I recently visited Urbana's Caffe Bene, which is on Gregory and Nevada and right on the edge of the U of I campus. Upon walking in to the building, there was a calm and relaxed atmosphere that is perfect for studying, enjoying a cup of coffee with friends, or a quiet meal. The crowd ranges in age, from University students to older locals, but the blend works well together. Music plays softly in the background, and most people speak in slightly hushed tones to not disturb their neighbors. There are many wooden dividers between tables to create a more private experience for customers, in addition to several large tables and counters around the edge of the shop to allow for a more shared environment.
Caffe Bene has a large selection of food and drink. My friend and I were a little overwhelmed at first because there is so much to choose from. There are the classic bakery options, such as bagels and croissants, as well as sandwiches and “Cup Bap,” which is different kinds of meat in a Korean-style dish. The Caffe also offers typical coffees that most coffee shops have, as well as bubble tea and customizable frappes. Caffe Bene also offers many different types of gourmet waffles and gelato. My friend and I decided to split two macarons ($1.95 each): blueberry lavender and rose. She also got a vanilla latte ($3.55 for a medium), and I got the teriyaki chicken sandwich ($4.95) and an iced green tea latte ($3.95 for a medium).
We were served the macarons right away on a little plate and given a buzzer for the sandwich. We sat down at a large table near the pick up counter and within three minutes our drinks were ready. The barista just calls out the drink order and you go up and grab your drink, similar to how Starbucks works. Within two minutes of sitting down, the buzzer started vibrating and because of how close we were to the pick up counter, a staff member brought me my sandwich and I handed her the buzzer. Overall, the process is pretty quick and painless.
We tried the rose macaron first. It was a little dry, but surprisingly tasted similar to how a rose actually smells. It was a nice floral taste and melted in my mouth. The blueberry lavender wasn’t as dry as the rose, and it was amazing. At first, it just tasted like blueberry, but the aftertaste was a subtle lavender that made me want to eat more. My friend and I both agreed it was one of the best macarons we’d ever eaten. I highly recommend the blueberry lavender macaron.
My friend really enjoyed her vanilla latte. She and I are both major fans of coffee and she said that it was one of the best she’d ever had. I also really enjoyed my iced green tea latte, a combination of ice, matcha powder, and milk. Sometimes when I order it at different places, there is too much matcha powder that ends up clogging the straw or making the drink difficult to drink. However, at Caffe Bene, they used the perfect amount of matcha powder and I had no problems enjoying my drink.
I was hesitant to order the teriyaki chicken sandwich because it seemed like a strange mixture of ingredients: teriyaki sauce, chicken, mozzarella, bean sprouts, and sweet mustard. However, right after my first bite I was surprised how tasty the sandwich was. While it wasn’t the most incredible sandwich I’ve ever eaten, it was very good for a coffee shop. The chicken was good quality and they put the perfect amount of sauce on the sandwich. My friend had a bite as well and agreed that it was pretty good, and that the bread was really yummy.
Overall, Caffe Bene is a great place to get a small snack, a full meal, or just a cup of coffee. The range of the menu fits all tastes, and the prices are comparable to larger coffee chains. The environment is ideal to study in, chat with friends, or just enjoy some alone time.
Caffe Bene is located at 700 South Gregory Street, Urbana, and open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
All photos by Kristin D'Antonio.