As a resource for wine, Sun Singer boasts that it offers over 1100 fine wines, which is quite a lot. In addition to functioning as a wine emporium, it’s also a café, deli, and restaurant. You can stop by for a bottle of wine and some cheese, and also have a light lunch. A newly renovated and expanded dining room now affords Sun Singer the space to function as a more traditional restaurant, with a dinner menu available after 5 p.m.
The quadruple duty establishment can be chaotic. Outside of the new dining room (off to the left, beyond the deli counter), the seating is clustered in the space around the bar, in front of the deli counter, and scattered in and around the shelving. Tables are very close together; there was a serious attempt made to cram as many people in the already cramped space as possible. You may need to consider the content of your conversation, as you will be overheard. Someone will inevitably (accidently) step on your massive winter coat hung over the back of your chair, kick your purse, and/or hip-check your table. And at two-top tables, of which there are many, you’ll likely run out of table space quickly once there are a few glasses and a couple of plates.
Sun Singer is a busy spot during mealtimes. It definitely has the vibe of a stereotypical ladies’ lunch spot — what underworked lady of leisure doesn’t want to politely push salad around a plate whilst sipping on wine? Indeed, my experience has been that there are often more women dining with other women than say, suited dudes lunch-meeting or bro-lunching (br-unching?).
Perhaps because of the steady flow of hungry people, the service is almost always slow. The servers seem frazzled, and there’s most definitely an anxious air through the restaurant. On my last visit I asked to see the dessert menu. After about 10 minutes, the server returned, asking for the dessert order, but I had yet to receive the menu. I understand that it’s busy and there are plenty of people to take care of, but it’s consistent experiences like waiting 10 minutes for a menu that unnecessarily drag out a meal and hold up a table. Generally the servers have been perfectly nice and polite, albeit a bit distracted.
The lunch menu is exclusively sandwiches and salads, ranging in price from $6.95 (mixed greens salad), to $11.75 (almond crusted goat cheese salad). There are a whopping nineteen sandwiches on the menu. All are available as full sandwiches, and some are available as half sandwich/salad/soup combos. Full sammies and combos come with two olives, a pickle, and a side of your choice. Most items are just about $11. Appetizers are a motley crew: quesadillas ($8.25), pretzel sticks with cheese dip ($6.50), and Greek nachos ($7.95) are just a few items on the list. There are two cheese plate options, raging in price from $10.95 to $15.95 (depending on how many cheeses you select). The new dinner menu (after 5 p.m. only) includes salads and sandwiches as well as traditional entrées like jumbo sea scallops ($28), buttermilk fried chicken ($16), wild mushroom pasta ($16), and steak (NY strip, $32; filet mignon, $26 or $38; skirt steak, $22). There are daily specials — soups are on a rotating weekly schedule — and these are usually updated on Sun Singer’s website and Facebook page.
I am fortunate enough to have recently twice been a lady who lunches. A friend and I shared the garlic goat cheese dip with tortilla chips ($6.50). The dip was smooth and garlicky, and paired nicely with the salty chips. We quickly ran out of chips, though, which is a shame because the dip was pretty good. It’s a solid appetizer, if you’re not afraid of having slightly stinky breath afterward. On my next visit, another friend and I started with the warm spinach and artichoke dip ($6.95), served with pita rounds. The hot dip was creamy, buttery, and indulgent. It’s definitely appetizer-sized, perfect for sharing.
For lunch entrées, I ordered the Italian beef sandwich ($10.75). Served on an onion bun with a side of au jus, the salty stack of meat was quite filling. The only let down was the lack of “warm pepperoncinis” the menu promised — there was only one on the plate, and it was cold. On another visit I ordered the almond crusted goat cheese salad ($11.75). The salad contains three large goat cheese patties rolled in toasted almonds, strawberries, and grapes. The menu describes the dressing as “roasted red pepper vinaigrette,” but it tasted like Kraft’s Zesty Italian dressing, and it pretty much ruined the salad. The balsamic drizzle on top would have been perfect as a dressing, and balsamic vinaigrette makes more sense to me as a topping to the fruit and goat cheese classic. If you order it, get the dressing on the side and apply accordingly.
Sun Singer’s real gem is the grilled cheese supreme sandwich ($10.25): fontina and cheddar cheeses, granny smith apples, fig preserves on challah bread. It’s a delicious take on the sophisticated grilled cheese sandwich. This is the sandwich you should be eating at least once a month.
Sandwiches and soup and sandwich combos come with your choice of side. I generally choose the terra chips, which are pretty tasty, and add some salty crunch to my meal. There are a variety of other mayo-based salads, as well as a beet salad, which is pretty good, if you like beets, that is.
Everything on the dessert menu is under $6, which is pretty great. There are options for all sweets: chocolate, ice cream, custard-based items, and something fruity. Because it’s a wine bar, you’ll also have your pick of drinks. For about the price of a dessert, you can drink your sweet calories in dessert wines, ports, moscato wines, martinis, and cognacs. Or, if you’ve already had too many drinks during your meal, coffee, espresso, and cappuccino are available for $3.25 and under.
Sun Singer is, first and foremost, a place to procure wine. The selection is huge, and if you can corner someone who works there, I’m sure s/he will be more than happy to help you find something you like. What I suggest, though, is to have a meal and sample wine while you eat. This is easily and cheaply accomplished by ordering several two-ounce wine pours. The descriptions within the menu are informative, and if you don’t like something you order, you didn’t waste $10 or an entire glass of wine. If you do like something new, you have the option to buy a glass or a bottle. Or, if you’re a one-and-a-half-glass wine drinker, you can order accordingly. Sun Singer recently added craft beer on tap to its menu (16 ounces, $4.25 to $6.50), and there are plenty of bottled beer choices. What’s most exciting is that if you find something you really like, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to walk out with a bottle (or six pack).
Sun Singer’s a solid choice for lunch, but with the new expanded dining room, it’s also a good option for dinner. The menu is diverse enough that most eaters can find something to enjoy (sorry, vegans), although the prices are a little high (dinner prices are in line with most other places in C-U). There are even gluten free options; just ask your server. The grilled cheese supreme is a must, and pairs perfectly with whichever wine you prefer to drink, in whichever quantity you feel is appropriate. Service is likely to be fairly slow, but if you’re lingering over a glass of wine, it’s not so bad.
Sun Singer is located at 1115 West Windsor Road, Champaign, and is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight; and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Jessica Hammie.