Smile Politely

Bakery & Pickle is an alluring, secret speakeasy restaurant in Bloomington

Shrimp risotto at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
Alyssa Buckley

Beyond a secret entrance that also requires a secret password, Bakery & Pickle serves modern farm-to-table cuisine in Downtown Bloomington. Over the weekend, I went for the first time with my family, and it was a really cool dinner experience. Never have I ever gone to a place where I had to say a secret phrase to get in!

The exterior of Bakery & Pickle.
Alyssa Buckley

With no lettered sign advertising the name, Bakery & Pickle’s exterior looked more like a closed shop than a restaurant. Only those looking to find this secret spot might notice clues in the windows: a loaf of bread and an illuminated pickle.

The exterior of Bakery & Pickle.
Alyssa Buckley

Less subtle, there was also a sign pointing to the door.

The interior of the bakery shop outside of Bakery & Pickle restaurant.
Alyssa Buckley

Inside, it was still nothing like a restaurant; the space was more akin to a vintage bakery. A person stood at a cash register, and when we walked in, she said hello and made small talk but no mention of the restaurant. Nor did she ask for the password straight away. My children were beyond giddy to utter the secret phrase and were just dying for her to ask about the password. When she did ask, they blurted the password with cheek-to-cheek grins. She confirmed that we could now enter the secret restaurant, but first, we had to find our way in, like an escape room in reverse. We found what — I won’t spoil it — turned a wall into a hidden door that swung into the swanky restaurant. I’m not going to lie, that whole experience was enchanting.

The interior of Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington.
Alyssa Buckley

The same shopkeeper met us in the dining room and took us to a table. A server poured water into our mason jars and let us look over the menu of appetizers, sandwiches, and mains created by the talented Chef Blake Biggs (who previously cooked in the kitchen at bacaro). B&P’s menu also included two pages for beverages: beer, wine, cocktails, and no (and low) ABV concoctions, plus libations of vodka, rum, gin, tequila, rye, bourbon, whiskey, and scotch ranging in price from $6 all the way up to a $40 pour.

The speakeasy part of Bakery & Pickle.
Alyssa Buckley

As the place was a speakeasy, of course, we had to try some cocktails.

Two cocktails at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
All Choked Up cocktail and Hot-Blooded cocktail at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

We ordered two: all choked up ($12) and hot-blooded ($11). Balancing sweet and heat, the hot-blooded cocktail tasted superb. Made with rye and served in a beautiful glass, the drink had chili liqueur mixed with blood orange puree, lime, simple syrup, and Chef’s special hot sauce. The hot sauce and chili liqueur did not overwhelm but added complexity to the rye’s boozy flavor and sweetness from the fruit. The other drink, the all chocked up cocktail, was made with tequila, chokeberry syrup, lime, and pineapple. It was good: sweet, sour, and fruity but a little underwhelming.

For dinner, we started with appetizers.

An order of bread and butter at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
Bread and butter at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

First, we ordered Bakery & Pickle’s bread and butter ($5), and it was freaking delicious. The housemade bread selections came lightly toasted and served with what the menu called “whipped sexy butter,” and sexy it was indeed. That scoop of whipped herb butter was thick with freshly chopped herbs and big salt flakes, and the way it melted on the warm bread when smeared was nothing short of amazing. Made from scratch by the restaurant’s baker, the sliced baguette had a subtle sweetness that made it more yummy than plain bread. We all liked the focaccia; those squares had a crinkly crisp edge and a deliciously airy center only made more delish with a pat of sexy butter.

A platter of three meats and three cheeses at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
Adult Lunchable at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered the adult Lunchable ($25), which came with chef’s choice of three meats, three cheeses, pickles, and bread. Ours had speck, capocollo, soppresseta, manchego, drunken goat, and smoked gouda plus sliced baguette and a side of pickled veggies.

A white bowl of beets, carrots, and cucumber pickled in house at at Bakery & Pickle.
Pickled veg at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

In the side of pickles, there were two kinds of pickled cucumber plus carrots and beets. I was expecting excellent pickles, and these pickles were, which totally tracked since the name of the restaurant has Pickle in it. Well balanced in terms of tanginess, each crunchy veggie was a tasty sour contrast to the rich cheeses and salty meats. I loved the pickled cucumbers and carrots best; the beets would be best for someone who enjoys the intense earthy flavor of beets.

A platter of cheese, meats, and sliced baguette at Bakery & Pickle.
Adult Lunchable at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Of all the meat and cheese, I loved the smoked gouda hunks the most. Not that smoky, the gouda had a delicious creamy, nutty flavor and a satisfyingly smooth texture. The triangles of drunken goat cheese had yummy buttery and grassy notes. With a texture not as creamy as the other two, the manchego cheese was still wonderfully rich in taste and had a great saltiness. All the meats were awesome, the speck especially. The slices of capocollo amd soppresseta both tasted a bit spicy but nothing the cheese and cold pickles couldn’t balance.

