Established last year, Scratch sits on East Lincoln Street between Main and 3rd in St. Joseph. If you live in Champaign-Urbana and never quite remember to leave the immediate area for a meal, put this down as a place to try when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. It is a quick jaunt down I-74, or a nice weekend drive on 150.
A cute hanging sign with scripted letters hangs over the front door to the restaurant, which is a long, one-room cafe prettily decorated in modern country style. There are a couple of benches with throw pillows and a mixture of different dining tables and chairs throughout. It is very welcoming and pleasant.
My husband and I arrived with appetites ready to go during a time of day that straddles lunch and dinner — linner-time, if you will — so there weren’t any other patrons there at the moment. The menu is befitting a smaller place, but by no means feels limited. As the name states, everything they offer on the menu is made from scratch, which is not as easy to find anymore without a) costing a lot more, or b) cutting corners, so I went in with a healthy dose of optimism that this place would deliver.
Beverage-wise, they do offer spirits in the way of beer, wine, and a couple of cocktails (Bloody Mary and margarita, both $6) but my money would be on the house sangria (also $6), which I will have to go back and try. Their short kids’ menu boasts the usual with chicken tenders, grilled cheese, and a hamburger, but I was pleasantly surprised to see they offered a pulled pork sandwich, too. All kids’ meals are $5. Their most expensive dinner entree is the ribeye steak for $22, and even that is a bargain.
We were given the specials of the day: a prime rib sandwich or a beef and cheddar sandwich; soup du jour was potato and bacon. My husband can’t pass up a good bowl of soup, so he ordered that with his meal ($4). While the prime rib sandwich sounded amazing, I opted for something smaller, but I made a mental note about that sandwich for another time.
To start, we ordered the broccoli ‘n cheddar bites ($8) and the soft pretzel served with beer cheese ($7). Although the description of the pretzel says “giant,” it is not an exaggeration. Our eyes got really big when the pretzel arrived at the table. “Mammoth” might be a more fitting term, as it spans a foot in diameter. It could easily feed 3-4 people waiting for a meal, or just one picky eater who wants to stick with bread and cheese. Served warm with lots of rock salt and two dipping cups of cheese, the pretzel was excellent and pretty filling on its own.
We then turned our attention to the broccoli cheddar bites. They sort of resemble chicken nuggets on the outside, but plenty of broccoli and flavorful melted cheese await on the inside. Huge bonus for a ranch snob such as myself: Their ranch dressing served with the bites is perfectly tangy from buttermilk, deliciously garlicky, and served cold. It is a perfect accompaniment. I saved what I couldn’t finish for my entree, just in case.
Our sandwiches came next: a burger for me with sweet potato fries, and a reuben with seasoned fries for my husband (both $9.75). The portions are what you would expect (and I would say generous, even) but as hungry as we were, we already knew we would be taking home leftovers. Both types of fries were served piping hot, and both were crispy and seasoned well. Fried food is deceptively hard to get right but everything we ordered was done well. Our sandwiches were also served hot and done just right. The potato bacon soup that came with my husband’s meal was a nice cream-based soup; its consistency was more like chowder, I would say. Soup and a side salad would be a nice light lunch or dinner here and would be in the realm of $10 — who can boast that anymore?
My burger came on a toasted brioche bun, which added some terrific flavor and texture. The edges of the burger were crispy and the patty was cooked well done (though I was not asked how I wanted it cooked, so you may have to request if you want anything pinker). I had cheddar on mine, which was nicely melted, but they offer other kinds, including Swiss and Muenster. My husband was torn between the reuben and the Cuban (he likes those “e/uban” sandwiches) but couldn’t resist the reuben. He appreciated that the thousand island dressing was served on the side for dipping, instead of sogging the sandwich through, considering there is already sauerkraut and melted cheese in there. The rye was also toasted. We both ate half our sandwiches and put the rest aside to take home. Fries wise: the seasoned fries beat out the sweet potatoes one but only by a hair. The sweet potato fries are crinkle fries and have an edge on crispiness. The seasoned fries have a really nice flavor that isn’t overly salty. Both are yummy and satisfy a hot potato craving, whichever you choose. We packed up what we couldn’t finish because something told us a place like this would do homemade dessert and we were right.
As if the owner knew exactly what each of us would want, the two available desserts were chocolate cake and a blueberry dump cake with ice cream. We said yes before she even finished her sentence.
To further the dessert experience, my piece of chocolate cake was a middle piece, which is my favorite and something I almost never get if I haven’t made the cake myself. The blueberry dump cake is served warm in a shallow dish with vanilla ice cream. It is a salty/sweet cake that resembles a crumble but without the crumble. It’s soft and gooey and pure comfort. The chocolate cake was perfectly spongey and tasted of actual chocolate. The fudgy frosting was neither overly sweet nor overly rich, which is a difficult balance to strike, but they managed it. The portions were just right; we were able to finish our pieces without feeling like we’d really blown it, but felt like we had indulged. Check this out, though: Each dessert was $3.50 apiece. Seven dollars for two desserts feels like we went back in time fifteen years. Nowadays, you expect dessert to cost $6 to $10 each, so it rounded out the treat experience.
Between the atmosphere, service, quality and prices of the food, we became instant fans of Scratch. We left with our doggy bag excited to come back another time. Scratch is the type of place you read about in novels or see in films: a cozy place to eat with delicious food and friendly proprietors behind it. Get thee to Scratch for a homemade food fix!
Bonuses: they do curbside pickup from 4 to 8 p.m.; you can call ahead if you have a large party to see if they can accommodate you.
227 Lincoln St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Zoe Valentine