Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

Gourmand Cafe – West Reading

Gourmand Cafe West Reading Exterior

By now, most Berks County residents know the name Gourmand. It started with the food truck that introduced the county to “artisan street food.” That was followed by multiple brick-and-mortar locations (some that have already come and gone).

The Gourmand brand has truly been everywhere around Berks County.

In March, Gourmand expanded their empire again, this time opening a cafe amid the busy dining scene in West Reading.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 2

The Gourmand Cafe sits on the 700 block of Penn Avenue in the former Relish, a cafe and coffee shop that operated for about two years.

I visited on a Friday afternoon in July and found a much quieter place than I was expecting. Only one other table was filled  as a mother and daughter enjoyed lunch by the front window.

Gourmand Cafe Interior 1

The menu written on the chalkboard behind the counter didn’t match the printed one. The burgers advertised on the chalkboard, I was told, were no longer available. Unfortunately a chalkboard artist had not been brought in yet to scroll the new menu.

What was left on the menu was mostly light fare like avocado toast, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and salads. A few sandwiches were available and ultimately I settled on a veggie panini.

It was a surprisingly hearty vegetarian entree consisting of (as listed on the menu) pressed sourdough with hummus, cucumber, mushroom pate, avocado, arugula and balsamic reduction.

Gourmand Cafe Veggie Panini

The hummus was easily my favorite part. It has a great flavor (read Julie’s review of the other Gourmand Cafe for more on their hummus) and it is an excellent base to start a sandwich. The cucumber, especially, mixed really well with it, and avocado is always a hit with me. It’s not the gut-busting Berks sandwich, but it was very good.

With no fryer, there are no fries. Instead, all sandwiches are served with Gourmand’s seasoned pretzels. The broken hard pretzels are coated with ranch flavoring for a simple, but good side.

On a whim, I also ordered a strawberry bubble tea to accompany my meal. It was refreshing and a nice change of pace from my usual unsweetened iced tea.

Gourmand Cafe Strawberry Bubble Tea

I certainly enjoyed my meal, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Gourmand’s West Reading location doesn’t really fit with the brand. My past Gourmand experiences have included a fried sweet bologna sandwich, pastrami and cheese-topped fries, and an Italian steak sandwich. The West Reading menu is the complete opposite.

It doesn’t help that the updated menu (sans burgers) isn’t available online. The only menu posted on Gourmand’s Facebook page is from the restaurant’s opening and includes four burger options. Gourmand’s website only features the menu for the Berkshire Cafe with items like truffled goat cheese fries and ahi ceviche fish tacos. 

The food was very good. The cafe had a nice vibe to it. Even with the bubble tea my meal was less than $15. And I can’t complain about the service, but I still felt a little disappointed.

As I finished up my meal, I heard the manager tell someone that the Cafe is Gourmand’s healthy alternative.

I guess I’m just more of an “artisan street food” kind of guy.

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

Gourmand Cafe
715 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Cafes & Coffeeshops Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian

Circle S Ranch House

The Ranch House is recognizable for its A-frame roof, faux fencing and neon orange sign.

Anyone who has driven along Penn Avenue in West Lawn has undoubtedly noticed the Ranch House.

At night, the neon sign beams in bright orange. During the day, the sign and the building itself, with faux fence posts on the roof and a giant wagon wheel on the wall, catch the eye of passersby.

Inside, the decor is wood-on-wood, like this wooden Ranch House sign with wooden adornments mounted on a wood-paneled wall.

I remember visiting the Ranch House as a kid with my parents and grandparents. Thirty years later, it still feels the same with an interior that is almost exclusively made of wood – wood-paneled walls, wooden booths, exposed wood beams and wooden ceilings. It’s a similar look to the Ranch House’s sister restaurant, Schell’s, the Muhlenberg Township drive-in.

