Blvd
Reading, PA 19604

Gettin' Crabby at the Crab Barn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Stony Run Inn

stony-run-inn

For an area that has such a long, proud German heritage, there aren’t many places to enjoy traditional German food.

Sure, you can find Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie and shoofly pie, but I’m talking about German food: schnitzel, wurst, sauerkraut, etc. With the exception of private clubs like the Reading Liederkranz and the Evergreen Club, there just aren’t places to find it around the city.

It’s here in Berks County, you just have to be willing to drive for it. And that’s just what we decided to do.

We drove north, north of Kutztown along Route 737. We drove past the I-78 construction and the abandoned Krumsville Diner. We drove past the Gunmakers’ Fair at Dixon’s Muzzleloading Shop, continuing north until we saw the German Bundesdienstflagge hanging from the front porch of the Stony Run Inn.

stony-run-inn-interior

The Stony Run Inn began as the Wessnersville Hotel in 1856, according to the history on the restaurant’s website. But it is only in past decade that it has been known for Old World specialties. After some down years, new owners stepped up in September to rejuvenate the restaurant.

Since then, the response has been overwhelmingly positive across all review sites. I couldn’t wait to see what the fuss is all about.

The dining room isn’t very large so we called ahead to make reservations, just in case. We had to wait in the bar area, only briefly, while they finished clearing and resetting our table. There was one other couple waiting with us — without reservations — who had to wait just a few minutes longer.

Once seated, we had another short wait until the waiter took our order, but he was quick and attentive thereafter, dropping off our bread and dipping oil just a few moments later.

stony-run-inn-bread-oil

I don’t normally comment on the dipping oil, but this was worth mentioning. The herbs and spices were unique. Salt, oregano, garlic and paprika combined for a salty dip with the mildest afterburn that we both really enjoyed.

The menu, like the dining area, is small. It’s a single sheet of paper, two-sided, with appetizers, salads and sides on the front, burgers, sandwiches and entrees on the back.

While some of the burgers did sound good (especially the Hunters: beef tenderloin tips in Burgundy sauce with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and bacon), I had my heart set on an Old World German-Austrian dish.

stony-run-inn-austrian-bauernschmaus

The Austrian Bauernschmaus was a mini smorgasbord. Four kinds of meats — bratwurst, smoked sausage, roast pork and smoked pork — served with mashed potatoes and a healthy portion of sauerkraut.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything on the plate, but my favorite was the smoked pork. The meat was tenderized and flattened like unbreaded schnitzel. Though it took only six bites to down, each one was heavenly.

The smoked sausage was cut like a bloomin’ onion, with four petals all connected at the base. It had a nice, mild heat, the spiciest of any of the four meats on the plate. The bratwurst was very good, and even the roast pork, which was basically ham, was enjoyable, especially with the light au jus-like sauce.

I really liked the sauerkraut. It was a little more sour than I usually prefer, but was great mixed in with the mashed potatoes.

All in all, I couldn’t complain about anything on my plate.

stony-run-inn-chicken-paprikash

Julie, meanwhile, was in love with her dish.

Her chicken paprikash included a chicken breast in a paprika roux, served with red cabbage and spätzle. The sauce was exceptional, with a truly unique flavor from anything else we have found.

The spätzle was a little al dente and very buttery. And the red cabbage was done just right, with maybe just a hint of vinegar.

After she finished, she called it one of the best meals that she has had in a long time.

stony-run-inn-apple-strudel

Of course, we couldn’t skip dessert once the waiter told us there was apple strudel.

It was definitely worth it. The filling was spot-on with the right amount of brown sugar to sweeten the apples further. Strudel dough is always thin, but this was flaky like filo, making it feel much lighter.

We were more than full by the time we finished the last bite. But we both agreed that it was $53 well-spent for one of the better meals in recent memory.

Stony Run is about a 40-minute drive for us from Wyomissing. That’s not exactly right around the corner.

But if you have a craving for good German food, it’s definitely worth the drive.

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

Stony Run Inn
2409 PA-737
Kempton, PA 19529

Stony Run Inn & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Yellow House Hotel

yellow-house-hotel

In August 2014, we made our first trip to Emily’s. We’ve been there twice more since then and never had a bad meal.

