Works at Wyomissing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caesar salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corn on the cob from the Works at Wyomissing.

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

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

The barbecue chopped salad from the Works at Wyomissing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

The Heritage Restaurant

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

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

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

Walking into the simply appointed dining room

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

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

The private dining room is filled with historic photos of Morgantown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pan-seared scallops with yellow, red and green sauces

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

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

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

Wagyu Steak with chimichurri sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strawberry Sponge Cake
Photo Credit: Cathy Cuff-Coffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
B2 Bistro's steak frites - steak with fries and Brussels sprouts

B2 Bistro + Bar

B2 Bistro is located in first floor of the former Narrow Fabrics factory.

In more than five years of Berks County Eats, there have only been a handful of restaurants that arrived with the hype of B2 Bistro + Bar. Recently opened in the former Narrow Fabrics building in West Reading, the restaurant had been anticipated since the first tenants moved into the Lofts at Narrows, the luxury apartments on the upper floors.

B2 Bistro has an unfinished look, including exposed beams and rough-hewn paint.

The creative re-use of the building has led to a unique atmosphere. “Unfinished” paint and exposed beams – some still with original safety warning posters – can be seen throughout the space. A large rectangular bar is surrounded by high-top tables with a couple booths along the sides. A row of stools can be found in front of the open kitchen, providing a unique experience for diners wanting to watch their chef in action.

Guests can sit at the chef's table and watch their meals being prepared.

On the opposite side of the room, large garage bay doors open to create an outdoor feel during the warm weather months.

Another smaller dining room is located toward the back of the building and features low-top tables for those who prefer them.

The best way to describe the menu is eclectic. There are shareable small plates, pasta dinners, a raw bar, pizza and charcuterie. Other mains include everything from the 50 oz. bone-in ribeye (shareable for most) and roast suckling pig to burgers and chicken.

B2 offers an oversized bowl of French onion soup

We decided to start off our meal with a couple small plate appetizers. I ordered the French onion soup, expecting a typical crock.

What I got was an enormous bowl about twice the size of what normally constitutes a “bowl” at most restaurants. It could have easily been a meal by itself, especially with how good it was. It was heavy with onion and thick chunks of bread. And there was more than enough cheese layered on top to go with every salty-sweet bite.

The beautifully presented shrimp cocktail with six interlocked pieces of shrimp.

Julie also ordered an appetizer, the shrimp cocktail. As she told me, she was craving shrimp for a while and was not disappointed.

The six shrimp were presented beautifully, each one connected gracefully. While cold shrimp are cold shrimp, these were colossal in size and even better for scooping into the cocktail sauce. Julie’s craving was satisfied.

A big bowl of pasta Bolognese from B2 Bistro.

Deciding on a main course wasn’t easy but I eventually settled on the Bolognese pasta, one of five such pasta options on the menu. The pappardelle pasta was served with a sauce of Iberico pork (an imported meat from the Iberian peninsula of Europe), veal, tomato, cream and grana cheese.

It was a good meal – very hearty and more than enough food – but I had enjoyed the soup more. I have also had Bolognese pasta other places and I didn’t find that this version stood out among the others.

B2 Bistro's steak frites - steak with fries and Brussels sprouts

For her meal, Julie had opted for the steak frites – steak in demi glace, served with fries and Brussels sprouts. The steak was cooked beautifully and the semi-sweet demi glace paired beautifully with the savory cut of meat.

The fries were good – thick, fresh-cut fries and plenty of them. Brussels sprouts are a vegetable where you can only do so much to them. They were fine but better with a little of the demi glace.

B2's focaccia bread featured thinly sliced tomato baked on top

Before our meals arrived, we were served a plate of thick focaccia bread, unique in that there were thin slices of tomato baked into the top. It was served with a cup of oil for dipping and was very good.

Take one look through the Yelp reviews and you’ll see a range of opinions, mostly centered on price and service.

A thread guide from Narrow Fabrics hangs on the wall in one of the private rooms.

As for price, our final total was around $80. It wasn’t a cheap night out, but with two appetizers, an iced tea and two entrees (both of which were enough that we took home leftovers), I can’t say we were cheated, but the price of every item was a couple dollars higher at B2 than other places. A margherita pizza, for example, costs $12 at B2; the same costs $9 at Nonno Alby’s a block away.

The service was fine during our visit. Our server was a little slow to take our food order and with our check at the end of the night, but we were still in-and-out in just under an hour so it wasn’t a long wait by any means. (And I didn’t mind that he called me “boss” throughout our visit).

Overall, I was impressed. It’s a cool spot and all of the food was good-to-great. Though I saw high chairs, it’s not a place we would take our little one (he spent the evening with his grandparents).

But for a date night or a night out with friends, B2 Bistro + Bar is a good choice.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent
Service: Good
Price: A Little Pricey

B2 Bistro + Bar
701 Reading Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

5 Favorite Entrees of 2017

Every December, we take a look back at our favorite dishes of the past year. We’re finishing our year-in-review with the main course. Here are our five favorite entrees we tried in 2017.

1 Potato Two – Eggplant Parmesan Spudwich

For the uninitiated, a spudwich is a sandwich where the bread or roll has been replaced by a deep-fried potato sliced lengthwise. The novelty of it was intriguing. But the taste, that was amazing. It was messy, it was greasy, but it was delicious. The fried eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese may not have been as much of a standout on its own, but in a spudwich, it was memorable. Read Full Review

Billy Burger & Bakery – The Ranch Burger

Billy Burger earned the title of Best Burger

The last time a burger made our end-of-the-year favorites list was in 2014 (Frank and Diannah’s). This year, Billy Burger made the cut with its Ranch Burger. The burger starts with lettuce and tomato, but then it gets crazy with the addition of a grilled poblano pepper and buttermilk peppercorn ranch dressing. The cool ranch mixed with the mild pepper and a well-cooked burger made it one of my favorite handhelds of the year. Read Full Review

Cosa Pizzeria and Restaurant – Ragu alla Bolognese

Cosa's ragu bolongese has layers of flavor from the sauce, homemade pasta and herbs

Cosa is a newcomer to Berks County – opening in the former Basil Restaurant and Pizzeria location outside Sinking Spring. The ragu alla Bolognese was a stand-out dish. Featuring house-made pappardelle pasta tossed in a veal and sofrito ragu, I became an instant fan of Cosa. Read Full Review

Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery – Drunken Pasta

The second pasta dish on the list is nothing like the first. The drunken pasta at Folino Estate is infused with red wine to give it a distinct purple hue, then it was cooked in wine (for good measure) and served with chicken and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese. It was unlike anything that I have ever tried, and it’s a must-try (and I’m not even a wine lover). Read Full Review

Willoughby’s on Park – Dry-Aged Ribeye

The 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye at Willoughby's on Park

This year, I saved the best for last. It’s almost not fair to compare a steak from Willoughby’s on Park to anything else in Berks County because the high-end steakhouse feel of Willoughby’s is unlike any other restaurant experience in the county. And my steak, combined with the mission fig Cabernet reduction (for a non-wine drinker, I certainly ordered a lot of wine-infused meals) was about as close to perfection as I could have wanted. Read Full Review

 

Best of Berks County Eats Entrees

Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar – Kutztown

Our drive to Kutztown wasn’t planned. Our original destination was Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ in Oley. But this was the day when we first found out that Muddy’s was closed, at least temporarily according to the handwritten sign on the door.

So we took Route 662 north to Route 222, and grabbed the first exit for Kutztown where Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar stands.

It had been more than three years since our visit to Ozgood’s in Robesonia, the first of the two locations for the restaurant. The Kutztown location opened in 2015, occupying the space vacated by TC’s Food and Spirits.

During my college years, I was a regular at TC’s and the Monday night poker games it hosted. It was a dive, but the food was good.

Ozgood’s made a few upgrades. The wrap-around front porch looks much nicer than it used to (it’s enclosed so it can be used year-round). And the overflow dining rooms look much nicer.

The bar still looks great and the main dining room is mostly unchanged – wood booths atop hardwood floors.

We were seated in one of the overflow rooms, off the right side of the dining room, at a table for two with more comfortable, cushioned chairs.

Some restaurants offer a bread basket as a prelude to the meal. Ozgood’s offers veggies and dip. It’s not a lot – a couple pickles, celery stalks and carrot slices – but it’s a nice touch and a welcome change of pace.

