Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale

Barrel & Ale logo on exterior wall

When you look at the best downtown dining in Berks County, there is no doubt that Boyertown is an up-and-coming destination. Between Philadelphia and Reading Avenues, you’ll find diners, a brewery, sandwich shops, bars and even a vegan cafe. New restaurants have opened and more are on the way.  

And that momentum has continued outside the downtown, as well. The new Barrel & Ale is a great example. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I met my friend and former colleague Joe for lunch and lots of catching up.

Looking at the front of Barrel & Ale restaurant from Reading Road

Barrel & Ale opened in August, taking over the former Pit Stop Tavern, a mainstay since the 1950s just east of town. Now the restaurant is owned by the same group behind  Iezzi’s on Third (a mainstay in downtown for even longer). Much like they did with Iezzi’s, the ownership group completely renovated the tavern – which had just been converted earlier this year from the racing-themed Pit Stop to the short-lived, prohibition-themed Decades Speakeasy.

Black chairs with wooden tabletops on the hardwood floor in the dining room.

Now the building has a rustic chic feel to it from the clapboard exterior to the hardwood floor in the dining room. Black chairs and accents add a modern touch (along with the flat screen TVs, of course).

Barrel-shaped lights hang from the ceiling in the barroom at Barrel & Ale

I also appreciated the barrel-shaped lights hanging in the bar room and the extra-tall menu that features a barrel on the front and back covers.

Beyond the design, one of the things that appealed most to me about the menu was the array of German entrees. Pork schnitzel, wurst and sauerbraten shared the page with steaks, seafood and pasta. And the sauerbraten sounded too good to pass up.

Sauerbraten topped with gravy; spaetzle; and red cabbage from Barrel & Ale

Sauerbraten is a traditional German roast beef that has been heavily marinated in herbs and spices, giving it a slightly soured, pickled taste. It’s a unique flavor combination and Barrel & Ale captured it well in their version of the dish. The light gravy on top enhanced, rather than hid, the flavors of the dish.

Close-up of red cabbage and sauerbraten from Barrel & Ale

The dish was served with a pair of colorful sides: spaetzle (small German noodles) and braised red cabbage. The spaetzle was bright yellow and looked like corn at first glance. The red cabbage had a much deeper, almost wine color to it.

Of the two, the cabbage was my favorite – and probably my favorite thing on the plate. It had bits of beef throughout that added unexpected, but welcomed, savory notes that broke up the vinegary flavor of the braised cabbage. The spaetzle was fine but didn’t have much flavor on its own, but paired well with the sauerbraten.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

Across the table, Joe ordered from the sandwich side of the menu, opting for the grilled chicken. The grilled chicken breast was topped with roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto aioli. Joe found it to be a really good sandwich that was highlighted by the aioli, the primary source of flavor.

The sandwich was served with housemade chips and a pickle. The chips were good, though some of them were a little soft, a little under-done. But they were well-seasoned and had good flavor.

Grilled chicken sandwich with chips and pickle from Barrel & Ale

The pickle, Joe said, was obviously not store-bought. (A Facebook post from when Barrel & Ale first opened showed craft pickles from Tennessee). It was an added touch that didn’t go unnoticed.

At the end of the meal, our total bill was around $35, my meal making up more than half it. (Really, the sauerbraten is a dinner entree, not a lunch, and it’s priced accordingly at $17.95).

We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but it wasn’t full by any means. Lunch doesn’t seem to have taken off yet at the Barrel & Ale, though their Facebook page has been promoting that an expanded lunch menu is coming soon so that could change.

And I would go back to try something new, for sure. It was a good first impression and between the flavorful foods and enjoyable ambiance, Barrel & Ale has the makings of a new long-lasting restaurant.

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

Barrel & Ale
961 N. Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Bars & Pubs Reviews

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

Road Trip: Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant

Berks County Eats crosses the county line for a visit to Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, about 35 miles north of Reading.

Leiby’s is a familiar name around Berks County, even if you didn’t know the family had a restaurant.

The namesake ice cream can found at many of the area’s favorite cool-down spots, including Scoupe DeVille in Birdsboro.

But in Schuylkill County, Leiby’s was also synonymous with homestyle cooking, at least until the restaurant closed in 2007.

