Another year has passed, and we have surely consumed more than our respective weights in food and drink. There are plenty of epicurean delights in the area; this is just a sampling of a few that have lingered on our palates lately. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of all of the best things in C-U, but rather a few things we’ve been salivating over. — Jessica Hammie
BEST food trend making its way to C-U
OK, in all fairness, there have been a few in town for some time. But now there are more. And that’s cool. (JH) Photos by Jessica Hammie.
BEST way to really treat yourself
Prairie Fruits Farm Dinner on the Farm series
The seasonal Dinner on the Farm series is something that everyone should do at least once. Each themed dinner is carefully prepared by an amazing group of talented people, heralded by Alisa DeMarco, and sometimes a celebrity (ish) chef. Each dinner has a different menu that is unique, mostly locally sourced, and absolutely delicious. But at anywhere from $100 to $135 per person per dinner (with taxes and fees), it’s not exactly your everyday “let’s grab a four course meal on the cheap,” sort of thing. Yes, you have to buy tickets. No, you don’t necessarily know the menu ahead of time. Generally the dinners are BYOB (unless it’s a beer dinner), so no, drinks aren’t included. But it is so worth it. And you can start planning for next season now. Every time you opt for a quick, cheap meal, take that $5-$10 and dump it in a jar, and eat some PB&J instead. By the time tickets go on sale next spring, you’ll have what you need to truly treat yourself to an amazing meal experience. (JH) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST use for the old Coke Bottling Plant
Papa Del's Pizza Factory
Last year, our photography editor Sam Logan declared the old Coke bottling plant on Stadium and Neil the WORST place to open a restaurant in town. And for the most part, I couldn't argue with him. The location is kinda weird. The building is massive. And there are very few kinds of restaurants that could manage that situation. Portillo's always came to mind, but evidently, the owner isn't bringing that here. At least, not yet.
Genuinely, Orange and Brew was a terrible fucking place to be. In fact, I can't remember trying a new place out and feeling so sorry for the owner right away. I knew it was going to close the moment we got the first order to the table.
So, hearing that Pops Monti has traded out his Green Street location for this one instead, and will be consolidating his "shipping" department out at Village at the Crossing to open a "pizza factory" at this location was a true moment of happiness mixed with relief.
The building, destined for a lifetime of probable failure, is now going to be occupied forever, if the Monti family so chooses. Papa Del's is now going to be totally accessible to the rest of the community, and all of a sudden, a very viable place to sit down and eat the best pizza south of I-80 by a long shot.
I can't wait. (SF)
Photo by Sam Logan.
BEST eatery with a second location
There aren’t all that many local spots with two locations yet, since both Black Dog and Maize are not fully functional. Cracked’s second truck is awesome, because Cracked is delicious, and now can choose to avoid campus if you’re hungry for lunch. There are now two places you can visit during lunch hours, and perhaps even more importantly, two locations you can visit on Saturday mornings. That means if you’re a hungry Champaign-dwelling soul driving to the market on a Saturday morning, you can swing by Downtown Champaign for your Morning Bender instead of waiting in the crazy line at the market. (JH) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST kept secret
50% off day old bread at Pekara
Pekara does the best bread and pastries in town, as far as I am concerned. The fact that their owner, Seka, and her staff, are all exceptionally kind and friendly further sets them apart from any other game in town.
But on Sundays, the bake shop is closed, and as such, they don't offer fresh goods that day. Everyone deserves a break, and I respect that. So instead, they unload the rest of their leftovers at half off, and let me just state, the bread is just as good today as it was yesterday.
Yes, it's true, it will be good for one less day. But with the quality of product, a loaf goes fast. And so does your diet. And well, now that I am thinking about it, to hell with Pekara for tempting us this way, on the Lord's Day no less?
Who do these people think they are anyhow?
Oh yes, they are the best bake shop in town. That's who. (SF) Photo by David Riecks.
BEST place to eat on Green Street
During the academic year, it’s difficult to go out to lunch or dinner on Green Street. So when the majority of the students leave for breaks, I take advantage of it. Sakanaya is the first place on my list to visit. The super chic, contemporary décor on both the exterior and the interior marks Sakanaya as different than the rest of the budget-friendly locales with which it keeps company. When you’re inside Sakanaya, you feel as if you’re in a bigger, more cosmopolitan city. That’s not a dig on C-U, but the folks at Sakanaya have made distinct choices to make the restaurant different than everything else in the area. The Japanese menu is pretty limited — sushi, ramen, udon — but this is not a bad thing. These items are done well, and well worth the $15-$20 price tag. The inside of the restaurant is small, and you will only be seated when your entire party is present, so you must plan accordingly. (JH) Photo by Bob Yoon.
BEST way to welcome the weekend
Friday lunches at bacaro
For $15, these lunches are a steal. The quality of ingredients is high, and the food is well executed. The result is a delicious and often indulgent lunch. This is the best way to end the week, and a bit of a treat on a Friday afternoon. The weekly special is usually posted on Facebook on Wednesday or Thursday, resulting in at least 48 hours worth of anticipation and excitement for Friday and Friday afternoon. By the time you eat your delicious lunch and return to work, it’s practically the weekend. (JH) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST house salad
Any decent restaurant worth their salt has a decent house salad on their menu. It's generally basic: greens, some vegetables, croutons, and a dressing of some sort. And let me be clear when I state that while the house salads at places like Silver Creek and bacaro are spectacular, the house salad at Miga is absolutely, mind-blowingly incredible. Look at this:
It's also enormous. For a restaurant that isn't known for its portions as much as its daring and sometimes complicated menu, this salad is almost worthy of a meal. The soy balsamic reduction is bright and tangy. The greens are super fresh. And they plate it with precision each time. Do yourself a favor, go eat this salad. (SF) Photo by Sam Logan.
