Last fall, Moose International debuted Lodgic Everyday Community, a co-working space with childcare, a gym, a casual café, and a restaurant. It’s the first of its kind in the country — first that is, for Moose International — and it’s right here in C-U. My unscientific assessment is that many feel that going to the café or the restaurant could be confusing, because in order to use the other parts (co-working, childcare), you need a membership, or to pay a daily fee. To stop by the space to grab food at the Clever Moose Café, or to visit the Everyday Kitchen restaurant for lunch or dinner, you do not need a membership. These spaces are open to the public.
You may have already seen my post about the Clever Moose Café; the food was good, and it’s a perfect spot for a casual breakfast or lunch, or to grab something on the go. Everyday Kitchen is different: It’s a traditional table-service restaurant, and though it’s open for lunch and dinner, for me the vibe is distinctly dinner.
The atmosphere in the restaurant is wonderful. It’s colorful and hip, edging toward trendy. It’s brightly lit, thanks in part to a whole bunch of windows. There are comfortable benches with throw pillows, as well as booths and freestanding tables. The walls are a lovely teal color, and those windows? They’re dressed with curtains with local artist Kelly Hieronymus’ designs. Nathan Westerman’s paintings adorn the walls. The restaurant didn’t need to hang the work of local artists, but management did, and that is superbly commendable and awesome.
Just before the holidays, Everyday Kitchen also started doing Sunday brunch. It’s a new endeavor, and they’ll be doing it every Sunday for the foreseeable future, with an eye to possibly open it up to Saturday mornings, too.
At a recent working lunch, we ordered a bunch of items to share.
We started with the sweet potato rounds ($7). Slices of baked sweet potatoes generously topped with scoops of goat cheese mixed with pecan, apple, craisins, these were tasty bites. Beautifully presented, I couldn’t help but think about making them at home for some schmancy dinner party and impressing my guests with my domestic goddessry.
We moved on to the Cobb salad ($13), which is served with a house-made ranch dressing that is quite delicious. I am not a Midwest native, and do not carry much love for ranch dressing. I approach each ranch encounter with extreme suspicion and caution. But this dressing wasn’t too thick; the acid and flavor was well balanced. The salad seemed a little small for the price tag, but the ingredients were good. The chicken was great, and the veggies were crisp and fresh. It’s a salad I’d be happy to eat again.
The burger is technically the only sandwich on the menu, and at $14, it’s pricey. As a self-ordained burger expert, I can tell you that the burger itself was good. The addition of a bacon and onion jam elevated it, though the bun was a little too big for the patty. The fries had a nice potato-y flavor, but could have used another minute in the fryer.
The polenta with roasted vegetables ($15) is the only vegetarian entrée on the menu. The polenta was very rich and creamy. The roasted veggies were eggplant, zucchini, tomato, and onion; these didn’t seem like the most seasonally appropriate choices, and because they are all soft, especially when roasted, there wasn’t much in the way of complex textures in this dish. The herbed ricotta was good, but the addition felt extra rich because the polenta was already so creamy and the dish was drizzled with olive oil.
The star of our meal, far and away, was the ½ chicken with two sides ($17). It was incredibly tender, moist, and flavorful. You can see the chickens on the rotisserie through the window to the kitchen; I can confirm that they taste as good as they look. I’d be happy to eat this chicken again and again. We selected the mac and cheese and the roasted carrots as our sides. The mac and cheese was gooey and creamy, and just a little tangy. The roasted carrots were well cooked.
Finally, we ended the meal with the bread pudding with bourbon sauce ($5). It was very sweet, but not custardy. It was lacking a custardy pudding, though the bread itself was fine.
A couple of weeks later I visited the restaurant for brunch. The brunch menu is noticeably more affordable. There are only a handful of “new” items on the menu — the breakfast-specific ones. Most of the brunch menu is the same as the dinner menu. Dining with some friends, we opted to share the pancake stack ($8; buttermilk pancakes with strawberries, bananas, chocolate hazelnut cream, whipped cream). The stack is two pancakes; ours was served with a smear of the chocolate-hazelnut cream on only the top pancake. The pancakes themselves were nice. I would have liked more chocolate hazelnut cream, and maybe another pancake, since they weren’t too large. The kitchen forgot our whipped cream, but it wasn’t necessarily missed.
One friend ordered the waffles rancheros ($9; waffles topped with eggs, chorizo, avocado, queso fresco, pico) which are also on the Clever Moose Café menu. I was pleased to see that they were consistent with what I had ordered a few weeks prior. It's a lot of food for $9, and the dish is quite flavorful and filling.
I opted for the Everyday Kitchen breakfast ($10; two eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, home fries). This simple breakfast combo is on every menu in any restaurant serving breakfast, and for good reason. It’s a classic combo and Everyday Kitchen delivered. I selected the sausage instead of bacon. Sure, some bacon is better than others, but you pretty much know what you’re getting. I find that breakfast sausage is the wildcard, and so I ordered the sausage — they serve patties. They weren’t my favorite breakfast sausages; they were a little dry and bland. But my eggs were perfectly cooked, and my toast was well toasted. The best bites on the plate were the home fries. They were good sized pieces of potatoes that weren’t too aggressively seasoned. They were perfectly crispy on the outside, with soft potato on the inside. They were basically deliciously steak fries, though in a different shape.
The undisputed winning dish on the brunch outing was the waffle sandwich ($9; bacon, egg, cheese, sausage on waffle “bun”, served with home fries). This dish contains all the breakfast staples — eggs, two types of meat, waffles, cheese, home fries — and is cheaper than the Everyday Kitchen breakfast that comes with fewer ingredients. I don’t understand the pricing, but I do understand how good that sandwich was. It literally had everything. It hit on all the textures and flavors, with savory meats and cheese and sweet waffles (served with a side of syrup). Those perfect home fries? They were on the plate, too. I really enjoyed this sandwich, and so did my husband — he begrudgingly shared bites for my "research."
With coffee and cocktails available, brunch is a solid option for both causal and special occassion dining.
So, where can Everyday Kitchen improve? Certainly with a lunch menu. For the most part, $15 for a lunch entrée is a little steep, and with limited options, I think it would be worth the effort to configure the existing menus (including Clever Moose Café) into a lunch menu. Perhaps that rotisserie chicken is a lunch offering of a piece or two with a side for $10 or $12. Maybe there is a steak sandwich, or a steak flatbread at a similar price point. The Cobb salad was great, but it wasn’t quite enough for a full, satisfying meal. I’d eat that waffle sandwich anytime, any day, and I bet it would do well on a lunch menu.
For dinner, Everyday Kitchen is a solid choice. The interior of the restaurant will certainly impress. It’s a good spot for a date, or for a celebratory dinner. The pricing doesn’t exactly lend itself to everyday; it would be pretty expensive to take the family out for dinner on a whim (unless you have an "on-a-whim-budget"). The menu does take everyday ingredients and tries to elevate them. I think of dinner at Everyday Kitchen as a treat, but one where you can show up in your casual attire, read and understand everything on the menu, and feel comfortable in the setting (and literally in the seating because throw pillows!).
With a few more tweaks to seasonality, say, on the veggies on top of the polenta, for instance, and a few more nods to vegetarian entrées, the food curaton will not only make more sense, but also appeal to a wider audience. In the meantime, I have my eyes (and stomach) set on another one of those waffle sandwiches, and some of that rotisserie chicken.
Everyday Kitchen is participating in Visit Champaign County's Restaurant Week, and the chicken is an option on the RW menu. Restaurant Week continues through February 2nd.
1807 S Neil St
M-Th 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Jessica Hammie