The dining room looks tired and worn with green cushions and cream curtains accenting worn-out wooden booths

Green cushions and cream curtains are an interesting – and tired looking – accent. The dining room could probably use an update, but change isn’t really welcomed by the more mature crowd that frequents the Ranch House.

And it’s really not a surprise that their primary clientele skews older – the menu is simple and cheap. The most expensive item on the menu is an eight-ounce steak, served with two sides for less than $15. The cheapest is a two-ounce burger for $2.55.

The Wagon Wheel hamburger is served plain with no toppings (cheese optional) but does come with a boat load of fries.

My Wagon Wheel hamburger and fries was middle-of-the-road when it came to price at $5.59. For that price, the burger is Plain Jane – even more so than I realized. The only option for the Wagon Wheel is cheese or no cheese. For lettuce, tomato and onion, you need to order the Ranchburger, which also is served with their special ranch sauce. (Both burgers are also on the menu at Schell’s).

I probably should have remembered that , but I didn’t so I ended up with a plain hamburger. I have to say, though, their hamburger patties are pretty good. It reminds me of a Burger King patty, a similar flavor only thicker and served on a sesame seed bun. It was pretty good for what it was, but I do wish I had the LTO and understood the difference when I ordered it.

The fries were simple but good. They’re not fresh-cut or anything fancy, just thicker cut French fries that needed salt and pepper. But there was plenty of them for the money.

The grilled pretzel sandwich is the most expensive sandwich on the menu at $8.19. It's served with fries and coleslaw. (Cheese is a 75-cent up-charge).

Julie also had a plateful of fries on the side with her grilled pretzel bun sandwich. The sandwiches are prepared with a choice of turkey, ham or roast beef, with or without cheese. She opted for the turkey with cheese (at almost $9 with the 75-cent upcharge for cheese, it was the highest priced sandwich on the menu).

Pretzel buns are always good. This was no exception. Otherwise, it was your typical turkey melt.  Enjoyable, but unremarkable.

One of the positive things about the Ranch House for Julie and I – other than the price – is that it’s really kid-friendly.  They have a decent kids menu with 10 entrees and two kid-themed desserts – all with western-themed names – so we have no problem bringing our son Jakob, now 18 months old.

Whenever we can, we placed his order before our own so it arrives early and we can begin feeding him before our meals are served. It allows us to give him our full attention and get him busy eating before he gets impatient in his high chair.

We took this picture of Jakob's hot dog and baked beans halfway through his meal.
Jakbo’s half-eaten dinner.

On our recent visit, we ordered him “The Lone Ranger,” a hot dog served atop a plate of baked beans. It’s two things that Jakob loves and two things that heat up fairly well which is important because he can’t finish an entire meal yet.

Before we arrived, we had already decided that we were going to finish our meal with ice cream. After debating back-and-forth for a few minutes, we decided on one of the Ranch House’s signature ice cream treats – the Bull Dog.

The Bull Dog - a four-scoop ice cream sundae - is one of Ranch House's signature desserts and is only $5.

Named for the Wilson School District’s mascot, the Bull Dog is a beast of a sundae: four scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) with crushed peanuts, strawberries, peaches, pineapple and whipped cream – and a cherry on top, of course.

When it arrived at the table, our jaws dropped at the size of it. But it was actually much more manageable for the two of us than we original thought, working out to a two-scoop sundae each.

(Full disclosure: we thought Jakob would share some but he filled up on his hot dog and beans and actually refused ice cream).

There was no question that this was the best thing we ate during our meal. I especially loved the mix of chocolate ice cream with the fresh strawberries. But the pineapple topping  and the peaches were also very good with both the vanilla and chocolate.

It was a very satisfying end to our meal.

Even with the addition of the sundae, our total bill was only $28. You can’t argue with that price for a full-service restaurant.

The Ranch House may not be “cool.” At more than 40 years old, it’s not new either. But for a young family like ours, it’s not a bad choice.

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

Circle S Ranch House
2738 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Classics Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Just Mom’s Ice Cream, Deli and Grille

Summer feels like it has arrived early in Pennsylvania. With sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the right time for summer foods and cool treats.