BEST BIG salad
It's absolutely one of the great anomalies I can remember in my obsession about food and booze here in Champaign-Urbana. How in good heaven is the best BIG salad coming out of the kitchen at Joe's Brewery, which is known more for Jager bombs and one-night stands than for amazing meals made from vegetables, primarily?
The reason is because the owner of the joint, Doug Larson, actually really likes food, and expects for his kitchen to put out the type of stuff that he'd like to eat himself. As such, voila! You have great salads coming from Joe's. And they are BIG. Like super big. Like, Elaine Benes would be impressed:
(SF) Photo by Seth Fein.
BEST cupcake (without special ordering)
Anything from The Cake Artist’s Studio
I think most everyone knows I’m a huge fan of dessert, and have tried my fair share of sweet treats available at local eateries. My favorite way to get a sugar fix on the fly is to swing by The Cake Artist’s Studio and buy one or more cupcakes. They are always moist, and buttercream frosting is just sweet enough and perfectly creamy, and there are many flavor options from which to choose. I’m partial to the carrot cake and the brown sugar oat cake, but quite frankly, any will do. Delicious. (JH) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST thing to happen to pizza in, well, forever
Wood-fired 'za now available at Dragon Fire Pizza and soon enough, at Pizzeria Antica, and I guess we have to mention Brixx too, but everyone knows that place will suck
Years ago, I wrote a small series of columns about some of the things that were missing in town, regarding restaurants. It was called, "Won't Someone Do Me The Favor?" and it was basically me begging other people with more time and money and talent to open restaurants that appealed to me, but would appeal to others as well.
One of those was about wood-fired pizza. That we hadn't had it til last year is completely indicative of how shitty parts of our culinary scene is. But now that it's here, it's time to celebrate.
Dragon Fire Pizza has me impressed, but I will state that I really enjoy pizza two ways above all: delivered to my home while wearing no pants, or sitting down in a restaurant as a meal.
So this is why I have huge hopes for Pizzeria Antica, which is set to open soon in Downtown Champaign. Brixx? Meh. I shouldn't be so prejudice, but let's get real, it's probably going to suck. It's a chain. Most of those suck.
Anyhow, this is a super solid addition to the landscape here. (SF) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST new restaurant for vegans and vegetarians
Vegetarians like me (and vegans for that matter) usually don’t have too many options when ordering food at a restaurant. We have to narrow down our meal to either the veggie burger or portabella sandwich most of the time. Even long-time campus spot the, Red Herring, doesn’t have a consistent menu and isn’t open for dinner most days of the week. Dancing Dog has brought a pleasant indecisiveness to local veggie-eaters with its menu full of items like (fake) fish and chips, seitan chorizo tacos and even a seitan Reuben. That’s not to mention the vegan beers and wines (and mimosas!), juices and baked goods. Of course, the salads are great too, but that should be a given. It’s the array of unhealthy indulgences that’s earned DD a place in my heart. (MR) Photo by Maddie Rehayem.
BEST local collaborator
Since the publishing of last year’s BEST Food & Drink edition, Triptych has collaborated with or participated at the following local businesses/events:
- Prairie Fruits Farm Beer Dinner (June 2015)
- Champaign Urbana Craft Beer Pub Crawl (June 2015)
- Cheers to Charity (each month is a different organization)
- Champaign County CASA (April 2015)
- Bourbon, Beer & Bacon Festival (April 2015)
- Boneyard Arts Festival (April 2015)
- Great Harvest Bread Company (ongoing)
- Beer Dinner at Big Grove (April 2015)
- Arts & Eats in Sullivan (March 2015)
- Seven Saints special keg tapping (March 2015)
- Pecha Kucha (March 2015)
- Esquire Lounge special chit-chat and pouring (February 2015)
- Tap Takeover at Joe’s (January 2015)
- Oktoberfest (October 2014)
- Savoy Orchard Days (September 2014)
- Taste of C-U (August 2014)
- Biaggi’s Beer Dinner (August 2014)
You see what I’m saying? (JH) Photo by Jessica Hammie.
BEST social media presence by a restaurant
We don't even have to explain how Golden Harbor is the best any further. The restaurant is, without a doubt, one of the best places to eat food in Champaign-Urbana. It doesn't matter what type of food you're categorizing — it is ultimately one of the best spots you can visit in C-U.
OK, glad that's covered. Moving on.
The aspect of Golden Harbor that has truly shined over the past several months has been their ability to do great, great things on everyone's favorite social media platform: The Facebook. To sum it up: They are awesome.
- Thank you for saying we look wonderful tonight, Golden Harbor.
- Oh, so THAT'S a potato?
- I wish I could tell you who did this.
- All you have to do is remember that happiness is a choice, OK? So be happy.
The list goes on and on. Do yourself a favor and go check out a slew of their posts. Most of the time, social media can be super monotonous and lose our attention very quickly. It just is what it is nowadays since everyone has the platforms, and you're constantly bombarded with messages and promotions. We at SP live in that world as well, it is just a reality. Golden Harbor, however, shines. Needless to say, WE are feeling the love from Golden Harbor — and it was just a click away with the "like" button. You all are the BEST. Keep it up. (PS)
Contributors are Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Maddie Rehayem, and Patrick Singer.