Fluid Events’ Blues, Brews & BBQ is happening this weekend. This will be the event’s third year in Downtown Champaign (it was previously held in Urbana), and it’s a good fit for it. This event feels more urban than other summer food events in C-U. There’s something quite lovely about wandering among (sort-of) tall buildings and weaving your way through a crowd. I suppose if you’re not into city living, you don’t find this as enjoyable as I do. Nevertheless, BBBBQ is a perfect way to get the family outside, enjoy some forecasted sunshine, and some live music.
If you’re into the blues, or into eating and drinking outdoors with strangers, this is your event. You’ll probably spend $20 to $30 per person, depending on how much beer you’re putting away. If you’ve got some kids in tow, consider heading out on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. There will be a kids’ stage and a play area (Washington/north side of the event area) and Friday night will not only be robust because of Friday Night Live, but also because of the line up on the FE Moran + ABC News Channel 15 Kids and Family Stage. Kids can get their faces painted, get temporarily tattooed, jump on some inflatable rides (here’s to hoping it’s not a windy day), and take photos with Louie the Alligator. The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum will be around doing some stuff, too.
Admission is free, but tickets ($1 each) are required for food and drinks. If you’re interested in drinking, you can purchase a twenty-ounce BBBBQ mug for $5, and fill it all weekend for the price of a fourteen-ounce beer. Prices for drinks last year were 4 and 5 tickets, and I’d expect the same for this year. It seems like the brews aspect of the event has been beefed up. You’ll definitely be able to find Miller Lite (event sponsor). Last year there was also a choice of Coors Light, Blue Moon, a couple of ciders, Long Island iced teas, and margaritas. This year there will be one trailer of craft beer; it will have some JT Walker’s on tap (Hale to the Chief IPA, Bulldog Brown Ale, 9 Gals Ginger Saison, Lake of the Woods Wit). Other craft beer includes Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Woodchuck Amber, Sam Adams Summer, and Bells Oberon. There will even be timed releases of Daniel T Porter, Jupiters IO, and Chester’s BBQ Ale (all by JT Walker’s), as well as Dogfish Head Palo Santo, Dogfish Head Midas Touch, New Belgium Lips of Faith Gruit, and Bells Berry Ale. Non-alcoholic drinks that will be available include Pepsi products (sponsor), and lemonade from The Lemonade Stand.
It seems as though there are a few more local food vendors/restaurants participating this year, and in addition to the usual BBQ suspects, you’ll also be able to grab some grub from Billy Barooz and KoFusion. Food prices will range from one to ten tickets (one to ten dollars), and most items will be sold a la carte. This is not the sort of event in which you can easily taste a bunch of food; the prices are too high, and the portions are too big, unless you’re sharing.
Wedge Bar will again have some specials for those of you who may need a break from crowds and children. You can snack on chips and salsa for only $2, and pound back (or sip) lime margaritas for $5. If Wedge is still too close, walk an extra block to two to check out Seven Saints, Esquire, Radio Maria, or Guido’s.
Below you’ll find a list of some of the local(ish) food vendors, with the pricing and menu information that was available at time of publishing. While we aim to be as accurate as possible, this information is subject to change.
Billy Barooz (Champaign)
BBBBQ newcomer Billy Barooz is an interesting and welcome addition to the usual mix. A locally owned and operated joint, Billy Barooz generally serves up accessible bar food (think burgers, quesadillas, mozzarella sticks, and other sammies).
Rajun Cajun Cookun’
This traveling catering truck hails from Louisiana. Why include some seemingly random carnie food truck?I’m not sure, but I’m glad it’s making an appearance. Last year’s food was impressive (considering the circumstances). It’s a little pricey, but worth it if you’re hungry.
Piato Café (Urbana)
Piato is a regular at local food events; it’s the only food vendor to have a shelf with examples of what you can order. You’ll certainly be able to get pulled pork BBQ nachos. There may also be some sandwiches.