One place that offers a little of both is Just Mom’s Ice Cream, Deli and Grille.

Just Mom’s is located along Route 23, between Morgantown and Elverson (but still inside the border with Chester County) and is basically next door to one of our favorite finds on Berks County Eats – Morgantown Coffee House.

The restaurant sits in a strip mall where it takes up three storefronts – one for each of its primary businesses: restaurant, deli and ice cream parlor.

Opened in 2017, the Morgantown/Elverson location is the second for Just Mom’s. The original still operates a few miles south in Honey Brook, Chester County.

Julie, Jakob and I stopped in for an early dinner on a recent Saturday afternoon and placed our orders at the counter before grabbing a table near the deli stand. There are more than enough seats with a combination of booths and tables throughout the main dining room.

The ice cream parlor, which occupies the right hand side of the building, has its own unique vibe with a checkerboard floor and stainless steel tables and high-tops.

Just Mom’s menu doesn’t stray far from a typical pizza and sandwich shop, though they have a few items that you won’t find too many other places. Of course that’s what we were drawn to.

The sandwich that caught my eye was the “parmageddon,” breaded chicken, breaded eggplant, fried mushrooms and meatballs with marinara sauce and mozzarella. The sandwich, like many of their hot sandwiches, was toasted to melt the cheese and create a harder roll.

I liked many of the individual items that made up the sandwich but they didn’t go together very well. Only the chicken and eggplant were thin enough that you could reasonable get them together in the same bite. There was only one or two meatball halves in the sandwich. And the breaded mushrooms were a little much. The marinara was pretty good and there was just enough cheese, but they were both lost in the shuffle with so many strong flavors.

If I had to do it over again, I would have ordered an eggplant parm sandwich because the eggplant was my favorite part of the sandwich. Or I would have tried one of their cheesesteaks.

Julie opted for their unique French dip cheesesteak that was advertised on their dry-erase board at the counter. The beef steak meat was mixed with fried onions, French onion crisps, Provolone and Swiss. Instead of marinara, it featured a sweet French dip.

I actually enjoyed my taste of it. It wasn’t far off the flavor of a French dip sandwich, though both Julie and I were expecting – and probably would have preferred – to have a cup of au jus for dipping instead of having it mixed in with the sandwich. Still, it was a pretty good change of pace from a typical Berks County cheesesteak.

There’s a limited kids menu where your choice of chicken tenders, hot dog, cheeseburger or grilled cheese comes served with fries and a fountain soda. We decided to order a hot dog for our 18-month-old only to find out that they were out of regular hot dogs and only had quarter-pound dogs left. We decided to go with it, knowing that he would never finish.

It was a good hot dog, split open and grilled (the best way to make one in my opinion). Because of its size, it was served on a hoagie roll. We cut up both for Jakob and he enjoyed it with a little ketchup. The fries were battered and very good.

Normally, Julie and I would have split an order of fries, but we were saving room for dessert.

The ice cream parlor has both hand-dipped and soft-serve ice cream and serves a variety of sundaes, twisters and other sweet treats. I went with one of my personal favorites, the black and white milkshake.

For me, it doesn’t get much better than a little vanilla and a little chocolate in the same shake. The soft serve shake was just what I needed to cap off my meal.

Julie tried one of the more unique hand-dipped ice cream flavors available: French toast. There’s not really a better way to describe it than to say it tasted like a really good French toast but sweeter. It even had actual pieces of French toast inside the ice cream. It’s a flavor that doesn’t seem like it should work, but it did.

Of course we had to get a little dish of soft serve for Jakob as well. He loves ice cream (we try not to give it to him often) but he had filled up by eating a good portion of his oversized hot dog so he was done after a few spoonfuls.

Our dinners cost around $25 while our dessert was about $10. For $35 total, we certainly didn’t feel cheated.

