Belly Kitchen Pan Perdu

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

Goggleworks Center for the Arts

Seven and a half years ago, in August 2011, Julie and I were married. And we celebrated with a reception at the Goggleworks. The downtown art center was the perfect venue for us.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, as Julie and I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that it had been seven and a half years since my last visit.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

We were back, this time to check out Belly Kitchen & Drinkery, the on-site bar and restaurant that opened last year. Located just off the main entrance, Belly’s dining area blends into the galleries. Our high top table had fine crafted wooden stools. The table itself was filled with sawdust – presumably from the wood studio. Stark metal tables and chairs were spread throughout the rest of the space. A duo – guitar and keyboard – played from a spot along the wall.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

I had heard good things about Belly’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The weekly brunches started in December and feature a special menu with live local jazz musicians.

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery

The rest of the week, Belly is open for lunch and dinner with a menu that includes salads, sandwiches and apps. On Sundays the offerings expand to include inspired breakfast entrees like blueberry cheesecake crepes and breakfast nachos and lunch items like the vegetarian roast beet. They also have a full bar with mixed drinks and Sly Fox beer on tap.

Goggleworks Center for the Arts

Meals are ordered at the bar/counter area. I noticed a large box full of novelty stress toys on the counter. These were handed out to customers in lieu of numbers.

I was handed a lightbulb. “I’ll give you this because you look bright.”

“Tell that to my wife,” I replied, getting the slightest obligatory laugh.

A day before our visit, I saw a Facebook post advertising the brunch. It featured a photo of the Brooklyn pan perdu. It was not a dish that I had heard of or seen on any other Berks County menu, but the moment I saw it, I knew I had to try it.

Belly Kitchen Pan Perdu

It looked like French toast, and it essentially is, but instead of a white bread, it’s made with Green’s chocolate babka, a sweet kosher bread. After an egg wash and some time on the grill, it was topped with a salted caramel maple drizzle and served with a yogurt “smear” with pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Belly Kitchen Brooklyn Pan Perdu

While it may have looked like French toast, there was no mistaking this for any other dish  I have ever tried. It was so rich and the chocolate flavor really shined through in every bite. The glaze melted away and made it perfectly sweet. I savored every bite of my two slices of babka. When I was done, I wished I had another order that I could dig into, not because I was hungry, but because they were that good.

Belly Kitchen Durham Plate

Julie’s brunch was even more intricate. She had ordered the Durham plate, two stacks of breakfast goodness that started with a buttermilk biscuit. The biscuits were topped with fried green tomatoes, maple glazed sausage patties, pimento cheese, poached eggs and cornbread crumble.

Every ingredient was done to perfection and they came together so well. In the bite she let me try, the sausage shined through, but for Julie, the first thing she noticed was the fried green tomatoes. The egg ran into the nooks and crannies of the biscuit. Every bite was a little different, but all of them were delicious.

Belly Kitchen Durham Plate

The plate was garnished with potato sticks, another classic snack from childhood that neither of us had tasted in a long time, but one that was definitely enjoyed.

Add on a strawberry lemonade and a bottle of water from the fridge and we spent around $30 for our meal.

And it was a memorable meal at that.

I won’t say that our visit to Belly Kitchen & Drinkery was as memorable as our wedding reception – that would be hard to top.

But when it comes to the food, Belly Kitchen wins, hands down. Our wedding made the Goggleworks a special place for us. Belly makes it a place we want to hang out all the time.

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

Belly Kitchen & Drinkery
Goggleworks Center for the Arts
201 Washington St
Reading, PA 19601

Breakfast & Brunch Reviews
Ganly's Bangers and Mash

Ganly’s Pub & Deli

Ganly's Pub & Deli

Editor’s note: this post was updated to correct an error regarding one of the menu items.

County Eats is not a one-man operation. If you’ve been a long-time reader, you know that my wife Julie – and lately, our son Jakob – has been along for nearly every blog (she even wrote a couple herself recently).

