CHAMPAIGN — Big Grove Tavern plans to open later this month in the former Jim Gould space in downtown Champaign, its general manager said.
The restaurant expects to begin serving both lunch and dinner May 31, with a series of "soft openings" for dinner a couple weeks before then, general manager Michael Johnson said.
In late January, there had been hopes the restaurant would open in mid-March.
But executive chef Jessica Gorin said the extra time allowed her to expand contacts with local food suppliers.
Big Grove Tavern plans to offer "Midwestern craft cuisine," with classic dishes "reinvented" with fresh ingredients, many sourced from local farms, according to former Champaign residents Mitch Marlow and Eric Nash, who helped develop the restaurant's strategy.
Dinner entrees include: macaroni-and-cheese, made with local cheeses, bacon, leeks, garlic bread crumbs and fried shallots; free-range roasted chicken; house-made pork sausage; and pan-seared whitefish.
Dinner prices range from $11 for the tavern burger (made from beef, bison and pork and served with fries) to $21 for the bistro filet, Marlow said.
Johnson said lunch entrees will likely be in the $9 to $12 range. Items on the lunch menu include a grilled steak sandwich, roasted turkey sandwich, avocado-and-Amish Swiss sandwich and a beer-brined pork loin horseshoe.
Desserts include rhubarb crisp, sweet potato waffles and chocolate pot de creme.
The restaurant will employ 50 people, with only a few service staff and morning lunch cooks yet to be hired, Johnson said.
Lunch hours are expected to be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, while dinner hours will be 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with the bar remaining open until 2 a.m.
Marlow and Nash said the restaurant's seating area will be smaller than that of Jim Gould, with efforts to make it "warm, rustic and welcoming."
The bar is being extended so it will be a prominent part of the restaurant, rather than confined to a nook, they said.
Johnson said furnishings will include dark brown tufted booths and "string lighting."
Gorin — previously executive chef at The Thirsty Bear restaurant in San Francisco — said that in creating menus for Big Grove, she researched cookbooks and consulted people about dishes they remembered eating while growing up.
She said Big Grove will offer seasonal menus to reflect the availability of locally produced ingredients.
Johnson, who most recently worked at Silvercreek, said he plans to build an extensive list of beer, wine and spirits, with most of the beers coming from the Midwest.
Marlow and Nash said the managers aim to make the restaurant "very inclusive, not niched to any age or demographic."
The Big Grove name is derived from the area on the north side of Urbana that was the first in the region to be settled.
Johnson said the restaurant is owned by an investor group, the Downtown Champaign Restaurant Association. Jon "Cody" Sokolski, CEO of One Main Development, is among the investors, Johnson said.
Area suppliers to the restaurant are expected to include Blue Moon Farm in Urbana, Brackett Farm in Champaign, Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Fithian, Moore Family Farm in Watseka, Rockome Garden Foods west of Arcola, and Sunlit Pasture Farm, Johnson said.
Big Grove Tavern also plans to serve some baked goods from Pekara and coffee from Columbia Street Roastery, both in Champaign, he added.