Really, we had no complaints about the meal and the service we received was excellent and accommodating. We had two servers – one behind the counter and one who brought us our food. They were both very nice and helpful, especially with our little guy. I don’t know if either one of them were the “mom” in Just Mom’s, but they made us feel at home during our visit.

With so many options closer to our home in Wyomissing, we probably wouldn’t make a special trip to Just Mom’s, but the next time we find ourselves at the southern tip of the county looking for a quick bite – and maybe a little treat – we would stop in again.

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

Just Mom’s
109 Darby Sq
Morgantown, PA 19543

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Cinnamon Roll Pancakes from Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen

Wild Sage Coffee & Kitchen

Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen Exterior

When it opened in Spring 2017, Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen brought a unique vibe and menu to downtown Reading.

For the first year and a half after it opened, the cafe’s hours were limited to weekday breakfast and lunch: great for those who live and work and downtown Reading but not great for people like me with a long commute.

Inside Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen

Then last fall, Wild Sage introduced weekend hours, serving brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Now two years after Wild Sage opened for business, Julie and I finally had an opportunity to visit the little cafe on Washington Street.

The location is convenient to the downtown business district along the 700 block of Washington. We arrived to find the block parked full. Thankfully the Poplar and Walnut garage is right around the corner (the charge for up to an hour is $2 but we actually didn’t have to pay anything when we put the ticket in the machine).

Looking out the front window of Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen

Before Wild Sage took over, the stone town home housed a doctor’s office. The decor inside is simple with gray walls and a hardwood floor. The walls featured paintings and drawings from local artists. The bells on the door jangled with every passing car. “Our ghost,” one employee joked as the sound caught my attention.

On weekends, the full menu – both breakfast and lunch – are available along with a select few brunch-only specials. The menu changes seasonally but always features soups, salads, sandwiches and grain bowls for lunch with sandwiches, toast, fruit bowls and select sweets at breakfast.

Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen Teas

And of course they have a full menu of specialty drinks that includes coffee, tea, smoothies and more. I decided to try the iced chai tea while Julie went with a cold brewed tea.

Chai lattes are a favorite of mine, but not everyone offers a cold version of the spiced tea so I was excited to see it on Wild Sage’s menu. It did not disappoint. It had the right blend of chai spice and creamy milk to make for a refreshing mid-morning drink. Julie also enjoyed her lavender lemon tea – unsweetened but with a strong, relaxing lavender flavor.

For our meals, I stuck with the breakfast side of the menu while Julie went with lunch.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes from Wild Sage Coffee and Kitchen

My sweet tooth told me to order the cinnamon roll pancakes: two pancakes topped with a cream cheese glaze and candied walnuts with cinnamon sugar. They were a true indulgence.

The cream cheese glaze was  delicious and the walnuts added some nice texture. But it was the cinnamon sugar, which had been nicely caramelized, that really hit on the perfect flavor combination.

I had also ordered a hash brown waffle, one of the sides listed on the brunch-only menu. Unfortunately I was told that it was no longer being offered. Instead of replacing it with bacon or a fried egg (the only other sides listed) I stuck with just the pancakes. I probably could have eaten something else but I really didn’t need to so in the end I didn’t miss it.

Wild Sage Red Pepper Soup

For her lunch, Julie went with a soup and sandwich combo. For the soup, she opted for their roasted red pepper soup. It was topped with feta cheese and balsamic drizzle, the former added a tang and a little creaminess.

The only complaint was that it could have been hotter. It was warm, but it wasn’t the steaming cup of hot soup that would be expected.

Wild Sage Maple Bacon Sandwich

Her maple bacon sandwich was also a winner in her book. It featured turkey, apple, cheddar cheese, bacon and a maple spread on thick-cut white toast.

Turkey, bacon and cheddar always go well together, and Julie enjoyed the addition of the maple spread -a sweet sauce – and the apples which gave the sandwich a crunchy texture.

Our meal was very good all around. And even with our two drinks, we spent less than $30 so I’d say it was a good deal as well.

