When you think “brunch” in Champaign-Urbana, the first place that leaps to mind is likely not The Apple Dumplin’ in Urbana. This “down home” restaurant that serves up casual, homestyle food is on the outskirts of Urbana on High Cross Road. It feels off the beaten path but in actuality, isn’t far from the main routes through town. All I knew before going was that they open on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. and there was no specific Sunday/brunch menu.
My husband and I arrived at 11:15 a.m. and the lot was mostly full already. I had to admit, I was a bit surprised, but was happy that they had a regular crowd coming in right as they opened. The restaurant even looks house-like, complete with a porch and their faded, large sign on display by the front door.
When we walked in, we were quickly seated and it was immediately apparent that the only food available on Sundays is their buffet ($15.25 per person). I looked around as we were seated and noted that the interior does, in fact, look like an expanded version of a country kitchen. It’s very casual but still homey. After getting our drinks order settled, we tackled the buffet; there is a cold salad bar and a hot food bar.
The salad bar proffered a variety of salad ingredients (and some cold dishes that you come to expect from a country style buffet): cottage cheese, peaches, pasta salad, pea salad, whole radishes (this was a bit puzzling), chopped boiled eggs, pepperoncini, and the usual make-your-own-salad fare, including mostly creamy salad dressings (ranch, thousand island, honey mustard, French, plus oil and vinegar). There was also something not completely appetizing looking that I thought might be zucchini slices, but I was informed later were “refrigerator pickles.” Somehow I have made it through my entire life without hearing about these, but they are exactly what you might guess: sliced up cucumbers pickled in a homemade brine. So if you’re into those...they have them.
The hot food bar had a smaller variety of items but solid classics: fried chicken, beef and (homemade) noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread, biscuits, dinner rolls, carrots, and corn. In other words, a bevy of meats and starches for your brunching pleasure. We loaded up our plates and dug in.
I appreciated that everything tasted fresh and was their appropriate temperature; the veggies and dressing were nicely cold and made for a healthier start before we filled our bellies with the comfort food. Conversely, all of the hot food was kept piping hot and like Mom just finished making it.
My husband tried some of the chilled pasta salad, which he said was just right on the acidity and flavor scale. He also had the beef and noodles, which I was skeptical about, but I did try it. It resembled chicken and dumplings but with pot roast in it. My husband also emphasized several times that the noodles are homemade. They did taste like it, so bonus points for that. The dish was perfectly fine but I think if one grew up eating it, it would have carried more weight, so I didn’t linger on it. I stuck to my fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The fried chicken is quite excellent — they know what they’re doing there. It would be easy to load up on just the chicken alone. The batter was flavorful and crispy and they salted it perfectly. It would be very easy to eat a lot of chicken but you would be remiss if you didn’t save room for dessert.
The mashed potatoes were pretty bland but full disclosure: I’m not huge on gravy, so it’s more than likely they expect you to drown your potatoes in the gravy, which I didn’t get. Stirring in some butter helped and the texture was good — no gummy potatoes here. The dinner roll was more than fine but did not taste distinct. The cornbread had a crumbier texture, but if you like a cakier cornbread, you’ll really enjoy it. It’s lightly sweetened and not a savory cornbread. While we were eating our variety of breads, we noticed a bottle on the table that looked like it had barbecue sauce in it. We tried it and were very pleasantly surprised that it was apple butter. It was very good and, if you somehow don’t order dessert, it gives you a bit of sweet without going overboard.
While you’re not paying for ambience, all of the waitstaff are friendly and prompt, with the food offerings being about what you’d expect with some high highs and few, if any, real lows. Don’t leave without ordering their namesake, though, and get it with vanilla ice cream if you can. The dumpling itself is a large, fried, chewy envelope with sweetly seasoned baked apples inside. It’s served very hot with loads of buttery cinnamon syrup and easily feeds two people ($3.75 for the dumpling plus $1 for ice cream.) Even with all of the other delicious food, you realize it’s why you came here.
Because there is almost no wait to eat, you can get in and out in under an hour, which is a good thing, as the place was full by 11:45 a.m. with people having to wait a bit by noon. All in all, this place gives you a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you’re in the mood for homemade fixins on a Sunday. And if buffets aren’t your thing, you can always go back any other day of the week to order off the menu where they serve up a wide variety of dishes. You simply can’t go wrong here.
2014 High Cross Rd
T-Sa 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Photos by Zoe Valentine