After a decade away, the Leiby family decided it was time to reopen, and the hotspot at the corner of Routes 443 and 309 sprang back to life in May 2017.

Officially known as Leiby’s Ice Cream House and Restaurant, the building is familiar to all those who drive past. Just as familiar is the sign on the corner, complete with an analog clock – or is a thermometer – that never actually displays any information.

The restaurant has two entrances, one for ice cream only and one for the dining room. Our hostess was nice but she really wasn’t much help with our questions as we waited a long time to be served. In the large dining room, waitresses were serving customers and busing tables. There was a decent crowd in the dining room for a Sunday afternoon, but certainly not large enough to have been slowing everyone down this much.

Leiby’s menu is very much influenced by diners – simple meals like meatloaf, roast beef, turkey, and spaghetti and meatballs made up the majority of the dinner menu (there were also sandwiches, burgers and a few appetizers).

It’s a relatively reasonably priced menu with dinners priced around $10. But apparently they make up for it in upcharges. Replacing one of my sides with a trip to salad bar cost an extra $5.50.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice little salad bar. The emphasis is on “little” as it certainly was not worth the upcharge. It had your standard lettuce and all the toppings with six squirt bottles full of dressing. But there was nothing that made it stand out.

But not wanting to add another real side, I was left with little options.

For my meal, I had gone very traditional, ordering the roast turkey with mashed potatoes. It was also served with cranberry sauce and was topped with gravy.

The turkey was okay but I was hoping for better. There wasn’t a lot of flavor to the thin slices of meat, and the gravy did little more than to make it wet. The cranberry sauce came in the tiniest little cup on the side. Honestly, I almost forgot to eat it because I didn’t see it sitting on the table.

The best thing on my plate was the mashed potatoes. They were very good, as I would expect from a good diner. They had a nice yellow color, always a good sign, and were well-seasoned. In my teenage years, I would have doubled up on the potatoes instead of getting a salad. I almost wished I had done that on this trip.

Julie’s open-face roast beef sandwich was another fair dish. I didn’t care for the bread that it was served on, but I liked the beef a little better than my turkey. I think she and I were both looking for more of a pot roast-style dish.

And her side of corn was fresh from the can.

On the bright side, Leiby’s serves Leiby’s ice cream so we had that to look forward throughout the meal. And the ice cream did not disappoint.

I had a waffle sundae with vanilla fudge ice cream, topped with hot fudge and whipped cream. The warm Belgian waffle and hot fudge melted the ice cream just enough to make it soft. The waffle itself was delicious and the ice cream was sweet, creamy and perfect.

And it cost less than my salad.

Julie had a more traditional dusty road sundae (her new favorite) with Tandy Kake ice cream (also her new favorite).

Dessert redeemed the meal, for the most part. But it couldn’t overcome the poor service we received.

Julie, Jakob and I were joined by her family. And while Julie and her mom both ordered lettuce with hot bacon dressing as sides, only Julie’s was delivered as an appetizer. And flagging down our waitress wasn’t easy as we went 10 minutes at a time without seeing her.

Worse yet, at the end of the meal when we asked for our bills to be split, I was given our half (about $38) but unknowingly my in-laws were given, and charged for, both of our meals. (Payments are made at a cash register near the exit). So we had to call a manager to do a refund. Then they had to enter each of the meals individually, but they didn’t even get that right. Eventually we each paid our fair share.

I expect this kind of service from a place that’s been open six weeks, not one that has been open for 16 months.

Needless to say, we won’t be making any Sunday drives to Leiby’s again any time soon.

BCE Rating:

Food: Fair
Service: Poor
Ambiance: Good
Value: Reasonable

Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant
848 W. Penn Pk
Tamaqua, PA 18252

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

DarrylZ Hometown Grille – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: DarrylZ Hometown Grille is closed. The restaurant was purchased in the summer of 2019. They new owners continued to operate it as DarrylZ until Februnary 2020 when it was rebranded as Christopher’s.

I’ve written this story before: a restaurant closes and a new one takes its place. Generally, one of two things happens.

The new restaurant can try to be the old one or the new restaurant takes a different direction.