I’m glad that Wild Sage added weekend hours so those of us outside the city can enjoy this great little cafe downtown. Hopefully more guests will take advantage of it because it seemed like a relatively slow day during what would be considered the lunch rush.

At least I can say that we will be back.

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

Wild Sage Coffee & Kitchen
731 Washington St
Reading, PA 19601

Brunch Cafes & Coffeeshops Reviews
Screpesi's Ham on Roll

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop

Screpesi's Sandwich Shop

Berks County has its share of old-school restaurants – especially in and around the city of Reading.

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop is one of those places, serving customers since 1949 – just four years after World War II ended.

Screpesi's Sandwich Shop

If Screpesi’s doesn’t have the smallest menu in Berks County, it’s close. There are eight sandwiches: ham, Italian, tuna, turkey, roast beef, steak, meatball and sausage. And they have three sizes of cheese and one-topping pizza.

Deciding on a whim to get subs, I didn’t call ahead. Instead, I made the quick drive along Route 422 to Lancaster Avenue. Screpesi’s small storefront is on the corner opposite one of our favorites, Romano’s Chicago Style Pizza. Afghan Chicken & Gyro and a brand new Wawa fill the other two corners.

Screpesi's Sandwich Shop

But Screpesi’s is smallest of the storefronts, looking like an afterthought on a block full of townhomes. Two backlit signs face the streets – one promoting pizza and homemade meatball sandwiches; the other, more faded sign promotes ham on roll, Italian, tuna and steak.

If the wood paneled walls and green tiled floor aren’t original, they’ve been there for decades. There are no seats – it’s take-out only. On one wall is a portrait of the founders, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Screpesi, dated 1949.

Screpesi's Sandwich Shop

There were three young women – high school or college aged – working when I arrived. Two behind the counter and one who had just finished mopping. I know because she had the mop propped next to her as she restocked the potato chips. I had to climb over it to get my bottle of orange cream Kutztown Soda from the drink cooler.

Getting my food was a lot easier, and really quick. I was in and out of the shop in about five minutes, heading home with two sandwiches, two bags of chips, and the aforementioned Kutztown soda for $16.

Screpesi's Steak Sandwich

I ordered a steak sandwich and Screpesi’s does them Berks County style – chopped steak meat in sauce with onions (and served on a roll from Reading’s ATV bakery). I didn’t expect much when I saw them dish it out from the pot on the stove, but I have to say, it was much better than expected.

What I liked most about it was that the sauce wasn’t too heavy. Most of the flavor came from the meat (and a little grease). I was honestly amazed that the soft roll stood up to the filling, but it did. And I actually really enjoyed it.

Screpesi's Ham on Roll

Julie had me grab her a ham on roll after seeing it promoted as the “Best ham on roll in Berks County.” She had it topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato  and mayo.

Normally, she orders turkey or tuna when she gets a sub, but she thought the ham on roll was really good. The roll, itself, was very good. And all of the ingredients were good, which added up to an excellent sandwich.

It’s also worth mentioning the selection of Good’s and Dieffenbach’s snacks (I grabbed bags of Good’s chips – the red bag, of course) and local drinks that included Kutztown soda, Clover Farms teas and milk, and cans of A-Treat.

Yes, this old-school sandwich shop is about as Berks County as it gets.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Poor (For the Mop) | Excellent (for the sandwich making)
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop
500 Lancaster Ave
Reading, PA 19611

Classics Lunch & Dinner Reviews Sandwich Shops
Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

The Angry Anvil

The Angry Anvil

I always appreciate a restaurant that has a sense of place.

There are many restaurants that have a concept first, then force fit that concept into a location. But there are others that naturally flow with their environment and their location.

The Angry Anvil, which opened in Birdsboro at the end of 2018, certainly fits the town.

The Angry Anvil

It’s not just the historic photos and portraits on the wall or cleverly named menu items like the Birdsburger.

