In 1989, Dan Gallagher and Dan Smith joined their respective names and began pursuing one common goal: to bring a contemporary alternative to Berks County's dining scene. The 40-seat eatery was successful in the Dans' hands until 2005, when Bill Woolworth and MD. Monir stopped in for dinner, fell in love with the place, and decided to buy it.
Though much of the space's original charm remains intact, the new owners gussied up the decor with white tablecloths and floral arrangements, and they solicited the help of executive chef Jason Hook to lighten the rotating menu. Jason draws on his experience studying in France and working at The Four Seasons in New York to craft healthful, contemporary French- and Californian-inspired dishes. In every preparation, he highlights the ingredients' natural tastes, often pairing local cuts of meat and poultry with fresh, seasonal ingredients and luxurious flourishes such as truffles or Lamborghini-scented foam.
Hook, Woolworth, and Monir also frequently evaluate their wine selections to ensure that they pair well with the evolving menu, which changes every week. While sipping glasses of red or white, diners can question servers about the building's rich history in the Penn's Common Historic District. Before the restaurant settled into the space, it was inhabited by an old-style soda dive, a prison doctor's home, and a grassland populated with roaming dinosaurs.
The 200-year-old stone walls of Christine’s Creekside Inn sheltered an 18th-century grist mill, a knitting mill, and a Prohibition-era speakeasy before hosting executive chef and owner Doug Delong. This is a second homecoming for Delong, who was one of the original chefs here during the early 1990s when the restaurant was called Old Mill Inn. After an apprenticeship at the Green Hills Inn to study American and French cuisine, Delong returned to restore the elegance of the restaurant and pour two decades of experience into his hearty meat- and seafood-focused cuisine. Italian taste dominates the menu, so veal and chicken are draped in traditional sauces with lemon and capers, artichokes, or marsala wine to complement their tiny borsalino hats. Steaks are hand-cut from certified Angus beef and pair nicely with wine or a microbrew from the diverse list of 14 bottled beers.
Delicate iron chandeliers descend from timber beams in the peaked ceiling, but their soft glow seems unnecessary against a wall of arched windows that reach nearly two stories on their tippy toes. The broad hall exudes both cathedral grandeur and country charm, making it suitable for an elegant night out or a wedding reception.
As patrons step into the Western-themed restaurant, their stomachs instantly stop growling to bask in awe of 25 specialty sandwiches and 25 types of gourmet fries. Those who dare to slay The Beast, a snarling made-to-order 3-pound beef patty that doesn't know the meaning of "no"—earn a gift card and a coveted spot in the Spuds Hall of Fame. No less satisfying, but slightly less filling, sandwiches sandwich 8-ounce patties of chicken, ground beef, or steak, and pair well with a helping of gourmet fries, ranging in toppings from gravy to cheesesteak to pizza. An array of appetizers including salads, wings, and pierogies supplement meals or serve as additional burger toppings.
When Patrick Watt moved from Jamaica to the U.S. at age 13, he also transported his country's culinary traditions. These simmered in his mind throughout careers as a student, electrician, and truck driver, titles that the Reading Eagle reports he held before delving into the restaurant business. After cooking for three years in New York, he decided to channel his knowledge of Jamaican cuisine into a venue of his own: Higher Level Restaurant & Lounge. There, his brother Roger marinates meats in mild and spicy jerk sauces, such as the resident Jerk Dread, and assists Patrick when he doubles as boss and cook. The kitchen staff preps every meal—from oxtail stew to weekend red-snapper specials—from scratch. They deliver meats from the grill straight to dining-room tables, which are flanked by orange walls, artwork, and libations that diners can supply themselves, as long as they bring a receipt or a signed note from Dionysus.
Chef David Brennan takes a certain amount of initiative when crafting Panevino's menu of rustic Italian cuisine, incorporating contemporary touches to create more refined entrees. Although David's chefs remain faithful to Italian traditions by hand-making pasta every day, they aren’t afraid to be playful, layering Tuscan-style, thin-crust pizzas with roasted pears, brie, or crispy pancetta. The servers, meanwhile, work to pair these inventive flavors with wines from the 150-bottle-strong collection, which includes domestic and international choices.
These bottles fill a corner of floor-to-ceiling cubbies in the private wine room. In the dining area, pendant lamps dangle from the matte-black ductwork and light the space's burgundy carpets, granite tabletops, and stonework walls. Live performers regale diners on Friday and Saturday evenings with serenades and dramatic readings of the menu in Shakespearean verse.