Both locations share a menu. It’s mostly bar food fare with burgers, sandwiches, steaks and other comfort food, with nightly specials throughout the week.

We happened to be there on a Sunday – rib night. I was already in the mood for barbecue so I couldn’t pass up a deal on babyback ribs.

The ribs were slathered in Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, the star of the dish. It was sweet and smoky with a distinct aftertaste of the whiskey. It took what were average ribs – not much flavor in the way of a dry rub – and made them something more memorable.

Ribs are one of Ozgood’s “Neighborhood Specialties.” These entrees are all served with two sides. For mine, I chose shoestring fries and the Brutus salad.

The fries were good. I would say they were more of a fast food fry in thickness. I dipped them in the barbecue sauce as best as I could, and that made them even better.

The Brutus salad is Ozgood’s version of the classic Caesar.

I ate mine as an appetizer, and I found it enjoyable. Romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese and dressing. I can’t tell you how the Brutus dressing differs from Caesar dressing, but it hit the spot and that’s all that really matters.

Our visit was late in Julie’s pregnancy, and she was having a mini-craving. She wanted the cobb salad, but she was hungry for steak. Thankfully, the Ozgood’s kitchen was more than happy to customize, swapping out the grilled chicken for grilled steak (for a slight upcharge).

Her cravings were well-satisfied. The steak was grilled to well-done (doctor’s orders during pregnancy) but still flavorful and juicy. The salad itself was fine enough. And she left full, with a little bit of salad to go.

Some of my fries went home with us as well. After adding on my iced tea, our final total was around $35. That felt about right for the amount of food.

And even though it wasn’t our first choice, Ozgood’s felt right, too.

Even if it wasn’t our first choice for dinner on this night.

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

Ozgood’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
4 Lincoln Rd
Kutztown, PA 19530

Ozgoods Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Reading Hospital

If you’ve followed Berks County Eats, then you know that Julie and I have been expecting the arrival of our first child. Well, last Friday, he decided it was time.

On November 17, 2017, at 8:21 p.m., Jakob Laurence Brown was born at the Reading Hospital.

Mommy and baby came out of it happy and healthy, and we arrived home on Sunday evening, but not before Jakob joined us for his first Berks County Eats review.

After completing a three-week birthing class two months ago, Julie’s reward was a coupon for a celebratory dinner for two after the arrival of our baby.

On Sunday morning, just a few hours before we were scheduled to leave the hospital, a special menu was delivered to our room.

“You’re Expecting the Best. We Deliver.” When you’re delirious with joy at the birth of a child, you forgive menu puns, even bad ones.

The meal included a tomato mozzarella salad (also known as Caprese), choice of entree – either steak and shrimp or vegetarian stir-fry – and a three-layer chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

For the salad, our bowls were lined with thick-sliced mozzarella, which was then filled with cherry tomatoes, drizzled with a thick balsamic and topped with basil leaves for garnish.

The salad was very good, but way too much. We each only ate a very small amount so that we had room for our main course and dessert (we managed to sneak the rest home with us for later).

My diet had been thrown out the window over the previous two days, with meals that included:

  • Friday Lunch: McDonald’s chicken strips and fries
  • Friday Dinner: Famous Amos cookies and Icy Tea
  • Saturday Breakfast: French toast and home fries from Reading Hospital
  • Saturday Lunch: Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and carrots from the PA Dutch Farmers Market of Wyomssing
  • Saturday Dinner: A giant chocolate chip cookie

So while steak and shrimp was appealing, I thought the hoisin vegetable stir-fry was a more sensible option.

It was actually really good, all things considered. It wasn’t anything special, but the sauce had a nice flavor – a typical sweet and salty Asian stir-fry. The menu listed soba noodles as part of the meal, but they were missing. So it was all vegetables – peppers, squash and onions. I certainly wasn’t going to send it back (it’s a one-hour wait from order to delivery).

Julie, on the other hand, did all the work so no one was going to deny her the surf and turf dinner that she earned.

It included a small filet and shrimp with a baked potato and mixed vegetables (the same medley that was used for my stir-fry.

The steak was topped with gravy (meh) but was fair. It certainly was nothing like eating in a steakhouse. The steamed shrimp was ok, too, but nothing outstanding.

The hardest part about the meal was having to stare at the chocolate trilogy cake. The best part of the meal was eating it.

It was fantastic. The layers of white, milk and dark chocolate mouse melted together. There was the thinnest layer of cake on the bottom to add a little texture. And the pieces of dark chocolate on the top were the icing on the cake, so to speak.

If only we didn’t have to be in the hospital to enjoy it.

For anyone out there looking to deliver in the Reading Hospital and unsure about whether to take the birthing class: take it. If only for the chocolate trilogy cake.

While we ate, Jakob lay in his crib – a clear, plastic tub that we had wheeled next to us. It was our first real sit-down meal as a family, and Jakob’s first official Berks County Eats review.

It wasn’t the best meal we’ve ever had. But it is easily among the most memorable.

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews
The 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye at Willoughby's on Park

Willoughby’s on Park

Willoughby's on Park, a high-end steakhouse in Wyomissing

If you’re a long-time follower of the blog, you may remember our visit to Willoughby’s Bar & Grill.

It was three years ago that we enjoyed our first dinner at the Wyomissing restaurant. Living nearby, Julie and I had passed by the restaurant on our walks, watching the former T.G.I. Friday’s completely transformed.

When the restaurant closed for renovations in 2015, we couldn’t understand. It had just been completely redone and it didn’t make any sense to us.

Again we watched as construction workers descended on the building, filling and refilling the dumpster outside until the restaurant was once again ready for business.

This time, the transformation was from Willoughby’s Bar & Grill to Willoughby’s on Park, a high-end steakhouse that was going to have to wait for a special occasion for us to visit.

The remodeled dining room at Willoughby's on Park

That special occasion finally came this August as Julie and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

We arrived on a Sunday evening without a reservation, but it was no problem to get in and get a table. The dining room is still very large and with the additional outdoor seating, there was no danger of it filling up. Even on Fridays and Saturdays, the parking lot never seems full enough to equal a full dining room.

The renovated restaurant looks nothing like it did before. Previously, the center of the dining room featured a sports bar lined with flat screens. The TVs are now gone, and the bar is much more stately. The room is dimly lit by chandeliers with votive candles creating a soft glow on the back wall.

Romantically elegant is the best way I can describe it.

Votive candles line the wall at Willoughby's on Park

As for the menu, it is distinctly a high-end steakhouse, with 10 different steak cuts highlighting the entree selections. Additional choices include seared duck, rack of lamb and six seafood offerings.

There is also a range of salads, appetizers and cold bar options for starters, but we passed on those knowing we would be enjoying dessert at the end of the night.

Warm bread is a great way to start any meal.

Instead, we whet our appetite with the complimentary bread and butter – a pair of fresh-baked rolls that were soft, warm and enjoyable.

What else do you need when there’s a 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye on its way to the table?

This is hands-down among the best steaks that I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly to my liking (medium well) with just the right amount of pink in the middle. It lost none of the juiciness in cooking and had beautiful char marks on the outside. It was an all-around winner.

The 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye at Willoughby's on Park

Guests can add on one of six “enhancements” to any steak, an assortment of sauces and rubs to suit many tastes. I decided to try the mission fig cabernet reduction and was not disappointed.

It was more jelly than sauce, with the mission fig giving it sweetness and the cabernet adding depth of flavor and strong overtones. With the steak, it played on the sweet and savory while also having a built-in wine pairing to enhance the flavor of the steak.

The steak was so good that it almost made me forget about the sides – a few carrots and a dollop of whipped potatoes. They both served their purpose, but let’s face it, we weren’t there for the sides.

An eight-ounce filet topped with gorgonzola gratin

Julie went with the smallest item on the menu, the eight-ounce filet Mignon, with a gorgonzola gratin for her enhancement.

Her steak was also cooked perfectly and would have stood on its own without any additional enhancements, but the gorgonzola gratin gave it a very different flavor profile. It was heavy and rich with the distinct deep flavor that the cheese brings to every dish.

Neither of us really had room left after our steaks, but it was our anniversary so dessert was a must.

Our waitress brought out the dessert tray highlighting a range of offerings that all sounded amazing. We settled on the carrot cake and were not disappointed.

Carrot cake for dessert.

The slice was gigantic and was served with whipped cream, strawberries and a caramel drizzle. Could we get carrot cake anywhere? Yes. Would it have been this good? Maybe. Did we care? Nope. We were just happy to finish off our romantic evening by sharing a lovely dessert.

Going into the evening we knew two things: one, that we were going to have a romantic dinner; two, that it wouldn’t be cheap.

When we visited three years ago, we spent $40. This time, it was more than double that as our total bill was just shy of $100. Willoughby’s on Park is not priced for everyday dining, but it’s not everyday that you get to enjoy a perfectly cooked steak.

With that in mind, I can say with certainty that we will be back. But we’ll save our next visit for another special occasion.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: A Little Pricey

Willoughby’s on Park
305 N. Park Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Willoughby's on Park Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Bixler’s Lodge

When it comes to my reviews, the restaurants always fall into one of three categories.

There are the places that I have already visited – those are the easy ones.

There are the places that I have never been to, but I have researched so much ahead of time that I already know what I am going to order.

And then there are the places that we decide to go and have no idea what we are walking into.

This week, I gave the choice to Julie, and she took door number three: a visit to Bixler’s Lodge, a place neither of us had been and had done next to no research about.

We were flying blind. I knew very little about Bixler’s Lodge except that it sat at the base of Mount Penn. Google told me it was on Friedensburg Road in the village of Stony Creek, just north of Mount Penn borough.

Pulling up to the front of the building for the first time, it looked smaller than I imagined. Perhaps the awkwardly shaped parking lot that seemed to squeeze cars behind the restaurant just made it feel tiny.

Walking through the front door, I found a restaurant with character – part dive bar and part date night destination.

The single dining area featured a bar on the right. A couple flat screen TV’s were mounted on the wall above the taps.

On the left side of the room, tables set for two and four people. The stonework of the fireplace added a bit of historic charm.

What really surprised me though was the robust menu, filled with a mix of standard pub fare and inspired entrees.

Not sure what to order, I asked our waitress for a recommendation. She gave me a few of her favorites, and I chose one that intrigued me above the rest – the “Southwest Bixler Bistro Tender.”

The 10-ounce steak was rubbed in southwest seasoning, cooked to my preference and served with sautéed mushrooms atop a bed of roasted red pepper sauce. It was a unique combination, to say the least.

My favorite part of the dish was the red pepper sauce. The pairing of the sauce with beef was unexpectedly pleasant, though I would have liked just a little more sauce (but, then again, I’m a guy who loves to load up on A1 sauce when there is steak involved).

If I have one complaint, it’s with myself for ordering it well instead of medium-well. I don’t like pink beef. This is a meal that needed the steak to be a little more rare to soak up the seasoning and really bring it to life.

On the side, I had a very enjoyable pan of potatoes au gratin, the potato of the day. The cheese was nicely toasted on top, but smooth and creamy like an alfredo sauce on the inside. It was a very good addition to my meal.

Entrees at Bixler’s Lodge are served with a starter salad. It’s your typical mixed greens, Julienne carrots and cucumber (complete with the obligatory cherry tomato).

Not stopping there, I also ordered a cup of chicken, kale and white bean soup. I was expecting a thicker, hearty soup, but it was more of a chicken noodle soup without the noodles. And there were only a few beans. It was a good chicken soup, but I had my hopes up for more.

The starters we both enjoyed came in the bread basket. Julie tried one of the mini cornbread muffins and loved it. I enjoyed the dinner roll, myself.

Bixler’s has a surprisingly large selection of seafood, and that’s where Julie went for her entree as she opted to try “Bixler’s Big 100% Crab Cakes.”

The meaty crab cakes had very little filler (I guess that’s why they’re 100% crab cakes), just how Julie likes them. They were served with a side of cocktail sauce, and while Julie used it, the crab cakes stood out on their own.

Another standout was her French fries. The fries were a thicker fast food-style that were well-seasoned. I may have helped her clear them from her plate.

The vegetable of the day – peas with pearl onions – was a letdown from the rest of her meal. Peas are peas, and two or three pearl onions weren’t going to turn them into anything more.

Our final bill was reflective of our entree choices. At $18.99 and $16.99, they were two of the more expensive on the menu so I was not surprised when our total came to a little more than $40.

For the record, about half of my steak and potatoes came home with me for later.

I learned a lot about Bixler’s Lodge during my visit. I learned that red pepper sauce pairs well with beef. I learned that Bixler’s Lodge first opened as a restaurant in the 1930s.

But I think the most important thing that I learned is this: Bixler’s Lodge is very good.

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

Bixler’s Lodge
1456 Friedensburg Rd
Reading, PA 19606

Bixler's Lodge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Bernville Eagle Hotel

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Exterior

I love the character in historic inns and hotels, the places that have been serving food and drinks since the roads were dirt and transportation was four-legged.

Every small town and village had one, and many of them are still going. The Stony Run Inn, subject of last week’s blog, is one of those places.

This week, we paid a visit to another historic hotel, one that has been at the heart of Bernville since 1869.

That’s when the Eagle Hotel opened along Main Street in the little borough (now the only borough) in northwestern Berks County.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Interior

Nearly 150 years later, it’s still a gathering place where locals grab drinks and dinner six nights a week (closed on Sundays). Though I’m sure patrons in the late 19th century weren’t ordering from a Caribbean-inspired menu like the hotel offers today.

There is no separation between restaurant and barroom. The single dining room features a large center bar with tables lining the perimeter. The sound of crashing billiards balls echoed out of the back room.

The menu is mostly bar food, but there is a small selection of entrees (plus a few weekly specials). And everything is reasonably priced. Only two menu items cost more than $20, the full rack of ribs and my choice, the Cuban coffee crusted flat iron steak.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Flat-Iron-Steak

Served with plantains and a side of rice and beans, the steak was buried beneath a mound of onions and peppers.

It certainly wasn’t the largest steak that I have ever had, but it was flavorful. I’m not a coffee drinker, but the coffee crust was subtle while adding a crisp char to the outside. I love sautéed onions and roasted peppers so I had no qualms about digging in.

The rice and beans were good, but nothing compared to the more authentic Latin American restaurants that you find closer to the city. And there was certainly nothing to complain about with the portion size.

I’m a sucker for plantains so I was going to love them no matter what.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Salad

My meal was also served with a starter salad and roll. While the salad was nothing to speak of (spring mix with onions, cherry tomatoes, cheese and a cup of dressing), the roll was very enjoyable – soft and buttery.

Julie wasn’t quite hungry enough for the full rack of ribs, but she thought she could handle the half rack.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Ribs

The ribs were also given a little twist with chipotle barbecue sauce and diced mango on top. It was a little disappointing to find the mango was not reduced into the sauce. Ribs are not conducive to toppings so most of the mango fell off with every bone that was picked out. There was also just a little kick from the chipotle, but not too much.

We both enjoyed the fries. They’re the fresh-cut, skin-on kind. That’s the way I love my fries.

The meal was also served with baked beans and slaw. The beans were OK, but nothing special. And she wasn’t a fan of the slaw which she found to be all cabbage and little slaw.

My brother and sister-in-law were along for the visit, and the four of us all had good meals. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was certainly quality bar food. For our four meals (plus drinks – one beer, one sangria and one iced tea), it came to $86 so right around $20 per person for what were some hefty portions on everything.

The Eagle Hotel is your typical local bar and restaurant. The emphasis is clearly on the bar, but you can still enjoy a good, hearty meal, just as people have been doing for a century-and-a-half.

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

Bernville Eagle Hotel
301 N. Main St
Bernville, PA 19506

Bernville Eagle Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Dans at Green Hills

dans-at-green-hills-menu-cover

For all the wonderful restaurants that Berks County offers, there are very few that can be called “fine dining.”

Sure, there are places that offer higher cuisine than others, but fine dining is more than steak entrees or table linens.

It’s a true experience that encompasses the menu, the atmosphere and the service. One restaurant that has earned a reputation for its fine dining is Dans at Green Hills.

Dans (there is no apostrophe) began in 1989 as one of the city’s only fine dining establishments, serving patrons from the small cellarette at the east end of Penn Street.

A new ownership group took over in 2006, and in 2012, they purchased the Green Hills Inn along Route 10 south of the city, creating the new Dans at Green Hills inside the 200-year-old building.

dans-at-green-hills-dining-room

Like many restaurants in historic buildings, the dining area is spread across multiple rooms. The walls in ours had a hint of green in the soft light. Flames crackled in the stone fireplace, giving off some much-needed warmth on a cold January evening.

The tables were draped in white linen with black napkins and preset with wine glasses at every setting (the wine and mixed drink list is extensive, and many diners arrived with drinks in hand, having stopped at the bar on their way in).

dans-at-green-hills-crostini

Our meal started with a little taste, compliments of the chef. Julie and I were each brought a tiny crostini topped with sharp cheddar, basil pesto and walnut.

It seemed so simple, but the two bites that mine lasted were incredible. The cheddar was spread thin like butter and was perfectly sharp. The pesto had that nice sweet basil flavor, and the walnut was just the right flavor and texture to top it off. It was a great little tease for what was to come.

dans-at-green-hills-potato-leek-soup

We both started our meals with a bowl of soup. I opted for the daily special, a potato and leek soup garnished with bacon, pesto and croutons. This is how potato soup should always be. It was thick and creamy with an undertone of sweet and salty.

dans-at-green-hills-sweet-potato-soup

Julie, meanwhile, was enjoying the sweet potato soup. With a dollop of whipped cream in the middle and add-ins like apples, pretzel dust and sunflower seeds, it was both familiar and unexpected, but wholly delicious. Sweeter than most soups, but not too sweet that you would confuse it with dessert.

Our options for entrees were equally exciting: steaks, filets, duck breasts, scallops — all of the dishes typically associated with fine dining.

I had a hard time deciding, but the description of the New York strip steak had the magic words, “truffle butter.”

dans-at-green-hills-ny-strip-steak

For me, there is nothing better than a perfectly prepared steak with a smattering of rich truffle butter. Mixed with the creamy, sweet and earthy concoction, the steak just melted away. Every bite was savory and smooth.

The steak was served atop a bed of rutabaga Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe with a balsamic glaze that seemed like enough food for a meal of its own. The potato and rutabaga mixture was superb. Yukon Gold potatoes are naturally sweeter and the rutabagas add a rich flavor of their own. This was counter-balanced perfectly by the more bitter broccoli rabe.

A good rack of lamb was too tempting for Julie to pass up. The Dijon-encrusted ribs were served on a bed of autumn ratatouille with rosemary reduction.

dans-at-green-hills-rack-of-lamb

Dijon is not one of my favorite flavors, but it works really well with the fatty lamb. The rosemary reduction also helped cut through the distinct mustard flavor, creating a meal that hit on several flavor notes.

The autumn ratatouille was also delightful, consisting of several types of squash with potatoes and tomatoes. It just tasted fresh, with the natural flavors all shining above the sauce.

At this point, neither of us had room for dessert, but we decided to force it anyway. And instead of sharing (which would have been the sensible thing), we each got our own treat to end the meal.

dans-at-green-hills-bread-pudding

Julie really wanted to try the chocolate bread pudding. Bread pudding can be rich on its own, but this was even richer with chunks of Godiva dark chocolate and a dollop of caramel ice cream on top. It was a dessert both heavenly and sinful.

dans-at-green-hills-warm-apple-crisp

I had my heart set on the warm apple crisp topped with caramel ice cream. The base was mixed with granola for more crunch (and granola makes it healthy, right?). I found the sauce with the apples was almost too sweet, and I had to use the ice cream to help cut through it. I still managed to clear my plate, however.

Three courses as Dans is a great way to celebrate a special occasion. We were celebrating Julie’s birthday so we had no problem splurging. But with a price tag that came to nearly $150 (that includes the tip for our attentive server who was never far away), we probably won’t be going back until we have another milestone to celebrate.

Dans at Green Hills lived up to its title as a fine dining restaurant. We enjoyed one of the best meals we have had in more than 100 stops around Berks County.

The food, the service, the ambiance. It was everything a fine dining restaurant is supposed to be.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: A Little Pricey

Dans at Green Hills
2444 Morgantown Rd
Reading, PA 19607

Dans at Green Hills Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Finer Dining Lunch & Dinner Reviews