By Zach Brown
The business section of the Sunday Reading Eagle is not normally a place to look for inspiration - I spend less time looking through section D than I do catching up on the adventures of Prince Valiant and Hagar the Horrible - but inspiration can strike at any time.
As I leafed through the classifieds one week, one ad, in particular, stood out to me:
Real Estate, Business Equipment
Liquor License, Living Quarters
Plenty of Parking
I already knew the business was for sale before my last visit to the Womelsdorf establishment in February. Former owners William and Diane Crumrine passed away within a few months of each other last year, leaving the business in the hands of their children. To the family's credit, the Stouch Tavern continues as it did in the years before, minus William playing the piano in the first floor bar room.
For more than 200 years, the building has served as an inn, restaurant and meeting place in Womelsdorf, a small town on the western edge of Berks County. Now the oldest tavern in the county, the historic inn played host to George Washington during a 1793 trip to Carlisle. Our first president now lends his name to the ghost that is said to inhabit the building's upper floor.
From the moment you walk in, you can feel the building's history. A steep staircase rises in front of guests at the main entrance. Portraits of former owners peer down on diners in every dining room. The wooden floor creeks with every step.
Tables are shoehorned into the narrow rooms, fitting as many patrons as possible. It's a lesson in how not to design a restaurant, but the building has lived through four centuries, and sometimes you just have to forgo modern luxury.
Our waiter weaves between tables and the salad cart to deliver my first course, a bowl of cream of asparagus soup, the soup du jour for the night. I love asparagus so I loved the soup. Though it was a little thinner than most cream soups, and a little saltier than I would have preferred, I still lapped it up quickly.
Then came the main course. a juicy filet mignon, cooked to my liking (always medium well), covered in mushrooms. There are no choices for the sides. Every entree is served with the fresh vegetables of the day. Our waiter used the back of two spoons to grab the potatoes, squash and carrots and place them, one at a time, on our plates. It's an awkward process, but the vegetables are fresh and cooked to a perfect al dente.
As good as my food was, I suggest any first-time visitor try the Specialty of the House - beef medallions and a slice of ham, smothered in mushroom sauce and Monterey jack cheese, topped with a fried onion ring (a surprising addition considering it's the only fried item on the menu). Everything melts together into one meaty, cheesy, salty dish. It's a unique combination of flavors only available at the Tavern.
No true Stouch Tavern experience is complete without dessert. More than just a sweet final course, dessert is a show. The bananas foster (as well as the cherries jubilee) is made tableside. Start with a heaping helping of butter, add brown sugar, bananas, rum and fire, and you get part dessert, part performance art. The gooey bananas mix is then poured over a giant bowl of ice cream. The sugar rush is worth the wait.
The late William Crumrine used to make the bananas himself. "I do the easy jobs," he said. "I play the piano and make the bananas." The Crumrines can never be replaced, but hopefully a willing buyer can be found, preferably one who is willing to make bananas foster.
The Stouch Tavern is open every day except Tuesday for dinner, and open for lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. In addition to its regular menu, the Tavern offers a buffet during lunch hours.