Smile Politely

Seven Saints: More than sliders

I was recently perusing SP reviews of years past, and I realized that there isn’t a recent review of Seven Saints. Seven Saints is one of those places that has been here for some time, always seems to have a steady crowd, and is consistent in food quality. It’s not necessarily one of those places I’d recommend to someone as a “but did you think of this place for your dinner plans?” if only because I assume that it’s in most people’s regular rotation. If Seven Saints is not in your regular restaurant rotation, it’s time to add it.

If you’re not familiar, Seven Saints is located in downtown Champaign. They have an incredible drink menu; in fact, the drink menu is longer than the food menu. Perhaps you’ve heard of their most popular event: Whiskey Wednesday. Just when you think the workweek can’t get any worse, or you need something to get you over the hump, Seven Saints offers up half price whiskey/scotch/bourbon specials. Each week different items are featured, so you can taste your way around the world. Whiskey passports are available for you to document your travels and keep track of the drinks you love the most.

I’m not much for whiskey, scotch, or bourbon, but when visiting, I’m definitely not left wanting for a drink. The beer menu is extensive, and the draft items are regularly updated. On my most recent visit, I had the Triptych Brewery Pumpkin Brown Ale. This brew was made with over 400 pounds of local pumpkins. Sometimes pumpkin flavored foods and drinks don’t strike the right balance between pumpkin and spice, but this beer was not one of them. The pumpkin came through without being overpowering, and the spices were there enough to enhance the flavor of the pumpkin without causing me to feel like I had a just mouthed a bunch of cloves or allspice. It was a little sweet, but not saccharinely so. It was quite enjoyable and I recommend you give it a try.

Seven Saints serves up comfort-pub food. Appetizers include fried cheese curds, a hummus plate, fried chicken tenders, and onion rings. The Bavarian pretzel sticks come in a set of four with a spicy cheese dipping sauce and Dijon mustard. These pretzels are always served hot. They’re a little crunchy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside, just as a really good soft pretzel should be. They aren’t doused in butter, which I appreciate, as there isn’t anything worse than some greasy and slimy butter-soaked soft pretzel.

This place is mostly known for its sliders, of which there are fourteen on the menu. They also have slider specials; most recently I had the corned beef slider, which was nothing short of awesome. Thinly sliced corned beef was joined by Swiss cheese, a pickle, and some Dijon mustard and is currently my favorite. I’m also a fan of the buffalo chicken slider, the fried chicken slider, and the bratwurst slider.

Sliders are all good and fun, but I don’t think that they’re the best things on themenu, actually. The sandwiches and salads are more interesting to me, and I’ve made it a point to try just about all of them. On my most recent visit, I had the hot ham and cheese sandwich with a side of waffle fries. This sandwich isn’t made with any regular old ham—it’s made with cappicola, a spicy Italian ham. Caramelized onions and a spicy jack cheese join this sandwich party, and the sourdough bread on which it’s all served provides the perfect soft platform for these flavorful ingredients. Hot ham and cheese, then, doesn’t just refer to the temperature of the sandwich, but also to the spice in the ham and the cheese. Even though these items are hot, they aren’t spicy enough to send you running for a gallon of milk. It’s just enough heat to make your life a little more interesting. The balance of ham and cheese is what makes this sandwich perfect. The cheese is neither overwhelmed by the ham, nor the ham by the cheese. There is a delicacy to providing just the right amount both items, and Seven Saints gets it right. The sandwich is flavorful without being too spicy, or, perhaps surprisingly, given the ingredients, too salty. The waffle fries I chose as my accompaniment were seasoned, and of course, perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Overall this meal was well balanced and flavorful, but there are several side options for those of you looking for something else. (Sweet potato fries would make a good side for this particular sandwich, too.)

This review would be remiss if I didn’t mention the options for grilled cheese. Yes, grilled cheese, but done well and with grown-up ingredients. You won’t find any weird orange cheese stuff oozing out of two slices of mediocre white bread. The grilled cheese and pesto sandwich is served up on a tasty sourdough and is so delicious I almost always order it. In fact, I’m partial to ordering the tomato bisque or a half salad, and a half of the pesto grilled cheese. 

The combo plates allow you to mix and match just about anything on the menu. You can do a slider and soup, slider and half salad, soup and half salad, soup and half sandwich, or half sandwich and half soup. Feeling hungrier than that? You can select the Triple ‘S’ combo, where you can choose your combination of slider, half salad, soup, or side. I’ve known a few folks to select three half salads, which is a little strange, but sort of awesome. The three-salad combo isn’t for the faint-hearted; you must embrace your love of leafy greens and the abundance of fiber you’re ingesting. The salad selections are diverse enough that you can curate your salads to mimic a full meal—you can have an appetizer salad, an entrée salad, and a dessert salad. Were I to select or recommend three salads, I’d choose the Greek, country fried chicken or BLT, and finish with the fruity and slightly sweet goat cheese. Several friends also thoroughly enjoy the summer salmon salad and the black and blue, but I’m a creature of habit and tend to stick to those three because I enjoy them so much.

On my last visit, my friend ordered the turkey Manhattan special, which was whitebread topped with mashed potatoes, turkey, onions, and gravy. In my world, this is simply called an open-faced sandwich, but no matter what you call it, be sure to include the word delicious. I stole a bite and the turkey was moist and tender,  the gravy flavorful and perfectly salted, and mashed potatoes cream. (There’s an idea for your Thanksgiving leftovers.)

When you step into the restaurant, it might seem like you stepped onto the television set of a 1990s vampire soap opera. It sounds cheesy, but it’s surprisingly visually interesting, inviting, and modern. The saints and sinners theme is there, but doesn’t beat you over the head. Wooden whiskey barrels are used as tables for local newspapers and other miscellaneous print materials in the entrance. The interior nods to the gothic in the chandeliers and the wall décor, merlot-colored paint, exposed brick, dark wood, and the heavy damask-patterned velvet curtains that mark the transition from the foyer to the dining room. This aesthetic is picked up in the typography of the menu. Overall, it’s a well-considered concept, and is one of the more successful restaurant interiors in the area.

In addition to an incredibly wide selection of beverages, and considered and consistent food, the staff at Seven Saints is always friendly and accommodating. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve sampled something on tap, or have asked seemingly dumb questions about food and drink offerings. The wait staff are always willing to provide a sample and answer my questions. If you frequent enough, they even get to know your name and your favorite orders. They also don’t rush you off the table, even when it’s busy. You can finish your food and linger over a drink without the stress of the waitress giving you the evil eye from across the room.

My only complaint is that when it’s busy—on a Wednesday evening, for example—it can get pretty loud in the back dining room. On the one hand, it’s great that there are so many people out and about and being social, but on the other, it’s difficult to have a conversation with the people at your table. The front dining room is a little quieter, but on a really busy night, it’s sometimes still difficult to hear.

If you haven’t been to Seven Saints, or haven’t been in a while, be sure to stop by. The food is good, the drinks are overflowing, and the service is great. Prices are reasonable, too. There are drink specials on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. This is a place I’ve folded into my restaurant regulars for good reason.

Seven Saints is located at 32 East Chester Street in Champaign. They’re open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight. For more information, visit their Facebook page, or give a call at (217) 351-7775.

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