Most times, our experiences are the same. If one of us is happy, the other is happy. If one of us has a good time, the other has a good time.

Sometimes, though, things go a little differently. That’s what happened on a recent trip to Ganly’s Pub & Deli.

Ganly's Pub and Deli

Ganly’s sits at the end of State Hill Road, where it meets Brownsville Road and Reber’s Bridge Road in Lower Heidelberg Township. It’s a beautiful building in a location that’s out of the way for many.

The restaurant had fallen off of my radar for a while, but this year’s Wilson Iron Chef brought it back to the forefront. Not only did Ganly’s impress in the People’s Choice competition with its apple, brie and bacon crisps, Chef Ben Hinkel put in a great effort in the Iron Chef competition, itself.

A few weeks later, we paid the restaurant a visit. It wasn’t our first time dining there, but it was our first time in years and the first time for the blog.

Ganly's Pub and Deli

Ganly’s doesn’t offer reserved seating on the weekends, but Julie was able to call ahead and add our name to the wait list – a 30-minute wait on this Friday evening.

We arrived early, hoping they were overestimating, and were told it would still be 20-30 minutes. It ended up being a full half hour until we were seated in the main dining room – additional seating can be found in the bar area on the opposite side of the building.

Jakob had napped through most of our wait so he was wide awake by the time we sat down for dinner. So even though we had his car seat in a high chair, Julie and I took turns holding him through the duration of our meal.

Ganly's Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

Both Julie and I started with a cup of soup. For Julie, it was French onion. For me, it was fire roasted tomato – the daily special.

The tomato soup was different from any other that I have tried. It was a chunky soup – not with tomato chunks, but with carrots, onions and other vegetables. It was well-seasoned and enjoyable, a good start to the meal.

Ganly's French Onion Soup

Julie’s French onion soup was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. A solid start, but it was after this that her meal went sideways.

The appetizer special of the day was a smoked salmon BLT. When asked, our waitress told Julie that it would be enough for a meal.

Ganly's Smoked Salmon BLT

And it was. The BLT looked beautiful when it arrived, a focaccia roll loaded with smoked bacon, heirloom tomatoes, housemade mayo and smoked salmon.

After her first bite, Julie realized that while she loves grilled salmon, smoked salmon is not her thing. She tried some more but she just did not care for it. It wasn’t Ganly’s fault, but and we were more than happy to pay for the dish, but Julie knew she wasn’t going to eat it and placed an order for another dish.

Ganly's Bangers and Mash

So while she waited for her next meal, I worked on my bangers and mash. Americans would call it sausages and mashed potatoes.

The bangers had a crispy outside and a great flavor that was spiced more like a German wurst than an American-style country sausage. The mash was actually colcannon. Colcannon is mashed potatoes with the addition of cabbage. It was a subtle difference, but it was very good, especially with the gravy.

I really enjoyed everything, but could only finish half of it, partially because my meal also came with a salad that arrived just moments before the bangers and mash.

Ganly's Salad

The salad was your basic mixed greens and choice of dressing. It wasn’t anything special, but it was a hefty salad. Had I known that my entree came with a salad, I may have skipped the soup, but I had already ordered the tomato soup when the waitress asked me what dressing I would like.

Julie handed Jakob off to me once her replacement meal arrived. It was the chicken and smoked gouda sandwich.

Ganly's Chicken and Gouda Sandwich

The gouda was a nice change of pace, and the roll was very good. The house chips on the side was okay, but could have used a little more salt and other seasonings.

By this point, we had been at the restaurant for nearly an hour-and-a-half and all Julie cared about was the eating, not the reviewing, so she hurriedly ate her sandwich.

We received our bill and the BLT had been removed. It wasn’t necessary as they restaurant had done nothing wrong. In total, our bill was a little over $40.

It was a mixed bag for us. For me, it was a great meal. Though the wait was a little frustrating. For Julie, it was a bit disappointing as she really wanted the smoked salmon BLT, but it just wasn’t what she thought it was going to be. And her wait was even longer. If she hadn’t had that soup, I don’t know if she could have lasted until her sandwich arrived.