An order of risotto at Bakery & Pickle restaurant.
Risotto at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

For my dinner, I ordered the risotto ($22) because I love risotto. Sadly, this was something a little different than what I was expecting. Usually, risotto has fat arborio rice that’s so creamy and gloopy, but this version had long grain rice that easily separated, kind of like fried rice in a creamy sauce. The flavors of the dish did taste good, though, and the elements worked well together. Microgreens and sliced hot pepper gave a pretty pop of color and texture as fresh garnishes. Little bacon bits were soft bombs of salty pork, and crispy fried onions added a fantastic crunch to the soft, saucy rice. I liked the seasoned plump shrimp and the florets of cauliflower, too.

An order of braised beef cheek at Bakery & Pickle in Bloomington.
Braised beef cheek at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

My husband had the braised beef cheek ($36), which came with mashed potatoes, root vegetables, and brine ravigot, a mustard and herb sauce. The beef was impressive. Fork-tender, the braised cheek had a big beefy flavor and a texture that practically melted in the mouth. This hearty meat-and-potatoes dish was utterly satisfying especially with the extra veggies. Onion crunchies and microgreens were nice additions to the mashed potatoes and uber tender beef, and the sauce brought it altogether.

The vegan side of carrots at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
Roasted carrots at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

We split an order of the roasted carrots ($21) as well. An unexpected hit, the colorful discs of carrot and crispy brussels sprouts laid atop a tasty white bean hummus and black garlic salsa. I’m an omnivore, and vegan food needs to slap hard for me want it, but this bowl did. The carrots tasted good on their own, but with that silky smooth hummus dotted with garlicky drip, they were delightful.

The fried chicken sandwich with waffle fries at Bakery & Pickle retaurant.
Fried chicken sandwich at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

My oldest kid ordered the fried chicken sandwich ($15) with pickled slaw, tomatillo salsa aioli, and house-cut waffle fries. He asked for sauces on the side because he doesn’t like sauces, but his mom does. On a housemade bun, this artisan sandwich packed a juicy, thick thigh in a crispy, peppery batter. I liked the drippy aioli, but I loved the fresh slaw’s tangy and spicy flavors with the salty fried chicken.

My youngest child has multiple food allergies and doesn’t usually eat at restaurants, but since this restaurant makes everything from scratch, it seemed like a place that might accommodate allergies. And when I spoke with Chef, he said he could cook an allergen-free meal, no problem. My kid’s favorite food is a medium-rare filet, and even though it wasn’t on the B&P menu, that’s exactly what Chef prepared for him on Saturday, borrowing a filet mignon from the menu at sister restaurant Epiphany Farms.

An order of filet with fries and veggies and au jus at Bakery & Pickle restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois.
Filet at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

This special allergy-diner steak dinner ($46) had a super tender cut of steak au jus with two sides. The filet mignon was cooked a spot-on medium rare, red all the way through with a solid black sear on top and bottom. Rested long enough, the steak tasted utterly delicious, so much so that my son could hardly spare me two sample bites before finishing it all himself. The roasted veggies and waffle fries were good sides, but they held no candle to that filet, which was pretty much perfect. Of all the things about B&P, they cook a mighty fine steak.

Because of his uncommon food allergies, my youngest cannot eat much at restaurants, but on Saturday at Bakery & Pickle, he turned to me in between bites of steak and butter-frosted bread and said that he felt like a king. That’s an awesome (and rare) feeling for someone with allergies. Accommodating food allergies and dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free, and keto is something B&P’s kitchen knows how to do especially when notice is given to Chef.

Overall, dinner at Bakery & Pickle was an unforgettable experience with a big city, cool-kid vibe. Being mysteriously hidden behind a secret door was undeniably alluring, but it was all the details — the beautiful plates, the luxurious seats, what the servers wear, and even the bathrooms — paired with chef-driven dishes that make this a remarkable dinner destination.

Inside the women's bathroom at Bakery & Pickle.
Alyssa Buckley

Obviously, the speakeasy will let diners in without a password; I’m sure the default, over-riding code is “Bakery & Pickle” or even “I want to pay money for food at this business,” but go ahead and make a reservation because then they’ll send an email with the evening’s passcode, and that’s fun. Reservations are needed for Fridays and Saturdays, but diners can likely score a table without a rez on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Sliced and toasted baguette with herbed butter.
Bread and butter at Bakery & Pickle; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Even if only for the namesake bites of fresh bread and housemade pickles, Bakery & Pickle is worth the trip, but there’s so much on the menu I want to return to try. Next time, I want the B&P experience, a set price per person (and the entire table must participate) where Chef cooks up a unique multi-course dinner of surprise plates served family-style. I also want to try the roasted bone barrow with Bordelaise syrup appetizer and the fried pickle onion rings — and the other three of Chef’s four hot sauces.

Bakery & Pickle
513 N Main St
W+Th 5 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 5 p.m. to midnight

If you know a great restaurant located outside of Champaign-Urbana that I should check out, email me a tip.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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