When you think about it, the idea of opening a pizza restaurant that offers a lunch buffet (and, on Tuesday evenings, a dinner buffet), is pretty smart. The fact that pizza buffets are a fairly popular type of chain restaurant (even if not in C-U) indicates that people, you know, like to eat at them. Looking back, this truly seems like an “If you build it, they will come” proposition.

Still, it was with guarded optimism that I brought my clan to the building formerly occupied by various nightclubs of questionable reputation for lunch on a Monday. I had seen an interview with the owner of Rafters Draft & Dough on Ci Living; he indicated that the name comes from the fact that the rafters were pretty much all that was left of the original interior. That’s probably what struck me the most about our visit: how clean and inviting the space was. I had only been in the building once before (I was in my early 20s; you can’t judge me), and while I knew it would look different, I was surprised by just how different.

My overall impression of Rafters is that it whoever decided to make a go of it in that location has the capital and the vision to do it right. Clean lines and warm colors dominate the open, airy space, which has two levels to accommodate a pretty hefty crowd. Whatever your television viewing preferences, they will likely have you covered with one of their fifteen or so screens. It also seems like they took an all-seasons approach to the design: a cozy gas fireplace on the second level is within eyesight of just about every table, whereas the massive, bulb-lit patio promises to provide comfortable seating in the summer. And, naturally, there is a separate gaming room for those who are into that sort of thing.

On to the food: $8.99 per adult or $4.99 per child provides you with unlimited trips to their salad bar/pizza buffet (again, this is only available at lunch Monday through Friday, and for dinner on Tuesdays) and a soft drink. Their salad bar impressed me right off the bat as having a nice selection of lettuces (shredded or spring mix), veggies, cheeses, a meat or two, crunchy toppings, and dressings. There was even a small tub of a homemade redskin potato salad, which to me is proof that they understand salad bar lovers.

Although I didn’t ask if this was true, the pizza seemed to come on one of two crusts: thin or ultra thin. The barbecue chicken pizza was on what I would call the thin crust, which was makes sense; I don’t think the ultra thin could have handled the amount of toppings. In fact, generally speaking, the main difference between Rafters and a chain pizza buffet seems to be that the dough does not make up the vast majority of the pie; toppings are fresh and plentiful.

The taco pizza (on what seemed to me the ultra-thin crust) was yummy and filling in a way I wasn’t expecting. My impression was that refried beans were used in place of sauce. Although I only took a bite of the sausage and veggie pie, I enjoyed the balance of hearty and fresh that it supplied. The cheesy breadstick bites were soft, crunchy, garlic-y little flavor bombs and were perfectly portioned for buffet dining.

I like that they include a dessert pizza. It was apple when we arrived, but that was eaten up and replaced with cherry by the time we got to the end of our meal. My son and I shared the cherry and it was about what you’d expect — not transformative, but certainly a nice way to end the meal.

What remains to be seen is if Rafters can become our go-to pizza place. To figure that out, we’ll have to order a pie or two to go and spend some time with it on our own turf. I’m happy to do just that, though, after the experience we had. Speaking as someone who lives a stone’s throw away, my opinion is that the good food and excellent service — not to mention the nice new digs — make Rafters a welcome addition to the north side of town.

Rafters Draft & Dough
1906 W Bradley Ave
Champaign
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.