Forget what you think that you know about V. Picasso. A former tapas restaurant in Urbana is no longer around; instead an inspired farm to fork restaurant has taken its place. Chef Adam Shallenberger’s passion for food as a lifestyle flows through his veins and explodes on your plate. When asked, “What is your favorite dish to cook?” he responds with, “What do you like to eat?”
My friends and I are huge fans of brunch and went to check out the offerings at V. Picasso. We went hoping for a great time with good food, and we left inspired. Our quick take is that Shallenberger has mastered balance in all of his dishes and he can perfectly poach an egg. A Mahomet high school graduate, he studied at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta and gained his chops as Sous Chef at Ellerbe in Fort Worth.
V. Picasso is partnered with Willow Creek Farm. The farm supplies not only the restaurant's fresh herbs and vegetables, but also its animals. Shallenberger is dedicated to using every part of the animal, as demonstrated throughout the menu.
The restaurant's focus on local and sustainable is not limited to food, the ambiance of the restaurant is steeped with history. The stained glass window in the host stand comes from an abandoned church in Ana, Illinois, a small town in southern Illinois. The chandeliers are made from the metal bindings of old wine casks. The wood on the walls was reclaimed from an abandoned barn north of town. The rustic and contemporary décor feels comfortable and inviting.
You can taste this dedication and passion in the creations of Pastry Chef Shea Acott. The self-taught chef is making everything from scratch from the giant doughnut, to the English muffins, to the croissant-like flaky crust of the quiche, and the brioche.
What’s the best way to start a brunch? With orange juice, but only if it is fresh squeezed. It is, and so is the grapefruit juice. I elected to have the half and half: half orange and half grapefruit ($4 a glass, $16 for the carafe.) Don’t like that? Then try the lemonade, perhaps with some grenadine — a "lemondine" my group affectionately called it. Either way it was a sweet, citrus-burst that woke up my taste buds and started the brunch.
Our first and most visually impressive dish was the giant doughnut. My thought was, “Ok, this will be a large doughnut.” Upon seeing it, I said, “I had no idea that a doughnut could be that large!” Generously topped with a lattice of glaze and homemade chocolate sauce, this donut was light and airy, and not overly sweet. This was a crowd pleaser for the kids and the adults ($6 for chocolate, or spiced candied bacon. Try them both for $7).
I thought the sweet potato and Willow Creek Farm Berkshire BBQ pork hash ($14) would be a response to corned beef hash. I thought it would be sweet with the BBQ sauce running over it; I thought wrong. It was a perfect melody of roasted red peppers, sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, expertly poached eggs, fresh green onion, finished with the light heat of a jalapeno. This was the group's favorite, hands down.
My personal favorite was the fried green tomato and bacon sandwich ($14). I thought the tomato might be overpowered by the breading as fried green tomatoes can be, however it was light and the green tomato flavor came through. The muffin was not doughy or chewy as store bought English muffins can be. Instead these muffins were made from scratch and left to proof for two days.
The eggs Benedict with light lemon hollandaise gave me all the savory, creamy, salty goodness of in-house cured pancetta from pigs raised right here in Illinois by an Amish farmer for only $9. It was served on that perfect house-made English muffin.
Aunt KK’s Blueberry Pancakes had me at mint ($13). The blueberries were from Shallenberger’s sister-in-law’s garden in Farmer City. Topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, mint, real maple syrup, and popping with fresh blueberries, my blood sugar did not go through the roof with these pancakes. Sound good? Better get in to get them soon, the reserves for Aunt KK’s blueberries are running low. Otherwise, you will have to wait until next season.
The prosciutto, tomato and arugula quiche ($12) was a generous slice with a flaky croissant-like crust, topped with arugula greens and served with seasoned breakfast potatoes. I generally find house potatoes to be undercooked and a poor replacement for hashbrowns, but these potatoes were so nicely seasoned that I, a huge fan of ketchup, forewent the sauce and allowed the potatoes to complement each of the dishes. (You can also try the quiche with garden vegetables and house ricotta, $10.)
Are you intrigued? Check out V. Picasso. Come as you are. Enjoy the food in your casual clothes or your fancy ones. It doesn’t matter to the staff. They simply want to feed you.
V. Picasso is located at 122 N Neil St, Champaign, and open for brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Catherine Wiesener.