So when we had a chance to visit Emily’s sister restaurant, the Yellow House Hotel, we had high expectations.

Yellow House is a small village at the crossroads of Routes 562 (Boyertown Pike) and 662 just north of Douglassville. The hotel came first, built in 1801, and the community took its name from the distinctive yellow building.

yellow-house-hotel-menu-cover

The Yellow House Hotel doesn’t look very yellow anymore. In the fading afternoon sun, it looked cream or off-white. A painting inside the door showed the building with a more vibrant coat of paint.

Inside our dining room (there were at least three distinct rooms), the 215-year-old hotel has a distinct 18th century feel. Two large crystal chandeliers hung above the tables. Gold-framed mirrors hung on the white walls. And every table had a candle burning beneath a small beaded shade.

While the sun was still shining, the room was brightened by the light coming through the front windows. By the time dinner arrived, the sun had begun to fade, and the room held a more dim glow.

As we looked over the menu, both Julie and I were eyeing up the barbecued spare ribs. Lucky for us, Yellow House Hotel offers a rib sampler for an appetizer.

yellow-house-hotel-rib-sampler

The rack had six perfectly sized, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs glazed in a tangy barbecue sauce. Like the entree, the ribs were served with a side of sweet potato fries. I’m not sure how much more food comes with an entree, but if this were dinner, I would have left satisfied.

yellow-house-hotel-salad

After our ribs, we still had a starter salad to bridge the gap until our dinner arrived. It was a basic salad, though it was lacking onions, my favorite part of any starter salad.

yellow-house-hotel-rolls-and-muffins

While we were enjoying our starters, our waiter dropped off a basket with two rolls and two fresh muffins. The rolls were exceptionally soft, and the spiced miniature muffins were excellent.

Choosing an entree wasn’t easy. Yellow House had a robust menu with a lot of delicious-sounding options. In the end, I couldn’t resist the sound of the prime pork tenderloin.

yellow-house-hotel-pork-tenderloin

The pork was coated in jerk seasoning and served with mango chutney over a bed of rice pilaf.

The jerk seasoning was what sold me on the pork, and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was tender with a flavorful crust of seasoned salt and spices.

I loved the pork, but the pilaf was a little boring until mixed with the mango chutney. Mango makes everything better, and the soft bites made for sweet flavor bursts.

A side of snap peas, the vegetable of the day, was also on the plate. There wasn’t much to them, but I really didn’t need much after the ribs and the pork.

The restaurant had two entree specials for the weekend, including the brie, asparagus and fig stuffed chicken.

yellow-house-hotel-stuffed-chicken

Served atop a bed of whipped potatoes (Julie’s choice of side), the plate was covered in spring onion cream sauce. The chicken was good, but it was the sauce that made this dish so enjoyable. It blended so well with everything on the plate, especially the sweet filling.

We would have loved to have tried to dessert (we heard our waiter run off the list to the table next to us, and everything sounded amazing), but we both were stuffed after finishing our plates.

Our total for the evening was $55, right in line with what we spent for our meal at Emily’s two years ago.

We had certain expectations going in to our meal at Yellow House Hotel, and we were not disappointed. The hotel has a different vibe than its sister restaurant — it felt a little older without the added ambiance of additional creekside outdoor seating.

But the food was everything that we had hoped it would be. And that’s what really matters.

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

Yellow House Hotel
6743 Boyertown Pk
Douglassville, PA 19518

Yellow House Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finer Dining Reviews

Dans at Green Hills

dans-at-green-hills-menu-cover

For all the wonderful restaurants that Berks County offers, there are very few that can be called “fine dining.”

Sure, there are places that offer higher cuisine than others, but fine dining is more than steak entrees or table linens.

It’s a true experience that encompasses the menu, the atmosphere and the service. One restaurant that has earned a reputation for its fine dining is Dans at Green Hills.

Dans (there is no apostrophe) began in 1989 as one of the city’s only fine dining establishments, serving patrons from the small cellarette at the east end of Penn Street.