But I have to give credit to our waitress who handled it well, despite having to work too many tables (she was also serving in the other dining area) and not being at fault at all.

Hopefully next time is a better experience, one that we can both enjoy.

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

Ganly’s Pub
500 Brownsville Rd
Sinking Spring, PA 19608

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Boursin fried chicken from Franklin House Tavern

Road Trip: Franklin House Tavern

Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown, PA

Berks County Eats takes a road trip to Lebanon County this week for a meal at the historic Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown.

It’s been a long time since we took a road trip for Berks County Eats. Our last stop outside the county was in July of last year, eight months ago when we visited the Revere Tavern in Lancaster.

Ironically enough, our next road trip takes us to another historic inn named after a famous figure from the past: the Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown.

I have a vague childhood memory of a family meal at the Franklin House. It had to have been 20 years ago when my grandparents still lived on a farm outside of Schaefferstown.

Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown, PA

In the years since, Julie and I have driven by the restaurant countless times. But it was never our destination. But the more we drove through Schaefferstown, the more we wanted to stop.

Our first visit finally happened in late February. We dropped Jakob off at my parents and continued on to the Lebanon County landmark for a Saturday evening dinner.

The historic inn is essentially divided into two sides – the restaurant and the tavern. We were on the restaurant side, the more refined, finer dining experience.

The Washington Room

We were led back into the Washington Room, a small-ish dining space with our table for two, three tables for four, a table for six, and a table for 10. In buildings this old – it was erected in 1746 – rooms are small and seating can be tight. But we were comfortable at our little table in the corner of the room.

Inside the Washington Room at the Franklin House Tavern

During our meal, there were only two other tables occupied in our dining room, but we saw at least five different servers and runners coming through. Our waitress was the second person we saw, after another waiter in the room breezed by after taking another order. “Be there in a sec,” was the gist of what he said. Thankfully, he wasn’t our server.

House Salad at the Franklin House TavernThe meal started with salads. I stuck with the house salad with ranch dressing while Julie upgraded to the Caesar.

The presentation on both was beautiful, and the house salad included one nice addition: fresh Parmesan cheese. It was a subtle enhancement.

Caesar salad from the Franklin House Tavern

Julie’s Caesar salad shined thanks to attention to detail. The lettuce was grilled, bringing out more flavor and making it feel special. A small crostini was served on the side and it was better than any crouton that would have been served on top. It was worth the $3.25 upgrade charge.

Dinner roll and oil from Franklin House Tavern

Between our salad and meal, we were served a pair of dinner rolls. Set on the table was an oil and balsamic blend for dipping. Oil is great. Balsamic is not. To me, it was an attempt to be too fancy. The rolls would have been better served with butter.

Next out were our entrees. For me, it was the “Jacked Mac.” The menu listed it as “cavatappi pasta, Parmesan cream, house smoked sweet Italian sausage, roasted cauliflower, rum raisins and sweet peas.”

The Jacked Mac from the Franklin House Tavern

I found it to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, I loved the additions to the dish – the sausage was very good, and the rum raisins provided sweet little flavor bursts.

On the other hand, I was really hoping for more of a cream sauce and less of a traditional mac-and-cheese. The Parmesan cream didn’t jump out. On the contrary, I didn’t taste much Parmesan. And I felt like my meal had been completed before Julie’s and was sitting for a few minutes. Not that it was cold, but I could tell that the cheese had cooled slightly.

Overall, it was still a good dish but it could have been great. Like the Boursin fried chicken. That was Julie’s meal, and it was a great dish.

Boursin fried chicken from Franklin House Tavern

The Boursin fried chicken was on the specials menu, and there wasn’t much description of it, other than that it would be served atop a waffle with prosciutto and a honey drizzle.

It was a beautiful presentation with a lightly breaded chicken breast topped with the cheese and a slice of prosciutto. The only thing better than how it looked was how it tasted.

Boursin cheese, as we would come to find out, most closely resembles cream cheese. It essentially took the place of a sauce, giving a sweet, creamy flavor that was in every bite. The prosciutto added another savory element while also giving salty notes to the dish. Even the waffle added additional depth to the dish.

I was in love Julie’s entree, and I definitely had food envy.

We weren’t celebrating a special occasion, but we decided to make it special by adding dessert. Of the four choices on the dessert tray, the one that appealed most was the lemon berry cake.

Lemon berry cake from Franklin House Tavern

The cake was layered with Mascarpone cheese and topped with raspberries and blueberries and a concentrated raspberry sauce. The cake reminded me of a lemon cream cookie, but the addition of the berries put it over the top. It was definitely worth saving room for this.

Even with dessert our night out didn’t break the bank. Our total bill was $55. While it’s a little more than we pay for everyday dining, I was expecting $60 or more for our meals. And we would probably spend that on our next visit because our entrees were at the low end of the price scale.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but the Franklin House Tavern really did impress in many ways. We enjoyed some exceptional dishes in an incredible historic setting.

And now I have another memory from the Franklin House that I’ll remember for a long time.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable (for finer dining)

Franklin House Tavern
101 N. Market St
Schaefferstown, PA 17088

Franklin House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

PA BBQ Fest 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that, we were a little more selective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Festivals & Events

Smokin’ Brays BBQ

smokin-brays-exterior-night

One of the reasons that I try to hit all of the food events and festivals around the county is so that I can try things that are new (or new to me).

Oftentimes, I end up seeing the same old restaurants serving the same old samples. But it’s always exciting when a new place pops up.

At the Iron Chef Hamburg event in November, I sampled pulled pork from Smokin’ Brays BBQ in Hamburg and was immediately a fan.

I had already visited Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine earlier in the year, but had no idea there was now a second barbecue restaurant, this one across the street from The Westy.

smokin-brays-interior-2

The restaurant opened in April after the owners closed the original Smokin’ Brays in Dale City, Virginia, and moved to Hamburg to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Our Virginia restaurant was open seven days a week,” I was told by our hostess, who I later found out was Betty Bray, co-owner with her husband Keith.

“We’re only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s almost like retirement.”

smokin-brays-interior-1

After we were seated, a woman came in with a little girl, dolly in tow. “I guess we need a table for three,” she joked.

But to their surprise, a high-chair was delivered to the table and dolly was strapped in for dinner, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

That’s how you do customer service.

The wait for our food wasn’t as long as it felt. I realized that the only noise – other than the two other diners that joined us – was coming from a radio in the corner.

So many restaurants today have at least one television in the room that I found myself looking around for a distraction that wasn’t there.

When the food arrived, it was the feast that I had expected.

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-1

Nearly every barbecue restaurant that I have ever been to has offered some sort of sampler platter. And I guess it’s because there are enough people like me who will order it every time.

At Smokin’ Brays, the smallest sampler is three meats (promising at least 3/4 pounds of meat). I got babyback ribs, beef brisket and pulled beef.

I haven’t found pulled beef on any other menus locally so I had to try some. It may look like pot roast, but it sure didn’t taste like it. There was no sauce, just a spice rub that had absorbed into the meat during cooking.

The flavor was great on its own, though I couldn’t stop myself from adding some of Smokin’ Brays classic barbecue sauce. A sweet sauce with just a little tang and no heat (there was also a hot version, plus a vinegar sauce, for those with differing tastes).

smokin-brays-three-meat-sampler-2

I really enjoyed the brisket. It was well-flavored, sliced thin and melt-in-your mouth good. The ribs were not my favorite. They were too fatty for my taste. I like my ribs leaner and more heavily seasoned.

Not that I needed anything else, but the meal also came with two sides and choice of roll or cornbread. I really only wanted something light so I went with baked beans and applesauce. The beans were alright but I was too full from my meal to really enjoy them. I did really like the cornbread, though it fell apart when I tried to butter it.

smokin-brays-smoked-sausage

Julie’s meal consisted of smoked sausage with mac and cheese, lettuce with hot bacon dressing and cornbread.

The sausage was excellent, a little smoky but not too much. And it wasn’t smoked to the point that the outside was too crispy. It was done very well.

The lettuce with hot bacon dressing was among the best that Julie has had with no skimping on bacon. She also enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese.

After all that food (Julie had to take half of hers home), there was definitely no room for dessert. That said, I actually thought about trying to force some banana pudding after I saw it on the menu board.

Instead, we called it a night. While paying our $30 bill, we saw the Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame, adorned with photos of all those who have attempted the “Big Pig Challenge,” five pounds of food and a 30-minute time limit.

“You want to try the ‘Big Pig’?” the owner asked after I questioned her about the challenge.

“Not tonight,” I said.

I’m sure it will make an entertaining blog someday.

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

Smokin’ Brays BBQ
278 W. State St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Smokin' Brays BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Panevino

panevino-exterior

Editor’s Note: Panevino now operates as a special event venue and caterer. Though no longer open daily for lunch and dinner, they are open for holidays and special dining events throughout the year.

In the early years of Berks County Eats (circa 2012-13), blog posts were sporadic.

For those two years, I only did 12 restaurant reviews. Two of those restaurants have closed, two of them have moved. The other eight continue on, and for me, they are simply noted by an “x” on my spreadsheet of Berks County restaurants.

In May of 2013, I checked Panevino off my list. Three years and three months have passed since Julie and I visited the Italian restaurant on the corner of Second and Washington, across from the Reading Movies 11 & IMAX.

Thirty-nine months later, it was time to go back.

Panevino is in a tough location. It doesn’t have the visibility of Penn Street, and so far, it remains the only business among several empty storefronts on the first floor of the Albert Boscov Plaza.

On the plus side, Panevino customers can enjoy free parking in the garage above it.

Both Julie and I were surprised to see all of the open tables when we arrived for our reservations. It began to fill up as we ate, but the spacious dining room still looked empty.

Our waitress dropped off our menus, which were different than what I found on Panevino’s website. Slightly pared down, all of the entrees now come with an appetizer and dessert included so there is no excuse for leaving hungry.

panevino-parmesan-pita-with-black-bean-hummus

Before our apps arrived, we were treated to an excellent sampling of parmesan pita bread with white bean hummus. It was compliments of the chef, not something available on the menu, but it was delicious. The small portion left us wanting more.

panevino-bread-and-oil

Instead, we were served our choice of bread: focaccia (Julie), ciabatta (me) or asiago cheese (odd bread out) with olive oil for dipping. I would have liked a little bit of seasoning in the oil, but the breads were good, especially the focaccia.

panevino-arancini-di-riso

Up next were our appetizers. For me, it was the arancini di riso, three large fried balls of rice, meat, peas and cheese, served with mushroom sauce.

There was definitely plenty of rice and a nice amount of meat, but I don’t remember seeing many peas. The mushroom sauce was good, if a little thin. The rice definitely soaked it up well, though.

panevino-spicy-crab-and-clam-chowder

Julie, on the other hand, was a huge fan of her spicy crab and clam chowder. Not too spicy, the chowder was loaded with tomato, potatoes, a little bit of celery and plenty of clam and crab. There was never an empty spoonful, and each one was delicious.

She was also a big fan of her eggplant parmesan.

panevino-eggplant-parmesan

The battered eggplant was layered with Grand Padano (comparable to Parmesan) and mozzarella cheeses. The eggplant was cut so thin that it almost disguised itself as lasagna.

Everything worked together – the eggplant, cheese and a very good tomato sauce – for a delicious dish.

panevino-rigatoni

I decided to go with the rigatoni. I normally wouldn’t have gone with something so boring, but the roasted red pepper sauce sold me on it.

The sweet Italian sausage was very good, but I wanted just a little more red pepper in my sauce. It was there, but it didn’t distinguish it enough from a traditional tomato sauce.

It was a good meal, though I was left wanting something just a little more to make it feel special.

Dessert definitely did not disappoint.

panevino-peach-and-blueberry-cobbler

I was torn between the crème brulee and the peach and blueberry cobbler, finally settling on the cobbler. I made the right decision.

The blueberry-heavy sauce had bubbled over the sides of the mug with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Slices of peach were scattered beneath the puffy pastry topping.

It was just a little sweeter than I would have liked, but it was still an amazing ending to my meal.

panevino-ny-cheesecake

Julie’s sweet treat was New York cheesecake with orange sauce, garnished with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream. It was delicious, especially with that hint of citrus throughout.

panevino-chocolate-raspberry-martini

That wasn’t the only sweet treat that my wife enjoyed during our visit. Her chocolate raspberry martini lasted her through the meal.

And for two entrees, two appetizers, a pair of desserts and a martini, we still paid only $50. We’ve paid more than twice as much for three-course meals other places.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Panevino is not fine dining. They try hard, but it’s not the same as a meal at Dan’s at Green Hills or Heirloom.

Still, it was a nice night out in an underappreciated restaurant.

Panevino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Italian Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Stony Run Inn

stony-run-inn

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

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

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

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

stony-run-inn-interior

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

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

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

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

stony-run-inn-bread-oil

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

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

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

stony-run-inn-austrian-bauernschmaus

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

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

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

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

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

stony-run-inn-chicken-paprikash

Julie, meanwhile, was in love with her dish.

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

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

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

stony-run-inn-apple-strudel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stony Run Inn
2409 PA-737
Kempton, PA 19529

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

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine

backwoods-brothers-exterior

Downtown Hamburg has never been a real culinary destination.

It’s a quaint downtown, but for dining, options have always been slim. You’ve got a bar, a diner, a Chinese restaurant, two ice cream shops and pizza.

Good food for sure, but nothing truly unique.

Then in January, a very different restaurant came to town: Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine.

Texas-style barbecue in Hamburg? I’m in.

There’s nothing fancy about Backwoods Brothers. The dining room is pretty plain with counter seating leftover from the diner that once occupied the spot.

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The maroon walls are mostly unadorned. One wall just has the restaurant’s logo. A trio of Reading Royals hockey sticks sit above a window. And behind the counter, a collection of folk art crosses from the American southwest.

Backwoods Brothers’ menu isn’t fancy either. Written on a chalkboard, it’s easy to follow: pick a meat, make it a combo or enjoy it on a sandwich (just don’t ask for ribs on your sandwich).

At the tables, paper towel rolls sit in for napkins, and dinner is served on paper plates with a pack of disposable utensils.

For my dinner, I wanted to try as much as possible so I ordered a two meat combo with pork, sausage and fried okra.

backwoods-brothers-pulled-pork-smoked-sausage-fried-okra

At the table were three squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce: original, honey BBQ and hot. The original is a tangy, vinegar-based sauce. It was good, but the honey BBQ was more my speed. It was a little tangy, but had that sweet flavor that I love with for a good sweet and savory barbecue dinner.

I was warned about the hot sauce, made with real hot peppers. I had just a taste with my pulled pork. I actually loved it, but I could feel the heat from just a few drops and didn’t dare try any more.

My favorite thing on the plate was the sausage. It was spiced just right and smoked to perfection. It didn’t need any sauce, but I thought it was even better with a few squirts of honey BBQ.

The pork was good. Real smoky with only a little bit of fat. It wasn’t “pulled” to the point of being stringy slivers of meat, and was instead served in meaty chunks. I enjoyed it.

Finally there was the fried okra. If you’ve never had okra before, it’s hard to describe the vegetable’s taste. But I love it. And I could have eaten the slightly salty fried okra bites all day.

backwoods-brothers-beef-brisket-mac-and-cheese

Julie wasn’t quite as hungry as me so she only went with one meat — beef brisket — and a side of mac and cheese.

