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Seeking restaurant/shopping recs - Champaign, IL


amccomb
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My husband and I are heading to Champaign, IL to see a concert and we were hoping to have a yummy dinner somewhere fairly nearby. It could be within a half-hour from the location, which is:

The High Dive

51 Main St

Champaign, IL 61820

We prefer something more exciting than burgers and bar food - we love all ethnic foods, french, tapas, any asian or indian food, etc. We also like more upscale neuvo American or anything like that. We are not limited by budget, although wwe would prefer to not have to dress up TOO much - no jackets.

Any suggestions for where we could eat?

What about fun shopping (food related or otherwise) nearby? Any artisan foods - chocolate, bread, cheese, icecream, heck ANYTHING - nearby?

Thanks so much!

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Here is a link to The Daily Illini's Dining Guide...

Daily Illini Dining Guide

FWIW, good things have been said about Bacaro's but I've never been there myself. Here is a link to a previous discussion we had here which was inspired by a story in The Daily Illini about Bacaro's. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the story by searching their archives...

Notable small town restaurants in the Heartland

=R=

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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It's been several years but I wanted to add that we always enjoyed our trips to ArtMart in Lincoln Square (Urbana, IL). From their web site, I'd say they're still very much up and running but again, it's been about 5 years since I was there. We used to love their filled croissants (sweet and savory) and a lot of their salads as well. A very fun store.

=R=

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LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

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The highdive is pretty much right near all the action in "downtown" Champaign. Bacaro gets the highest accolades, I still haven't had a chance to eat there but my colleagues love it. It might be a little pricey though. Radio Maria is casual and reasonable, also very popular. The Bacaro guy opened his little italian grocery, Persimmon, next door -- though if you are coming from Chicago it might not be very impressive I always like to wander in and see what he has (morels, once, o some really great fresh figs...). They also have good sandwiches, oh and be sure to check out their slicer.

I really love Cafe Kopi a few doors down, and they have the most accurate bagels I've eaten since moving to the midwest. I am often in the corner grading a stack of freshman homework. Circles next door has some nice clothes. On the Neil street side there is a big used bookstore whose name I am forgetting now, lots of cookbooks! If you drive down to Urbana, definitely check out ArtMart. Also, I really like the Corkscrew wine store on Vine Street, they carry almost nothing I have ever seen anywhere else, with lots of personal comments & very helpful staff. Oh, and there is also a nice bakery -- Mirabelle Fine Pastry-- on Main street in Urbana that is worth checking out. Apparently the owner is the daughter of the people who own ArtMart -- how cute is that?

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I seem to recall liking the Great Impasta and it appears it's still in business making fresh pasta every day (it's been a few years). Also, Timpones was a nice higher end place.

Like other college towns, Champaign excels with low-end fare (sandwiches, bar food, pizza, etc). Those places are where I will be hitting next time I'm back in town.

As an aside, if you like authentic 50s diners, check out The Elite in Urbana. It's an aluminum clad nostalgia trip.

Edited by niv (log)

Kevin

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You have to visit Mirabelle. Jack Kostrub, the owner, is a former pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton. He is the sole "owner" of Mirabelle. There is no Art Mart involvement. Try the strudel which is not, as in most places, made from phyllo dough. You will notice that it's thicker but more tender.

For a hearty meal, visit the Bayern Stube in Gibson City. Prices are very decent. For the cost of a meal at the Olive Garden you can have pretty authentic German food. This being the month of Oktober, you might find it worthwhile to make the trip out. It's a 30 minute drive North of Champaign/Urbana. Great atmosphere, good Accordian Oompah player on weekends, and lots and lots of beer. Closed Mondays.

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You have to visit Mirabelle.  Jack Kostrub, the owner, is a former pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton.  He is the sole "owner" of Mirabelle.  There is no Art Mart involvement.  Try the strudel which is not, as in most places, made from phyllo dough.  You will notice that it's thicker but more tender.

Oops -- I thought I read that piece of info in last week's Buzz. Maybe I confused the interviewee with someone else. It was the owner of a place with a European bread oven, who was related to ArtMart. Would be nice if there are two good bakeries in town. Either way, Mirabelle is definitely worth the trip.

