By this point in the pandemic, we’ve all become accustomed to the ever-changing mitigations in Illinois. Currently in Tier 3, we are once again not allowed to dine indoors, which has forced the majority of restaurants to up their take-out and delivery game. Black Dog Smoke and Ale House in Champaign is no exception.
The original Black Dog location in Urbana (temporarily closed due to COVID) holds a special place in my heart due to the fact it was the first restaurant my husband and I visited 10 years ago when we moved to C-U with our then one-year old daughter. I distinctly recall her shoveling mac and cheese into her mouth by the fistful with those chubby, little hands. We are all rooting for the restaurant biz these days, so more rosy-cheeked babies can experience some locally made cuisine.
I had not dined at Black Dog since before the pandemic, so I was really excited to down some awesome BBQ. If you’re anything like me — and I hate to admit this as a self-proclaimed extrovert — but if I could do absolutely everything online and never speak to another human again regarding goods and services, you can bet I would. Thank you, Black Dog, for helping me avoid an awkward phone call. I was very impressed with the ease of online ordering. I chose my pickup time, ordered and paid, was texted a detailed receipt, arrived at my chosen time, and parked in one of the many designated curbside spots. I texted the phone number on the sign, gave them my name and space number, and received a text back informing me they would see me soon with my food. Shortly, a masked employee brought my food and drinks to the car window, and I was on my merry way home to feed the fam.
Black Dog now has those adorable greenhouses that are popping up all over, as well as delivery directly from the restaurant and not through a third party service.
We all know how much this pandemic has sucked, but I am high five-ing a million angels over the development of alcoholic beverages to go. Not all cocktails travel very well. I live in Mahomet and often come home to melted, watered-down drinks. In this case, my sweet nectar of the gods arrived home ice cold and full of flavor. Lids were taped down, and I was given a handy drink holder for maximum safety in booze transport.
My husband chose the Michigan Rye Manhattan ($7) which is described as: Mammoth Wooly rye or Journeyman Last Feather rye with Bravo Jammy sweet vermouth and bitters, served on the rocks. I am married to a very picky man when it comes to his whiskey, and he had nothing but great things to say about this cocktail. Spicy, peppery, and garnished with cherries, he was very happy with his pre-dinner drink.
I chose to imbibe in Lola’s Pink Lemonade ($6) which is described as: Deep Eddy lemon vodka, cranberry-ginger syrup, topped with Sierra Mist and garnished with a lemon. Sweet but tart with just the right amount of kick from the vodka, I was able to imagine myself sitting under an umbrella at Black Dog sipping cocktails with friends as though the pandemic doesn’t exist. Dear God, COVID, please let me live out this fantasy soon.
Once I was feeling properly lubricated, it was time to dive into the food. Black Dog has a pretty extensive menu, so it was difficult to decide what we wanted when ordering.
We started with the smoked chicken wings (six for $5.95) tossed in Milo’s mustard sauce with a side of celery and blue cheese. A great online ordering feature is Black Dog allows you the option to have your wings tossed in sauce, sauce on the side, or no sauce at all. The wings also came neatly wrapped in paper, so they weren’t just rolling around in a Styrofoam container. These wings are phenominal. Smoky with just a little bit of a zing, these wings were hard to share with my husband.
After a fight to the death over chicken, it was time for entrees. We dined on a Friday night which meant the Texas Rib special. The platter ($15.95) came with two sides and BBQ sauce. The ribs were wrapped in plastic and literally falling off the bone as my husband opened this delightful, meaty package. The ribs were heavily spiced, smoky, and perfectly cooked. He chose medium Carolina red and hot Georgia peach sauces for dipping.
Pit beans and twice-baked potato casserole rounded out his entrée. The beans, which also contain meat, were just a bit too smoky for my taste, but that first bite of potato casserole actually made me moan in a pretty disgusting manner. They were hot and cheesy with a nice crust, and it traveled really well.
Admittedly, I’m one of those annoyingly consistent people when it comes to ordering at a BBQ joint. I always have to get the pulled pork sandwich. I love a buttery bun, tons of meat, and a sweet but tangy sauce. This pork shoulder sandwich ($8.95) gave me all of that and more. I chose the mild Georgia peach BBQ sauce which was perfect for a delicate flower like myself who doesn’t enjoy too much spice. The sandwich came with a sweet and vinegary coleslaw which was a great accompaniment to the hot sandwich.
I also ordered a corn muffin ($1.95) as an additional side. The moist muffin contained cheese, pulled pork, and green chilies. I was regretting not ordering the brisket chili for some serious dunking purposes. And because, why the hell not, sweet potato salad and fries ($1.95 each) are always an excellent addition to a BBQ meal, am I right? The sweet potato salad was cold, flavorful, and packed with red onion and black beans which was a surprising addition. The fries were salty and the perfect thickness for drowning in Georgia peach sauce.
Of the many establishments I have received takeout from since March, I have to say Black Dog is hands down the easiest and most impressive thus far. The effortless online ordering system, the ability to customize dishes, a quick link to Apple Pay at check out, carefully packaged entrees, and the efficient curbside delivery process make Black Dog a dream for those of us trying to support our local restaurants. The kick ass food doesn’t hurt either. I am looking forward to seeing you all out and about in C-U very soon for a long indulgent meal full of laughs, good food, and a whole lot of drinks.
Black Dog Smoke & Ale House
320 N Chesnut
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.