By Emily Harrington
The spot at 100 Trade Center Dr. in Champaign has turned over a few restaurants throughout the past decade. Restaurants have had bad luck even with the high visibility the location at the corner of Kirby and Neil offers.
The restaurant has one location outside of Champaign. The Bloomington restaurant has been open for more than six years. Baxters describes its offerings as “classic American.” They mostly feature steaks, seafood and chops. You will also see pasta and sandwiches occupying a lot of the menu.
When we walked in I was expecting to see waiters sporting their flair on red vests à la TGI Fridays. I was pleasantly surprised to see a quiet and warm atmosphere. The space is dimly lit with warm wood and earthy rock finishes. It’s a very large space, and it was more than half full on a Saturday night. There was no wait to get in, but it wasn’t a ghost town either. Just the right balance to ensure we made the right dining choice. However, on game or concert nights you may want to make a reservation.
We sat in the middle of the dining area and could see right into the kitchen, for they have adopted an open-kitchen concept. I like it that way—nothing to hide, and you could see the efficiency in which the staff worked. It wasn’t loud either. On either side of us were banks of booths and larger family-style tables for larger parties.
It was just my husband and me dining, but I would be comfortable taking our kids there. There were other children eating around us. They provide crayons, activities and a coloring sheet on their traditional children’s menu.
We were offered warm bread and butter straightaway. We took them up on the offer. It seems like many restaurants don’t give bread anymore unless asked. So, this offer was appreciated. We had fried calamari with two delicious sauces to start. The calamari tasted delicate, hot and slightly crisp.
I ordered the Baxters pretzel burger with white cheddar cheese, roasted garlic mayo, crispy prosciutto and a beefsteak tomato with fries ($12). I even got to pick a salad or soup in addition to the fries! I opted for a creamy, rich crab bisque. My husband had the Italian Beef sandwich with fries ($13). He chose a spinach salad loaded with bacon and egg. You can pick from five different varieties of salads. We aren’t talking just lettuce and cheese here. As far as side salads go, these are robust with delicious toppings. The fries were seasoned, crispy and hot. Our fast and friendly waitress took my requests for a thinner bigger with no tomato, mayo on side, plus lettuce and a pickle in stride.
We had a Strawberry Shortcake Napoleon for dessert ($8). The napoleon had layers of puff pastry, cheesecake mousse and berries. It literally crumbled into a delicious pile of goo when the spoon hit the pastry. So good.
Next time I’d like to try a house favorite—their pan roasted filet with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus ($30), or I’d try the grilled Atlantic salmon with a vegetable ($21).
The atmosphere and menu combined to create a feeling of what I’ll coin “approachable fancy.” I felt relaxed in jeans and the price didn’t break the bank. Our meal was $48 without tip and booze. Ahh, booze. They have an extensive alcohol selection, too. Sit at their full bar if you are feeling frisky!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.