A new ownership group took over in 2006, and in 2012, they purchased the Green Hills Inn along Route 10 south of the city, creating the new Dans at Green Hills inside the 200-year-old building.

dans-at-green-hills-dining-room

Like many restaurants in historic buildings, the dining area is spread across multiple rooms. The walls in ours had a hint of green in the soft light. Flames crackled in the stone fireplace, giving off some much-needed warmth on a cold January evening.

The tables were draped in white linen with black napkins and preset with wine glasses at every setting (the wine and mixed drink list is extensive, and many diners arrived with drinks in hand, having stopped at the bar on their way in).

dans-at-green-hills-crostini

Our meal started with a little taste, compliments of the chef. Julie and I were each brought a tiny crostini topped with sharp cheddar, basil pesto and walnut.

It seemed so simple, but the two bites that mine lasted were incredible. The cheddar was spread thin like butter and was perfectly sharp. The pesto had that nice sweet basil flavor, and the walnut was just the right flavor and texture to top it off. It was a great little tease for what was to come.

dans-at-green-hills-potato-leek-soup

We both started our meals with a bowl of soup. I opted for the daily special, a potato and leek soup garnished with bacon, pesto and croutons. This is how potato soup should always be. It was thick and creamy with an undertone of sweet and salty.

dans-at-green-hills-sweet-potato-soup

Julie, meanwhile, was enjoying the sweet potato soup. With a dollop of whipped cream in the middle and add-ins like apples, pretzel dust and sunflower seeds, it was both familiar and unexpected, but wholly delicious. Sweeter than most soups, but not too sweet that you would confuse it with dessert.

Our options for entrees were equally exciting: steaks, filets, duck breasts, scallops — all of the dishes typically associated with fine dining.

I had a hard time deciding, but the description of the New York strip steak had the magic words, “truffle butter.”

dans-at-green-hills-ny-strip-steak

For me, there is nothing better than a perfectly prepared steak with a smattering of rich truffle butter. Mixed with the creamy, sweet and earthy concoction, the steak just melted away. Every bite was savory and smooth.

The steak was served atop a bed of rutabaga Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe with a balsamic glaze that seemed like enough food for a meal of its own. The potato and rutabaga mixture was superb. Yukon Gold potatoes are naturally sweeter and the rutabagas add a rich flavor of their own. This was counter-balanced perfectly by the more bitter broccoli rabe.

A good rack of lamb was too tempting for Julie to pass up. The Dijon-encrusted ribs were served on a bed of autumn ratatouille with rosemary reduction.

dans-at-green-hills-rack-of-lamb

Dijon is not one of my favorite flavors, but it works really well with the fatty lamb. The rosemary reduction also helped cut through the distinct mustard flavor, creating a meal that hit on several flavor notes.

The autumn ratatouille was also delightful, consisting of several types of squash with potatoes and tomatoes. It just tasted fresh, with the natural flavors all shining above the sauce.

At this point, neither of us had room for dessert, but we decided to force it anyway. And instead of sharing (which would have been the sensible thing), we each got our own treat to end the meal.

dans-at-green-hills-bread-pudding

Julie really wanted to try the chocolate bread pudding. Bread pudding can be rich on its own, but this was even richer with chunks of Godiva dark chocolate and a dollop of caramel ice cream on top. It was a dessert both heavenly and sinful.

dans-at-green-hills-warm-apple-crisp

I had my heart set on the warm apple crisp topped with caramel ice cream. The base was mixed with granola for more crunch (and granola makes it healthy, right?). I found the sauce with the apples was almost too sweet, and I had to use the ice cream to help cut through it. I still managed to clear my plate, however.

Three courses as Dans is a great way to celebrate a special occasion. We were celebrating Julie’s birthday so we had no problem splurging. But with a price tag that came to nearly $150 (that includes the tip for our attentive server who was never far away), we probably won’t be going back until we have another milestone to celebrate.

Dans at Green Hills lived up to its title as a fine dining restaurant. We enjoyed one of the best meals we have had in more than 100 stops around Berks County.

The food, the service, the ambiance. It was everything a fine dining restaurant is supposed to be.