The brisket was sliced thin and piled high. It was tender but still required a knife to cut. You could see and taste the rub along the outer edges of every piece.

Her mac and cheese was creamy, and to her delight, seasoned well with pepper. It was just the way she likes her macaroni.

Portions were not overwhelming, but we definitely got plenty of food for our $26, and we left plenty full.

Backwoods Brothers holds true to its Texas-style roots, delivering a unique style of barbecue and sauce that you won’t find at other Berks County joints.

And they are certainly delivering something that Hamburg has never seen before.

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

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine
272 S. Fourth St
Hamburg, PA 19526

Backwoods Brothers Authentic Texas Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Lunch & Dinner Reviews

6th Street Deli

sixth-street-deli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad I waited because lunch was delicious.

sixth-street-deli-lunch

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

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

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

sixth-street-deli-pineapple-bread-pudding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast & Brunch Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Letterman’s Diner

letterman-s-diner-1

“Feeding the world, 23 seats at a time.”

That’s the slogan written on the shirt of a waitress at Letterman’s Diner in Kutztown. The busy breakfast and lunch spot is made busier by the fact that it only seats 23, most of them at the counter.

The seats go quickly, but the wait is never long. Service is quick, and in the time that we were there, only one group (a party of 7) actually left because of a lack of seating.

The cozy pre-fabricated diner that sits in the heart of downtown has been serving customers for more than 70 years. Since 1998, the restaurant has been known as Letterman’s and has been serving big flavor in big portions.

In the middle of a college town, it’s a place that caters more to the locals, the year-round residents who keep the restaurant jammed every morning even after the semesters end.

As we waited for our food, a couple came in, and I heard the young woman exclaim, “Look, I made the board!” This was Abby, for whom one of the daily specials, the Abby omelette, was named.

This is the type of thing that you will only find from a true neighborhood joint. I don’t know how many Abby omelettes (Swiss cheese, onions and potatoes) were sold, but I know at least one person who bought one.

Julie had her eye on one of the other daily specials, the porky omelette. As the name implies, the omelette was loaded with pork: smoked sausage, bacon and pulled pork with onions and cheddar cheese.

letterman-s-diner-porky-omelette

From our counter seats, we watched as all of the food was prepared on the small grill top. We watched as the eggs were cracked, as the massive sausage link hit the griddle, followed by the wad of pulled pork and four foot-long strips of bacon.

The omelette was no match for the mound of meat, splitting open on the plate to reveal the delicious contents. By itself, the pulled pork would have made a great sandwich. The sausage, also, could have served as a dinner entree at any area restaurant.

Because that just wasn’t enough, the omelettes also come with toast and homefries. It’s almost a shame that they give you so much food because the homefries are really good, but completely unnecessary at that point. The omelette is just too big, and too delicious to sacrifice.

I was almost jealous looking over at Julie’s gorgeous plate of food. Almost.

letterman-s-diner-strawberry-stuffed-french-toast

That’s because in front of me was my own scale-breaking plate of food: strawberry stuffed French toast. Three slices of French toast, layered with cream cheese and topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

Each bite was decadent. It probably didn’t need the cream cheese because there was enough sweets with the whipped cream and strawberries to cover every bite.

letterman-s-diner-sweet-potato-fries

And I managed to finish every bite, despite making the mistake of ordering a side of sweet potato homefries (which actually turned out to be regular sweet potato fries). I only finished half of those and should never have ordered them to start.

We did take home half of my sweet potato fries along with half of Julie’s omelette and homefries. There’s enough Letterman’s in our fridge for at least two meals, which makes the price tag of a little over $25 (we also had two glasses of juice) a little easier to take.

Letterman’s is a place you could only find in a small town, a greasy spoon that caters to the local community and its loyal customers.

It’s a place that makes sure you never go hungry, but always leaves you wanting more.

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

Letterman’s Diner
242 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Letterman's Diner on Urbanspoon

Breakfast & Brunch Classics Diners Reviews