The restaurant sits at the end of a strip mall, overlooking the town from a slope on the south side. The spacious dining room – larger than it looks from the outside – features high- and low-top tables made of metal, an homage to the steel industry that once thrived in Birdsboro.

The Angry Anvil

Serving American pub fusion food with American craft beers – with a few imports – the menu isn’t small, but it is focused.

Dinner options include sandwiches and burgers, wraps, flatbreads and salads, with a range of appetizers that includes four kinds of specialty fries. It’s blue-collar food for a blue-collar town, just elevated.

Angry Anvil Ranch Fried Chicken

Looking over the menu, I was drawn to the ranch fried chicken sandwich: topped with bacon, spring mix, bruschetta and sweet corn ranch, and served with a side of beer-battered fries.

There was a lot to love about this sandwich. The fried chicken was flavorful on its own. The bruschetta, which seemed to be featured on half of the menu items, was fresh and bright. But what really separated this was the sweet corn ranch.

I’ve had ranch on corn before but never corn infused into the dressing. It’s a great flavor combination that led to a little sweeter dressing, one that paired perfectly with the rest of the sandwich ingredients.

The sandwich was served with a half-pound of beer-battered fries. Battered fries always seem to go down easier, even after I am already full. There wasn’t a piece left by the time I had finished.

The Angry Anvil Balsamic Bleu Burger

Julie opted for one of the Angry Anvil’s burgers – the balsamic bleu burger. It came topped with bruschetta, spring mix, balsamic reduction and bleu cheese spread.

It was another hit. The balsamic was strong without being overpowering and played really nicely with the bleu cheese. If anything was lacking it would be a little crunch from the toppings. But there were zero complaints about the flavor.

On the side, Julie swapped out her fries for an order of the Angry Anvil’s homemade chips. They were very good – crispy and lightly seasoned – in line with what we’ve found of similar offerings elsewhere.

The Angry Anvil

Along with a glass of wine and an iced tea, our total for the night was $33. When the highest-priced food item is $14, it’s easy to splurge on drinks without breaking the bank.

As we were getting ready to leave, the Angry Anvil’s owner stopped by our table (I recognized him from a photo from when the place opened) as he made his rounds. He was surprised that Julie and I had made the trip from Wyomissing to Birdsboro (it’s 15 minutes) but was glad to hear we enjoyed our meal.

We were glad, too. Glad to know that the Angry Anvil has added another quality option to Birdsboro and Berks County, and one that we will happily return to again.

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

The Angry Anvil
200 W. 1st St
Birdsboro, PA 19508

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

5 Favorite Entrees of 2018

Our annual end-of-year tradition continues as we take a look back on the best things we tried this year. Today: our five favorite entrees of 2018.

Brocmar Taco – Brocmar Smokehouse

When we visited Brocmar Smokehouse for our first blog of 2018, it was a relative newcomer to the Shillington Farmers Market. When we left, it was our new go-to spot for barbecue in Berks County thanks to the inventive Brocmar taco – a fried Johnny cake topped with choice of meat, coleslaw and barbecue sauce. Between return visits to the market and sandwiches at Brocmar’s Reading Fightin Phils stand, it was probably our most-visited restaurant of the year. Read Full Review

Savory Grille Five Spice Duck Breast

Five-Spice Duck Breast – Savory Grille

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that duck – when done right – is one of my absolute favorite foods. The five-spice duck breast from Savory Grille may be the best that I’ve tried. At the time, I described it as one of the best dishes I have ever tried – thanks to the addition of blueberry compote and sauce gastrique that gave it a complex sweet and sour flavor. It was an absolute highlight in one of the best meals we had all year. Read Full Review

Sal's Pizza Style Stromboli Pizza

Stromboli Pizza – Sal’s Pizza Style

I’m not going to go so far as to say this is my favorite pizza in Berks County (that honor still goes to the Chicago-style pie at Romano’s) but it is certainly the most original pizza – or Stromboli – in Berks, and that’s reason enough to make the list. Taking a traditional Stromboli and using the top fold as the base of a pizza is brilliant. It’s also very good and something that’s worth trying at least once. Read Full Review