In Stouchsburg, at Berks County’s western edge, we’ve seen the former. When Risser’s Family Restaurant closed, a new diner, the Blue Star Family Restaurant, took its place. The only real difference was the dropping of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties. Otherwise, it went from one diner to another.

It started off well for Blue Star, as I wrote about in the blog. But it was never Risser’s, and the restaurant has greatly dropped off in popularity.

DarrylZ Hometown Grille occupies the former Back Forty Bar & Grill location in Stouchsburg.

Not far from the Blue Star was the Back Forty Bar & Grill. Back Forty, itself, had taken the place of a long-standing restaurant, the Black Dog Cafe. Back Forty did elevated bar/pub food, and was very good at it. But the Back Forty closed late in 2017, and a new restaurant has taken its place.

DarrylZ Hometown Grille has taken a whole new direction, offering value priced lunch and dinner with a menu that more closely resembles a diner than the former bar that it replaced.

Julie, Jakob and I visited on a Saturday night where we were joined by my brother, his wife Lauren and daughter Leah, as well as my parents.

Our first impression wasn’t great. We had made reservations for six plus two infants. When we arrived, there were only four chairs. Whoever took the reservation apparently had written four plus two infants.

Two more chairs were brought in and it was no big deal – the round table was plenty large enough for all eight of us – but there were also no place settings. So when salads and appetizers arrived, we had to ask for silverware.

I don’t normally look too closely at the silverware (except to make sure that it’s clean) but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone had a different size steak knife wrapped in their napkins.

But things definitely got better, starting with the appetizers, which arrived very quickly.

Julie and I ordered the fried mozzarella. The four mozzarella sticks were served with a cup of marinara on a bed of a single lettuce leaf.

I can’t say that there was anything out of the ordinary, but it was very good. The mozzarella was fried to a nice crisp. The marinara was chunky and flavorful. It was just well-executed mozzarella sticks.

Being out with the family, there was a chance to try another appetizer – the corn nuggets that my parents ordered.

Corn nuggets are nothing exciting, but these were dusted with powdered sugar and served with cup of syrup. The end product was somewhere between a funnel cake and pancakes.

Our entrees  didn’t take very long, either. DarrylZ menu is very diner-esque with a lot of burgers and sandwiches, like the hot roast beef and fryz (DarrylZ, like Sheetz, uses the “z” for its French fries).

I had low expectations for the sandwich, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Roast beef sandwiches are hit-or-miss depending on how they definite “roast beef.” At some places, it’s heated up deli meat slices. At DarrylZ, I was happy to find the roast beef done pot roast-style with tender chunks of meat that pulled apart easily. The whole sandwich was smothered in a good beef gravy.

The fries – sorry, fryz – were very well done. They were thick-cut and very lightly seasoned.

I ate as many as I could, but after having the mozzarella sticks, I just didn’t have room to finish mine off.

Julie had an even larger pile of fryz with her hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. The sandwich is normally served with chips, but Julie upgraded. She would have liked a little more seasoning on them. I tend to agree, especially with so many, they could have used a little something more.

The ham and cheese was also very good. Both the ham and American cheese were pouring out the sides. And with a fresh roll, a hot ham and cheese on a pretzel bun is hard to beat.

DarrylZ also has a nice selection of desserts, but none of us had room for any (though my dad got a slice of peanut butter cream pie to take home).

Jakob’s dinner

One other note: while we were waiting for our meals to arrive, Jakob started to get hungry so we asked for a bowl of hot water to heat up his bottle. The staff happily obliged us and Jakob enjoyed his meal as well. (The restaurant doesn’t have a changing table, though).

DarrylZ prices are also a big plus. For Julie and I, our appetizer and two entrees (including the fryz upgrade) was $25. It would have been under the $20 mark if we hadn’t splurged on the mozzarella sticks.

DarrylZ is definitely not the Back Forty, and it doesn’t try to be. That’s probably the best thing that the new restaurant could do is take the location in a new direction.

And other than a few hiccups before the meal even started, it seems like it’s on the right path.

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

DarrylZ Hometown Grille
116 Main St
Stouchsburg, PA 19567

DarrylZ Hometown Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Leesport Diner

Diners hold a special place in the hearts of many. They’re comfort food destinations that in many ways harken back to a bygone era.

And you certainly can’t mistake a great diner when you see one.

