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Champaign, IL: Cafe Luna

I've said it before, but I think Cafe Luna is consistently the best restaurant in Champaign-Urbana. Tucked in the back of a non-descript 3 story building at 4th and Green in Campustown, I went there for brunch (for the first time) today. Menu is a la carte. Had a mimosa, some of the best Eggs Benedict (with truffled hollandaise and prosciutto) I have ever had. Was still hungry so had some Zupfe french toast with vanilla butter and a side of bacon. All outstanding. I have had lunch, but mostly dinner at this place - dinner is mostly tapas courses, interesting ones, with some more expensive entrees. Rumor is a chef's tasting menu is on the printed menu now. They have also redecorated and put up new lighting fixtures, as well as created a small back room that can seat about 10 around one table, and another 4 or so at a window table. Great place!!!

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  1. good thing antonio's isn't technically a restaurant, or i'd strongly disagree with your assessment ;)

    4 Replies
    1. re: pegleggedheart

      Oh, that pizza by the slice joint? Yeah, that's good, but even better I think is Manolo's, run by the people who own the Canopy Club (the old T-bird theater, which has up-and-coming rock acts in all the time, it seems). On Goodwin around the corner next to Espresso Royale.

      1. re: ddfry3

        I tried Manaolo's pizza for the first time yesterday. I have to say the pizza situation in C-U still leaves a lot to be desired for my taste. They need to lay off the stale dried herbs in that tomato sauce, and get better cheese. Especially for the plain Mozz. & basil pizza, which is what I had. The crust was fairly standard (I guess its considered NY style here?) but in the end it was just another student pizza. Maybe we could talk Bacaro into doing the real kind with a wet dough and wood-burning oven in that bar area.

        I liked Manolo's empanadas, but they are probably not super healthy...

        I guess bread co is still my favorite pizza in terms of the quality of toppings, but I wish they would change the crust.

        1. re: Behemoth

          What do you think of Jupiter's pizza?
          Honestly my fave of all time is Pequod's in Morton Grove (and also Lincoln Park), Chicago.

          1. re: ddfry3

            Haven't tried it yet. The "mozzarella/provolone" listed everywhere on the menu makes me suspect it's that shredded plastic stuff. Also I wish people would just avoid the temptation of dumping a whole bunch of stuff on a Margherita pizza. Cooked down san marzanos, olive oil, real mozzarella, basil, stop.

            Okay, I admit I am kind of picky about pizza in a way I am not about most things. :-))

            Still, i'll find someone to drag along for some billiards, and give it a go.

    2. I ate there a few times last summer and agree that Luna is great. My other favorite for dinner is Timpone's. (I grew up in Champaign and visit 2-3 times a year.) I had a rare ahi sandwich at lunch with roasted potatoes that was truly a standout among the lunch choices in Campustown. Thanks for the tip about the 10 person room. I could use that when I'm in town next for a group gathering. Last time I was there the place was much too small for more than a group of 4 or perhaps 6 at most.

      Do I remember correctly: They source a lot locally, right? I had a beef dish for dinner that I could swear was described as local beef.

      1 Reply
      1. re: slowfoodgrrl

        Yep, not sure about where they get meats, but I know a lot of local stuff is delivered even right to the door. Be warned, things are going to get crowded around there, a 260 ft. tall high-end apt.high rise is going up next door. They are shoehorning that thing on the site of the old Burger King/parking lot!!

        You should also try the new tapas bar at Radio Maria...nice space, much better service than the main restaurant, which I tend to avoid, and lots of nice, reasonably priced tapas offerings. Food until 2 am - draft beer list is stunning.

      2. Hmm...brunch at Luna. I've never done that before. Thanks for the prompt. We were thinking of going for dinner next week, but maybe we'll do brunch instead. Or both....

        Love Luna.

        2 Replies
        1. re: debbiel

          Did you go eat at Luna, and if so, how was brunch?

          1. re: ddfry3

            We went for brunch today ddfry3. A quick report: I was not blown away by the brunch menu. I think it's still hard to find something incredibly interesting and new and exciting in C-U for brunch.

