The local newspaper has a feature from one of Champaign-Urbana's most legendary restaurateur's, John Katsinas, on what his favorite area restaurants were that have now since closed (or will soon be closing). It's a nice little read, and has made me stop and think about the restaurants that have come and gone that have left an indelible (and edible) impression on me throughout the years.
Here we go....
- Pickles -- Located where Golden Harbor restaurant currently resides. This was a great little place that did basic food really well. I remember how, despite it having ample space, it always felt cozy. Never did find out the name of the dark-haired lady who always seemed to be there, hosting. She struck the perfect balance of friendliness and professionalism. My favorite meal there was the chicken sandwich with (the always tasty) french fries.
- Aunt Sonya's -- Born and raised in Champaign, I'm old enough to remember this place, but too young to remember when it was Uncle John's (though my mom has always availed herself to tell stories about it from her undergrad days at the UofI). This was what I refer to as one of those 'old-school Champaign' places. Not as many of them around anymore. Faded Illini memorabilia adorned the walls. The place was, in its way, a living history point of local college sports. My go-to meal was the fish with mashed potatoes.
- Carmon's (creperie) -- A more recent closure and, though it existed fairly briefly compared to the long runs of Pickles and Aunt Sonya's, it made a big impact on my taste buds. I loved partaking of the sausage gravy crepe each weekend, and trying out their other offerings for dinner or lunch throughout the week. The staff became like family, and I still miss the co-owner, Mike (RIP). The eatery existing in the space now, Wedge, isn't too shabby.
- Village Inn -- There's still a hole in my stomach where Village Inn pizza used to be. Its main location for many years, at the corner of Springfield & Mattis in Champaign, was close to where I grew-up (and still live), and I remember going there lots of times as a kid, especially after some of my mom's softball games. Toward the end of its existence, the pizza parlor moved way out to east Urbana. I followed it there a few times, but it just wasn't the same. Now, it's yet another old-school Champaign joint that we no longer have to enjoy.
- K-mart (cafeteria) -- Go ahead and judge me all you want, but I have such fond memories of going into the old K-mart at Prospect & Bloomington Rd. (where Home Depot now resides), and my favorite part of the visit being the sights, smells and tastes of their cafeteria. Located toward the mid-portion of the store, it was separated from the main shopping areas by low-level walls and windows with brownish-yellow glass. There were mostly old folks dining there, and that was perfectly fine.
- Dom's -- Located in a windowless, non-descript little building toward the eastern edge of downtown Champaign (really, it was more midtown), Dom's was one of those places that evokes for me the Big Yellow Taxi song by Joni Mitchell. I really didn't know what I had 'til it was gone. A definitive member of the old-school Champaign club, it was obvious that it wouldn't be around forever, yet I didn't fully appreciate it until it went away. The family reboot -- Buttitta's -- was a fair attempt, but didn't recapture the quaint magic of the original.
Honorable mentions: Bishops Buffet, Prairie Fire and, oddly, that restaurant that used to be on the second floor of Bergner's, overlooking the mall: I always wanted to go there, but never got the chance to.
Of course, there are plenty of C-U restaurants -- both old and new -- currently active and serving delicious food to plenty of hungry people. Hmm, perhaps I should do a post about those soon?