Leesport Diner shines brightly at the corner of Routes 61 and 73 just south of the Leesport borough line.

It replaced the Leesport Family Restaurant, a tired, worn down building that never seemed to have any cars outside. Toward the end, the former 24-hour diner had a plywood board out front with hours painted on it.

The only thing the restaurant had going for it was a great location. So it was no surprise that after the restaurant closed, a buyer stepped up and started over.

Everything about the new Leesport Diner looks clean and new, even though it is now more than a year old. The stainless steel still shines. The blue and white decor brightens the interior.

Leesport Diner is a stereotypical diner in many ways. There’s the obvious aesthetics. Then there’s the menu – a seemingly endless array of options including all-day breakfast. And what diner is complete without a soup and salad bar?

It may not be the largest salad bar in Berks County, but it is certainly one of the best that I have found. It has a range of ingredients with the most popular dressings. There are three made-fresh soups available. And for grain lovers, there is a case full of warm breads and rolls to choose from.

I loaded my plate – plates to be more specific – with all of the above. I built a salad with my favorite ingredients: lettuce, red onion, cucumber and ranch dressing. For my soup, I chose chicken orzo. And for my grain, a plump dinner roll that was calling my name.

All was good. The soup was a little salty, but was definitely hearty. The greens on the salad bar all tasted fresh. The warm roll was a good addition to my appetizer ensemble.

It wasn’t long after I finished my salad that my entree arrived. I looked through the entire menu at least twice before finally deciding on one of the weekend specials: chicken and spinach.

The Italian-inspired dish featured white meat chicken with spinach and red peppers in a white wine sauce – one of those dishes that fits for a diner but you would never see on an authentic Italian restaurant menu.

I enjoyed the flavors of the dish. The sauce was heavy and a little creamy, and it complemented all of the ingredients well. What I didn’t enjoy was the chicken. It was the processed chicken breast strips that felt artificially inflated, and it has that texture that just isn’t pleasant.

It’s really a shame because the flavor was very good. I just may have enjoyed it more without any meat.

Julie went with a meal that is on every diner menu in the country – roast beef and mashed potatoes.

There are two kinds of roast beef that you get at diners: the thin slice that’s closer to deli meat and the thick slice that feels more like a pot roast. This was the former.

Roast beef and mashed potatoes is an old favorite of mine from my trips to Risser’s Family Restaurant as a kid. Leesport Diner’s version is very much a comfort dish because it has that familiarity. The flavors are familiar and enjoyable.

As someone who has tried dishes from around the world and eaten at the highest quality restaurants, I still have a soft place in my heart for a good roast beef dinner. This was a good roast beef dinner.

And the food at Leesport Diner comes at reasonable prices as well. Our bill for the two dinners plus a glass of iced tea was right around $25, which is pretty standard for a diner today.

The Leesport Diner may not have the best food in Berks County, but it serves a niche and serves it well. It’s a nostalgia, but it’s also more than that.

A diner meal isn’t going to compare to a high-end steakhouse, but it’s enjoyable in its own way. That’s the legacy that Leesport Diner carries on.

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

Leesport Diner
5407 Pottsville Pk
Leesport, PA 19533

Leesport Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Diners Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Basin Street Hotel

basin-street-hotel-exterior

Kutztown will always have a special place in my heart.

I don’t make it back there as often as I would like since graduating from KU in 2013. When it’s time for blogging, I try to time my visits so school’s not in session.

It’s not that I have anything against college students, but the summer months (and winter break) are slower times for many of the local restaurants. That means less crowds, shorter waits, and better service.

That’s why Julie and I waited until a Thursday night in June to pay a visit to the Basin Street Hotel. Two months from now, when class is back in session, I wouldn’t suggest going anywhere in town on a Thirsty Thursday night.

basin-street-hotel-interior

But the Hotel was calm and quiet when we arrived. Only one other booth was taken, though there were a few people hanging at the bar and a couple enjoying dinner outside on the cloudy evening.

During my time in Kutztown, I had never visited Basin Street. It’s almost on the wrong side of the tracks for college students, facing out to the train station and the Allentown and Auburn Railroad line.