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

Dans at Green Hills
2444 Morgantown Rd
Reading, PA 19607

Dans at Green Hills Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

6th Street Deli

sixth-street-deli

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.

sixth-street-deli-breakfast-2

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.

sixth-street-deli-lunch

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.

sixth-street-deli-pineapple-bread-pudding

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

The Knight’s Pub at Stokesay Castle

the-knight-s-pub-knight

A few months ago I had an opportunity to attend a mixer at Stokesay Castle. It was my first visit to the landmark restaurant on the eastern slope of Mount Penn.

Everyone who attended the mixer had a chance to tour the historic building, but also a chance to sample the food. The bite-sized hors d’ouvres were so good that I could not wait to return.

Last week I decided to take Julie across town for a mini-date night. It was a quiet Thursday evening, at least in the Knight’s Pub where less than half of the tables were filled when we arrived.

The Knight’s Pub is Stokesay’s everyday restaurant. Located on the back side of the building, the Pub is attached to the brick patio. In warmer months, the folding glass doors open up to create one large, outdoor dining area.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this December, the windows remained closed during our visit, though a few people did pull up a chair by the fire pit outside after they finished their meals.

I could not wait for dinner to arrive so I talked Julie into sharing an appetizer with me. The words “house made” in the menu description are what sold me on the bruschetta. And it was every bit as good as I had hoped.

the-knight-s-pub-tomato-bruschetta

Thick chunks of creamy mozzarella rested on top of a crunchy crustini bread with diced tomatoes and pesto. The balsamic drizzle is what really makes the bruschetta. It mixes well with the tomatoes to give it that rich sweet and sour flavor.

My main course was a little more manly. When I looked at the menu on the Pub’s website, I saw a picture of the steak and potato tower and instantly knew what I would be ordering when we arrived.

the-knight-s-pub-steak-and-potato-tower

The tower consisted of alternating layers of steak filets and deep-fried mashed potatoes, topped off with a red wine demi-glace.

First, the steak was done perfectly with a nice char on the outside that kept the flavor inside. With the sweetness from the demi-glace, all four cuts of steak went down so smooth.

Then there were the potatoes. The menu only described them as “potato cakes” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. From the outside, they looked like onion rings, but inside was mashed potato. I took some with my steak and some without. It was hearty and filling, but once again the demi-glace made it easier to clean the plate.

In my haste to order, I had forgotten to consider what my sides were so I blurted out roasted potatoes and brocolli. The last thing I needed with my tower was more starch, but I truly enjoyed the bite-sized red potatoes. Cooked to a crisp with a variety of herbs, they were probably better than the potato cakes that were in the tower.

the-knight-s-pub-crabby-pretzel-melt

Julie opted for just a sandwich, but her meal was just as rich and hearty as my own. Her crabby pretzel melt was exactly what it sounds like: lump crab meat with melted cheddar (plus the standard LTO) on a toasted pretzel bun.

There plenty of crab meat that it didn’t get lost. Instead, it blended beautifully with the salty sweet pretzel roll. The only problem with the sandwich was that it was a little wet, but once Julie flipped it upside down, there were no more worries about whether the bun would be able to hold it.

Being that this was a date night, we decided to splurge with a little dessert. All seven of the seasonal desserts on the tray sounded amazing, but we settled on the pumpkin spice cake. It was layered with mousse and whipped cream (all pumpkin spiced) and topped with graham cracker crumbs and caramel.

the-knight-s-pub-pumpkin-spice-cake

Each layer was a little different than the next. The farther down into the glass that we dug, the colder all of the ingredients were. The bottom layer of mousse was highly concentrated and packed with the most flavor, making it easier to finish, despite our stomachs telling us “no.”

As always happens when we treat ourselves, I ended up eating more food than I should and spending more money than we usually do. Our total for the evening came to just over $60, but it was worth every penny.

As we left the Knight’s Pub, we took a walk along the patio and admired the building. The architecture looked beautiful, even in the dim lighting of the fire pit.

It is said that when Mr. Hiester built Stokesay Castle in 1931, his wife hated it. But I think if she came back today, she would love the Knight’s Pub.

