In the year 1995, a 17-year-old girl who only ate frozen tater tots and boxed macaroni and cheese moved to the big city of Urbana from Galesburg, Illinois to pursue a Bachelor’s in Music Education. That tiny, little block of campus was my whole world. A short walk from Illinois Street Residence Halls, where I lived my freshman year, opened my eyes to the beauty of the Bread Company, Delights (anyone else old enough to remember this place?), Canopy Club, and a small, intimidating yet beautiful spot called Timpone’s.
My unrefined palate and lack of cash sadly never allowed me a chance to experience the cuisine at Timpone’s. Now as a townie who has been back in C-U for 12 years, I finally found my way there for the very first time. Was I still intimidated? Yes.
I felt as though I was entering the holy grail of campus dining, and I didn’t want to mess it up. An establishment that has wowed the masses since 1986? I’m not ready. What if it didn’t live up to the hype? What if they turn me away for my Def Leppard sweatshirt and bringing two raggedy ass children with me? Despite my apprehensions, I took my family of four to Timpone’s on a warm Friday night in August to see exactly what I had been missing all these years.
My husband and daughters have been to Timpone’s multiple times. It’s their traditional “pre-Nutcracker at Krannert” dinner. The three of them couldn’t wait for me to check it out. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time, I did. Does that make sense? Quiet, unassuming, dignified, and old school, the small tables and booths were intimate and welcoming. We waited a few minutes to be greeted at the hostess stand and seated at a cozy booth. We were met shortly after by our server, who had previously been a cook in the kitchen which was awesome. He was knowledgeable on how the dishes were prepared and gave us great recommendations on what he thought we would enjoy, especially for a first timer like me who didn’t really know where to begin.
We decided to start with cocktails (exquisitely made per my slightly specific requests, by the way), a simple loaf of bread with olive oil ($2), and the crab cakes ($16).
The bread was nice and crusty on the outside while warm and chewy on the inside. My 10-year-old is ridiculously picky, and she couldn’t get enough.
Crab cakes are one of my favorite apps or entrées to order when I’m out for a good meal, and let me tell you: they are not all created equal. The Maryland-style crab cakes at Timpone’s sent me over the edge — absolutely outstanding. The cakes were prepared with copious amounts of fresh crab and sautéed veggies, very light breading, and a perfect pan fry. The mustard tarragon aioli alongside made for the perfect bite.
As previously stated, our server was so helpful with recommendations, but my husband and I were having a tough time deciding on entrées. We thought we would be super wild and crazy and order the pappardelle Bolognese ($17) to share as an additional appetizer. I know: we’re like Pam and Tommy on a night out in Vegas. Welcome to middle age, my friends.
The dish consisted of a pork, veal, and beef ragu in a San Marzano tomato sauce with perfectly cooked pappardelle pasta. There was a hint of either cinnamon or nutmeg in the sauce, which I was unsure about at first, but as I continued to consume the dish, I loved the mildly sweet and spicy surprise in the red sauce. One of the aforementioned raggedy ass children also got into this dish making me a bit fussy that I couldn’t have more to myself.
Upon recommendation from our server, I ordered the spinach tagliatelle ($17) for my main course. Served with chicken breast, mushrooms, scallions, pine nuts, and Romano cheese in a garlic cream sauce, this dish exceeded all expectations. The pasta was al dente; the chicken was tender and flavorful while the pine nuts added a nice little crunch to each bite.
My husband decided to go with the duck entrée ($28). The duck had a nice medium sear with lentils, fresh crispy veggies, and a cherry compote. He was impressed with both the presentation and the flavor of the dish.
When dining with children, we all know that everything before dessert is just a lead up to the final showstopper. The four of us decided on crème brûlée ($10) and a cheesecake with raspberry sauce ($9).
Before my visit to Timpone’s I did a bit of research on the history and origin of the restaurant and came across this wonderful article from the 2018 News Gazette. Apparently, the crème brûlée has been a family favorite for years, so we felt privileged to enjoy this lovely dessert together.
The cheesecake had an amazing graham cracker crust and a deliciously sweet and light filling. I loved the tart raspberry sauce that cut the sweetness of the cheesecake perfectly. Throw in an espresso martini to that dessert mix, and I was one satisfied mama.
Timpone’s, you did it. I walked in not knowing what to expect and walked out with a smile, a full belly, and memories made with my sweet little family. Thank you for being a C-U staple and consistently putting out amazing Italian food for locals and visitors alike. This is my new recommendation for anyone looking for an outstanding meal, service, ambience, and cocktails. Reservations recommended but not required.
710 S. Goodwin Ave.
Tu-Sat 4:30 to 9 p.m.