Over 80 years ago, Jimmie Kramer began offering free peanuts to the patrons at his cafe along Penn Street on the west side of Reading. Today, Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar is a local institution. Empty peanut shells litter the floor, and it takes a conscious effort not to look every time you hear a crunch beneath your feet. Every little nook has a piece of local breweriana including an Old Reading Beer barrel and a miniature Yuengling delivery wagon. And, like most central Pennsylvania bars, Yuengling's are always flowing from the tap.
As you enter through a pair of heavy wooden doors, you notice the darkness. Strings of white Christmas lights are woven through twigs suspended from the ceiling, casting a dim glow on the red and white checkered tablecloths. Antique-looking lamps jut from the walls surrounding you, illuminating framed posters that adorn the walls of all three rooms.
Seating stretches out across what was once two storefronts, the bar having outgrown its narrow urban building decades ago. Once seated, a waitress appears with a wooden bowl full of shelled peanuts, and two large laminated menus. The Peanut Bar offers all the bar food staples you expect like wings (AYCE on Monday nights), burgers, and fresh cut seasoned fries.
But the menu is full of fine dining surprise. Panko-breaded salmon and free range organic chicken grace the same menu as southern style po' boys and Philly cheesesteak. There are not many places you can go to enjoy a gourmet meal while tossing empty peanut shells onto a solid wood floor.
My wife and I went on a Monday night and were surprised to see such a big crowd. We were put in the back, the third of three rooms. Our waitress appeared quickly our peanuts, but never gave us her name.
I got one of about ten daily specials, chicken and peppers with cheese ravioli. In all, it was a solid pasta dish, but if the sauce were improved, it would have been great. The chicken, the peppers, and the ravioli were all flavorful on their own, but the tomato sauce was on the bland side and hurt the overall dish a little bit. If the sauce was a little sweeter or a little spicier, the dish would have been near perfect.
My wife opted for the crab cakes, which came served to her a fish-shaped wooden platter. The dish came with fresh cut fries and homemade slaw. Personally, I'm not a crab cake eater, so I'm going to take her word for it. She said they were good, and was glad that they didn't have much filler. If there was a negative, it was that she likes hers broiled, and a little wetter, and these were on the dry side, but worked well with the tartar sauce she got with them.
Our total bill (drinking only water) was around $25, definately a good price for the large amount of food we got. If you're looking for a cool, comfortable place for a night out, you can't go wrong with the Peanut Bar.