When I heard that a bookstore and wine bar was opening in Downtown Champaign, I was so excited. I love books, and I love wine. The idea of having a glass of wine with book club friends at a downtown bookstore where we maybe even bought the book sounds just dreamy. I want to buy books from local stores, and the only places in town to buy new titles are national chain stores. I am so happy that we now have a local, woman-owned bookstore to support when buying new books.
What makes this bookstore so unique is that it’s also a restaurant. The Literary serves food by Hopscotch Bakery in addition to selling coffee, wine, and beer.
There are three different food menus, each for a different time of day: morning menu items are served 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., midday nibbles from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and evening bites from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The morning menu includes pastries, toasts, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches. The midday menu includes paninis, pretzels, and a snack platter. The evening menu has trout dip, cheese plates, gelato, and chocolate crémeux. Read all of the food menus plus the list of wines and beers available here.
Because the menus vary, I wanted to try something from each menu, so this review covers my three visits to The Literary.
To order food at The Literary, you walk to this counter. If you enter through the main door, walk past all the beautiful shelves of books, stickers, and cute things to buy. In the back and to the right, you’ll find the register, and that’s where you order. When I placed my order, I received a number on a metal stand and found a spot to sit.
You can sit at the tables or the barstools in the lounge area by the register or in the bookstore section where there are couches and more tables. I really like the art on the walls in the lounge, so I sat in a lounge seat by the window.
On my first visit, I visited in the morning, and just the breakfast menu was available. The coffee menu was listed on the wall near the register. I ordered a caramel latte ($4.50), and it was served in this very cute glass mug. It was a great sweet cup of coffee, and I would order it again.
I also tried the Parmesan truffle tots ($5) from the a la carte section of the breakfast menu. They were served piping hot from the fryer. I didn’t really taste the Parmesan or the truffle on the tots, but I liked the little crunchy poofs of potato nonetheless. This was a nice sized portion that was enough for my breakfast, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to share with someone. Get your own tots, for sure.
The next time I visited, I arrived just after 11 a.m., and both the midday menu and breakfast menu were being served. I ordered at the register, got a number on a metal stand, and then sat down at a table.
When it comes to menus, I am a sucker for anything with Champaign or Urbana in the name, so I ordered the toast of Champaign, and I was thirsty for something besides coffee, so I ordered a mimosa.
The toast of Champaign ($10) was topped with honey-whipped ricotta, housemade apple butter, pepitas, fresh fruit, and a strawberry drizzle. The fancy toast was a thick, soft piece of bread with a crispy edge, and the dish was pretty filling. The rose petals on the plate were an elegant touch. The ricotta spread was tasty, and the apple butter was good and not too sweet. The sunflower seeds gave a satisfying crunch and saltiness to the toast.
I was hoping there might be a cocktail menu available, but the staff said the only cocktail on the menu was a mimosa ($8), so that’s what I got. The glass was really beautiful, and I loved drinking from it, but I will say this was a very orange juice-dominant mimosa. I get it: it’s 11 a.m. and it’s a bookstore, but I was a little disappointed. This mimosa tasted like a glass of juice with a splash of bubbly, and I prefer my mimosas to be the other way around.
The name Lorelai’s “fancy” platter ($5) sounded appetizing, so I ordered it. On the menu, it read “a carnival of snackery.” The platter arrived to my table: a muffin tin with Lucky Charms, Chex Mix, Cheetos, Oreos, Bugles, and two pieces of rice krispie treat. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this tray of storebought snacks was not it. It is a variety of snacks, and there are both salty and sweet nibbles, but I guess I was hoping for snackery with baked goods from Hopscotch. Some kid might really love this, but I was hoping for a little more.
I wanted to come back and try the evening menu, so I went last night for my third visit. There was an Astronomy on Tap event in the bookstore featuring talks by U of I grad students; one talk was about water and other molecules in galaxies outside the Milky Way, and the other was a talk about how machine learning is revolutionizing our world.
It was really busy, but I found a spot at the bar with my husband and ordered a round of drinks while we decided what we wanted to try from the evening food menu.
We started with a Hopewell Cruising Speed ($5) and a glass of prosecco ($7). The beer was a Helles lager 5%, and it was a basic, crisp lager. It was served cold, and it was good, especially for $5. My glass of Zardetto Private Cuvée brut was served in a beautiful glass, and it tasted great: very bubbly and deliciously dry.
When we were in the lounge at night, The Literary felt more like a bar than the two other times I’d been. When the space was V Picasso, I remember walking down this long room to the host stand to be sat at a table in the other room. I don’t even remember what this room looked like when Hank’s Table was here. It is really cool to see how the space looks now as The Literary, transformed by the new owners. The space feels like it was supposed to be a bookstore and bar all along.
The evening menu was in a vintage-looking file folder with beer and wine lists, and I thought that was cool. It was cleverly divided into sections with book themes: epics, romance, novellas, and poetry.
Sitting at the bar, we got excellent service from the staff. It did seem like those at the bar were the only people being served at their seat. If you sit anywhere else, you’ll need to order at the register, and then find a table. The staff bring the food to your table when it’s ready.
We put in an order for some table snacks and another drink.
I tried the seasonal cocktail, rosemary fries, trout dip, and dessert donuts. The seasonal cocktail was adorably named Partridge In A Pear Tree ($9). It was one of two seasonal cocktails available; the other was a mistletoe mimosa. Made with brandy, ginger liqueur, vanilla pear syrup, and prosecco, I liked this pear cocktail a lot. With the brandy warmth and the sweet pear punch, it tasted like winter to me. The aroma from the sprig of rosemary was lovely on the nose as I sipped, and the herby sweetness of the drink was just right.
The rosemary fries ($5) came in a darling rose gold wire basket and were fresh from the fryer. They were salty and yummy. I tasted a very subtle rosemary flavor on the fries, but I probably wouldn’t have noticed without the menu saying so. They are still worth ordering because they were great salty, hot fries.
The trout dip ($8) came with fried potato crisps. This was a recommendation from writer Remington Rock, and I will say this dip was my favorite bite of the night. Gluten free and served with fresh Hop potato chips, this dip was a splendid appetizer. It had a blend of tarragon, dill, and lemon flavors with a mild trout taste. There were no fish chunks; it was creamy and tasty. The crisp potato chips were really freaking good, and they were varied: some straight, some rolled, some big, some small — and they all were sturdy enough to scoop that dip well. This is a must order if you’re at The Literary.
For dessert, we wanted to try the chocolate crémeux, but it was not available, so we ordered the dessert donuts. The apple cider donuts ($10) were served in a big bowl over a bay leaf pastry cream and a black peppercorn plum gastrique with a candied orange slice. There were three donut balls included in the dessert, and they were served warm and covered in cinnamon sugar. These were big, dense donuts with a light apple flavor and a great sugary crust. The pastry cream was good but very simple. Sadly, I didn’t really taste the peppercorn flavor in the gastrique. The orange was really delish, though.
The Literary has an amazing selection of books, and the bookstore hosts events regularly. It is a place that is undeniably cute and styled beautifully — and it has so many books to buy. If you’re wanting small bites and a glass of wine or beer somewhere pretty, this is a charming place to go and a welcome addition to Downtown Champaign.
122 N Neil St
W-Su 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.