Brilliant sunshine in recent days seems to be the reward for tolerating the welcome-to-spring nor’easter the other week. The relative warmth and blooming crocuses brought us out of hibernation to explore Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, with favorite stops at Renninger’s Farmer’s Market in Kutztown for produce, shoofly pie, and ring bologna, all essential parts of the Pennsylvania Dutch food pyramid. Vendors selling Easter flowers, bags of onions skins for dying eggs, and pussy willows all made spring suddenly within grasp. Fully nourished by the recent snowfall and rain, the nearby fields seemed ready for the growing season.
Growing a little hungry from the fresh air, we set out for Reading and a place we’ve been eager to try for some time, Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar and Restaurant, a Berks County Prohibition-era institution and a fixture on Penn Street since 1933. As the door swung open, peanut shells and peanut skins piled up at the end of the bar swirled in the draft, like powdery snow. Out charming server led us to our table, asking us to watch out for the slight elevation change between the bar and dining area. My feet eased across the smooth floors with the peanut residue providing for an easy, sliding gait and a delightful crunching sound all the way to our table with red-checkered tablecloth and candle.
A bowl of unsalted peanuts, a staple here since 1934, was set before us in an instant. We dug in. Who can resist peanuts? They were even tastier with a tall glass of malty Spaten Oktoberfest, which is on draft year-round. Then the menu. Soups, salads, Wienerschnitzel, chicken schnitzel, seafood, and an array of Annie Kramer’s Great Old Time Favorites from the 1920s. I was in the mood for a crab cake, but our caring server noted that the original recipe version, a reflection of more frugal days, had a noticeable amount of filler. She guided me toward the lump crab cake sandwich, which was pure crabmeat goodness.
My wife ordered the cheesesteak, perfectly done, pink in the middle beef, topped with provolone and sautéed onions and served atop a slice of garlic bread. Almost forgot to mention that I started out with the Peanut Bar’s famous chicken wings, served in a bowl of rich, buttery house-made buffalo-style sauce with carrots and celery and a generous supply of ranch dressing.
Our server, who’s been at the Peanut Bar for 11 years, said the people of Reading have always supported the restaurant and its family-operated charm, which permeates every corner. Family portraits hang on the walls, and scenes of old Reading rotate on several screens. Before long, another bowl of peanuts. Affable and eager to talk, Michael Leifer, president, and CEO of the Peanut Bar and grandson of the founder came by to see how we’re doing and struck up a conversation, even as the room started to fill with dinner guests.
“We’re gearing up for 100 years in business,” he said proudly. How many peanuts do you serve a week, I asked. “Four hundred pounds,” he replied, adding that the shells, swept up once a week, used to go to a local farmer for livestock feeds. He’s looking for other takers. We’ll be back. Soon.
On the way home, we stopped at the VF Outlet in Wyomissing. Lots of memories here, the place where my parents brought me to stock up on jeans and other clothing before the start of school every year. Things are changing here, for sure, but we spent a good chunk of time sorting through the endless racks of clothes on sale and came away with bargains and rekindled memories.
Another classic day in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region.
Blog provided by Bryan Hay