July 19, 2024

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“Judy, Judy, Judy!” Many film buffs point to the 1939 motion picture “Only Angels Have Wings,” starring Cary Grant, as the birthplace of that iconic repetition of a woman’s name.
Anyone lucky enough to experience an evening with delicious food, fine spirits and oft-times themed music at Judy’s On Cherry, 30 S. Fourth St., Reading, with an entrance on Cherry Street, will also get to witness proprietor, entrepreneur, chef and impresario Judy Henry and her dedicated team as they blend elements of farm fresh to table food with the class of a European bistro, thereby producing a night out experience that leaves patrons repeating the restaurant’s name at least three times, if not many more.
If you want to marvel at the culinary equivalent of a maestro conducting an orchestra, take a seat at the chef’s bar at Judy’s on Cherry and watch her work.
“Each meal is meant to be a symphony of flavor, visual gratification and aroma,” Henry said.
She went on to describe her team as a “loving family of misfits from all walks of life with quirky, creative and different ideas.”
Henry attributes her ongoing passion for creating and serving food, spirits and atmosphere to the diversity of those she is surrounded by in the restaurant. I asked her how she feels about her decision to create the restaurant.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and every day,” said Henry, in her 20th year with Judy’s On Cherry. “It fuels my passion and soul with challenges and creative ideas.”
Henry studied with Julia Child’s mentor Simone Beck as well as at Peter Kump’s Cooking School, both in New York City, and during those early years she also got to meet and learn from others like James Beard and Paula Wolfert.
During here formative years, she’d jump on a Bieber bus at 4:30 in the morning in Reading to depart for New York City and then return after her classes. Later, she moved to Salamanca, Spain, for a year, where she “spent more time cooking that studying.”
“The food of Spain,” said Henry, sighing as she closed her eyes, thought for a second and then looked into my eyes. “The food of Spain and the experience of pairing wines, spirits and music together to create something akin to seeing a play of passion, an immersive experience from start to finish, is what we now strive to create at Judy’s on Cherry.
“We offer an experience, a release, a time away, a few hours to live in the now and savor everything without crowding in from the outside world.”
Henry remembers that as a young girl, she didn’t have any particular grand plan for life and what she would become, but she followed her instincts. She does retain vivid and inspirational memories of things and people who may have ultimately steered her toward her calling at Judy’s on Cherry.
“My godmother Mary from Mississippi was a sort of fairy godmother of food to me,” Henry said. “She was Italian and the daughter of poor immigrants. When she made her Sunday gravy and served it with freshly baked bread, olive oil and herbs, meatballs, Italian sausages, chicken and pork spare ribs, each meal was like a welcome home party.”
One of Henry’s hallmark menu items is her spectacularly delicious, freshly hearth baked bread served with herbed olive oil. I have to control myself or I’d just keep eating Judy’s bread when I visit because it’s a fabulous comfort food, and it reminds me of my own youth with the Sicilian side of the family gathered to celebrate holidays and life with fresh food and bread that was used to sop up every last drop of sauce or oil and vinegar from salads.
“I grew up in Reading near George Hatza’s family,” Henry said.
Hatza was a columnist, drama critic and entertainment editor for the Reading Eagle for decades.
“George’s mom baked the most amazing and flavorful Christmas cookies I’ve ever tasted, and that made me want to bake,” Henry said.
Evidence of her baking talent was evident when, within the last few weeks, she created a blueberry pie than was so good, demand exceeded the supply, leaving all of us patrons wanting more.
“This restaurant and those who choose to spend time with us here are my passion play, my meaning, my fulfillment and my purpose,” Henry said.
Before creating Judy’s on Cherry, Henry spent time at one of Reading’s other iconic establishments, the venerable Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar Restaurant, where she rolled up her sleeves, washed dishes and eventually became head chef. The entrees she created became patron favorites.
When it was time to set out on her own, her vision led her to the old farmers market over at Fourth and Cherry streets, also the home of the historic Speckled Hen or Widow Finney’s Pub, as it was originally called.
“I’m really proud that we here have maintained what amounts to Reading’s only historic market, still viable as a food industry establishment,” Henry said.
Henry can lay claim to the fact that she has been instrumental in saving and restoring a significant piece of Reading’s history and culture with her work at the old farmers market and Finney’s Pub complex.
When you walk up and into the restaurant, you are immediately struck by the beauty and complexity of the arched roof with its magnificent wooden beams. These were originally designed to allow proper airflow into the market, and incorporating them into the design of the restaurant gives the entire place a feeling of flow, design and uniqueness with a very calming and settling effect.
Naturally there have been hard times, but despite all that churns around the place, Judy’s on Cherry has emerged as a survivor, which is, perhaps, the best testimonial to what you can expect when you visit.
In August and September and continuing throughout October, on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m., Judy’s plays host to the acoustic Busker Incognito Trio with blues, originals, pop and R&B music, inviting guests to sing along, clap along, even dance along as Judy’s and the trio whip up a heaping, helping portion of good juju and mojo to go with the scrumptious fare.
Community minded, Judy’s is playing host to the trio as part of the restaurant’s 20th anniversary celebration, but also to help raise awareness for the fifth annual Reading Blues Fest coming in November.
In addition, everyone is invited on Thursday and Friday for Judy’s 20th anniversary celebration theme of Hot Havana Nights. On Thursday, MC Johanny Cepeda will kick off the celebration, which will feature music by Los Monstros and made to order paella with genuine La Bomba Rice from Spain.
On Friday, Chef Ralph and Henry will take it to the streets for a community night of free paella made in a giant paella pan. Anyone who shows up can take away free paella!
On Saturday, Judy’s takes it back indoors, where people are encouraged to dress in white, the style of old-world Cuba. Prizes will be awarded for the best costume, and the tables will be set with white linens and candles to create a decidedly romantic mood.
Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, show host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Reach him at da*******************@gm***.com.
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