Restaurants and inns have been operating on the location at the corner of Main and Willow Streets (ironically, there is no Basin Street) for more than 100 years, and the hotel maintains a certain old-time charm inside with high wooden booths, decorative ceiling tiles and historic photos of Basin Street and the town.

The only thing I really knew about Basin Street before arriving is that they are known for their wings, or at least, that’s what they tout on Twitter and Facebook so I knew where our meal was starting.

basin-street-hotel-wings

There are 22 flavors to choose from on the menu ranging from standard hot, mild and BBQ to original creations like the red pepper parm and drunken varieties.

We went with two of the more original flavors: enchilada and spicy lime.

The enchilada wings were tossed in oil and taco seasoning. Unfortunately, much of it ran off the wings so I had to continually dip it in the run-off on the plate to get that Mexican flavor I was looking for. It took some work, but I got. I just wish it had been stronger.

On the spicy lime, I got spice and very little lime. It was basically Buffalo sauce with a little after taste of citrus. (Unless I was accidently given hot wings and just imagined the lime). For Buffalo wings, they were really good.

The wings were also very meaty and filling, definitely more than we needed when we saw the size of our dinner.

Basin Street’s menu is all pub food: apps, salads, burgers and sandwiches. There are no entrees, no meals. But that’s OK. There are more than 40 burgers, wraps and sandwiches to choose from on the robust menu.

basin-street-hotel-the-golden-bear

On the “Collegiate Corner” part of the menu, all of the sandwiches were given KU-themed names, like the Golden Bear.

The Golden Bear is Basin Street’s take on a Primanti Brothers sandwich – roast beef with coleslaw and French fries served on top of the meat.

This is a sandwich that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, it’s average fries, good roast beef and tasty slaw, but together, it was a hearty, enjoyable sandwich.

From being between the hot roast beef and fries, the coleslaw warmed up quick so there was never a cold bite. The fries got a little soggy, but the thick French bread roll held up deliciously well. I probably shouldn’t have finished the whole thing, but I did anyway.

Julie went with something a little bit different as well, the turkey French dip.

basin-street-hotel-turkey-french-dip

French dip sandwiches, as you probably know, are generally made with roast beef and served with a cup of au jus (light gravy) on the side. The turkey French dip just substituted the meat on the sandwich and in the gravy.

It was a nice change of pace. Julie especially enjoyed it with the Provolone cheese she ordered on top. She also finished off everything on her plate, except a few chips that she left in the bag to take home.

The only downside to visiting Kutztown in the summer months is that a lot of the restaurants are running with short staffs. There was only one guy working as both server and bartender, and while he did well at taking our orders and bringing our food, we had to go up to the bar to get and pay our $30 check.

I’m sure there aren’t many nights when the Basin Street Hotel is as quiet as it was for our visit. But that’s why we went when we did.

I like to enjoy Kutztown – and its restaurants – at its best.

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

Basin Street Hotel
42 E. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Basin Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Greshville Inn

greshville-inn

It’s a rare occasion when I don’t have a restaurant in mind for the weekly review. Usually it’s planned out days, if not more than a week, ahead of time.

But this week was different. We were headed to Boyertown to the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles. The town’s Oktoberfest celebration was being held on the same day, and many of the town’s restaurants were closing their doors to participate.

We went to Boyertown with no plan, driving out St. Lawrence Avenue and continuing along the Boyertown Pike (Route 562). I made note of all the restaurants we passed on our way, just in case we couldn’t find something downtown.

As much as I wanted to try all of the stands at Oktoberfest, I really wanted a sit-down meal for my review. So after walking out empty-handed, we hopped back in the car, headed about a mile west of town and pulled into the parking lot at the Greshville Inn.

TripAdvisor had listed the Greshville Inn as the No. 2 restaurant in the Boyertown area. The parking lot was mostly empty. Inside, there were two ladies sitting at a booth and guy at the bar. The rest of the dining area was empty.

But the Greshville Inn is more of a dinner and drinks place than a lunch stop so we were not all that surprised.

We were led into the dining room to a table for two that sat next to a large aquarium, with two oversized goldfish and one silvery fish whose scales were losing their luster.

greshville-inn-fish-tank

The trio provided our entertainment during the meal, especially the larger of the goldfish who spent the entire time digging around the bottom of the tank, sucking stones and spitting them back out against the glass.