Fork & Ale Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken – Fork  & Ale

Hands-down the best chicken dish that I have tasted on Berks County Eats. The Moroccan chicken from Fork & Ale featured confit chicken in an incredible spice blend, served over housemade pasta. The addition of sweet golden raisins and crunchy chickpeas gave it additional flavor bursts and needed texture and helped make it one of the most memorable dishes we have tried. Read Full Review

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Pulled Duck – Kwik  Shoppe

This may not have been the gourmet-style duck described above from Savory Grille, but I have to give kudos to the Kwik Shoppe for creating a fast-food style pulled duck sandwich that exceeded my expectations. The subtle sweet and tangy sauce and the crispy onion ring on top were nice additions. Is it a five-star meal? Absolutely not. But it’s a unique only-in-Berks County dish and that’s reason enough to make this list. Read Full Review

Best of Berks County Eats Entrees
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
Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

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

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

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

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Shoemakersville, PA

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

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

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

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

Kwik Shoppe Pulled Duck Sandwich

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

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

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

I would go back for another.

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Cheeseburger

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

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In French Fries

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

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Mac and Cheese Bites

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

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

Kwik Shoppe Drive-In Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dessert Drive-Ins Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Park Road Cafe Sleasy Caprese

Park Road Cafe

The Park Road Cafe is one of Berks County’s newest restaurants. Named for the Wyomissing street where it sits in a shopping center, the restaurant took over the former Green Bean Cafe (later, Meat Up Delicatessen)

Both of its predecessors were short-lived. The former – an all-organic cafe – lasted about nine months. The latter – a New York-style deli – made it two more.

By mid-summer, the space was vacant and the transformation into the Park Road Cafe began. And you wouldn’t recognize the space from the inside. The new look is clean and bold. (The murals of vegetables had already been removed with the changeover to the deli).

The only “problem” we had with the change is the lack of seating. There are only about eight tables plus a small loveseat and matching chair in the corner. And to be fair, there wasn’t a lot of seating before, either.

Another couple claimed the couch and Julie took the chair – the last seat available in the room. That left me sitting on the window ledge. (There are more tables outside, but winter has arrived early so they’re not getting much use).

The menu isn’t large, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. And the food at the Park Road Cafe is definitely quality.

With only seven sandwich options to choose from at lunch, our decisions were easy. For me, it was the Sleasy Caprese. It’s a dirty-sounding name, but a delicious sandwich with grilled chicken, basil pesto, mozzarella, tomato, balsamic glaze and rosemary butter served on wheatberry oat bread.

I didn’t get much of a taste for the rosemary butter, but I loved everything else. The ingredients tasted fresh and vibrant and there was just enough balsamic to give it the distinct flavor without overpowering everything. And the bread held up nicely and never got soggy, always a bonus.

Julie’s Aww Brie sandwich came served on an equally sturdy brioche bun. Sliced turkey, melted brie, garlic aioli, arugula and berry jam made for a unique flavor experience.

Sure, it was reminiscent of a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich, but the garlic aioli added depth of flavor that made it different enough to stand out.

Both sandwiches were served with kettle chips, an expected but enjoyable side.

We cleared our plates but neither of us felt like we had been cheated – comfortably full is how we felt after we had finished.

And we didn’t feel cheated on the price either. At a little more than $20, it was a fair price to pay for a lunch. I will say that it is not the fastest lunch that you are going to find in Berks County – it was a solid 20 minutes from the time we arrived until our food was brought to our table.

But I will take that wait when the food is this good.

Hopefully Park Road Cafe has hit on the recipe for success that it’s predecessors couldn’t.

So far, so good.

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

Park Road Cafe
840 N. Park Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Cafes & Coffeeshops Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian