Harvest Market seems to be on the minds of almost every foodie here in Champaign-Urbana. Harvest Market was developed and created by people who truly love food. The idea for this new venture came from the creative guys at Niemann foods, who run Ace Hardware, Haymakers, and County Market. They have closed their County Market locations on Philo Road in Urbana and on Kirby Avenue in Champaign. When I first saw the County Market locations close I was a little worried for several reasons. The location on Kirby was convenient, and I for one depended on their low prices, and what would happen to all of those employees? 

After a bit of asking around, I discovered that they’ll be keeping the location on Duncan Road open for the foreseeable future, and the employees at the closed locations will have jobs at other local stores. Harvest Market itself will have over 150 employees. In addition to that, I found out all of the employees at the Philo Road location have already been relocated to other jobs. 

I arrived in the evening right after the sun had set, and the building was beautifully lit by bright lights. I headed through the sliding glass doors and was impressed right off the bat with the shear size of the place. It stretches on for 58,000 square feet, and has two expansive stories to explore. I entered by the housewares section near the registers. The area is filled with beautiful specialty items for the home and kitchen. Although it was around 7 p.m., the store was alive with life and the hustle and bustle of happy shoppers. The lines and lanes ran smoothly with no visible stress from the employees. I noticed a few of them being trained while I was walking around.

Next I moved onto the aisles of grocery items. I was relieved to see they carry the Everyday Essential brand, as well as the Wild Harvest Organic brand. (These are brands I buy frequently at County Market.) As I scoured the rows of boxes and cans, I discovered they have the brands we know and depend on (prices similar to ones found at County Market), as well as more locally sourced items, organic and fair trade products, environmentally sustainable products, and harder to find specialty foods. It really is the best of both worlds in one location.

The same is true for the food and products offered at the deli, the cheeseshop, the butcher, housewares, and even the frozen foods. The only area that only offers just your basic grocery store items is the bakery. I was a little surprised not see delectable pastries and cakes along side freshly baked breads. With the all of the many wonderful local bakeries we have here in the area, I wasn't too bummed.

I did find out that they churn their own butter in-house. It’s served along side items at the Farmhouse Restaurant. The freshly churned butter is also used in their made from scratch buttermilk biscuits. The market has many dining options available inlcuding the plentiful salad bar, sushi counter, and the prepared and deli counter.

The end of my trip to the market was the bright and colorful produce department. Everything looked so fresh and vibrant. The local products were all highlighted with signs to introduce you to the farms and the famers. As I walked by the shiny rainbow of apples, the sweet smell followed me and lingered as walked to the exit. I had walked around for so long, that I had lost track of time. Sadly, the restaurant would have to wait until another day. 

I arrived at the Farmhouse Restaurant the next day with one of my best friends in tow. The place is super spacious and even has a second level mezzanine where you can dine, just lounge or get a snack and an adult beverage. The restaurant’s interior has an industrial farmhouse feel: lots of warm wood mixed with exposed metal and rustic light fixtures. It’s very cozy. After I ordered we were asked if we wanted to sit upstairs or downstairs. I of course chose upstairs so I could explore what it had to offer.

We were given a number and then headed up the stairs to find a table by the big windows. While I eagerly waited for my food, I got chance to check out the lounge and bar area. At the bar, complete with a big screen tv, they offer up snacks, wine, beer, soda and more. I headed around the corner and there was yet another lounge area with a few dining tables and a big comfy looking couch. On the way back to our table I saw that they had a classroom kitchen where they’ll be teaching all sorts of classes. Maybe butter churning 101?

We only waited about 10 minutes before our food was set before us hot and fresh. I started with the Spicy Chicken Soup ($4) which looked incredible. The bowl was brimming with pulled chicken, white beans, onions, tomatoes and a savory tomato based broth. I tasted some chili powder in there which added a nice little kick. I had to tell myself to stop eating so I would have room for the rest of my meal. Next I dove into the Farmhouse Monte Cristo Sandwich ($8), served with house-made potato chips. The egg dipped pullman bread was golden brown and crunchy. Piled inside the sammie was an abundant amount of in-house roasted ham, juicy heirloom tomatoes and what I think was brie cheese. There was also a tangy Dijon mustard spread all over the inside of the bread. It complemented the pungent cheese nicely. The chips were sliced thinly and had a nice loud crunch when I bit into them. They weren't too greasy and were salted generously. Just like potato chips should be.

For dessert I settled on the cherry pie ($3). It was your basic grocery store cherry pie. It was tasty, but nothing compared to grandma’s. I saved the best for last: the made from scratch buttermilk biscuit made with Harvest Market’s very own butter. The biscuit lived up to its reputation. When I took my first bite, the first flavor I detected was butter. Delicious, rich, freshly churned butter! The crust on the biscuit was crunchy  as I bit into and the middle melted in my mouth. It was an excellently made rustic farmhouse buttermilk biscuit. The meal was delicious overall and it didn’t break the bank.

We left Harvest Market’s Farmhouse Restaurant with full bellies and happy hearts. That’s what the restaurant and market have in abundance….heart. They have paid attention to every detail down to the amazingly light grocery carts complete with cup holders. This is a wonderful addition to our community. It provides support for our local farmers and help for our local economy. I could spend all day exploring the local products offered. Check it out for yourself. You’ll want to stay all day.

Harvest Market and Farmhouse Restaurant (inside Harvest Market) are located at 2029 South Neil Street Champaign. The store is open 6 a.m. to midnight, daily. The Farmhouse Restaurant is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 

Rebecca Wells is a contributing writer for Smile Politely Food & Drink Section. She loves to sing, cook, and drink white wine…preferably all at once.