Smile Politely

The greatest thing is sliced bread

Pekara is Serbian for bakery. And after ten years in business in Champaign, bake is what Pekara does well.

I’m generally not too impressed by food trends or restaurants’ fanciful attempts at trendiness. But there is one trend I’ve become obsessed with, admittedly a bit late in the game — toast — and Pekara is completely feeding my obsession. That’s right. If you’ve not been following foodie trends of late, artisanal toast was a big thing about a year ago (and still remains so, if Instagram has anything to say about it). Topped with avocado or butter and jam, some restaurants were (are?) charging $7 and up for singular slices of toasted bread (and toppings).

No, Pekara isn’t selling $10 toast; but it is selling sliced bread. I know, it’s a novel idea, especially for a bakery. But here’s the thing: Pekara’s bread is some of the best bread I’ve eaten, and if you buy sliced loaves, you can make your own artisanal/avocado/fancy/French toast on the cheap. And I’ve been doing just that.

Pekara makes many different styles and flavors of bread, but I’ve incorporated the three sandwich styles into my life: the Paesano ($5.50), the Paseano Sourdough ($5.50), and the Country Style Multigrain ($6). (These are also available unsliced.) The Paseano is a peasant-style white bread. It’s thick and chewy and the perfect vehicle for fancy-toast toppings: butter, cinnamon, and sugar; peanut butter and bananas or strawberries; avocado and kiwi; cream cheese/goat cheese/ricotta cheese. It’s also perfect for sandwiches because it can withstand the addition of stuff. None of these breads are going to disintegrate under the weight of some hummus or pastrami. The Paesano Sourdough is just that: a white sourdough loaf. The Country Style Multigrain is nutty and a little bit denser than the Paesano varieties; this loaf not only provides a bit more fiber, but its subtle flavor adds a little extra something to savory applications like sandwiches.

There are other breads, of course. The ciabatta bread might be familiar to you if you’ve had a Cracked Food Truck sandwich. There are pretzel rolls, dinner rolls, and baguettes. The dark loaves are perfect accompaniments to soup. Around the holidays you can order all sorts of rolls and breads, including sweet quick breads.

If you’re planning on heading to the bakery’s Downtown Champaign location, you might as well have some breakfast/brunch/lunch/light dinner. There aren’t (m)any places in C-U to get a decent bagel, but Pekara does well with the sourdough and everything varieties. They are chewy and generous in size, and make for good egg sandwiches (add ham, add cheese, add spinach). The crepes, too, are pretty good. I recently had the prosciutto, provolone, and parmesan crepe ($7.79). There was plenty of meat stuffed inside, and the right amount of provolone to hold it all together. The crepe itself was thin and chewy, easy to cut through with a fork, and quite pleasant. I enjoyed the shaved parmesan on top of the crepe; it was a nice way to savor the flavor of the cheese on a part of the crepe that didn’t have too much filling. The combination of cured meat and cheese made the crepe pretty salty; a little side salad of greens or fruit would have been the perfect accompaniment. The slices of cucumber and tomato were not enough to abate the saltiness.

On another occasion, I ordered the daily salad special (check the board on the wall directly in front of the door; this one was $7.29). Mixed greens were incorporated with kale, mandarin oranges, walnuts, and goat cheese, all of which were topped with a mustard vinaigrette. This was a lovely combination of flavors, and the greens were crisp and fresh. The gentle sweet citrus of the oranges subdued the bitter earthiness of the greens, and the tangy mustard vinaigrette brought it all together.

The chicken pesto on focaccia ($7.29) was excellent, too. The bread was oily and airy, and the pesto pungent, and generously smeared. The layers of chicken breast were kept in place (more or less) by the melty provolone. The sandwich was huge; I was full for hours after eating it.

The selection of sweets is as diverse as the breads, and includes cookies, tarts, macarons, macaroons, brownies, and cakes. I’m a fan of the gingerbread cookies (which are available in bags of five for $3), and I recently discovered the slices of tiramisu ($4). The combination of espresso, chocolate, sweet creamy filling, and soft cake was perfect. The cake wasn’t a rummy, runny mess, which makes for easy eating, especially after taking it to go. The bitter chocolate and espresso balanced well the sweet creamy filling and cake. The mini lemon cheesecake was pillowy and light, with bright citrus notes. The graham cracker crust was buttery and rich.


lemon cheesecake 

It’s always a lively environment at Pekara. There are generally plenty of people around, coming in and out for lunch, coffee, and sweet treats. The staff are always more than friendly — they seem genuinely happy to see and help you, even if you stare at the dessert case for eight minutes before making a decision. If you’re looking for bread — especially sandwich bread — try to go earlier in the day, as the aforementioned loaves generally sell out. There are usually other breads available — and they will definitely make good toast, too.

Pekara is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can also pick up fresh bread locally at Urbana’s Market at the Square, Common Ground Food Co-op, the Monticello Market, and the Market at Country Fair (in addition to a bunch of local restaurants). In Missouri? Pick up some bread at the Soulard Market, the Clayton Market, or at the Kirkwood Market.

All photos by Jessica Hammie.

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