On its website, the Greshville Inn says that it is “proud to offer the largest American home cooked cuisine selection available in the greater Boyertown, PA region.”

It’s a mouthful, and a little deceiving. The dinner menu isn’t very large at all: two chicken dinners, three steaks, a veal Oscar, four seafood dishes and an array of appetizers and sandwiches. The lunch menu added another handful of options though three of them were crossed out.

One of the sandwich selections was the hard-carved roast beef. It sounded too good to pass up.

greshville-inn-roast-beef-sandwich

The toasted roll was overstuffed with meat and sliced in half. A small cup of au jus was set in the center for dipping, and the plate was flanked by a pile of fries.

It was excellently done. The beef was cooked perfectly. The au jus gave it a softer texture that made it easier to put down. And the fries were great as well.

greshville-inn-french-dip

Julie’s meal didn’t stray far from me as she opted for the prime rib French dip. Served on an Italian roll, the meat wasn’t packed in as tight. The addition of melted Swiss cheese gave it a richer flavor and the use of prime rib meat gave the sandwich a richer flavor.  It was an excellent—and filling—sandwich in its own right.

It took a little while for our bill to arrive. The only waitress on staff was doubling as the bartender. And while no one else came into the dining room while we were there, the stools had begun filling up for the college football games.

Our total was only $22 for two sandwiches that were hearty enough to hold us over for the rest of the day.

The Greshville Inn may not have been my first choice on this day, but it ended up being a great meal. Sometimes your second choice turns out pretty good.

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

Greshville Inn
1013 Reading Ave
Boyertown, PA 19512

Greshville Inn Incorporated Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Port Clinton Hotel

IMG_5393

Long before our region was defined by the railroad, our cities and towns were carved by canals.

The small hamlet of Port Clinton, located just a few miles north of Hamburg and just across the line into Schuylkill County (quite literally, the border of Port Clinton is the border for the county), was a canal town.

Businesses in the town grew around the waterway. Businesses like the Port Clinton Hotel, which served meals and rented rooms to the canal boat crews who passed through on their way to or from Reading.

Today, the Hotel still serves a unique clientele. In addition to the residents of neighboring communities and those just visiting on their way to Cabela’s, the Port Clinton Hotel is a go-to for hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

On the opposite side of the Schuylkill River, the trail descends from the mountains, hanging a right through Port Clinton before crossing over Route 61 and leaving civilization again on its ascent to Maine.

The proximity to the trail means the Port Clinton Hotel is a sort of right-of-passage for hikers. Perhaps this is why the Port Clinton Hotel is serving portions fit for someone who hasn’t eaten in for days.

While I can appreciate those who dare to trek the trail, I favor the short drive over the long walk, so the only hiking I had to do was from the parking space to the back door.

Like many establishments that still have “hotel,” “tavern,” or “inn” in their names, the restaurant crams more seats into the dining room than would seem possible. Our party of six was placed in a side room, two four-person tables pushed together with just inches between our chairs and the wall.

The daily specials are found on a hand-written piece of paper in the center of the table, while drink specials are found on a dry erase board on the wall. The menu itself is extensive with pastas, dinner entrees, salads, and lots of fried foods and sandwiches.

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As small as the dining area may feel, the portions seem just as gargantuan. On a previous trip, I had made the “mistake” of ordering an actual dinner: a chicken pot pie special served with a homemade roll. And because I was hungry, I started with a cup of chili. As it turns out, the “roll” was half a loaf of white bread, the pot pie could have probably filled four soup bowls, and I would have been satisfied with just the chili.

This time, I was more prepared, opting for a simple hot roast beef sandwich.

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My sandwich was served floating in a reservoir of gravy with shreds of meat taking an evening swim. The top slice of bread bulged in the center as the pile of beef tried to force its way out the top.

The beef pulls apart, not like the slabs or slices you find at some diners. I managed to find a piece that wasn’t fully submerged and found it to be tender and moist. Even without the gravy, it would make a delicious sandwich.

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Next to me, Julie was attacking a monster meal of her own. Her cheesesteak sandwich wrap was sliced in two, with each half being about the size of your average sandwich.

