Smile Politely

Radio Maria still brings it for brunch

Brunch might be one of the best things about the weekend. There’s nothing quite like having someone bring you a cocktail and a hot breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning. There are plenty of places in this town to get brunch, and as part of SP’s attempt to bring you current reviews of each place, I recently ventured out to Radio Maria for Sunday brunch.

Here’s the thing: a few things have changed since 2009. Or maybe they haven’t. Honestly, I can’t remember that far back. While many of the items on that 2009 brunch menu are still available, their prices have been adjusted to reflect our contemporary times. Those pancakes? They’re now $6 with the plantain mixed in. The Cuban sandwich is still on the menu, and there are two and half pages of food items you can order for brunch. I hate to lead with the negative here, but one thing that’s changed since that 2009 Brunch Hunt review is the service. Let is suffice to say my brunch was leisurely, and that although our server was polite and smiley, he was leisurely, too. In my experience, though, it’s par for the course at Radio Maria, and I was just happy that we didn’t have a disgruntled server.

The Sunday brunch crowd shows up right at 10:30 a.m. when the restaurant opens, but getting a table wasn’t much trouble. The dining room was quite full, though, and the ambient noise of chatter and dish clanging sharply contrasted with the unhurried rate at which orders were taken and dishes distributed among hungry brunchers. I ordered my coffee, and my brunch date ordered some orange juice. Because the menu is a little long (which is a good thing, in my humble opinion), it took a few minutes to review and decide upon a meal. In the meantime, we ordered a side of churros (three pieces for $3).

The churros arrived. The three doughy pieces were covered in cinnamon and sugar. The churro was quite delicate and was immediately smushed under pressure of my forking. The sugary bite tasted of frying oil, but the airy, slightly sweet pastry was not oily. These churros could have easily been overdone and an oily mess, but they were not. They were delicious, so we ordered more.

In addition to ordering a bunch of churros, we also ordered ‘real’ meals. If you’ve read any of my other Brunch Hunt articles, you know that I’m a breakfast traditionalist: I like my breakfast to be simple, without too many overbearing flavors (I’m looking at you, salsa). So I ordered an egg sandwich with ham: fried eggs with basil, tomato, and Swiss cheese on French bread served with house potatoes and fresh fruit ($8, plus $2.50 for the ham, which is ridiculous). My spouse ordered the omelet special, which contained broccoli, ham, and cheddar, and was served with house potatoes and a slice of beer bread ($10). It took quite a bit of time for our food to arrive (hence the double order of churros), but when it did it looked delicious.

My egg sandwich was open-faced, with all components present and accounted for. The eggs were fried, but not overdone, and I could see that the yolk was going to be decadently runny. Fine slivers of basil were clumped on top of my eggs. A too large slice of tomato sat underneath the eggs and atop the ham, which was on top of the slice of Swiss, which acted as the glue holding this tower of breakfast food to the hefty baguette foundation. After careful consideration, I realized that this was not a sandwich to eat with the hands—a fork and knife were necessary. Everything was quite tasty, and the flavors all combined quite well to be a flavorful (but not aggressively so) breakfast. Except for that slab of out-of-season tomato (which I removed from my sandwich tower), I was quite pleased. The cheese was salty and smooth, ham salty and meaty, egg runny and slightly crispy on the edges, and the basil brought some freshness. The potatoes were also nicely done and perfectly crispy. The fresh fruit was a little haphazardly placed on the plate, and the sizes of the fruit pieces varied. Give me slices or cut everything to be about the same size, and for the love of Pomona, peel the skin off the kiwi. I don’t want to eat that.

The hubby’s omelet was huge and filled with slices of ham and cheddar cheese, and pieces of broccoli. It was nicely seasoned and generally yummy. His potatoes were also nicely crisped, but not greasy. The bread was dense and lightly grilled. I think that some fresh fruit would have been a nice side—although I love carbs, I think two carbs with an omelet can be a little heavy. That’s totally a personal preference, and if you ask me about it five minutes from now, I’m likely to have changed my mind.

So here’s the scoop on brunch at Radio Maria: go. You’ll be pleased, I’m sure. There are many options on a range of flavor intensities, and you can order alcohol. It’s an atmosphere where you can take a date, your grandmother, or your toddler. Or all of them. I saw all of those iterations at brunch.

Radio Maria is located at 119 North Walnut Street, Champaign, and open for brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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