Lord and Lacy-Kansas City Style BBQ (Champaign)
Lord and Lacy is a Champaign-based catering company. They often set up in the parking lot of Danville Gardens Too on Prospect. The rib tips last year were incredible, but all of the food writers agreed that the pulled pork sandwich left something to be desired. You can expect Lord and Lacy to have the full BBQ setup, smoker and all. If you can only eat at one place, I’d suggest you take the risk on Lord and Lacy. Just avoid the pulled pork.
Smoky’s House BBQ (Charleston)
This Charleston establishment (with a location in Savoy) will offer a la carte items, including nachos, smoked turkey, pulled pork, and ribs. Last year’s ribs looked good, but lacked some complexity in flavor. I’ve since had some food from the Savoy location. Food from Smoky’s will be adequate enough, and might even surprise us by being better than expected.
Hickory River Smokehouse (chain)
Some say that Hickory River has the best brisket in town. I’d suggest you take the time to properly enjoy the food in the restaurant, not at this festival.
Photo by Dion Broughton
Po’ Boys (Urbana)
Po’ Boys was at the event last year, too. This weekend they will have pulled pork sandwiches and polish sausages (5 tickets), a ½ pound of rib tips (also 5 tickets), and French fries with or without cheese sauce (5 tickets for a basket, 2 tickets for a side); BBQ sauce is included in these prices (as if you’d actually pay extra at an event like this).
King Biscuit BBQ (Bloomington)
King Biscuit had a brick and mortar restaurant in Bloomington some time ago. I first (and last) had it at last year’s BBBBQ event, and was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of the beef. The BBQ sauce, on the other hand, was not delicious. I’m confident that the meat you order will be flavorful—just ask for the sauce on the side.
Mamma D’s Smokehouse Restaurant and Catering (Weldon)
Mamma D’s makes the rounds to the festivals and Urbana’s Market at the Square. I’ve not been impressed by the food, but am intrigued by the Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings with Ice Cream or Whipped Cream (3 tickets). Prices are pretty low: pulled pork and brisket sliders (2 tickets), pulled pork and brisket sandwiches (6 tickets), and one scoop of gourmet mac and cheese (2 tickets).
Holy Smoke Barbeque (Champaign)
Honestly, this place always disappoints. Check out last year’s review.
Chester’s BBQ (Champaign)
Solid performance last year, and consistently good food throughout the rest of the year. The truck makes it way around these summertime festivals, so if you haven’t caught up with Chester’s by now, you should. Or you can stop by after drinking at the Tumble Inn. Expect to find pulled pork, pulled pork nachos, and polish sausages.
Wayne’s Kettle Korn (Champaign)
A Market at the Square regular, Wayne’s Kettle Korn is pretty straightforward in terms of food options. If the BBQ gets too hot, stop by Wayne’s for some sweet popped corn. Based on past events, I’m guessing that bags will range in price from three tickets to seven tickets.
BUD’S BBQ (Danville)
I had Bud’s BBQ for the first time at the Homer Soda Festival; the line was outrageously long, but for good reason. I have a feeling Bud’s is going to steal the show, and with a ton of options including ribs, polishes, sausages, pulled pork, and giant turkey legs, you’ll see why. Prices range from $2 (two tickets) for small sides like fries and corn, and up to $8 and $10 for larger meat entrées. The food was finger lickin’ good a few weeks ago, and I expect much of the same.
Empanada House (Champaign)
If you’ve been to any food festival in C-U in the last few years, you’ve seen the green Empanadas House truck. Another Market at the Square regular, The Empanadas House serves a variety of sweet and savory empanadas. I’d stick to the savory options. Don’t be deceived by these handheld snacks — they are just at messy as the BBQ.
If you’re seeking a departure from smoked meats, KoFusion is your spot. When I called to find out about the menu and pricing, they said they had no idea.
Blues, Brews & BBQ takes place in Downtown Champaign, 4:30 p.m to midnight, Friday, June 27, and noon to midnight, Saturday, June 28.
Top photo by Dion Broughton, Louie photo from Facebook, all other photos by author unless noted.