Smile Politely

Date Night: Italian food for $50 or less on campus

There’s a nice little gem of an Italian restaurant tucked into campus town that has long been a local favorite. Well known for their fresh pizza and extensive wine list, Timpone’s also offers up fresh pastas and classic Italian dishes that change seasonally. When the hubby and I decided we wanted to do a light dinner for our date night, an appetizer, some wine, and maybe some dessert, Timpone’s seemed like a no brainer. 

It can be hard to stay under the $50 mark at Timpone’s, especially when drinks are involved, so if you’re on a tight budget but still want to experience something special I encourage you to not count out a meal at Timpone’s. You can be creative with their menu by ordering a few different items and sharing. And for me, the best part is knowing you can order taste portions of their desserts for less than half the price.

First up were drinks, and we were in the mood for wine. We ordered two reds off the wines by the glass menu: a 2013 Grenache ($6.50) and a 2014 Dolcetto D’Alba ($7.25) and we were not disappointed with either one. Both boasted bold, cherry aromas and I think the Dolcetto was the winning glass for me. It wasn’t hugely complex so it was an easy sipping wine that seemed like it would pair well with most anything.

We had already roughly planned that we would order an app, would most definitely have drinks, and maybe split a dessert. When we saw Fritto Misto ($13) on the menu we knew we had to have it. We hadn’t had anything like this since our honeymoon in Italy. We walked down a canal on the island of Murano with a paper cone full of fresh, lightly battered and simply seasoned seafood and it was heaven in a cone. Fritto misto is basically a mixture a various fried things: mainly seafood (squid, mussels, bay scallops, calamari, shrimp, etc) and vegetables. Timpone’s fritto misto was pretty darn close. The batter was simple and light and covered a mixture of calamari, bay scallops, shrimp, zucchini, and onion. It’s probably just the luck of the draw, but as far as seafood goes, we only had mostly calamari and maybe two bay scallops on our plate which was a little disappointing. It was still good though, bite sized pieces were fried perfectly, and the addition of the crispy zucchini and onion worked really well. A wonderful addition here that we didn’t have in our to-go cone of fried goodness was the spicy marinara and aioli. I love that they didn’t go crazy with these two condiments. The mixed fry was placed on a spoonful of the spicy marinara and the aioli was drizzled lightly on top. The marinara had the perfect amount of spice and there was just the right amount to help mix up the flavors in between bites of fried deliciousness.

I feel like if you’re drinking wine at an Italian restaurant then you must have the bread and oil. Actually, I feel this way about most restaurants and life in general, I just love bread and everyone should give me some (but not really, my trainer Danny would get angry with me). While I do think complimentary bread and oil should be a staple at most places, at Timpone’s it’s only a $1 and it’s really good so I got over it. The ¼ loaf is excellent to share and it came out warm with a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy center. It comes with a side of extra virgin olive oil and herbs (mostly oregano) but try dipping it in the spicy marinara from the fritto misto — so good!

Once we found out they offered taste sized portions of their desserts we were all in. The dessert menu also changes seasonally. You can expect to see crème brulee and bread pudding as standards with staying power but their ingredients/flavors vary seasonally too. We chose the frango mint mousse with white chocolate truffle center, Godiva pearls, and biscotti ($3 for taste portion, $8 regular) and the warm cranberry-pear crisp with granola streusel topping and salted caramel gelato ($3 for taste portion, $8 regular). Timpone’s also has an extensive dessert/digestif drink menu. We chose to stick with our one glass of wine each, but if you haven’t tried Limoncello or Grappa then I urge you to do so. The mint mousse was fantastic. It was rich and chocolatey, heavy on the mint (in a good way), and having the biscotti to dip added a nice bit of crunch. The cranberry-pear crisp was both our favorite. The pears were baked to perfection with just a bit of crispness and hint of cinnamon. The warm fruit and crunchy granola paired nicely with the salted caramel gelato, which was amazing just by itself. If you put the words ‘salted caramel’ before anything, I’ll eat it.

Timpone’s has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and its unique selection of Italian dishes served us well for our date night. Our total with tax and tip was $42.13. If you’ve never been to Timpone’s, this would be a great week to try it! The students are on break and you can park and walk around with ease. Or if you’re up for more quick, on-the-go options with drinks and desserts after, there’s lots of great places nearby on Green Street to try. Grab a falafel wrap at Mashawi Grill ($5.99), or try the zip sticks at Azzip Pizza ($4), Zorba’s has small gyros ($3.97), or right around the corner from Timpone’s you have your choice of a gazillion different types of empanadas ($2.37 for one, pick three for $6.26) from Manolo’s. Take a stroll around campus with your goodies and then stop in to Timpone’s for drinks and dessert after. If the Illinois weather cooperates they all sound like great date night options to me.

Timpone’s is located at 710 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana and is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. 

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.

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