Edited to add -- People have really been pushing us to go to the Bayern Stube ever since we moved here. If its worth the drive I guess October would be the time to go.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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  • 1 year later...

Well, last year when we went to Champaign, IL, we went to Bacaro, and we're planning on going there again this week before going to see another band play. This time, we're spending the night, so we'll go to the Mirabelle bakery the next morning. What should we get there? Any favorites?

I'm going to check out as many places in this thread as I can, but I would love some more suggestions, especially for shopping, if anyone has any.

I am definitely planning on picking up some items from Persimmon (I'm bringing a cooloer) - any recommendations?

Any art galleries or funky furniture stores or anything else?

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Well, last year when we went to Champaign, IL, we went to Bacaro, and we're planning on going there again this week before going to see another band play.  This time, we're spending the night, so we'll go to the Mirabelle bakery the next morning.  What should we get there?  Any favorites?

everything is good, but IMO their apricot tarts, brioche, croissants and breads are particularly excellent. Oh, the olive & rosemary sourdough! Yum.

I'm going to check out as many places in this thread as I can, but I would love some more suggestions, especially for shopping, if anyone has any.

the art mart in Urbana is a lot of fun. It is in the Lincoln Square Mall near mirabelle. All kinds of cool kitchen and table stuff. They also have a big cheese counter and lots of fancy baking stuff, pastas etc. Also nearby: Corkscrew wine emporium on Vine, great place.

I am definitely planning on picking up some items from Persimmon (I'm bringing a cooloer) - any recommendations? 

He mostly carries wine these days, but he does import salami, prosciutto etc. from Salumi in Seattle (Mario Batali's dad.) That stuff is really good. Oh, and great gelato.

Any art galleries or funky furniture stores or anything else?

The Krannert art museum on U of I campus always has interesting exhibitions, as well as a nice permanent collection. I'm drawing a blank on furniture stores but there are a couple of great vintage stores in downtown Champaign. Jane Adam's bookstore is great too, big used cookbook section and I haven't picked it all over yet :wink:

Oh, in the meantime I've been to both Bacaro and Bayern Stube a bunch of times. Bacaro is our favorite place in the area. Not every single thing I've had there works but it is never boring, and usually great. Bayern Stube is over-the top bavarian decor. The food is overpriced considering it is basically german street food (wurst), but then again I am probably a more picky than most when it comes to wurst. :wink: Fun scene though, but not that close to C-U. Radio Maria's in downtown champaign is also a lot of fun, great atmosphere and tapas menu, if you want something different.

Oh, FWIW there are lots of inexpensive but good thai and korean places for lunch. My fave thai place is the one on Main street in downtown urbana. My favorite korean is Woori-Jib in campustown, on sixth. Speaking of Korean food, there is a great Korean grocery (Green onion) farther down Neal Street. They sell fresh kimchi and assorted banchan, among other things.

edit: one day I will remember which way the slash goes when quoting...

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Another Champaign-ite here!

If anybody's in Champaign and in the mood for unusual pizza, there seem to be three main not-a-chain options in town:

1) The grandpappy, both in terms of age and in terms of pizza size - Papa Del's on Green Street. They make specifically Italian varieties of pizza in a deep dish, and have apparently sent their pizzas all over the world (including to Tokyo).

2) Really fun international pizza - One World Pizza also on Green Street. (Yes, these are both campus town joints - I work on campus, what can I say?) One World's got all sorts of fun international-influenced pizzas that I adore to bits. In addition to the usuals, they've got specials ranging from a tandoori chicken pizza for the meat-eaters to a channa masala pizza for the veggies, and two or three Mexican-influenced pizzas, and they're inventing more of 'em all the time. (I'm waiting for them to come out with East Asian pizzas... :cool: one of the managers is working on it!)

3) California-style decorate-your-own personal pizzas (or pasta or salad) - Za's (yes, ALSO on Green Street... these are all within a few blocks of each other in fact). Za's has a menu of ingredients you pick from and they put those toppings on a personal-sized pizza. The options range from standard (pepperoni, sausage) to fruitcake (almost literally: apples, pineapple, raisins I think...).

