Restaurant reopens with new menu items, decor

Restaurant reopens with new menu items, decor

CHAMPAIGN – Jen Grixti and Amro Zayed were going home for lunch Tuesday when they saw a sign saying Carmon's was open again.

They stopped in the restaurant at 415 N. Neil St., C, expecting to find much the same place they'd had breakfast in months ago.

Surprise!

"We've been waiting for it to open. We thought it would have updated decor but still serve bacon and eggs," Zayed said. "It was quite a surprise for us to see the total makeover."

Carmon's is now a creperie owned by Mike Nelson and Kerry Navarro, who moved from Chicago to open an establishment similar to that city's La Creperie.

So instead of bacon and eggs, Zayed ordered a crepe wrap with steak, bleu cheese, spinach and roasted red peppers. Grixti sated her appetite with curried cauliflower soup.

"The other place was nice in its way with its diner charm, but it was nothing like this place," Zayed said.

Unlike the old Carmon's, which was open for breakfast and lunch, the new Carmon's Creperie is open only for lunch and dinner, at least for now. Most of Tuesday's lunch items were in the $6 to $8 range, while dinner items were priced between $6 and $14.

The first customers through the door Tuesday were Kurt Roadruck and Glen Hawkins, project manager and superintendent, respectively, for the M2 on Neil project in downtown Champaign.

Both ordered the chicken crepe with creamed spinach and mushrooms.

Hawkins admitted he'd never had a crepe before.

"I've never had one either," Roadruck said. "It's an adventurous lunch."

Twenty minutes later, the verdict was in. "I'd get this again," Hawkins said. "I like spinach."

Polly Hill, who works a block away, said she and her husband John were "regulars" at Carmon's when longtime operator Paul Damski manned the kitchen. She confessed to a bit of trepidation in returning Tuesday.

"Before we walked in, we were like, I don't know," she said with a quaver. "It was going to be hard not seeing Paul behind the grill."

But after Polly consumed her chicken crepe, she said, "I have to give it a thumbs up."

"Two thumbs up," said John, who just finished a steak crepe.

John's response to the renovated diner was "Wow!"

Most of the walls are green and orange. One wall is papered with player piano rolls with words from such songs as "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Turkey in the Straw."

In place of the antiques, memorabilia and clippings that lined the walls of the old Carmon's are mirrors, oil pastels by Skip Sams and framed advertisements for European cars.

Framing the window to the kitchen is a wood fireplace surround. On each side of it are tin-bordered racks holding dozens of wine bottles. Two stained-glass lamps hang from the ceiling.

The wainscoting in the dining area was salvaged from the Metropolitan Building at Church and Neil streets. Other furnishings and accents were picked up at Furniture Lounge, The Estate Sale and the Preservation And Conservation Association (PACA) warehouse, all in downtown Champaign.

Navarro said she thought the creperie would be open in August, rather than October.

"It's been a long road, but a good road," she said, noting the restaurant served a few small groups last week before Tuesday's public opening.

"We got lots of fabulous compliments across the board," she said. "Everyone said it was cozy yet sophisticated, bistro-y but not over the top."

Nelson said he and Navarro didn't widely advertise the opening date.

"We've told everyone who came through – vendors, friends and acquaintances," he said. "But because of our size, we didn't want to do an all-points bulletin."

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