Callowhill Cafe, an extension of Hope of the Nations Christian Center, quiets rumbling tummies and cures caffeine cravings with a menu of coffee, espresso, pastries, and small entrees. French-roasted beans from local The Reading Coffee Roasters steep themselves into sumptuous cups of Colombian and decaf drip coffee ($1.25–$1.89), and refreshing iced tea ($1.75) comes with free refills and clinking ice cubes which tinkle tunes from Tea for the Tillerman. Bagels and english muffins embrace eggs, cheese, and bacon to form filling breakfast sandwiches ($3.89), and creamy hummus awaits pita suitors at lunchtime ($4.89). Works from local artists complement Callowhill Cafe's upholstered lounge seating and group meeting area, and complimentary wireless Internet thrums fill the airwaves, facilitating emails or live streams of drip coffee machines.
At the bottom of Aashiyana Fine Indian Cuisine's chimney sits a construction that has been the tool of Indian chefs for centuries: the tandoor. This traditional clay oven sears meat to its core with super-hot flames, turning chicken a signature bright-red color and transforming wayward snowmen into quivering pools of regret. Chefs drench these succulent morsels of tandoori meat with creamy curries and yogurt-based sauces, which they can customize to each guest’s preferred level of spiciness. Fluffy piles of wild-grain rice or buttery naan flatbread are available to escort entrees to the table, and the restaurant’s BYOB policy invites guests to bring their favorite brew or wine to temper the tingle of spice.
A short flight of stairs splits the dining room neatly in half, amplifying privacy by creating two intimate spaces. Maroon napkins folded into crown-like shapes await diners at each table, ready to flop into laps or adorn heads when the staff spontaneously knights you the Tandoori King.
The gastronomic gurus at Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe assemble a unique menu of dishes culled from the culinary traditions of both Mexican cuisine and American comfort fare. Noshers can fuel up around the clock with all-day breakfast platters, such as eggs criollos gussied up with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and diced ham ($5). Midday munching begins with a hunger-defying selection of deli sandwiches, salads, and burgers, including the Southwestern cheeseburger bestrewn with swiss cheese, bacon, and robust cilantro mayo ($4.50). Tuck into Mexican favorites such as the burrito, which nestles chicken, beef, or pork with a blend of beans, cheese, and veggies in a flour tortilla for a meal more portable than a microscopic duffle bag ($5.50).
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.
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.
Judy's on Cherry fills dinner plates, lunch plates, and small-but-supportive tapas plates with Mediterranean-inspired, fine dining flair. Like most children who take pottery classes, chef, owner, and Reading native Judy Henry tends a 6,000-pound ceramic oven, where most of the menu items emerge. Evening diners choose from an array of 15 diminutive dishes, such as roasted asparagus bundles, adorned simply with sea salt, lemon aioli, and parmesan ($7.95), or spicy, stouthearted papas bravas, combining fingerling potatoes, large shrimp, and cured chorizo ($10.95). Thin, crispy-crusted chicken saltimbocca pizza leaps out of the hearth-fire oven screaming about being tasty ($10.95), the balsamic braised-lamb shank relaxes in a bed of creamy cheese polenta with roasted cipollini onion pillows ($25.95), and the frenched pork chop gets tipsy on a peach-bourbon glaze and admits a crush on its lyonnaise potato and swiss chard platemates ($19.95).