If you're in the campus area, check out Moonstruck near the corner of Green and Wright. Yummy truffles, lots of cheesecakes, several hot chocolate and coffee variations, great way to catch dessert...

I can also go on for hours about each of the Indian, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants in town, but unfortunately many of the Green Street stores have a half-life measured in nanoseconds because of the rents that the property owners want in Campustown. Those three have been around for a while; there are some international newcomers on campus that, while not high cuisine, are tasty and warm and I'm hoping they survive, but there are just so MANY of them (approximately two dozen Asian restaurants and half a dozen Mexican ones within a six block area last time I checked) that it's hard for any particular one to survive more than about the span of your average student's tenure at the college...

I used to also really like Milo's (a little cafe type place on the back of Lincoln Square Mall), but I'm under the impression they've surrendered to the creeping blight which is Lincoln Square's slow descent into gibbering nothingness. The Art Mart seems to be the only thing that can actually survive there...

Edited by chibirisu (log)
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I haven't been to Kennedy's, but would love a new recommendation. What is it like? Also, there is supposed to be a little BBQ place (basically a counter, and the only side order is white bread type place) somewhere in Urbana, but I don't know the name or location. Something like Juniors? I remember reading about it, and info would be great.

The espresso dark chocolate bars at Moonstruck are phenominal. Is there any good chinese food in the city? I've had bad experiences with campustown places.

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I haven't been to Kennedy's, but would love a new recommendation. What is it like? Also, there is supposed to be a little BBQ place (basically a counter, and the only side order is white bread type place) somewhere in Urbana, but I don't know the name or location. Something like Juniors? I remember reading about it, and info would be great.

The espresso dark chocolate bars at Moonstruck are phenominal. Is there any good chinese food in the city? I've had bad experiences with campustown places.

Kennedy's is about like Silvercreek, from what I've heard, though I haven't been to Kennedy's either. Seems to cater to the same clientele though - the people who feel abandoned after Chef Jean-Louis shut down. ^_^

I think I've been to the BBQ place you're talking about (run by an ex-police officer who serves everything himself and talks to everybody who comes into the store) but it was a couple years ago and I think I read that he's retired since then... :sad: I don't remember the name or the location, just the guy himself and amazing barbecue...

There seem to be two camps when it comes to Chinese food and it comes down to the "do you speak Chinese or not?" divide.

Everybody who likes American-style Chinese food recommends Peking Garden. I believe they also have an untranslated menu, which I've never had the chance to ask any Chinese speakers about.

The people I know who speak Chinese are all students, so that gives them an inherent location and price bias, but they all go to Mandarin Wok (on Green Street again) and order in Chinese off the untranslated menu (which is a lot longer than the translated menu).

Of course, these same friends were the ones who tried to get me to eat tripe on a lark. I don't know exactly how the kanji differ in Chinese or how to pronounce anything on their Chinese menu, but I do know enough of the kanji involved to recognize that that was in one of the dishes they were passing around the table and trying to get me to eat... :blink: I'm fairly food-adventurous, but I just draw the line at eating pieces of something else's digestive tract somehow...

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I don't speak Chinese, but if this clarifies my position, I'd much rather eat digestive tract than crab rangoon :laugh: What I really want is snails in black bean sauce. And dim sum. :sad:

I read about the BBQ place back in September, so I think it may still be operational? I hope? Maybe?

Also, are there any places that do wood-fired oven pizzas, Neopolitan style?

I was really sad Sukothai closed, I liked that place and the people were nice. Now I go to the Thai place behind Krannert. (I think it is the same people as the one on Green, but the atmosphere is much nicer and lately the food has been better too.)

As far as chains go, I am kind of happy about Chipotle opening up, and I have come to appreciate that Steak n' Shake is a regional treasure.

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I don't speak Chinese, but if this clarifies my position, I'd much rather eat digestive tract than crab rangoon  :laugh: What I really want is snails in black bean sauce. And dim sum. :sad:

I read about the BBQ place back in September, so I think it may still be operational? I hope? Maybe?

Also, are there any places that do wood-fired oven pizzas, Neopolitan style?

