A kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Pop’s Malt Shoppe

The stone exterior of Pop's Malt Shoppe in Kutztown

Who wants ice cream in the cold of winter? This guy.

I’ve never believed ice cream to be a summer-only treat. It’s year-round goodness. Especially on special occasions – like when mommy has to go away for work and leaves daddy home alone with a two-year-old.

But where to get ice cream – and a meal – in January? One option is Pop’s Malt Shoppe in Kutztown.

Red and white leather booths against a pink wall covered in retro signs in Pop's Malt Shoppe's dining room

Pop’s Malt Shoppe takes on the look and feel of a 50s/60s diner and soda fountain: the checker board floor, the red tables with stainless steel accents, the Elvis music playing through the speakers.

It’s not a unique concept in Berks County – Bel-Air in Bechtelsville and Scoupe DeVille in Birdsboro both have similar concepts. But unlike those, Pop’s is open year-round. So even when there’s snow on the ground and the temperatures are below freezing, Pop’s is open.

A close-up of the retro signs and a mirror on a pink wall in Pop's Malt Shoppe

That was one of the reasons I decided to stop in on a Sunday night in January – that and the fact that they had recently posted about their newly renovated dining area. It was just Jakob and I, and it took him a few minutes to realize where we were. “Ice cream shop?” he asked. My two-year-old is obsessed with our collection of Curious George books, including Curious George Goes to the Ice Cream Shop. I guess Pop’s has a look that’s easily recognizable.

Julie and I had actually never visited Pop’s while we were students at Kutztown. But we did stop in for ice cream a few years ago.

Jars of ice cream toppings in front of a chalkboard with toppings listed on it
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

We were only in the take-out area, but it still had the same vibe as the dining room with pink walls covered in retro signs.

The cookie monster sundae featuring chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

On that visit, we both ordered sundaes: a brownie sundae and a cookie monster sundae. The latter featured Pop’s fresh-baked cookies with choice of ice cream. Photos of fresh-baked cookies have been a staple on Pop’s social media accounts and taste as good as they look – especially with ice cream.

A brownie sundae featuring brownie bites, whipped cream and a cherry in a to-go cup
Photo from 2016 visit to Pop’s

Similarly, the soft, chocolatey brownies were baked in-house as well. It’s a nice touch that helps to set Pop’s apart from other places.

For Jakob and I, ice cream would have to wait until after dinner.

Pop’s food menu is what you would expect – burgers, dogs, a handful of sandwich options, lots of fried foods and salad, in case you want to feel a little less guilty about that ice cream afterward.

A sloppy Joe sandwich, pile of fries and a cup of ketchup on checkered paper

I decided to order Pop’s homemade barbecue sandwich with fries. It was a standard sloppy Joe – ground beef with onion and tomato mixed in with a little barbecue sauce. The roll was smaller than I was expecting, though that could have just been from its obvious trip to the panini press. It was good, but nothing to write home about. The meat was falling out of the bun so it was still a hearty meal, too.

The fries were good, as well. They were crinkle-cut and done well, though I needed to add a little salt for some extra flavor.

A sloppy Joe and fries with a cup of ketchup served on checkered paper atop a melted vinyl record plate

One cool thing that I only picked up on because I heard another table mention it is that the food is served on plates made of melted vinyl records (or at least are made to look that way).

A kids meal featuring Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

Jakob’s meal also arrived in style. Kids meals are served in paper models of classic cars, and Jakob’s grilled cheese and mac and cheese bites cruised in on a Ford Fairlane.

Close-up of Half a grilled cheese sandwich served in a 3D cardboard paper Ford Fairlane classic car

He enjoyed the grilled cheese. The kids meal is actually a half sandwich using a single slice of bread which actually works out well because it means less crust, which Jakob is currently rejecting.

Four fried mac and cheese triangles on checkered paper

But he certainly didn’t reject the mac and cheese bites. The meal came with four of them, and he happily finished them off without leaving a trace. They were a simple, kid-friendly side not unlike anywhere else, but Jakob enjoyed them, and that’s all that mattered to me in the moment.

With our meals finished, I couldn’t resist ordering us a treat (this is what happens when dad is left in charge for the night). We got a soft-serve sundae with Oreo cookies, strawberries and chocolate syrup (plus the obligatory whipped cream and cherry on top).

An ice cream sundae with vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, strawberries, Oreo cookie crumbles, whipped cream and a cherry

It was wonderful. The vanilla soft serve was nice on its own, but the toppings are what made it. There were 22 toppings to choose from so narrowing it to three (the first topping is free, the rest are 50 cents each) wasn’t easy, but they were all good decisions.

