You would think that a restaurant with “Tavern” in its name would be a casual bar that serves only pub food like burgers. Not so at the Big Grove Tavern, one of just a couple of fine dining establishments in Downtown Champaign, a fine dining restaurant whose menu changes with the seasons to use ingredients from local farms, sources that are written on a chalkboard in the dining room.
Yes, there is a bar in the Big Grove Tavern, and yes, they do offer bar snacks. And at lunchtime you can get a burger, too. But the Tavern Burger isn’t your ordinary pub burger. Rather, it’s a combination of beef, bison and pork with red onion marmalade and cornichon aioli.
At dinner a small pail of popcorn on your table continues the tavern theme, but low lighting from bulbs strung across the ceiling creates an ambiance that complements the elegant dinner menu choices. Although you can still order a Tavern Burger for dinner if you’d like, entrees like Seared Mahi Mahi served with charred leeks, glazed chestnuts, broken yolk and celery leaf are offered. I enjoyed the succulent Bistro Filet, medium-rare, on a bed of cider BBQ sauce with sides of roasted root vegetables and crispy fingerling potato chips.
The uniqueness doesn’t stop with entrees, but follows through to dessert, too. I was tempted by the Popcorn Panna Cotta just out of curiosity and thought about the grapefruit sorbet, light and refreshing after a beef dinner. But as usual, I couldn’t pass up the chocolate and went for the Spiced Chocolate Bread Pudding. Its rich brownie-like texture and flavor, offset by cool vanilla bean whipped cream that topped it, was a decadent finale to a delectable dinner.
As for service, it couldn’t have been better. Our server was attentive and knowledgeable about menu choices, water glasses were refilled regularly, and service was prompt but not too rushed.
Whether you’re in the mood for a snack, a sandwich, or a full entrée, Big Grove Tavern’s farm-to-table menu offers unique and tasty options. My opinion is obviously shared by many others, as Big Grove Tavern has won multiple OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards.
Big Grove Tavern, located in Downtown Champaign at the corner of Main and Neil, is open seven days a week. Check the web site for hours and menu.
Disclosure: My visit to Big Grove Tavern was hosted by the Champaign County CVB, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.
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