I was really sad Sukothai closed, I liked that place and the people were nice. Now I go to the Thai place behind Krannert. (I think it is the same people as the one on Green, but the atmosphere is much nicer and lately the food has been better too.)

As far as chains go, I am kind of happy about Chipotle opening up, and I have come to appreciate that Steak n' Shake is a regional treasure.

Dim sum! I want to try dim sum again sometime - the only local place that I knew did it was a Green Streeter that shut down a couple years ago after getting taken over a couple times, and it only did it on Saturdays. If any of the others have started doing it, I am SO all over that. ^__^

About the BBQ place - that's definitely more recently than I've been there, so it sounds like there's hope! Just wish I could remember the guy's name... it was a nickname, like Junior or Mac or Bear or something, though I might be thinking Bear just because he was about on scale with a grizzly... :biggrin:

I don't know much about the backstage of the various pizza places. If anybody did go for the wood-burning oven approach, it'd probably be Papa Del's, though I can't guarantee it; it's just the most likely candidate. I know both Za's and One World have "standard" pizza ovens with the belts running through them.

I miss Sukothai too; I really liked their soup with the moo dang and baby bok choy in it. (Liked it enough I figured out how to make a vague approximation at home, in fact, though I've never quite nailed the difference between moo dang, char siu, and chashuu, and I do a lot more Japanese than Chinese or Thai cooking because it's so much easier to understand and master the ingredient set...) And you're right, the place on Green and the place by Krannert are two branches of the same thing, but it does seem like the food at the by-Krannert spot is better. Maybe because they have so much more space to work in and can have better kitchen routines and possibly offer more dishes there?

One other Green Streeter I have an odd fondness for is Empire right across the hall from the Thai place, actually. Most of their food I can take or leave, but when I'm feeling healthy-minded I like the soy-peanut-sesame-oil dipping sauce they serve with their R5 thing ("Buddha's delight?" steamed broccoli and tofu and peapods anyway) and when I'm feeling unhealthy-minded they're the only place in town that serves tofu General Tso's style. ^__^ (Or at least the only one I'm aware of...) The spice level is highly variable depending on who's in the kitchen that day, but when you've got an hour for lunch and don't dare move your car 'cause you'll never get another parking place, you learn to adapt. :biggrin:

(On that note, Sushi County is far better than it has any right to be under that name and that tacky sign and horrific paint job and bad music. When I go, it's certainly not for the decor! They don't do nigiri, which is probably a good thing considering what they are and the price point they're aiming for. But I like their rolls as well as Kamakura's, and they have better tempura. Of course Kamakura's tempura has always been kind of a let-down to me too; I miss the tempura the guy who owned the first incarnation of Asiana used to make. Near-white and crispy and fluffy, as opposed to the usual gold beer batter style you encounter over here...)

Ah, Steak & Shake. My brother's source of disposable income all the way through high school and college. He learned several of their sauces in the process -- the Frisco Melt sauce is half and half thousand-island and ketchup, for example... and did the Bean Crock fad hit your friends and associates? (From the old commercial. Someone got the bright idea of randomly calling someone they knew and saying "beancrock" in that commercial voice and hanging up. It's like phone tag that never ends... it was going around Bloomington like mad when I was there in college...)

(er, stopping rambling now. Did I mention the "could go on for hours" part? ^_^)

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I miss Sukothai too; I really liked their soup with the moo dang and baby bok choy in it.

Wow, we seem to be on the same wavelength. Love the baby bok choy.

One other Green Streeter I have an odd fondness for is Empire right across the hall from the Thai place, actually. Most of their food I can take or leave, but when I'm feeling healthy-minded I like the soy-peanut-sesame-oil dipping sauce they serve with their R5 thing

My first meal there was pretty bad, and I figured it wasn't the best place to try the congee with 100 yr old egg. Maybe I will give it another try...

(On that note, Sushi County is far better than it has any right to be under that name and that tacky sign and horrific paint job and bad music.

That's funny, I was going to ask if you'd been there. When it was a korean place, they used to do the best Bibim-naengmyun I'd had anywhere, but the place was always empty when I went and the owner (an american guy married to the korean cook-lady I gather) would invariably warn me that it was really really hot. I felt bad since I think the quality of their stuff was great, but the prices were higher than the more popular joints.

Oh, as for the indian place across the street -- lots of stuff is meh but the bread, biryani and raitas are very very good.

We need a Vietnamese place. The one on University was really bleak to sit in, but their spring rolls and pho did the trick. The little place on Wright does pho but it is nasty. But their japanese stuff is good. Especially the (seasonal) eel bento and katsudon.

(From the old commercial. Someone got the bright idea of randomly calling someone they knew and saying "beancrock" in that commercial voice and hanging up. It's like phone tag that never ends... it was going around Bloomington like mad when I was there in college...)

I guess I am a Sn'S novice...haven't heard of that one! We did, however, manage to cajole the manager into selling us a pair of those nice heavy mugs.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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My first meal there was pretty bad, and I figured it wasn't the best place to try the congee with 100 yr old egg. Maybe I will give it another try...

They're pretty generic American-influenced Chinese, but it's hard to mess up steaming, and I've got a soft spot for agedofu (not sure what the Chinese term for it is, basically deep-fried tofu).

If you like steamed stuff with sauce I recommend the R5; there's really not much besides that and the tofu I eat there just 'cause I can't get those two things anywhere else and haven't figured out the knack of making my own General Tso's sauce yet...

(and believe me I've tried. And failed many times. ^^;; I've heard everything from "half chili paste and half duck sauce with a tablespoon of orange marmalade" (er, NO) to some convoluted thing involving species of vinegar even Am-ko doesn't carry, and am still working on whittling it down...)

The peanut sauce is pretty easy to do at home if you like, though. Heat some Chinese soy sauce, melt some chunky peanut butter in the microwave, add a splash of chili-infused sesame oil and some chopped green onions, and you're good to go. ^__^

That's funny, I was going to ask if you'd been there. When it was a korean place, they used to do the best Bibim-naengmyun I'd had anywhere, but the place was always empty when I went and the owner (an american guy married to the korean cook-lady I gather) would invariably warn me that it was really really hot. I felt bad since I think the quality of their stuff was great, but the prices were higher than the more popular joints.

Yeah, I got that impression too - it was really tasty and I liked the assortment of side dishes that came with it! Unfortunately, being a Scottish redhead, my heat tolerance is pretty much limited to kimchee, and when you start layering other spices on top of kimchee my brain starts melting. (Love kimchee, but have to have something else to "dilute" it with - I like A-ri-rang's method of making dolsot bibim bab so you can adjust the spiciness level to your own taste with the gochuujang... learned to make that one at home too; Lee's Oriental Market on Kirby by the IGA sometimes has stone bowls in stock, I grabbed several of 'em one of the times they did. GREAT winter food too...)

Oh, as for the indian place across the street -- lots of stuff is meh but the bread, biryani and raitas are very very good.

That's the impression I got too - all the dishes seem oilier than they need to be, but the breads and sides are nice. (I wonder if they'd let me order naan to take home to eat with my own Indian food... :wink: Put me on top of a stove and I'm fine. I can't bake to save my life. Of course, part of that could be that my apartment's electric oven is older than I am and I've had to personally rewire the thing to keep it running, but that's a different ramble...)

We need a Vietnamese place. The one on University was really bleak to sit in, but their spring rolls and pho did the trick. The little place on Wright does pho but it is nasty. But  their japanese stuff is good. Especially the (seasonal) eel bento and katsudon.

WE SO need a Vietnamese place again! The little old guy in the yellow place that's changed hands like eight times since he retired, I loved his spring rolls to bits... and Pho Tran didn't have nearly long enough a tenure there. (And I didn't think it was possible, but the decor has gotten even scarier since Dos Reales took it over. What the heck did they do to that poor innocent roof? It never hurt anybody...)

And we need a Mongolian barbecue again too. Have you ever been to the Flat Top Grill (I think that's what it's called) in Evanston or Peoria? I think that would go over really well in Chambana, given the number of different cuisines you can simulate from the range of ingredients and dressings and starch options (rice, noodles, fresh-grilled parathas, you name it) on their bar. But I sure don't have the money to start one up... so I hit Evanston a couple times a year while on the way to Arlington Heights for the Japanese mall...

