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

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn

crab-barn-exterior-1

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

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

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

Nothing builds anticipation like a four-year wait.

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

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

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

crab-barn-bar-1

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

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

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

crab-barn-interior-1

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

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

Service was a lot better after we were seated.

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

crab-barn-dungeoness-crab

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

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

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

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

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

crab-barn-steak-tips

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

My choice was the marinated beef tips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Coastal Grille

coastal-grille

As a general rule, I will never visit a restaurant during their first month in business.

It’s not that I’m not anxious to try new places. I am.

It’s not that I don’t want to give them business. I do.

It’s that I don’t want my opinion of a restaurant to be clouded by a bad experience early in its life. I hear stories all the time from people who go to a restaurant during its first two weeks, and all they talk about is how long the wait is, and how long it took to get drinks, and how long it took to get food.

So I wait. Not in an hour-long line to get in, but until the restaurant has had some practice. No amount of mock service days can prepare you for when the open sign comes on for the first time and you have customers waiting out the door.

That’s why I waited until recently to make my first trip to Coastal Grille.

Coastal Grille opened in late September in the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center, taking over a building that has seen Uno Chicago Grill, Mason’s Chophouse and, most recently, Seafood Shanty come and go.

Like Seafood Shanty before it, the new restaurant plays heavily toward the seafood lover. The connection to the ocean is apparent from the moment you walk through the door and see the large aquarium that separates the main dining room from the bar. Silver sculptures of deep sea fish hang on the wall, shimmering brilliantly between the windows.

More than a month removed from their opening, Coastal Grille was still packed on this Saturday night. Many more people streamed in behind us during our 30-minute wait until we were escorted to our table.

coastal-grille-ciabattta

The menu is heavily inspired by the sea, but it does borrow a few favorites from its sister restaurant, Austin’s, including baby back ribs and shoestring fries. And like Austin’s, you have the option to begin your meal with a loaf of bread. In this case, it’s a warm, fresh-baked ciabatta that required all the willpower we had not to devour before our food arrived.

As someone who prefers animals that graze to those that swim, I passed on the surf and opted instead for turf with the Reggae Ribeye.

coastal-grille-reggae-steak

The menu describes the Reggae Ribeye as a 12 oz. steak that was marinated and basted in a sweet and spicy sauce. I was expecting a typical steak that had maybe been brushed once or twice during cooking. What I got was a beautiful cut of meat, glistening from the reflection of the light on the sticky sauce.

A rush of flavors hit my tongue on the first bite. The sauce tasted like a mixture of teriyaki, barbecue and chili oil, a mild kick tempered by the cooling sweetness, with a hint of salt besides. Cooked medium well, with just a hint of pink in the middle,  it was one of the best restaurant steaks I have ordered.

All of their grilled specialties, and most of the entrees on the menu, are served with the vegetable of the day and a choice of side. While I love Austin’s shoestring fries, I knew I needed to change things up so I opted for house-made chips instead. The kettle-cooked chips were extra dark—not burnt—sealing in the flavors absorbed during the cooking process.

coastal-grille-salad-1

While none of the entrees include a starter salad, you can substitute a salad as one of your sides. That’s exactly what Julie decided to do, opting for Caesar. The leafy greens were piled high on the plate and topped with deliciously flavorful croutons that were obviously homemade.

coastal-grille-baked-haddock

Deciding that at least one of us had to order seafood, she decided on the Boston baked haddock for her entree. The fish was topped with a garlic cream sauce with lumps of shrimp and crab. The dish offered a mix of flavors and textures, with the cream sauce bringing everything together in a coherent dish.

Sadly, dinner proved too much for me and dessert was not in the cards. It was especially disappointing after seeing a Chocolate Bag walk past me. The Chocolate Bag is a dessert unique to Coastal Grille: hardened chocolate in the shape of a small bag, filled to the brim with whipped cream and topped with cherries. I may or may not have let out an audible “oooh” when it came near.

Instead we called it quits after our entrees, our total bill coming out to about $45.

After waiting a month (and an extra 30 minutes) my first visit to Coastal Grille did not disappoint.

I’m happy we waited, and will be even happier when we go back again soon.

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

Coastal Grille
2713 N. Meridian Blvd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Coastal Grille on Urbanspoon

Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews