Smile Politely

Art Mart settles in Champaign

Art Mart recently moved out of Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana and has set up shop in Champaign. The new location is pretty large, with rooms for just about every section of stuff the store offers. Earlier this year, SP gave you a photo tour. Now that the store has had some time to settle, I wanted to check out the café and deli selections. The new location still has all the goodies it offered in Urbana; the sections are expanded, which means more goodies.

Art Mart has everything you need to make a kickass cheese plate. I’m a huge fan of cheese plates, and they often make a nice light dinner or lunch. There are plenty of cheeses at various levels of stink and texture. There are meats, including salumi, pate, and whole anchovies. There are olives and quince paste (which is amazing). Art Mart sells Mirabelle breads, and that bread is pretty fantastic. Arranging a few of the aforementioned items alongside a baguette or boule and serving that to guests, or bringing the platter as part of a potluck will make you a star. (Well, at least among your friends. And maybe some colleagues.) Make a point of picking up some of that quince paste — it really is delicious and elevates the cheese arrangements. Take a look within the deli case, as there might also be some mostarda available, too. 

Art Mart offers a bunch of different salads: grains, fruits, pasta, and veggies are combined in many different ways. The salads are available in quarter, half, and full pound amounts. Most salads are $7.99 per pound, and obviously prices will vary by weight when purchasing smaller weights. I picked up a quarter pound containers of three salads: roasted veggie and farro, pesto pasta with veggies, and spicy Thai noodles. 

The roasted veggie and farro was my least favorite salad. While the texture of the chewy farro was great, the salad may have been a couple of days old and the veggies were mushy. The dressing was lacking salt and acid; I think a fresher version of this would have been great, and very filling, but on that day it was not good.

The pesto pasta and veggies, on the other hand, was great. The pasta and veggies were perfectly cooked. The veggies were cooked to crisp-tender and therefore maintained texture and flavor within the salad mix. There were plenty of veggies in the mix, which made me feel as if I was eating a decently well-balanced lunch. The addition of some marinated tofu or chicken would really round out the salad. The pesto was quite tasty. I might suggest making batches of it and selling it in the deli case. Please? 

The spicy Thai noodles had a bit of a bite in texture and in heat. The sauce was thick and peanut-y and just a little spicy. There weren’t any veggies in the mix, save for some scallions, which lent some onion flavor to the pasta. This would make a nice side dish, or if you add in a bunch of veggies and some protein, a meal. 

In the café, there are always two soup options (cup, $3.59; bowl, $4.69). I had the tomato bisque. It was creamy with plenty of substantial stuff within. There were a few finely chopped greens, which were a nice addition to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes. The soup tasted like vegetables, not just a bowl of cream, which again made me feel like a grownup selecting loosely healthy lunch food. 

There isn’t much in the way of hot food — most of the lunch options are located in the refrigerator case — but there are a handful of warm stuffed croissants ($2.97 each). The stuffed croissants are mostly savory, though there is an apple and brie croissant that leans sweet. With my soup I had a roasted red pepper and goat cheese croissant. It was buttery and warm and totally delicious. The filling was perfectly balanced. I often find roasted red peppers to be an overly aggressive flavor, but these were kept in check by the creamy funkiness of the goat cheese and the buttery sweetness of the croissant. I tried the sausage, egg, and cheese croissant a few days later and was not disappointed. The croissants are really quite tasty; I look forward to trying more. 

Salads, sandwiches, and deli salads are all available in the fridge case in the café area. There are also these adorable little lunch or snack boxes — like Lunchables, but not disgusting — that are perfect for an afternoon snack or kid’s lunch. 

As a lunch location, Art Mart falls just a little flat. The seating area is clean and brightly lit, but not exactly welcoming. The open space lacks coziness, and the absence of available Wi-Fi discourages lingering. The aggregate of choices — new location, lack of comfy seating, no Wi-Fi, general price point — seems to cater to a specific audience. Everything seems to be packaged to go, which understandably saves on dishes and dishwashing, but it doesn’t encourage you to sit and enjoy your lunch. That’s not to say that people (myself included) don’t sit and eat; each time I’ve been there have been plenty of people sitting and eating their lunches, and, I should add, enjoying themselves. 

Even though it’s not the most awesome place to sit and eat lunch and get some work done while doing so, Art Mart’s café is, at least by my observation thus far, the place to meet your friend(s) for a cup of coffee. Each time I’ve been, there has been a fair amount of people enjoying conversation and coffee. The coffee is Intelligentsia, and it’s good. Prices are in line with every other coffee joint in town (about $3, give or take, depending on what you order). Art Mart opens at 6:30 a.m. during the week, so it’s also a lovely place to grab breakfast. 

In addition to the amazing baked goods that Hopscotch is serving up (eat them), Art Mart sells Ye Olde Donut Shoppe doughnuts, as well as a variety of its own baked goods, including bread puddings and eclairs (in the fridge case), croissants, cookie bars, cookies, among others. The cherry sugar cookie was delicious. If you see it in the case, treat yourself. The homemade strawberry pop tarts? You’ll never buy a box of that processed garbage again.

Regardless of whether or not Art Mart has settled into its new space, it has most certainly been embraced by its new neighbors and neighborhood. Angled parking is in front and on the south side of the building. If you’re in the need of a quick lunch or breakfast, hot or cold, an afternoon caffeine fix, or a sweet treat, this is your spot.

Art Mart is now located 1705 S Prospect Ave, Champaign, and is open Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photos by Jessica Hammie. 

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