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And we need a Mongolian barbecue again too. Have you ever been to the Flat Top Grill (I think that's what it's called) in Evanston or Peoria? I think that would go over really well in Chambana, given the number of different cuisines you can simulate from the range of ingredients and dressings and starch options (rice, noodles, fresh-grilled parathas, you name it) on their bar. But I sure don't have the money to start one up... so I hit Evanston a couple times a year while on the way to Arlington Heights for the Japanese mall...

There's one in Bloomington (or Normal -- whichever side of town that is) in the College Hills Mall. Haven't tried it but it's closer than Evanston. Downtown Normal seems to be undergoing a little renaissance lately, if you are headed in that direction...

Shoot, I wish I'd known earlier about the Dolsots. I've been going to Green Onion on S. Neal for my Korean groceries. I like their Banchan but they don't have much in terms of equipment.

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There's one in Bloomington (or Normal -- whichever side of town that is) in the College Hills Mall. Haven't tried it but it's closer than Evanston. Downtown Normal seems to be undergoing a little renaissance lately, if you are headed in that direction...

Shoot, I wish I'd known earlier about the Dolsots. I've been going to Green Onion on S. Neal for my Korean groceries.  I like their Banchan but they don't have much in terms of equipment.

^____^ I tried to find the one in Bloomington when I was there for college homecoming, but I got lost in mall-itis! I have a horrible sense of direction when they start making roads non-grid-shaped. Must try again with someone who can actually navigate in mall-space.

Sometimes Am-ko has dolsots too. You might try them...

I've discovered an interesting split among the Asian markets on where I go for what.

Am-ko: I get cooking tools and dried, canned, and frozen things there, but their fresh section isn't too great. I once tried to get a package of pita and they were molded there in the display case. @_@ But they have all kinds of dried and canned foods I don't worry about; I like their Indian microwave dinners too (about half the price you'd find them for anywhere else in town, literally. $1.39 at Am-ko; closer to $2.50 at IGA or Meijer...)

Green Onion: Here's where I go for fresh stuff and desserts and beverages. I like seeing what they have in the deli or on special. They have a lot more desserts and beverages than Am-ko does, but they don't have as many tools and such.

Lee's: There's no one thing I go there constantly for, because their stock shifts a fair amount (as does the quantity of freezers they have functioning at any given point). But I wander through for occasional discoveries, or when I'm shopping for American stuff in the same run and can stop at the IGA for staples.

At the moment Lee's has the best satsuma-imo and chestnuts in town. :wub: Get the little chestnuts. They're sweeter and less expensive both. Roast 'em for about 25 minutes at 350 and peel and split and munch. I'm not looking forward to when chestnut season stops (hence the reason I've got a stash of 'em in my freezer!) They also have a shifting assortment of tools/dishes/etc.

I know there are like six more Asian markets in town, but they're in areas I don't get to much, so I tend to forget they're there. I'm particularly amused by the one that looks from the outside like someone decided to start selling cabbages out of their dad's car repair shop, the sign was literally spray-painted on the garage door last time I saw it -- it's up by University, by where Pho Tran used to be...

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  • 8 months later...
  • 2 years later...
You have to visit Mirabelle.  Jack Kostrub, the owner, is a former pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton.  He is the sole "owner" of Mirabelle.  There is no Art Mart involvement.  Try the strudel which is not, as in most places, made from phyllo dough.  You will notice that it's thicker but more tender.

For a hearty meal, visit the Bayern Stube in Gibson City.  Prices are very decent.  For the cost of a meal at the Olive Garden you can have pretty authentic German food.  This being the month of Oktober, you might find it worthwhile to make the trip out.  It's a 30 minute drive North of Champaign/Urbana.  Great atmosphere, good Accordian Oompah player on weekends, and lots and lots of beer.  Closed Mondays.

A small thing, but there is a correction here... Jack opened Mirabelle with Courtney who is the daughter of the former owners of the Art Mart. Courtney sold her half in 2007 to Jack. There is (and has always been) a great partnership between Art Mart and Mirabelle. Courtney now owns Art Mart and Jennifer North in Champaign with her husband.

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