The wrap was simple—steak and cheese with a little bit of onion—but it was balanced perfectly. Like most of the sandwiches on the menu, the wrap came with side of potato chips, a bag of Lay’s placed right on the plate. With so much food already on the plate, there’s a good chance you’ll take the chips home anyway so it’s better to leave them in the bag.

Another reason to leave them in the bag is the Port Clinton Hotel’s famous French fries. The fresh cut fries are not available as a side order (except as part of a select few dinner combinations) so if you want them, be prepared to share.

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With the large portions on the entrees, a small basket of fries is easily enough to satisfy a table of four (a large basket should probably be reserved for a small family reunion).

But when it comes to the Port Clinton Hotel, it’s not just quantity. It’s quality. Many restaurants offer their foods in big portions, but the food at Port Clinton is so good that you can’t help but try to finish it.

Four our two sandwiches and fries, our total bill came to around $30, a steal for such good food—and for so much of it.

The canal is gone, but the hotel remains, still serving great food to everyone who passes through the town, no matter how they arrive.

Bars & Pubs 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

PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing

Sunrise GrilleThere are hundreds of farmers markets across the state of Pennsylvania, with dozens of them spread throughout Berks County.

From roadside stands to indoor/outdoor markets with 100s of vendors, all of these markets deliver fresh produce, locally raised meats and delicious baked goods.

Farmers markets support area farm families, boost the local economy and help customers find healthy ingredients for home-cooked meals.

They are also a great place to get amazing meals.

I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of Berks County’s best farmers markets. Now in its third year, the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomissing only has 14 stands, but every one of them is different.

There’s a stand for seafood, one for bulk foods, another for soft pretzels and separate stands for beef, poultry, seafood, deli meats and organics. The same is true for their dine-in options: the Sunrise Grill and Fisher’s BBQ.

The two stands are set directly across from each other at the back of the market. Fisher’s sits in the far-right corner. Beef brisket, ribs and barbecued chicken swelter under the heat lamps in the display case.

Everything is hot and ready-to-serve. Catch the stand at the wrong time though, and you may need to wait a while. Friday nights are all-you-can-eat nights, and the line backs up quickly.

IMG_2959The best entree on the menu has to be the pulled pork. It’s cliché, but the meat really is tender and juicy. Instead of loading the meat up with barbecue sauce, I mix it with a side of green beans, which are mixed with a little bit of sauce and bacon. The beans are delicious, and the juice helps bring out more flavor in the pork.

Every platter at Fisher’s comes with two sides so for your second, I recommend the carrots. The carrots have a crispy outer coating, with charred black edges, but inside they are a beautiful vibrant orange and sweet as honey. And if that’s not sweet enough for you, grab a cup of fresh-brewed sweet tea to complete your meal.

Across the aisle, the Sunrise Grill serves up some great breakfast options like French toast, omelets and pancakes, but I love it for lunch.

Sunrise Grille 3Sunrise offers some great cold and hot sub options for lunch and dinner. They’re sausage sandwiches are excellent (especially if you get the pepper and onion sausage) and come with a “barbecue” sauce, a thin sauce with a taste closer to ketchup than barbecue, but perfect for the sandwich.

IMG_1372But my favorite meal at Sunrise Grill is their hot roast beef. The meat is so tender, more like pot roast than the slabs of roast beef you get at some diners, and it is piled high on top of a Kaiser roll.

I rarely get something at Sunrise Grill without a side of fries. They are fresh cut, not frozen fast food fries. For me, these are the kind of fries that just taste that much better with a spritz of vinegar.

Like every farmers market, the prices at these two stands are very reasonable. Platters at Fisher’s range between $8-12, and a sandwich, fries and drink at Sunrise Grill comes in right around the $10 mark.

The biggest downside to the market, and any farmers market for that matter, is the hours. The market is only open three days a week, Thursdays through Saturdays, and only have evening hours on Friday nights. If you have a supersized appetite, Friday night is the best time to go because Fisher’s offers some great all-you-can-eat specials for the price of a single meal.

BCE Rating – Fisher’s BBQ
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Very Reasonable

BCE Rating – Sunrise Grille
Food: Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Good
Price: Reasonable

PA Dutch Farmer’s Market of Wyomissing
845 Woodland Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Barbecue Diners Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews