Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe, 1110 Snyder Rd., Reading, PA 19609 Phone: 610-678-0266, www.gtaog.org

I have been meaning to write about Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe for a few months, and apologize for not sharing information about this little gem of a restaurant before now.  This casual modern eatery is located at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in West Lawn, PA, and is open to the public.  The hours of operation are (a little unusual): Tues. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Wed. 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m..  The entrance to the restaurant is the main entrance to The Worship Center toward the rear of the church on Snyder Rd.  (Enter The Worship Center and turn right in the lobby).

Don’t think that this is just card tables and folding chairs in a spare room of the church.  This is a full service restaurant with commercial kitchen and competent staff.  The atmosphere is light and airy with modern furnishings and one entire wall of huge glass windows.  In nice weather you even have the option of dining outside on the patio.

The very reasonable and creative menu includes salads, soups, cold and hot sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and sides– plenty of vegetarian options! I’ve eaten at Sacred Grounds several times, and my favorite menu item is the Strawberry Spinach Salad.  For only $6.25 you will not find a larger or tastier salad anywhere, and they are not stingy with the strawberries and walnuts.  You can get the poppyseed vinaigrette on top or on the side — all served on real china dishes with stainless steel utensils (not plastic).  This salad is definitely a meal 🙂  Yummy!  Hot and cold drinks and desserts  are available just a few steps away at the Cafe.  Note: a portion of the profits from the sale of their fair trade coffee goes to support foreign missions.

This restaurant is open to the public, and even has free WiFi.  For a casual lunch with friends or a quiet business meeting, Sacred Grounds is unique in the area for its clean, healthy, modern, wholesome  environment and delicious food at reasonable prices.  Very classy, Sacred Grounds is a place you will be proud to take guests to; and while you’re there discover what’s going on at “that big church on the corner.” Highly recommended!

Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant, 401 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611. Phone 610-685-6677

Aladdin is a wonderful Mideastern restaurant that offers a variety of delectable foods for the health conscious.  They have an extensive vegetarian menu to eat in or take out, and always use the finest fresh ingredients.  It is one of our favorite restaurants in Berks County — we have never been disappointed by the food or the service.  The atmosphere is very ethnic — almost like eating in a desert nomad’s tent or a Mideastern marketplace, complete with music. To add to the fun, Friday night usually features a live bellydancer.

Last night I ordered the Aladdin Makaleh which consisted of grilled cauliflower, zucchini, and eggplant along with falafel topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce.  It was delicious (and huge)! My husband had the Falafel Salad, which is a very generous serving of falafel, hummus, tabouleh, and tahini sauce.  At only $7.50 it is a bargain.  I have ordered the Falafel Salad in the past and can tell you that their tabouleh is the best!  Don’t let the word “salad” make you think this dish will leave you feeling hungry; it is definitely large enough for a satisfying entrée.  We had fountain drinks (free refills), and did not order dessert because it was a friend’s birthday,  and we had brought our own cake.  Aladdin supplied plates and silverware with a smile.  If you are looking for excellent vegetarian food in Berks County, then you won’t be disappointed with Aladdin.  If you don’t see exactly what you want on the menu, you can make your own combination platter or ask them to alter any item to suit your preference, and they will oblige.

Aladdin is truly a gem — a wonderful compliment to the Main Street revitalization program in West Reading.  Their prices are reasonable and parking is convenient.  Oh, they do serve meat dishes and have a Kids Menu, too 🙂

For more information online:  DineIndie.com/Aladdin

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ZOUP! Woodland Rd. in The Shoppes at Wyomissing, PA 19610, 610 372-6717

Zoup! is a new franchise restaurant in town.  If you follow Woodland Rd. east past the Berkshire Mall you will end up in the parking lot of The Shoppes at Wyomissing, an upscale strip mall where you will find Zoup! situated more or less in the middle of the strip.

My first impression of Zoup! was that is very clean and the staff was very helpful and answered all our questions — even offering free samples of the soup before we ordered. In appearance Zoup! is reminiscent of a scaled down version of Panera Bread; scaled down because they don’t have a bakery (or any desserts) on the premises.  Zoup! offers soups, salads, and sandwiches freshly made at reasonable prices.  They had four vegetarian soups on the menu the night we were there: vegetarian split pea, tomato basil, wild mushroom barley, and butternut squash (that is a larger selection than Panera, which usually only offers one, sometimes two). Any salad can be made into a wrap. Sandwiches can be ordered deli-style or grilled.

My partner and I both decided on the vegetarian split pea soup (large) and a “cali veg sandwich”, which we split (whole sandwiches are quite large). For an extra $1.99 any soup can be served in a bread bowl. We each had freshly brewed iced tea (free refills).  Everything we had was delicious.  With the soup you get a good-sized complimentary fresh roll (three choices: white, wheat, or multigrain), so there really is no need to purchase the bread bowl unless you really love bread.

Zoup! occasionally publishes coupons, and we had one that night for “buy one get one free soup.”  That was worth about $5.50 — what a deal!  With our coupon our entire bill for two, including tax, came to only $15.08.  We will definitely go back to Zoup!  It’s a nice place to go for a healthy lunch or casual dinner while shopping.  They also have free wi-fi. See them on the web @www.zoup.com

I thought Zoup! was a great value for the money. Plus, they have free internet!

Abigail’s Tea Room, 1441 Perkiomen Ave, Reading, PA 19602 (610 376-6050): www.abigailstearoom.com

Today my 6’3″ engineer husband bravely agreed to take me to Abigail’s Tea Room for lunch to celebrate my birthday. I say “bravely” because there is more than enough lace, fine china, and “cute” at Abigail’s Tea Room to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary men. As they say at Abigail’s, “It’s not just about the tea, it’s about the whole experience.”  Thankfully, I have an extraordinary husband!

As vegetarians we phoned ahead to be sure there would be something there for us to eat, and we were assured that they would make every effort to accommodate our request. Upon arrival, we were impressed with the superb remodeling that has gone into transforming this formerly rundown city property into the superb Victorian gem you see today. Decor is mainly burgundy and mauve with lace curtains and doilies on every surface, as it should be. Gold gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and even an old Victrola concealing the speakers which softly played background music were all elegant touches that added to the feeling that we had actually stepped back in time. As tea connoisseurs we appreciated their extensive tea list and the fact that each person got their own full-sized pot of tea instead of the “one cup of hot water and a tea bag” that we are used to getting in restaurants today.

For lunch we opted for the “Tea Room Special.” This included an appetizer consisting of a scone and a slice of orange bread served with Abigail’s sweet cream and fruit preserves. This was followed by a cup of Garden Vegetable Soup (you could choose a Garden Salad if you prefer) and any 1/2 sandwich or slice of quiche. We chose the Vegetarian Wrap, and it was delicious.  The wrap consisted of tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, cucumbers, peppers, and a tasty hummus dressing. The wrap was served with a fresh fruit garnish of melon, pineapple, one globe grape and fresh strawberry all on a bed of greens — the presentation was lovely! To top it all off we each had a tray of  four mini desserts: brownie, fruit tart, lemon square, and vanilla cream layer cake. After all that we were quite full, and the tea lasted through the whole meal! (They do have honey for your tea — you just have to ask for it). For $13.95/person, including the tea, I would say this was a good value and a enjoyable experience.

Of course, they do have a gift shop for you to browse through. I found their prices reasonable and the selection of items unique and lovely. (Perfect gifts for the tea lovers you know). While there, don’t forget to walk upstairs and see the restored rooms on the second floor, too.

I would recommend Abigail’s Tea House to anyone. Take your sister, aunt, mother, friend, even the men in your life. If my husband could do it I know there are other men out there who are brave enough to try something different. Try it — you just might like it!

Restaurant review: Good Eatz Green Cafe

Good Eatz Green Cafe, 701 Penn Ave., West Reading, PA 19611.  610-670-4885.  Open Monday – Saturday 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.  http://www.GoodEatz.org.

Good Eatz is a new restaurant on the main strip in the quaint shopping district of West Reading.  Advertised as a green cafe, you can expect to find quality organic ingredients in an ecologically responsible environment.  Their baked goods are not only organic, but gluten-free. Many vegetarian, and even vegan, options are available, and the friendly and helpful staff is more than willing to make alterations to suit your dietary requirements. This is a blessing for those who avoid eating out because of complicated dietary restrictions or preferences.  The decor is modern and relaxed without being too trendy. I found the menu to be reasonably priced for the quality and variety of menu selections.

Last night I visited with a few friends, all of us ordering vegetarian dishes. My sauteed vegetable wrap was a delightful surprise for someone who has gnawed through many dry tasteless wraps at restaurants before. This wrap at Good Eatz was by far the BEST vegetable wrap I have ever had. It included a generous amount of broccoli rabe, butternut squash, onions, cubanel pepper, grilled asparagus, and hummus in a big gluten-free wrap. Included was a generous side serving of quinoa pasta vegetable salad garnished with an organic orange slice and a whole dried date. Delicious.

Other dishes ordered at our table included the Harvest Salad, a compilation of roasted butternut squash, grilled asparagus, dried cranberries, spiced walnuts, and cherry tomato served on a bed of mixed greens with a cranberry white balsamic vinaigarette.  The pasta primavera included a whole grain gluten-free pasta with a variety of organic vegetables tossed with an aoli sauce served with grilled whole grain gluten-free bread.

The entire presentation of each entree was lovely besides being delicious and ample enough to satisfy the most ravenous appetite. After considering ordering bottled water with our meals we were encouraged by the waitress to try their filtered tap water to drink.  Another surprise — this tap water tasted better than the spring water we have delivered to our home! (More restaurants should consider the quality of water they serve. Bad water even changes the taste of  food).

I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who is concerned about their food choices and the environment.  If you want to enjoy an evening out or just a quick lunch knowing that you are eating for the health of your body and the planet, then Good Eatz is the perfect destination. My meal came to under $10.00 with tax. What a deal! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

THAIWAT: RESTAURANT REVIEW

Thaiwat Restaurant, 1145 Berkshire Blvd. (between Redners and Walmart), Wyomissing, PA, (610) 898-9191

   Thaiwat is a small family-owned Thai restaurant, less than a year old. The casual decor is done in a lovely oriental motif, and everything looks very clean and orderly. I must mention their lovely jade green china — very unusual to see dishes this nice in most restaurants. The menus themselves are classy heavy black book-type things which hold an extensive offering of traditional Thai appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts. There is a vegetarian section on the menu, but any dish may be altered to be vegetarian or to meet any diet or allergy requirements.

   The vegetarian Tom Kha (coconut soup) is outstanding. If you don’t order it with your dinner, then I would suggest taking some home with you. (This restaurant also has take-out service available for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking).  The Pad Thai is a favorite of mine — the vegetarian version (without egg) is excellent served with  sides of fresh crunchy bean sprouts, sliced lemon, and peanuts. An unusual dish on the menu is called “Jack and Sue,” a spicy heart-shaped vegetable pattie served on a bed of rice and vegetables. (I bet you won’t find that anywhere else!)

   If you still have room, several desserts are available for your sweet tooth. As long as you’re eating Thai try something traditional like the Mango Sticky Rice or Fried Banana — both are yummy, and you can have ice cream any day, right?

   Prices are moderate. Sometimes this restaurant is very crowded and there is a wait, and at others it is almost empty, so to be safe call ahead for reservations. Convenient location and plenty of parking. Closed on Mondays.