Last summer, Pekara announced that it would open a second location in an old gas station at the corner of Springfield and Prospect in Champaign. The gas station pumps have long been gone, and the space has been renovated, obviously. When the Pekara sign went up not too long ago, the entire intersection came to life in a new way.
Alli Nisley, Pekara’s General Manager, hopes this new location will be open as early as next week; be sure to check Facebook for the announcement. It will certainly be open by the end of the month. It’s a welcome addition to these parts of Champaign — just west of Downtown there are very few options, and most of them are fast food spots on Mattis Avenue.
This new location is full of bright light, thanks to the windows on the north and west sides of the building. The dining area has plenty of seating, including an L-shaped bench that’s begging for the behinds of groups of children ready to get high on sugar. There is high-top bar seating that wraps around the west and north sides of the space; it’s the perfect spot for people/car watching. The lime-green of the exterior sign is repeated inside; it’s bright, but used sparingly enough that it is not obnoxious.
This new location will function much like the old one; it’s a fast-casual set up, so you order at the counter. The menu will be displayed on digital screens (TVs!) at the cash register. There’s a cooler for grab and go stuff, and a self-serve soda fountain. There are shelves that will presumably be full of loaves of bread.
In addition to the existing Pekara menu, there are a whole lot of new menu items, ranging from savory to sweet. Portions are generous, and much of the new items can (and probably should) be shared. Prices range from $7 to $15, depending on the item and size. I had the good fortune of trying all of these items, and can tell you that you will not be disappointed.
There will be West Coast Toast — open faced toasts/sandwiches with a variety of toppings. These toasts offer a nice balance of items, and compared to the other offerings I describe below, seem to be virtuous and excellent life choices. They were all delicious, and I appreciate that there are two hot and two cold options.
Goat cheese, avocado, bacon, fried egg, scallion on potato and garlic sourdoughbread
Roasted portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, arugula (or other greens), olive oil on whole wheat sourdough
Hummus, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers tossed in Greek dressing on potato and garlic sourdough
Smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, shaved cucumber, red onion on pain de champagne
Pekara is adding Loaded Sidewinder Fries, an actual pound of perfectly crispy and fluffy fries topped with stuff. My favorite of these concoctions was Mr. Kim’s Cheese Fries (sirloin, kimchi, cheese, scallion, jalapeños, and gochujang sour cream). It was spicy and delicious. Other flavors include Buffalo Chicken, Sriracha Taco, BBQ pulled pork. This is not really a dish for one person — you’ll kill yourself trying to finish it. That is to say, it’s something that could be shared by several people. But if you’re on your own and need to try them, there’s no shame in asking to take your leftovers home. You can also just order a side of fries, no toppings.
Sriracha Taco: sriracha sirloin, ranchero sauce, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, sriracha sour cream
Mr. Kim’s Cheese Fries: marinated sirloin, kimchi, shredded cheese, scallion, jalapeños, gochujang sour cream
BBQ Pulled Pork: pulled pork, shredded cheese, cole slaw, Sweet Baby Ray’s
Buffalo Chicken: crispy chicken tenders, shredded cheese, buffalo sauce, bleu cheese, ranch
On the weekends you’ll be able to order Stuffed French Toast. The flavors will rotate, but include strawberry cheesecake and cannoli (my two favorites), as well as peanut butter banana and death by chocolate. These are easily sharable; I’d recommended doing so if you’d like to function at all after eating them.
Chocolate chip cannoli
Death by Chocolate
Chocolate peanut butter banana
Additonal new items include a variety of baked goods, including a vegan chocolate cupcake, Hostess style, and a gluten free blondie. Maple bacon butter with toasted bread and cheddar chive grits fries are also on the menu.
Vegan Hostess-style chocolate cupcake
Salted caramel chocolate tart
Gluten free blondie
Maple bacon butter and toasted bread
Cheddar and chive grits fries
There should be plenty of parking at the new location, but if the lot is full, you can park on nearby streets and walk a block or two — it’s free!
811 W Springfield Ave
Hours still to be determined, but will open 6 a.m.
Photos by Jessica Hammie