I don’t make it to downtown Champaign often. In fact, I drove through downtown, and I was amazed at the changes. Restaurants closing. Restaurants moving. Restaurants opening. However, the heartbeat of downtown is still very strong. Lots of people coming and going.
When my girlfriends asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner, the new Hank’s Table came to mind. I was mostly drawn in by the bright red awning.
The entrance to the restaurant is at 122 N. Neil St., right in the heart of the downtown Champaign restaurant corridor. Hank’s Table occupies what was once two storefronts: the former V. Picasso restaurant and jewelry designer Christopher & Co., which has moved around the corner. There are two entrances; one is solely the bar area, Hank’s Bar, where you can order food. You can also make a reservation or order for pick up.
It was an evening in late summer. The weather was good. The patio was packed. In fact, so packed there was a wait for an outside table. However, the inside was sparsely sat and had many openings. It was nice to get a table downtown easily.
The interior featured lots of metal and wood with license plates covering an accent wall. Maybe they were going for a very upscale diner? With that said, the menu could be seen as an upscale burger joint. It was also nice to dress in mom chic. Yoga pants wouldn’t be frowned upon here, but you could wear a sequin mini dress, too.
Hank’s Table comes from a long line of diverse culinary experiences. The owner also curates The Pink Pig BBQ & Grill in Ogden, V. Picasso-turned-Hank’s Table, the Wheelhouse in St. Joseph, and Willow Creek Farm in Urbana. This particular restaurant was named after the curator’s late husband. Because of this close connection, you can also arrange a dinner on Willow Creek Farm by calling the restaurant.
The menu is broken up into appetizers, fried chicken, grilled flatbreads, handhelds, salad/soup, horseshoes/ponyshoes and tacos. Also, cocktails. They have a robust list of classic and specialty cocktails. Try the “Garter Snake” with absinthe dashes, egg white, lemon juice and whiskey ($6) or a traditional Old Fashioned ($6). Great pricing for such involved cocktails!
Build your own horseshoe by picking beef, lamb or pork. The meat is served on brioche buns and a bed of french fries. The entire concoction is smothered in beer cheese. I wouldn’t call this a light choice — good, just not light. You can get a 12-ounce horseshoe for $16, or you can get a 6-ounce ponyshoe for $9.
I ordered a cup of tomato soup ($5) and a malt vinegar pretzel with beer cheese fondue ($10). My girlfriend had a “Your Way” burger/french fries ($9) and the other one a Mexican flatbread pizza ($13). My pretzel was HUGE. It’s so huge, it’s served on an upright hook. The soup was served with grilled cheese croutons! The soup was my fave. The pizza had a smooth black bean base, cilantro, corn, mozzarella cheese, pickled cabbage, sausage and spicy cream cheese. The burger was a basic burger, but you can customize the patty from a list of ingredients. You can substitute a gluten-free bun for $1 or a vegetarian patty for $3.
You won’t see a menu for kids. However, I saw a family dining comfortably. The cuisine will fit a family palette. There are high chairs, too.
Visit Hank’s for a casual, less-crowded way to patronize downtown. Visit Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.to 10 p.m., Friday/Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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.