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

The Knight’s Pub at Stokesay Castle
141 Stokesay Castle Ln
Reading, PA 19606

Stokesay Castle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Plein Air

plein-air-sign

Al fresco dining is a tradition as old as the restaurant business.

On a beautiful day, no one wants to be constrained to a dining room. And whether it’s a full patio or just a handful of seats, many of the area’s most popular restaurants have expanded their seating area into the open air.

But there’s one Reading restauranteur that has taken the concept and created a whole dining experience around it.

The 300 block of Cherry Street is the domain of Judy Henry. She opened her first restaurant, Judy’s on Cherry, in 2002. Next came the Speckled Hen Cottage Pub & Alehouse, located in the historic log cabin on the corner of 4th and Cherry Streets.

The third piece of the puzzle came in 2009. That’s when Plein Air was born.

Located in a narrow alley adjacent to the cottage, Plein Air is an outdoor extension of the Speckled Hen. The alley is decorated to feel like a garden terrace in Europe, with a large pergola hanging over the bistro seats.

Plein Air’s location creates unique challenges. First, it’s weather dependent (though there are a handful of seats inside). It’s also small, with only a few tables and seating for 20 outside.

The alley is also uneven so they have to get a little creative in balancing the tabletops: a handful of coasters under one leg, a piece of stone under another, just to keep your plates from sliding off.

Both Plein Air and the Speckled Hen serve out of the same kitchen. And for those dining outside, the Speckled Hen menu is also available (I would imagine that this also works in reverse, though I can’t say for sure).

The two menus are vastly different. The Pub side was big on comfort foods—pot pie, shepherd’s pie, wings and the signature Scotch egg. Plein Air’s menu  is more fully developed, with tartines (single-slice sandwiches), salads and entrees, all of which feature fresh, seasonal ingredients.

One of the specialties at Plein Air is chilled soup. Gazpacho is a permanent fixture on the menu, but the standard tomato-based version had been replaced by beet for our visit.

plein-air-chilled-beet-soup

Looking more like a smoothie than a soup, it was a vibrant purple with white creamy swirls and strips of basil on top. The basil helped sweeten the slightly sour soup. It was a delicious and refreshing way to start our meal.

plein-air-bread-butter

Along with my soup, the waitress delivered our fresh-baked bread, quartered and served with a dollop of butter.

While Plein Air’s menu is quite a bit larger than the Speckled Hen, there are only a handful of large plate dinner entrees. One of those is the flat iron steak.

plein-air-steak

The seared steak is topped with garlic herb butter and served with fingerling potatoes and a side salad. The butter melted quickly, coating both the steak and potatoes in a blanket of white. With the steak, it was very good. The herbs really came through and added to the seared-in flavors of the meat. With the potatoes, it was even better, turning them into miniature baked potatoes that melted in your mouth.

The side salad was topped with a citrusy vinaigrette dressing that felt right on a warm August night.

Another large plate offering is the crab cake. The rich entree is topped with a choice of lemon pesto, avocado lime butter or tomato basil corn relish, which is what Julie decided on.

plein-air-crab-cakes

Fresh was the word we kept coming back to when describing our food to each other, and that was the case with everything on Julie’s plate. The crab cake, the relish and the skewer of zucchini that accompanied the dish.

Everything at Plein Air is well-portioned, and though we would have walked away happy after dinner, we decided to splurge for dessert.

Angel food cake is not normally my dessert of choice, but when our waitress told us that it was topped with strawberry reduction and served with whipped cream and pistachio sorbet, it immediately climbed to the top of my list.

plein-air-angel-food-cake

Everything was delicious, especially the sorbet. I wish I could have eaten a whole bowl of it, but I was happy enough to enjoy the other sweet delights on the plate.

Our total food bill came to $42, but being thrifty, I had purchased $30 gift certificate for $15 on LocalFlavor.com when I saw it in June so we really only paid $27 for two entrees, an appetizer and dessert.

Enjoying a meal outside is a great way to enjoy a beautiful summer night, but it is even better with great food, like what Plein Air is serving during the spring, summer and fall.

Don’t waste these beautiful days and nights sitting inside, get out and get yourself something to eat.

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

Plein Air
30 S. 4th St
Reading, PA 19602

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews