Works at Wyomissing

The Works at Wyomissing isn't just a restaurant, it's an entertainment destination that also includes a ball pit, go-karts, trampoline park and arcade (pictured).

When we were still in college, Julie and I started going regularly to the Works at Wyomissing for their Tuesday night trivia games. For years, it was our place. The service could be hit or miss, but the food was good and it was always a great time with friends.

One by one, our friends started moving away, or having kids, or both. The routine got monotonous, and it was harder to find players. Eventually we stopped going altogether. It had been at least two years since our last visit to the dining and entertainment destination, but now that we have our own toddler, it seemed like the right time to go back for some food and fun.

It was a Thursday night around 5 p.m. when we arrived. The hostess was on her phone and seemed inconvenienced to have to take us to our table. She never smiled and barely said a word as she took us to our table. We weren’t even sure she was going to bring the high chair because instead of saying “I’ll be right back with your high chair,” she said, “enjoy your meal” as she walked off. (She did bring it).

Our waitress was much more pleasant with us and our little Jakob, who always seems to bring out a smile from our servers.

The spacious dining room - highlighted by this large stone fireplace - was mostly empty during our visit.

There weren’t many people in the dining room – a few families, one couple and a group of college students were all that were found in the spacious dining room.

Our orders were taken quickly, which was good because Jakob was hungry and restless. We wouldn’t have felt as awkward about him acting up if there had been more people, but in the near-empty cavern of the dining area, every little noise echoed louder around the room.

Caesar salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Thankfully my Caesar salad arrived quickly and Jakob was occupied with a couple croutons. The salad was pretty hefty for a starter, but it was good, your typical Caesar.

A cup of French onion soup from the Works at Wyomissing.

Julie had ordered a cup of French onion soup for an appetizer. It was always a favorite of our friend Mike during our trivia days, and it was still good. Ordering a cup meant that it wasn’t the typical presentation – cheese covering the top of a crock. But the smaller portion was still good with plenty of gruyere on top and a nice amount of onions inside.

Because we were also tending to Jakob, it took us a little longer to finish our appetizers, and our food arrived while I was still finishing up my salad.

Steak frites with French fries and asparagus from the Works at Wyomissing.

For my entree, I ordered the steak frites. The 10-ounce sirloin was sliced thin and served atop a bed of crispy Parmesan fries. The steak was good but didn’t have a whole lot of flavor to it.

As I write the blog, I’m looking back at the menu and realize that it was supposed to be served with garlic butter and a spicy aioli. I had neither, which probably explains why the steak was a little underwhelming. It was still a good cut of meat, but the garlic butter would have been nice.

The fries were very good. They were thick-cut and tossed with plenty of Parmesan cheese. There was just a lot of them, especially considering the entrees are also served with two sides. I ended up eating only a small portion of the fries and taking the rest home.

Corn on the cob from the Works at Wyomissing.

Not wanting to be a complete pig, I ordered asparagus and corn on the cob for my sides. The asparagus was fine, but they were cooked a little past al dente and were a little softer than I normally like.

The corn on the cob was good, but I was honestly expecting it to be cut in half like I see at many restaurants. Instead, it was a full cob. Thankfully, Jakob has all of his front teeth that he needs to bite into, and enjoy, corn on the cob so he helped me with it. It was good and tasted fresh so I had no complaints there.

The barbecue chopped salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

Because she really wanted the soup, Julie decided to get an entree salad for her main meal. The barbecue chopped salad featured chicken, chopped lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, avocado, corn, tortilla strips, black beans and ranch dressing.

The grilled chicken was tossed in barbecue sauce. We’ve always been fans of the Works’ barbecue sauce and it was good on the salad. The avocado was a nice touch and the ranch dressing went well with the mix – just like eating it with barbecue wings.

Like all things at the Works, the portions are huge and was stacked high on the plate. It’s definitely a filling salad.

From the Works at Wyomissing's kids menu: chicken fingers and mandarin oranges.

With the Works being such a kid-friendly place, the children’s menu is large – both in the amount of food and the physical size – four pages that kids can color with a four-pack of crayons that are provided.

We went with a safe bet: chicken fingers with Jakob’s favorite fruit, mandarin oranges. The orange slices were gone in what seemed like seconds. He was a little slower with the chicken, but then he dipped it in Julie’s ranch dressing and it went a lot faster.

All three of us left the table full after a $50 meal. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we’ve ever had, but it also isn’t bad given the portions.  (We also had a $30 gift card, which is always helpful).

Ballocity - located upstairs at the Works at Wyomissing - is like a cross between a ball pit and a giant obstacle course.

The real fun began after the meal. While I waited to take care of the bill, Julie and Jakob went off to the game area where she won him a new bouncy ball from the claw machine. From there, we headed upstairs to Ballocity, the Works’ indoor ball pit.

When it first opened, we were very disappointed to find out that adults could only enter if accompanied by a child. Having Jakob along meant it was our first time to experience the attraction. Toddlers are free with paying adults – $3.95 after using the $1 off coupon that was on the kids menu.

Jakob and Julie had a great time while I waited outside. They played for about a half-hour before we headed home.

While the service could have been better – and that has always been the case at the Works – it was still a great night out. And for $65, we had three meals, played games and took a turn through Ballocity. It sure beat a rainy night at home.

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

The Heritage Restaurant

I will admit that before last week, the Heritage Restaurant in Morgantown was not high on my list of places to visit.

I’ve passed the Heritage Restaurant many times and have never felt the urge to stop. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a relic from the times when I-176 and the Turnpike didn’t connect and drivers were funneled along Route 10. The motel behind the restaurant certainly doesn’t make it look any more appealing.

But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

Walking into the simply appointed dining room

The restaurant has clearly been updated inside with simple decor in the dining room. The walls are painted gray and are adorned with photography while the seating is made up of wooden tables with darker wooden chairs. While there were only a handful of tables occupied in the dining room, the bar area – which has a separate entrance – was full, which explained the jammed parking lot.

I was invited by fellow writer (and Heritage regular) Cathy Cuff-Coffman to a prix fixe dinner at the Heritage, a new concept for the restaurant but one that they were excited to try out and potentially make a part of the regular offerings.

The private dining room is filled with historic photos of Morgantown

Our meal was being hosted in their new private dining area. What was formerly the billiards room has been redone to host private functions. One wall features exposed stones while the other three are decorated simply with historic photos that capture the construction of the highways that connect in Morgantown.

A single long table was set with six chairs on each side. Five couples had won their seats through drawings in the restaurant and on social media, having their names drawn from more than 166 entrants. And then there were the two writers at the end of the table, reporter’s notebooks in hand.

Before our meal service began, we were introduced to owner Tamara King. King has owned the restaurant since December 2017 and during that time has made several upgrades to the dining area and hired Chef Brandon Pennypacker to update the menu. The idea for the prix fixe meal is to give Chef Brandon an opportunity to flex his creative muscle and put together a five-course meal with a cohesive theme. For this meal, the theme was spring: spring flavors, spring colors and spring-inspired foods.

Chef Brandon introduced each course as it was presented, and spring colors were on full display with the arrival of our first dish – a corn soup with fresh pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema with lime.

Corn soup topped with pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema

What a great way to start the meal. The corn was reduced down to form a base that was creamy but textured. The mix-ins took it to another level. The fresh pico was my favorite part – especially the bits of tomato that burst with a perfect sweet flavor. The salty, crunchy pork added a completely different, but no less enjoyable, flavor and texture to the meal. Throughout the dish, the avocado crema added a sweet and creamy flavor, with a little sour lime thrown in.

It was a very impressive start and just a preview of the great food still to come.

Strawberry salad with dragon fruit, candied pecans and a goat cheese croquette

Our second course was a strawberry salad. It featured spinach and kale topped with a basil poppy seed dressing, fresh strawberries, dragon fruit and candied pecans, served with fried goat cheese.

The salad was excellent. I loved the addition of the mildly sweet dragon fruit and the earthy indulgence of the candied pecans. The goat cheese croquette was also good, but I didn’t care for it as much as part of the salad. I didn’t care for how the molten cheese blended with the chilled greens. Separately though, it was good and something that no one else in Berks County is trying.

Chef Brandon has a diverse culinary background. Since graduating from the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts, he has worked in 17 restaurants in greater Reading and Lancaster city. Stops have included the Hitching Post, Virginville Hotel, Blackjax and Billy Burger. For the last 10 months, he has been the lead at the Heritage Restaurant and has worked to remove canned and prepacked items in favor of creating more in-house.

All five courses highlighted what can be done when a talented chef is given an opportunity to experiment with different styles, techniques and ingredients. Nowhere was that more evident than our third course: three scallops each served with its own unique accompaniment.

Pan-seared scallops with yellow, red and green sauces

Chef Brandon introduced them from right to left. First, the mint pea was a thick puree that was reminiscent of the best pea soup with just a touch of mint to add a little brightness. In the middle was a sun-dried tomato pesto (more on this in a moment). And on the left, a saffron orange aioli. I appreciated the tanginess but I have never been a big fan of aioli.

But the sun-dried tomato pesto may have been the best thing I have tasted in a long time. Instead of pistachio, it featured crushed almonds. It had a wonderful smoky flavor throughout, and it worked so perfectly with the buttery scallop (which were all cooked perfectly, nicely seared without being burnt). I have never been a fan of seafood of any kind, but I would gladly order scallops every day if they came with that pesto.

Tamara had told us that in his quest to put together the perfect menu, Chef Brandon had gone through 15 iterations of the menu and tried many different items. One of those, a blueberry venison sausage sounded amazing but was “awful.” Thankfully, that didn’t make it onto our plates as an entree.

Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

Instead, we were treated to wagyu  steak with lemon-lime finishing salt and chimichurri sauce, served with a couscous and quinoa mixture that was also topped with lemon-lime seasoning.

Wagyu beef, as Chef Brandon pointed out, is a type of beef from Japan known for its high marbling and richness. A meat with high marbling has more fat in the lean cuts, creating a more flavorful meat. It was clear from the first bite that the meat was high quality. I would normally order my food a little less pink than what was presented, but it was so good that I didn’t mind at all.

What really set the dish apart was the lemon-lime finishing salt. There was enough on the meat to give a taste, but there was even more dusted in the corners of the plate. And adding that little bit of extra salt turned this into an A-plus dish. It managed to bring out even more flavors from the meat and was the perfect compliment.

I enjoyed the chimichurri sauce with the beef as well. It added a tangy layer to the dish. But honestly, I would have been content with just the sweet salt.

Chef Brandon Pennypacker
Chef Brandon tell us a little more about the course we’re about to eat.

When there is so much flavor on the plate, the quinoa and couscous just couldn’t compare. It had a light seasoning, but the grains felt boring compared to the other items on the plate and those we had already tried.

Four courses in and we were anxious to see what would be coming for dessert. We had tried a lot of food, but the portions had been perfect so there was still just enough room for the special treat that would complete the meal.

The dessert course was a sight to behold. Each plate featured a sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries, chocolate mousse, chipotle raspberry sea salt, another layer of sponge cake, banana whipped cream and a strawberry sugar dust.

Strawberry Sponge Cake
Photo Credit: Cathy Cuff-Coffman

I don’t think there was anyone in the room that didn’t love this. With just the chocolate mousse and perfectly baked sponge cake, the dish would have been a winner. But the addition of the sea salt and the sugar put it over the top.

First, the chipotle raspberry sea salt hit in so many ways. The added salt enhanced all of the sweet flavors while the chipotle gave it just the slightest bit of heat that was surprising and wonderful.

Then there was the strawberry sugar dust. Chef Brandon described it as a homemade Pixie Stick. He took dehydrated strawberries and ran them through a food processor before blending them with sugar. It really did taste like a candy topping, a concentrated sweetness that helped highlight the natural sweetness from the fresh fruit.

I don’t think there could have been a better way to end the meal.

Owner Tamara King and Chef Brandon Pennypacker
Owner Tamara King with Chef Brandon

The prix fixe dinners are a new concept for the Heritage. Everyone received comment cards and were asked to rate every part of the meal – but from the table talk, it sounded like rave reviews from all those in attendance.

Now that I have experienced the Heritage for the first time, I am looking forward to returning and bringing Julie and Jakob along. I’m sure I won’t be getting wagyu steak or a strawberry salad, but I’m confident that I will love the burgers, sandwiches and entrees found on the regular menu.

After my meal, the Heritage is now at the top of my list of places to re-visit.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Good
Value: N/A

Heritage Restaurant
6016 Morgantown Rd (Route 10)
Morgantown, PA 19543

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

Road Trip: The Belvedere Inn

Belvedere Inn

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

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

One of those is Lancaster’s Belvedere Inn.

Belvedere Inn

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

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

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

Belvedere Inn

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

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

Belvedere Inn Roasted Vanilla Pear

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

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

Belvedere Inn Grilled Caesar

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

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

Belvedere Inn Short Ribs

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

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

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

Belvedere Inn Stuffed Lobster Tail

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

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

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

Belvedere Inn Chocolate Mousse

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

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

Belvedere Inn Rolls

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

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

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

After our visit, it certainly makes our list.

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

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

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Hive Red Thai Chili Bowl

HIVE

Hive Local Food Kutztown

Some restaurants serve a very specific niche. They identify and fill a need for the community around them.

In a college town like Kutztown, there are students from all walks of life. Along Main Street, there are what feels like an endless number of restaurants that are casting a wide net – pizza and bar food that appeal to a wide range of students and locals, alike.

But then there are places like Hive, a local organic farm-to-table cafe.

Hive Local Food Kutztown

The appeal for Hive is that it doesn’t have mass appeal. It’s tucked away along Sacony Alley, only one street off Main Street, but it feels like a mile away. The alley is quiet. Instead of storefronts, it’s dominated by the backyards – or back parking lots – of homes and businesses.

The “front door” for Hive looks more like the backdoor to a warehouse. Essentially, it is. The space that houses the cafe is repurposed industrial – a large room that would otherwise be very sterile and cold if not for the vibrant metal tables and chairs, the beautifully drawn menu signs, and the shelves of organic produce.

Hive Local Food Kutztown

It was a quiet Sunday, just after 12 noon when we arrived. There was just one table in use. We claimed the other four-person table and brought over a high chair for Jakob before placing our order at the counter.

Hive’s menu – full of vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian options, all organic – expands on Sundays, when additional brunch items supplement the regular lunch menu.

I ordered the heaviest out of the three of us – opting for both a noodle bowl and a smoothie.

Hive Red Thai Chili Bowl

My fin sùt sùt red Thai curry featured rice noodles, spiraled zucchini, carrots, kale, cilantro, lime wedges and scallions in a Thai curry sauce.

Like a pho noodle bowl, the sauce was a thin broth. Rather than a soup with vegetables cooked in the broth, many of the vegetables were placed on top of the noodle bed – the carrots added raw and uncooked.

The broth was definitely kicking, spicy enough to clear out my sinuses but not too spicy that I couldn’t enjoy the dish. This is where most of the flavor came from as rice noodles are rather plain on their own. Aside from the broth, it was a bowl of individual flavors, but I enjoyed it throughout.

Hive Queen Bee Smoothie

I was also glad to have the smoothie to ease the heat – especially because the one glass of spring water – though served in a very cool beaker – didn’t last very long.

It was the “Queen Bee,”  a strawberry banana smoothie with almond milk and bee pollen. I was a fan. It was sweet, but not overly sweet. It definitely helped cool down my burning mouth as well.

Hive Smoked Mozzarella and Mushroom Panini

For her meal, Julie went with the smoked mozzarella and mushroom panini. It was served on a locally made ciabatta bread. It was simple, but delicious. The smoky flavor of the cheese really shined through. And the mushrooms made for a nice, flavorful filler.

Hive Mixed Green Salad

Her sandwich came with a mixed green salad that was served as an appetizer.  It featured spring mix, beets, carrots and a strong, but enjoyable, balsamic dressing. The carrots were raw and cut thick so they were a little more challenging, but the beets added a nice note to the salad. And everything tasted like it came right out of the garden that day.

Hive offers two kids items – a grilled cheese and the a PB&J. We ordered the grilled cheese because it’s something we know he has eaten at daycare. But I can tell you, they don’t serve it like this at daycare.

Hive Kids Grilled cheese

The grilled cheese featured a sharp cheddar that was bright orange and full of flavor. And the wheat bread from Daily Loaf Bakery was delicious, especially toasted as it was. Jakob (and mommy and daddy) thoroughly enjoyed it. He finished half of it at the restaurant. The other half went home in a box with the banana that was served as a side (he also got a juice box with his kids meal).

A lot of times, “organic” is synonymous with “pricey,” but I thought our meal was very reasonable. For a noodle bowl, panini, smoothie and a kids meal, we paid just under $40. I would pay that again for our meal.

Hive serves a specific niche, sure, but the food is definitely good enough to expand the customer base. Yes, the cafe specializes in vegan, vegetarian and organic foods. But it’s a cafe first.

And it’s a good one at that.

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

Hive
236 W. Sacony Alley
Kutztown, PA 19530

Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian
Russo Market Pizza

Russo Gourmet Foods Market

Russo Gourmet Foods Market

One of the places that has been on my list to try for a long time isn’t really a restaurant. It’s more of a grocery store. But it’s also so much more than that.

Russo Market is a little off the beaten path, away from Penn Ave along Bern Road in Wyomissing, near the Works, Building 24 and Gold’s Gym.

Julie has enjoyed many lunches at Russo, but never with me. I finally had the chance to change that on a recent afternoon.

The drab exterior of Russo Market had not prepared me for the vast market inside. The building opens up to aisles of pasta, imported sauces, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), frozen treats, and other foods from Italy, Greece and beyond.

Russo Market Pizza

At the back of the market is the hot and prepared foods area. There are sheets of Sicilian pizza waiting to take another trip through the oven; a hot bar filled with meals like lasagna, meatballs and fried mozzarella; and a large salad bar that’s better than most restaurants.

Russo Market Olive Bar

There’s even an olive bar with more types of olives than I knew existed.

Russo Market Dining Area

Guests can do their grocery shopping, grab lunch (or dinner – Russo is open until the early evening most days) and pay for everything together at the registers near the entrance. For those dining in, there’s a nice dining area with booths, tables and mini curtains to separate diners from the checkout area.

I was excited to try the pizza so I ordered two kinds: pepperoni and margherita.

Russo Market Pizza

The Sicilian-style pies featured a slightly thicker dough with a small crust around the edges. Both squares were end pieces so they had nice crusts.

The pepperoni pie was your basic Sicilian pizza, but I really liked the pepperoni choice. They were a little spicier and more flavorful than at some restaurants, and it made it more enjoyable.

Russo Market Pizza

On the margherita, I was very impressed. What looked like just a pile of mozzarella, tomato and basil actually was a delicious meal. Each ingredient was fresh and full of flavor, and even though I never had a bite with all three toppings at once, I enjoyed it from start to finish.

Russo Market Salad Bar

Across the table from me, Julie had built quite the salad for herself. Among the greens, she added carrots, mozzarella, cucumber, red pepper, pepperoni, tomato, bacon bits, croutons, tortellini pasta salad and her personal favorite, tuna salad.

Russo Market Salad

Tuna salad is one of Julie’s favorite foods, and Russo has the best around, according to her expert opinion (I am not a fan of tuna or mayo so I will take her word for it).

Her eyes were a little too big for her stomach. Declaring she was getting full, Julie started skipping the salad and eating just “the good stuff.”

It’s really no surprise that the foods at the market are so good. Russo is also a wholesale distributor, supplying ingredients to Italian restaurants all around the region.

Russo Market

For our meals, plus a water, an iced tea, and a quart of soup to take home, we spent around $25. It was only after our lunch that we explored the market more, salivating over the bakery section with homemade cannoli, tiramisu and more desserts that we could no longer fit in our stomachs.

But now that I have finally enjoyed my first taste of Russo, I have no doubt that I will be back to enjoy even more of their Italian meals (and sweets).

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

Russo Market
1150 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Italian Reviews
Salute Pizza Montanara

Salute Ristorante Italiano / Dante’s 900

Salute Ristorante Italiano and Dante's 900

Last summer, Salute Ristorante Italiano in Sinking Spring began advertising Dante’s 900, a new artisan pizza shop that would open in the space next door. It was at the top of our list to visit during our annual National Pizza Month celebration in October.

Unfortunately, “soon” was a little further off in the future as Dante’s didn’t open until after the new year.

So it was back on our list – at the very top of the list – of new pizza places to check out.

Dante’s website and PDF menu both tout the hours as 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

What neither mentions is that the dining room is only open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. We didn’t find that out until we walked through the front door and saw the note where a “please wait to be seated” sign would be expected. Instead, the sign pointed us next door to Salute for the wood-fired pizza.

Salute Ristorante Italiano

Salute is a very nice restaurant, a date night place that’s more upscale than most restaurants where we take Jakob. (In fact, Julie and I visited for Valentine’s Day in 2015). But we had to roll with it and after our second time asking for a high chair, we were all set in a corner booth, separated as far as possible from the rest of the dining room.

Our service wasn’t great on this night. The specials were not explained well to us (the explanation we received was different than what the table behind us received). And after Julie and I both ordered Caesar salads, we were given house salads with balsamic vinaigrette.

Salute House Salad

Not wanting to waste food, we ate them without complaining. I’m not big on balsamic, but the dressing was actually very good, much thicker than most vinaigrettes that I have tried.

But it wasn’t a Caesar salad.

Sitting down in the main dining room and looking at the full Salute menu, I couldn’t help but change my plans. The weekly specials were inspired by Tuscany (our waitress was able to explain that the chef is doing a taste of Italy, crafting menu items themed by region), and one of those specials was the tortelli alla Mugellana ­- potato filled ravioli with duck ragu.

Salute Tortelli alla Mugellana

I felt guilty for not ordering pizza, but I didn’t feel guilty after eating this. It was delicious. The filling was like a well-seasoned side of mashed potatoes. It was a perfect pairing with the duck ragu.

The dark duck meat was rich and done very well. The ragu itself was a little sweet. Together, it was beautifully cohesive dish, one that I would happily order again.

Julie stuck with the original plan and ordered one of the personal sized, wood-fired pizzas. Her choice: the pizza Montanara.

Salute Pizza Montanara

It featured mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage and white truffle Béchamel sauce.

After all the anticipation, we both had to admit that it fell a little flat. Or floppy, to be more accurate. The dough was not thick enough at the center to hold the heavy toppings. And, of course, all of the toppings slid to the center.

But the flavors were there. The Béchamel sauce was excellent, and gave it a creamier taste. It paired really well with the savory sausage. The mushrooms were just kind of there. If you absolutely love mushrooms, I suppose they were a good addition.

The pizza, and our visit, was certainly not what we expected. There were bright spots, for sure. But overall, the experience was not on the same level as our Valentine’s Day trip three years ago.

And I wouldn’t put it near the top of the list for celebrating #NationalPizzaMonth again.

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

Salute Ristorante Italiano / Dante’s 900
4716 Penn Ave
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Juliana's Tigliatelle alle Norcina

Juliana’s

Juliana's

In 2015, we paid a visit to what became one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Berks County – Basil Restaurant and Pizzeria.

Located in the village of Fritztown, just outside of Sinking Spring, Basil was headed by Chef Gianluca Longo, whose resume included stints working for Giorgio Armani’s restaurant in Milan and De Niro’s Restaurant in Miami.

The restaurant closed abruptly in April 2017, and in its place, Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant arrived. Cosa was a worthy replacement, but unfortunately it closed after less than a year.

Juliana's

Fast-forward to the summer of 2018, and what’s old is new again. Juliana’s is the new restaurant in town, but it’s headed by a familiar face – Chef Gianluca.

Juliana's Bar

The interior of the restaurant has evolved. It’s still split into two seating areas, but they feel more cohesive, whereas before there was a distinct difference between the restaurant and the pizzeria. A bar has been added, replacing the waterfall that once adorned the dining room wall.

Juliana's Dining Room

Juliana’s menu features a mix of classic Italian pasta dishes, pizza and sandwiches with rotating dinner specials.

We started our meal with an order of homemade ricotta balls. The cheese was rolled, baked to a light crisp on the outside, and served in the house marinara sauce.

Juliana's Ricotta Balls

The red sauce was nearly perfect – thick with tomatoes and just a little sweet. The ricotta melted in your mouth and worked so well with the sauce. It was an excellent starter.

Juliana's Salad

Also with our meals came starter salads with choice of dressing. I enjoyed the fact that the salads were actually prepared – instead of whole cherry tomatoes and large slivers of onion, both were diced and mixed in with the greens. It wasn’t the largest salad but it was large enough with a full meal to follow.

Juliana's Pasta Al Forno

I ordered my entree, the pasta al forno, off the special menu. The dish featured penne pasta in Bolognese sauce with soppressata (a type of salami), ham, peas and mozzarella.

I have to say, first impressions were not that impressive. The Bolognese was fine but my first bite had just ham, and it really didn’t do much for me.

Then I took a bite with the soppressata, and the whole complexion of the dish changed. The meat was packed with flavor, a spice that complemented the Bolognese perfectly. And after that first bite, the flavor stuck with me through the whole plate. The longer I ate, the more the flavors mixed and the better the dish became.

Juliana's Tigliatelle alle Norcina

Julie ordered the tigliatelle alle Norcina off the regular dinner menu. Her pasta was tossed with pancetta (think Italian bacon) and onions in a white cream truffle sauce.

She really enjoyed her dish. Pancetta is a great addition to any pasta dish, but it starred here. The truffle sauce was a perfect partner for the salty pancetta. The pasta was homemade and cooked perfectly tender. And the shaved parmesan finished off the dish nicely.

Juliana's Bread

I also want to mention the complimentary bread basket that included slices of olive loaf and toasted Italian bread served with oil and balsamic. Did we need it? No. Did we eat it all? Yes.

Our service was also very good – though there really were not many other people in the restaurant with us for our Sunday dinner. (It was the first week of pro football so I didn’t expect to have much company).

The final bill – just shy of $50 – felt right for a nice night out.

We’re happy that Juliana’s is here. Basil was a favorite of ours and our extended family and the new restaurant, while completely renovated, feels familiar.

And the food is just as good as we could have hoped.

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

Juliana’s
776 Fritztown Rd
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Italian 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

Calabria Italian Restaurant

There’s always an anticipation around a new restaurant opening. Sometimes there’s a lot of hype; sometimes there’s only a little. But there’s always people who are anxious to try it and anxious to taste it.

When the restaurant is reopening, that anticipation is even greater. A loyal customer base is waiting to return. And the longer the wait, it seems, the larger that customer base becomes as word spreads.

Calabria Italian Restaurant built up two-and-a-half years of anticipation for its reopening.

In December 2015, a fire broke out in the restaurant. It seemed like a small fire and that clean up and repairs wouldn’t take too long.

But days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. Instead of repairing the building, it had to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. Driving between Wernersville and Robesonia on Route 422, we could watch the painfully slow progress that was being made.

In late April of this year, we drove past and for the first time in 29 months, the parking lot was filled with customers and not construction equipment. Calabria was back.

 

Fast forward to June, and we paid our first ever visit to Calabria. Despite growing up in Robesonia, I had never stepped foot in the old Calabria. I remember the building looking more like a dive, but the rebuilt restaurant is a thing of beauty. The outside is clean and modern with large curved windows and a hint of Old World in the brick facade.

Inside, the bar and dining area are much nicer than I would have imagined. The black tablecloths with white disposable covers make it feel like a premium dining experience. While the blue uplighting at the ceiling and around the bar make it feel cool.

Julie, Jakob and I were joined by our friends Matt and Tori. Matt is a lifetime resident of Wernersville, and like me, had never eaten at the old Calabria.

It was a Wednesday evening, and the parking lot was packed. We didn’t have reservations, but we only had to wait a minute or two for a table to be cleared before we were seated.

Our meals started with a basket of garlic bread, complimentary with the purchase of an entree. The bread was sliced small so the slices were easily snackable. Though not toasted to a total crisp, there was plenty of garlic and butter flavor throughout. We ate through them quickly and almost finished the entire second basket that came during our dinner.

Entrees were also served with a simple house salad or Caesar. The house salad came with mixed greens, two large slices of tomato and cucumber – the usual. It was topped with shredded mozzarella, a nice touch, and served with your choice of dressing. There were no complaints at all from the table about the salads.

Our entrees arrived relatively quickly. Each of us ordered a different Italian pasta dinner. For me, it was the tortellini in vodka sauce.

Vodka sauce (a creamy tomato sauce infused with vodka) is not something that I normally order when I dine out, but it caught my eye and I had to give it a try.

It was a good dish. The tortellini (I choose meat instead of cheese) was small so it looked like I ate more than I actually did. The sauce was good and very creamy. There wasn’t a lot of herbiness to it, but it was still a good dish, overall.

Julie ordered her favorite Italian meal: baked ziti. This was different than most versions of the dish that she has tried. Normally, it’s a lot of the traditional red sauce with cheese on top. This version was cheesier with a mix of red sauce and ricotta that gave it a different texture and a slightly different flavor.

It was a good change of pace, something that definitely stood out. She wouldn’t call it her favorite version, but it was good.

Matt’s manicotti was loaded with both ricotta and red sauce. The oversized stuffed pasta was a hit. I got to try a bite. I thought the red sauce was good, nothing outstanding, but the dish overall was good.

Tori also enjoyed her chicken Parmesan. There was more than enough chicken – plenty of it went home – and the rest of the plate was filled with pasta. As far as our party was concerned, we had four meals, and four winners.

For Julie and I, our total bill came to about $35, average for what a similar meal would cost at Italian restaurants across Berks County.

I have to say, Calabria made a great first impression on us. The food was very good. The service was great. And the building, itself, just seemed to enhance the experience.

And judging by the parking lot every time we drive past, it’s made a good impression on a lot of others, too.

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

Calabria Italian Restaurant
6646 Penn Ave
Wernersville, PA 19565

Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Hawaii Kitchen

I can’t think of a place in America farther away from Berks County – both physically and culturally – than Hawaii.

Hawaii is a tropical paradise. Berks County sometimes gets hit with a tropical storm. Hawaii is a destination thanks to its pristine beaches. The “beaches” at Blue Marsh Lake just can’t compare.

So the last cuisine I expected to make its way to Berks County was poke bowls, the Hawaiian specialty dish usually consisting of seafood, rice, vegetables and sauce – think a deconstructed sushi roll.

But then Hawaii Kitchen opened in West Reading earlier this year and a piece of the islands arrived in Berks.

Hawaii Kitchen opened earlier this year in the former Petite Milan – a children’s clothing store – in the 500 block of Penn Avenue.

The restaurant is roomier than it looks from the outside. Despite the narrow footprint, Hawaii Kitchen packs in tables of two and four with an additional row of counter seats. It’s not the biggest dining room in West Reading, but it serves its purpose.

There were only a few others seated inside when we arrived on a recent Saturday night – Julie and I with little Jakob in tow. The restaurant’s owner fawned over Jakob when she saw him so I’ll give some bonus points there.

We ordered at the counter and grabbed a table for two at the front window.

The first item to arrive was my avocado salad. It was a simple salad with just three ingredients: mixed greens, avocado and sesame-ginger dressing. But it was absolutely delicious.

I loved the dressing. It was salty; it was a little sweet without the bitter aftertaste of a balsamic. And with the simplicity of the salad, it just worked. It was also more filling than I would have imagined for a side salad, mostly thanks to the avocado.

Our entrees arrived shortly thereafter. Julie was going to be the one to try a bowl, the avo-coco shrimp bowl, a summer special advertised on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The bowl included mango, strawberry, pineapple, avocado and shrimp tossed in a coconut sauce. This is not a “traditional” poke, but Julie loved it.

Part fruit salad, part poke bowl, it was sweet and bright. Coconut and shrimp are always a winning combination, but the addition of the other fruits – including the avocado – added a little more flavor depth and really helped make it into a real meal. Julie was very surprised by how full she was after finishing it.

I skipped the bowl and went for the restaurant’s other specialty, the sushi burrito.

My first sushi burrito experience came courtesy of Hai Street Kitchen at the King of Prussia Mall. Hai Street has a few more than Hawaii Kitchen for its rolls, but the concept is the same: take sushi and supersize it to eat more like a burrito.

There are five sushi burritos on the menu – all but one of them are seafood based with shrimp, salmon, crab salad or a combination of the three. I skipped the fish and went with the vegetarian option instead.

My “burrito” included tofu, cucumber, avocado, spring mix and sweet chili sauce rolled in purple rice and seaweed wrap.

The purple rice made for great presentation but it was really just rice. And the first bite – mostly tofu and rice – was a bit disappointing. But the second bite hit home with the sweet chili sauce. Eventually all of the flavors started to mingle a little more and every bite was flavorful.

Tofu is mainly just filler, and that was fine with me. The other flavors – especially the delightful sweet chili sauce – were what really mattered.

Neither Julie nor I are experts in poke bowls, sushi or anything else on the menu at the Hawaii Kitchen, but we were both impressed with our meals. Though at $32 – with two bottles of iced tea included – I wouldn’t call it a bargain.

Still, we enjoyed it. And whether or not it was “authentic” doesn’t really matter to us. We liked it.

Also, it’s not like we’re going to Hawaii anytime soon so we’ll just enjoy what we have.

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

Hawaii Kitchen
510 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian