Oh, what a marvelous find in downtown Reading. Great food, great service, great atmosphere, and the some of best beer in the world. I have not been to Judy's on Cherry (right next-door - both owned by Judy Henry), but opted for the Speckled Hen Friday evening because we could get in without a reservation. The area has plenty of street parking, as well as a nearby garage.
Arriving just after 6, we were seated right away, and given a few minutes to look over the beer and wine list. They have some of the best bottled and draft brews in the world, tilting toward English style ales and IPA's. A quick check of Jackson's Great Beer Guide shows that half their choices make the list. I opted for the Old Speckled Hen English Ale (just a coincidence), which I would describe as an excellent "medium" flavored ale, a but fruity (which I like) but a little too chalky and bitter at the end for my taste. Note that the beers here are served at the correct temperature in the correct type of glass. The more I learn about beer, the more I realize how much this really makes a difference.
As appetizers, my wife had the English Pastry, which was flaky but moist, with a savory pork filling. Some kind of fruit sauce (apricot?) not included in the description matched well. I had the Scotch Egg, which was served with a rustic tasting stone ground mustard. This was my first Scotch Egg, and let me say it won't be my last. Google it if you've never had one.
Each entree comes with a salad of mixed greens with walnuts (homemade dressing of course). The best part? I didn't have to cut it up myself!
In sticking with the English theme, my wife opted for the Shepherd's Pie, which may not seem exciting, but was well worth the risk. The potatoes were fluffy and buttery, and the beef mixture was flavorful and not the least bit greasy. Not sure if there's any way to avoid this, but these types of dishes often arrive way too hot to eat right away, as was the case for us.
I chose the Bangers and Mash, which also may seem boring, except that these sausages were savory, tender, and actually quite lean. Both meals were delicious.
Being far too full to continue, we brought home a coconut cream pie and apple crisp. Not bad, but would have been much better if we had been able to eat them at the Hen.
The service was fantastic, notably the pace of the whole meal. The entire evening - 1 soda, 1 import draft beer, 2 apps, 2 salads, 2 entrees, 2 deserts, cost only 50 bucks. For a budget evening, we could have skipped the beer, apps, and desert, which would have halved the damage.
Give this place a try. I'd be interested in reading other opinions.