There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of any single topping.  The Oreos were concentrated on one side and the strawberries on the other so every bite was a little different, but no less enjoyable. The ice cream was easily the best part of the meal.

During our visit, the dining room was filled mostly with college students (a few had family members with them) returning for the spring semester, but Pop’s is certainly a family friendly destination in the college town. The price is right for a family meal as well. With dessert, it was about $25.

Our service was good as well. Two different waitresses helped us at different times as they worked as a team to cover a fairly busy dining room. At one point one of them apologized for the wait and said there was a mix-up with my meal. I honestly would not have even known because it was only about 15 minutes from the time we ordered until the food arrived.

It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it didn’t need to be. We were there for the ice cream, and that didn’t disappoint.

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

Pop’s Malt Shoppe
208 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

Dessert Diners

Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner

Sometimes on Berks County Eats, I find a place that is just…unique. A place that has no real comparison in Berks County or elsewhere.

I found another one of those places when Julie, Jakob and I made our first visit to the Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner.

The Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner is about as old school as it gets. It’s a true diner in every sense – just with wood paneling where one would expect to find stainless steel. And there’s an ice cream parlor. And a small antiques store. And a petting zoo.

OK, so maybe it’s not the stereotypical diner, but I think Julie said it best when she said, “This is Berks County.”

We arrived for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Though not full, there was a steady “post-church” crowd filing through while we were there. We sat ourselves at one of the booths – the slightly tattered black benches were wide enough for Jakob’s car seat – leaving the eight-person tables with the popsicle tablecloths for someone else.

The service was quick. We had our order placed and our drinks on the table in no time. It wasn’t long before our lunches arrived, either.

The menu included all of the comfort food classics you expect from a diner – burgers, sandwiches, $12 steaks, etc. I went with one of those only-at-a-diner meals: an open-faced meatloaf sandwich with mashed potatoes.

I’m not going to a diner expecting anything more than a satisfying, high-Calorie meal. And that’s what I got. The open-faced sandwich had four slices of white bread and two slabs of meatloaf loaded with beef gravy. I enjoyed it and thought the gravy and (surprisingly) the bread were very flavorful. Meatloaf is meatloaf, but the other elements added to it. The mashed potatoes were fine, though I found them to be a little dry, and there wasn’t quite enough gravy to make up for it.

Julie also went with a simple meal – an Italian wrap with a side of chips. The Italian wrap featured Capicola, cooked and hard salami, Provolone cheese, the option for LTO (Julie skipped the onion) and pickles on the side. It was a typical wrap on a larger flour tortilla. But it was done right, and Julie enjoyed it.

It was also served with a bag of Lay’s potato chips on the side that went unfinished.

We came to the Dairy not just for lunch but for dessert. And when we found out that they served Nelson’s Ice Cream – the same Royersford, Montgomery County, brand served at Sweet Ride in West Reading – we were excited. (Though we did find it ironic that a dairy had to bring in outside ice cream).

I can’t speak to whether there are more options at the ice cream counter, but in the diner, guests can enjoy cones or cups, milkshakes, floats, banana splits, sundaes and apple dumplings a la mode.

Both Julie and I decided on sundaes – hers was a dusty road sundae with chocolate raspberry chip ice cream, mine was a pineapple sundae with vanilla fudge.

The hallmark of a dusty road sundae is malted milk. The powder was dusted on top of the of the ice cream, which sat on a bed of chocolate syrup (with another helping on top). The chocolate raspberry chip is a delicious flavor on its own with black raspberry ice cream and chocolate chips. The syrup and whipped cream added more sweetness. The malted milk helped balance it out and add just a little bit of needed texture.

I haven’t had a pineapple sundae in a long time, but it seemed like a good fit for vanilla fudge ice cream. With the fudge already in the ice cream, there was no need to drench it in syrup. Instead, it played perfect with the pineapple. It was definitely a good fit and a great decision.

As an old-school diner, the Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner also offers all of this at great prices. For two lunches, two sundaes and an iced tea, our total was just $27. That’s hard to beat at a full-service restaurant.

Our only regret on the day was that Jakob was not cooperative enough for us to visit the petting zoo – another bargain with $1 admission and $1.50 feed. But knowing that we can enjoy a meal (and ice cream) at such a great price, there is no doubt that we will return when our little one’s attention span is a little longer.

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

Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner
6213 Oley Turnpike Rd
Oley, PA 19547

 

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Bel-Air Ice Cream, Hamburgers & More

Driving along Route 100 near Bechtelsville, it’s hard not to notice the bright blue Chevy Bel-Air on the rooftop of the namesake Bel-Air Ice Cream, Burgers & More.

I don’t drive that way often, but I happened to drive past it twice in one week, and the new restaurant caught my eye and had me intrigued. And neither Julie nor I can’t resist burgers and ice cream.

The restaurant opened in late May in the former Woodside Family Restaurant. It’s one of a handful of restaurants that fall within Berks County along the Route 100 corridor. We pulled in on a Saturday night, and while the parking lot wasn’t packed, the restaurant was clearly busy.

Between the checkerboard floor, the stainless-steel accents and the tabletop jukeboxes, the Bel-Air is a callback to the 1950s and proud of it. Mini collections of retro collectibles line the walls, including a parade of Bel-Air die-casts and a shelf full of Coca-Cola merchandise.

Based on reviews we saw – and based on what we witnessed at the restaurant – customer are confused about how it works. Unlike the Woodside which formally occupied the space, Bel-Air is not a full-service restaurant. Instead, customers are directed to grab a menu, order at the counter and seat themselves. The food will be delivered the table, but no one is going to come to the table to take an order.

So while Julie took Jakob out of his car seat to feed, I placed our order.

The dinner menu at Bel-Air is primarily made up of burgers and hot dogs with a few other sandwiches and some fried appetizers thrown in. But that’s not to say there aren’t options. There are 15 different burgers and 10 hot dog creations on the menu plus build-your-own options for both. Both Julie and I went with burgers – the Hot Rod for me and the Billy the Kid for her.

The Hot Rod burger is topped with chili and Provolone cheese. The melted cheese actually did a reasonable job of sealing in the chili – a pretty good, mostly bean-filled sauce. I don’t know that Provolone was the best cheese to go with the burger (when I think chili, I think cheddar) but it worked. I thought the burger itself was very good and cooked perfectly. And the toasted roll was a great addition.

Julie’s burger came topped with onion rings, barbecue sauce and Swiss cheese. It was good combination, though in the bite that Julie gave me I thought the sauce was a little too sweet for the burger. But the onion rings were good and like mine, the burger was really well cooked.

Chips are the default side for all burgers, but both Julie and I spent the extra $1.50 for a French fry upgrade. And we were glad we did.

The fries were the fresh-cut variety, skins on and easily snackable (don’t be thrown off by the stock photo of chicken fingers and steak fries that appears on the menu). I thought they were very good, though I had to throw some salt and pepper on them for just a little added flavor.

After we finished, it was my turn to take care of our seven-month-old while Julie ordered our dessert. She came back to me for cash because, despite having an obviously full cash drawer, they wouldn’t break the $50 bill that she had in her purse. Thankfully I had a $10 so we avoided having to add $8 to our credit card.

Her frustration continued as she had ordered her ice cream in a pretzel cone, but instead saw it being dipped into a dish. But the situation was quickly fixed and she got her cone of Hershey’s chocolate moose tracks.

Hershey’s is the brand of choice in the ice cream freezer, though there was a Turkey Hill ice cream sign in one of the windows as well. Bel-Air also offers soft serve, which is what I chose as the base for my Kit Kat Delight sundae.

The vanilla soft serve was topped with a whole Kit Kat bar, caramel sauce, hot fudge, whipped cream and the obligatory cherry on top. I was actually surprised by how many bits of Kit Kat were broken up in the sundae – it was hard to see what I was getting underneath the mountain of whipped cream.

In the end, we were both happy with our choices and left the restaurant very full.

Between dinner, dessert and our drinks, we spent about $30. That’s not a bad price at all for dinner for two.

Bel-Air’s closest comparison in Berks is probably Billy Burger and Bakery on the opposite end of the county. Both restaurants specialize in burgers and fries, but don’t mistake them for fast food. The burgers are made to order, and at Bel-Air, they are cooked to your specification.

I don’t think Bel-Air is on the level of Billy Burger – the food isn’t quite up to that standard and the staff, mostly teenagers on summer break, could be a little friendlier and more polished. The restaurant management could also do a better job explaining to first-time customers that orders are to be placed at the counter. We saw many confused customers mistakenly waiting to be seated or questioning the process.

That said, the food was good. It was reasonably priced. They have great ice cream. And quite frankly, it’s a really cool place.

All those things make it worth the visit if you’re in the area.

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

Bel-Air Ice Cream, Burgers & More
913 Route 100
Bechtelsville, PA 19505

Dessert Diners Lunch & Dinner Reviews