            I ended up getting the yogurt and granola, just so I could feel okay about also getting the donuts. My partner had the mushroom and arugula omelette. His omelette was absolutely perfect. Really, really spectacular. The yogurt and granola was, well, yogurt and granola. The donuts were not cooked fully the first time they came out. They brought out a second plate, with an extra donut, and ooh baby, those donuts with mascarpone cream were absolutely wonderful. I would return for brunch just to have those. And, if I return, I'll likely get an omelette or see if they can do a vegetarian benedict. Service was a bit slow but pleasant.

            We also asked to look at the current dinner menu since we hadn't been there for so long. I'm craving the fried artichoke with beets salad, and I think we'll probably head there for dinner in the next week or two.

        2. We went to Luna for dinner this past week. Overall a nice dinner but not as spectacular as it has been in the past. Since we were last there for dinner (more than a year ago) they have changed their dinner menu. The set menu is all tapas, and then they have 3 or 4 entree specials per night. I was disappointed and surprised that there was not a vegetarian entree. However, we were doing all tapas so this didn't impact my meal this time.

          Fried artichokes and beets--wonderful! I really liked the texture contrast between the two, flavor was great.
          Potato gratin--potatos were cooked great, partner had all the gravy (which he said was delicious)
          banana gnochhi--we ordered this because it sounded different. The texture of the gnochi was a little odd, though I can't describe in what way (sorry). We were pleasantloy surprised that this wasn't an overly sweet dish.
          Lamb chops--partner had these and had cleaned the bones before I realized he had started. I think he may just order it en masse next time.
          Mushroom crostini with truffle oil. Wow. Just wow. I am sad that I am not eating this right now.
          Desserts: I really enjoyed the lightness of the citrus souflee. Partner had the fruit flambe and gelato--was fine but not memorable.
          The sangria was wonderful. Service seemed a bit abrubt but was fine.
          So, overall, not as great as the past, but good enough that we'll head back again some time. I do wonder if the major construction planned for next door will be a nuisance for them.

          6 Replies
          1. re: debbiel

            Sorry to hear that it was less good than in the past. Perhaps summer issues, not sure. Have had good luck the last few times I went, to be sure. Speaking of dinners, I am disappointed that English Hedgerow closed for dinner except for groups. I had several nice meals there.

            1. re: ddfry3

              Just to give everyone a heads up about Luna, since there is a huge rumor of the restaurant closing in the near future due to the construction going on on the block, the restaurant is looking for a new location. there is really no definite answer on where they are going to be moving, but will probably start happening in the next 6 - 9 months.

              1. re: jboyd1

                Thanks jboyd1. I was wondering how that was going to effect them and sure wasn't feeling optimistic about it. I hope they land some place where they can have continued success. Any ideas on when they might be closing the current locale?

                1. re: jboyd1

                  I am not too surprised, parking is now nonexistent. I trust they will resurface, maybe in a bigger space....though I kind of liked the vibe after the last remodeling. Above all I hope the food remains as good as ever!

                  1. re: ddfry3

                    Ack!!! They can't close now. What will I do for Sunday brunch?? I really hope they keep some sort of interim location during the move. I'm glad you liked the eggs benedict, ddfry3. I agree it is one of the best versions I've had anywhere.

                    1. re: Behemoth

                      I guess you'll have to go to Original Pancake House, which I refer to as "home of the $15 breakfast!" It's very good, as I am sure you know. I have not been to the brunch at Silvercreek lately, though a friend took me to dinner and they must have changed chefs yet again, b/c what I had was a step up in quality and execution than when I was there the last time. Also, while I would not go there for any other meal, Jim Gould does a very good brunch....lots o'people though, but the jazz combo he has going is kind of nice.

            2. Well, ate at Luna for lunch today and had a good meal, though the server was not the best. A former student of mine was working in the kitchen and stated that the building Luna is in will be leveled at some point; there is an apt. tower going up just to the west where the old BK was, some 250 ft. tall building. Anyway, the parking lot to the west of the building is already a staging area and has a skycrane parked in it. Sounds like they will migrate to downtown Champaign, where all the other happening places are. Hope it doesn't lose the charm and good food!

              12 Replies
              1. re: ddfry3

                After all the raving here, I booked a big brunch for Luna last weekend....SIGH....classic Champaign indifferent-to-incompetent service. First, we booked for the back room, but they set us up in the main dining at a long table, which the guy said would be "more fun"--except you can't really talk to people at a long table for 10. They did move us to the back, but things didn't really get better. They didn't have enough coffee made and that inexplicably took forever (the rest of the place was maybe 1/3 full). Some people got their meals right away, others waited 20 more minutes with no explanation or apology. The food was for the most part quite nice--although I detected no truffle-ness in my hollandaise--just incredibly SLOW with no attention to details (wrong toast choices, no refills on sugar/cream). This isn't the first time I've had poor service at Luna, but disappointing when we had made arrangements well in advance that they couldn't even get a couple of pots of coffee going! If it weren't for their no big party reservations on weekends policy, I would have had my event at Original Pancake--the best service in this town...and bacon pancakes!!!!!!

                1. re: miss_nadine

                  Sorry to hear that...had a good experience with a friend at dinner a week or two ago, in that back room 4-seater. Maybe when they move they will add staff!

                  1. re: ddfry3

                    Maybe I need to start a new thread called "Bad Service in C-U"---my pet peeves were all in force during this brunch. Having more staff is not going to solve the problem of servers who don't acknowledge mistakes or snafus--e.g. explain and apologize when some diners aren't getting their meals . Get coffee ready when you have a 10-top booked. Recognize when someone's meal is incorrect. These aren't short staff issues. I find that at many restaurants around here, there just isn't good basic service --they don't know how to talk to customers and deal with problems. We need more grad school dropouts!

                    1. re: miss_nadine

                      To be honest I've found this to be a problem in most small-town US restaurants I've been to, not just in C-U. I think it is just hard to find competent waitstaff given the low pay.

                      With a place the size of Cafe Luna, I am surprised they don't just do a special menu for groups over x number of people. Trying to get that many individual orders out all at once from that tiny kitchen is completely nuts. Having said that, they should have had the coffee ready given they knew you were coming in for brunch!

                      1. re: Behemoth

                        I moved here from another college town where most restos had good service-- what I notice here is the mismatch. The "better" restaurants here have the worst service, while places like OHOP or Apple Dumpling work fine. Luna, Ko-Fusion, Radio Maria, etc, etc. I've had good service at Gould's but the food is super lame. It's about appropriate training combined with a personality for customer service. I don't care what you're making (and I've made crap money in food service)---when orders get screwed up, you acknowledge, apologize, and fix it.
                        At brunch, for 10 people we only had 3 different dishes--eggs bennie, omelets, french toast. Why is one french toast coming out right away and another 20 min late? If there's a kitchen capacity issue (even with a pretty empty restaurant), then don't book a ten top!
                        .... okay, I'm done on Bad Brunch at Luna. But I will not let the servers of C-U rest!

                        NOW: about this cupcake bar!

                        1. re: miss_nadine

                          Funny....don't think I have ever gotten very good service at Apple Dumpling. But then, I only go once in a blue moon. OHOP - yes! How they manage with the breakfast throngs is admirable. Yes, better service would be nice in a number of places here. Hopefully time will force the issue. It used to be that Silvercreek and Timpone's were the pinnacle of fine dining...service be damned.

                          1. re: ddfry3

                            The few times I gave Gould's a try the service was memorably bad, to the point that I avoid the place even though I would otherwise choose it if I were in the mood for a steak.

                            I will say I think Bacaro do a fantastic job of training their staff. I only had one bad experience there in the many times we went but that server didn't last very long.

                            Haven't eaten at Apple Dumpling or OHOP so I can't compare -- it could be that Luna is relatively new to the whole brunch thing. But I can't say my issues with service in CU have been about messed up orders or speed of refills, they were more on the order of the staff being unprofessional, badly trained or in Gould's case, just bizarrely rude.

                            1. re: Behemoth

                              Well, I consider failing to even acknowledge that diners are sitting without food while everyone else waits for 20 minutes to be bad training and unprofessional, perhaps not bizarrely rude.
                              I've actually only been to Gould's for brunch so there isn't really service but at least they kept the coffee pouring (don't separate Miss Nadine from the bean!). Bizarrely rude describes that new Seven whatevers perfectly--- I actually had a server look directly at me and then walk away as I said "excuse me" to try to get menus, when I repeated it a bit louder, he whirled around and yelled out, "I have a LOT of TABLES, oKAAAAYYYY?" yet....I still go back there. Because there are so few places to go out here. Maybe that is the root of the bad service problem-- lack of competition means a captive audience, even one that is dying of thirst or getting all their apps salads and meals at one time or waiting for a million years for someone to pick up the credit card. Oy.

                              1. re: miss_nadine

                                Are there any places locally where you HAVE gotten consistently good service (besides OHOP I guess)? Not to excuse what you describe, but I have had poor service at several well-hyped Chicago places too. Seems like with the transient nature of the student body and the likely amount of $$ one makes around here that few are doing this as a career, which of course you can do in a major city with an established clientele. I too have had spotty service at Seven Saints. Strangely it has been better when it's more crowded. Whatever the case, the restaurant scene at least is still MUCH better than when it was in 1990 when I first came to this area. No question. And the choices are exponentially larger. Even though I was an undergrad at the time, I made the rounds of the good places.

                                1. re: ddfry3

                                  I've been lurking... 'Was raised in C-U, left for college, now in grad school, and visit a few times a year, usually for at least a week and spend the better part of the week eating. My friends keep me up to date. Blah blah. Anyway, I have always had at the least very good service at Timpone's, occasionally stellar. Two of my friends used to serve there (never me -- I've only been there when I haven't known anyone) and they both talk about how strict Ray Timpone is about servers' behavior. It is the only restaurant in town that I can say that I've had service as professional as the places I frequent in Minneapolis (current home) and other cities I visit with some regularity. I've also had consistently good service (now that I think about it, since it is so subtle) at Kamakura.

                                  I wonder whether or not some of the problems with the service in C-U are due to the fact that a lot of servers are students and by definition not necessarily invested in the profitability and/or reputation of the restaurant. There is also a certain turnover with students. Folks who work as servers for a living usually have a different approach. The problem I speak of is unfortunately a huge problem at one of my favorite dinner spots, the Bread Co. If it weren't for this one pizza I crave and the atmosphere I like, I would never go there again. The service is consistently atrocious!

                                  1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                                    I still haven't been to Timpone's-- I should try it out. I agree that longer term employees help a lot, but training and tolerance are key! As you point out, if the owner/manager is serious about service, it will be good even with student/shorter term employees.
                                    Even though I've only been here two years, I've seen the same servers at Luna and Radio Maria at least the whole time--so I take not great service there as a general attitude, not an individual new/untrained person. Whereas as Seven Thingies at least we had managers come out and comp screwed up orders and apologize for serious mistakes--they are new, new and big menu, and some weird quirks of service (why is it seat yourself for dinner???), but more importantly they have good sweet potato fries so I can't escape.
                                    There is a guy in the tapas bar at RM who is very good; Bacaro is very good; Crane Alley is usually acceptable. Honestly I end up doing take out more often here b/c going to a restaurant is not always a relaxing pleasant experience.

                                  2. re: ddfry3

                                    Logical fallacy alert, ddfry! :) False consolation: Bad service elsewhere does not make service here less bad. It's still bad! Since I haven't been here for even two years, I don't have the historical perspective that you do, and my patience for the below average is not great, even if it is improving.

                2. Just ate at Luna last night, and I will note that the service was good. They apparently have signed a lease for the old "Tracks" sports bar location in the old train station in downtown Champaign, and will be moving there within the next few months. According to the chef they will be expanding their offerings to include more French bistro classics while continuing a tapas concept - plus they will have the outdoor area. Now one can truly eat almost anything one could one in downtown Champaign, except German I guess! Looking forward to it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ddfry3

                    Thank you for the update. I can't believe I'm going to be in walking distance of Cafe Luna!

                    It's a much bigger space for them. I hope they're able to create a cozy atmosphere. I also hope they have more luck in that space than others. It seems like several places have gone in there and failed.

                  2. I walked to Cafe Luna today for Sunday Brunch, but it was closed so I'm not sure if it still have Sunday Brunch or not? Finally, I went to Radio Maria instead for today.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sakulsuku

                      When I was there within the last week or two they were still doing it. I wonder if it is in prep for the move downtown? (see my post above)

                      1. re: ddfry3

                        I just called the restaurant couple minutes ago. It seems like no more Sunday Brunch until next couple months at the new location.

                        It still has lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday though.

                    2. I went to Cafe Luna today for dinner. There is a 50% discount promotion on tapas every Monday. The seared sea scallops were so terrific. Also, I heard from a woman there (not sure if she's the owner or not) that Sunday Brunch will resume on next Sunday (02/17/2008).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sakulsuku

                        Seriously? Thanks for posting this. I'm so going there on Mondays now.

                        Yeah, they are having brunch this week. I called them to confirm.

                      2. in your opinion, where would 2 gals go for a really good bday brunch in C-U on a saturday? we would like to sit n chat and have a wonderful meal, where would YOU go?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: leigh58

                          I haven't been there myself, but I've heard good things about brunch at Carmons.

                          1. re: leigh58

                            No place I know of in CU does an actualy buffet brunch on Saturday. Recs for a la carte breakfast fare include: Original Pancake House, Springfield and Mattis, Escobar's, north of downtown on Columbia, near the intersection with Neil.

                          2. Are you kidddding?? I just graduated from Champaign in May and I have never been there. It sounds familiar but I can't even visualize this place at 4th and green....I'm so sad! I would have gone there all the time, it sounds amazing! Maybe I'll try it next time I visit.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Chew on That

                              The building will be leveled...There is a 24 story residential tower going up next door to the current Luna, and a 20 story one will be built where this building currently is. Luna is supposed to be moving to the old "Tracks" location in the old train station. Yay for downtown location and better parking!

                              1. re: ddfry3

                                Does anyone have word on when Luna will open at its new location?

                                1. re: debbiel

                                  They were supposedly moving last Monday but they can be a little disorganized...

                                  1. re: Behemoth

                                    I had been told by the Chef yesterday, May 14, FWIW.

                                    1. re: ddfry3

                                      Thanks Behemoth and ddfry. I'll take a walk downtown later today and check it out.

                                      1. re: debbiel

                                        Sorry I checked too late, tried to stop by and see if they were open for lunch, not going to be open until "early next week" according to the person I spoke to on the phone. Alas!

                                        1. re: ddfry3

                                          Shoot. I was hoping to have a celebration dinner there tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they fit into the new space.

                                          1. re: debbiel

                                            Anyone been to the new location? Is it open yet? I have been out of town since Sunday, back now. Inquiring minds want to know!

                                            1. re: ddfry3

                                              I'll answer my own question...had a haircut near the new location, talked to the chef. They have dinner res for tomorrow (5/23) they plan on honoring. Final inspections were supposed to be today. The space is lovely - with some of the charm of the old space, but more open of course, and nice high ceilings. There will be a lounge part eventually, and two outdoor areas (to the south of the building and along the tracks). Can't wait!

                            2. Here's the first review I've seen of the new Luna--a very good review at that. We're hoping to get there in mid-June.

                              http://champaign-taste.blogspot.com/2...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: debbiel

                                I ate there last Friday,and the space is beautiful - much bigger, but nowhere near as noisy. Food was wonderfull - servers stretched thin, but excusable on opening night. A must-dine experience. The spareribs in strawberry-rhubarb a must try for meat-eaters.