Smile Politely

The Literary Café is a vibrant downtown hangout

The Literary Cafe bagel sandwich on a blue plate.
Mackenzie Schabowski

The Literary briefly paused their food service for a short time earlier this year, but the place has been back to brunching for quite some time now. I decided to check out what the new menu at The Literary Cafe has to offer. 

One thing about me is that I am a chips-and-dip girl through and through. I have never met a crunchy-chip-and-creamy-dip combo that I didn’t like. That being said, when I saw kettle chips and dill dip on the menu, I had to have some.

A plate of kettle chips with a dill dip.
Mackenzie Schabowski

I ordered the kettle chips and dill dip ($7.50), and it was just as good as I expected it to be. Extra crunchy kettle chips were served with creamy dip absolutely loaded with dill and garlic and topped with green onions. I love that they added something like this to the menu. If you’re coming in for a beer or a cocktail, salty chips and garlicky dill dip makes for a great accoutrement. For those there to read or work on a laptop, it would be a great choice to nibble on. When it comes to dip, I really want it to be bursting with an obscene amount of flavor, and this one delivered. For $7.50, the portion was large enough to share with friends, but I’m not ashamed to say I polished it off by myself. It was that good. 

A bagel sandwich wrapped in paper and tin foil on a blue plate.
Mackenzie Schabowski

I ordered the Not-So-NYC breakfast sandwich ($12), which came with eggs any way, bacon, cheese, kimchi aioli, and arugula on a plain bagel. It came with a side of hashbrowns which were deliciously crispy and well seasoned. They were the kind of hash browns that are large and flat, and they had been roughed up a little on the plate to make them kind of smashed. I honestly appreciated it because I prefer that kind of hashbrown over a shredded sort. From what I could tell, the cheese was American, and it fit well on this sandwich. I was expecting the kimchi aioli to be more prominent, but it definitely settled into the background with a subtle, slightly vinegary tang. The arugula was perfect because it gave just a little crunch that was enjoyable. What I liked about this sandwich is that it was unassuming. They cut it in half and left it in the wrapper, just like you’d get it from an NYC bodega. It delivered everything I wanted from a bacon, egg and cheese bagel and then some. 

The French toast at The Literary.
Mackenzie Schabowski

I also ordered miso butterscotch French toast ($16), and it was served with a ramekin of whipped cream and topped with blueberries and caramelized pecans. The result was savory-sweet and flavor packed. I was expecting the sauce to be primarily sweet with miso undertones; however, the miso definitely wasn’t shy in this dish. The sauce was an equal balance of sweet and salty, complemented by fresh sweet basil. This is one of those dishes where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It is well worth it to take the time to incorporate each element into every bite! The portion size felt quite large given how filling it was. 

It was chilly, and I was very much still in the fall-food-mood, so to drink, I decided on a spiced chai-der, a beverage on special when I visited. Chai-der is a mixture of chai and apple cider that has grown in popularity in recent years.

A chai-der
Mackenzie Schabowski

This drink ($5.50) was offered hot or iced, and for toppings, customers choose between whipped cream or spiced cold foam. I really liked the cold foam, so I went for, and the first sip left me surprised with its sweetness. When it comes to chai, it’s hard to know where it’s going to land on the sweet to spicy spectrum. In this drink, the subtle chai flavor was dominated by sweet cider. The spiced cold foam was the perfect addition. Bursting with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, it gave more of that spicy kick I was looking for. The creaminess it added to the base of the drink gave it the flavor profile of a slice of apple pie a la mode. My only complaint is that I found myself wishing I had more!

While the spiced chai-der is unfortunately no longer available like it was on my first visit, there was an array of winter offerings available when I went the second time. Now, they offer a cup of cheer, an egg nog latte with house-made gingerbread syrup, complete with the same yummy spiced cold foam. There’s also a peppermint sage mocha and a gingerbread chai latte on the seasonal menu, too. The bookstore bar also offers a variety of Literary-themed cocktails like the Gin Eyre ($11) and Pear and Prejudice ($9).

Other options on the food menu include The Lit’s version of breakfast tacos ($16.70), a grass-fed “Literal Burger” ($13) with the option to swap for an Impossible patty, and a vegan-friendly harvest grain bowl ($10).

It feels safe to say that The Literary remains a vibrant downtown hangout, especially on weekends. They ask customers to refrain from working on laptops before 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in an effort to accommodate a high volume of guests during peak hours. Nonetheless, be prepared for a line and substantial waiting during those times. Luckily, browsing bookshelves is a great way to make the time pass by quickly. As with any downtown location, parking can be tricky; be prepared to walk a few blocks especially during busier days of the week. 

Brunch is served 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but you can still get certain snacks and desserts after 3 p.m., as well as coffee beverages and cocktails. 

The exterior of The Literary in Downtown Champaign.
Mackenzie Schabowski

The Literary Café
122 N Neil St
W-Sa 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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