Smile Politely

Diving into C-U’s desserts

Readers, I’m proud of you. No, seriously, I am. I see you out here on my Instagram feed with your juice cleanses, your Whole30®, your meal preps, your gym selfies and your fitness hashtags. For real, I enjoy a transformation Tuesday and a new year, new me. But over here in my house? New year, same me, okay? I’ve stormed into 2020 like the Kool-Aid man. I refuse to stray from the eat, drink and be merry attitude I’ve been carrying around for the last couple decades or so. I’m going to continue to eat pizza and watch Bravo in my bed like the Lord Jesus intended.

So in the spirit of absolutely no change whatsoever, I bring you some of my favorite desserts around C-U. These are just a few fun and unique items that I enjoy and want to share with you. I’m curious to hear what yours are, so let me know what I should try next.

Buttermilk pie with berries on top at Lucky Moon Pies. A slice of yellow pie sits on a white paper doilie on a square, white plate. There is a small plastic condiment bowl with extra berries on the side. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Buttermilk Pie with Berries | Lucky Moon Pies and More

Mahomet locals, you already know about Lucky Moon. Lucky Moon is truly a hidden gem in Champaign County. My friends know I will be there at least once a week to bask in their delicious savory and sweet items. I asked the owners, Emily and Fred Kroner, which dessert they consider to be a standout, and they said the buttermilk pie ($4 per slice). I’m not going to lie. I was skeptical. Buttermilk pie with berries? Sounds way too healthy. Then I cracked open the little brown box. The thin, flaky crust, the light, airy filling, and the sweet, yet sour, combination of macerated berries meld together into the ridiculously perfect bite. You guys, I could write an entire book about Emily Kroner’s pie crust. Please don’t be afraid of driving to Mahomet. You will not regret it. FYI, Lucky Moon is takeout only. The menu changes daily so follow on Facebook.

Lucky Moon Pies and More
401 E Oak St
T-F 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

At Nando Milano, small round chocolate cake sits in the middle of a long gray plate. There is chocolate ganache on top. On one side of the cake is a scoop of vanilla ice cream, on the other is whipped cream with a cherry on top and cherry juice dripping down the whipped cream. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Cuore Di Cioccolato | Nando Milano

What is it about cold vanilla melting on warm chocolate that makes me get all tingly? I’m sure this stems from a cookie skillet or brownie sundae I consumed as a child right after my chicken tendies and mac-n-cheese. There are but two food items in this world that bring me anticipatory joy such as this. One? A Doritos Locos Taco Supreme from Taco Bell. And two? The molten chocolate cake at Nando Milano ($12). I’m having a moment just thinking about it. You consume it with your eyes before anything else; it’s one of the more beautiful plates in Champaign. The smell of the chocolate hits your nose. You can feel the heat coming off the plate. Literally all of your senses are overwhelmed before you even consume one bite. And when you do, your life is forever changed. Once you dig your spoon into the warm cake, the perfect volcano of chocolate comes spilling out, melding perfectly with the cold vanilla gelato. This confection is truly a culinary experience.

Nando Milano
204 N Neil St
M-Th 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Su 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A tumbler glass is half filled with vanilla panna cotta at NAYA. Mascerated strawberries are piled on top and near the top of the glass. Behind the panna cotta is a glass of white wine. Both glasses sit on a light colored wood table. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Vanilla Panna Cotta | Naya

Now, I’m not normally a fan of fruity desserts. If I’m ordering dessert, it’s going to contain chocolate in some form. Chocolate is my one love. Yet here I am falling for all things tart and tangy. The dessert menu at Naya is definitely unique, and in a good way. My daughters chose a big bowl of spumoni to share, while I decided to go with the vanilla panna cotta with strawberries and aged balsamic ($9). I had no idea what to expect, honestly, but thought I’d step out of the traditional dessert box a bit. I’m so glad I did. The cool, creamy base with just the slightest hint of balsamic running through and the sweet strawberries on top was an amazingly delicious and light finish to a carb heavy meal. My 7-year-old daughter hasn’t eaten anything but Cheetos and chicken nuggets since she was about 18 months old and she fell in love with this dessert. Don’t be hesitant to try something different and new. You just might surprise yourself.

212 E Green St. Ste
M-Th 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F + Sa 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At Pekara, a folded crepe is served on a round, white plate with whipped cream along the open edge of the crepe. The crepe has golden brown spots and is dusted with powdered sugar. The plate sits on a worn, painted black table. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Nutella Crepe | Pekara

Oh, Nutella, I just can’t quit you no matter how hard I try. You’ve changed so many lives, improved the taste of just about everything, and now you’ve gone and rolled yourself into a thin, fluffy crepe. Is there anything you can’t do? Apparently not, because I had a Nutella crepe with bananas and walnuts at a recent Pekara visit that exceeded my expectations. Of course, everything at Pekara is delicious, but I had never thought about ordering dessert. Well, my friends, those days are over. My bestie and I went in for lunch and both agreed that the mix of warm Nutella with crunchy walnuts, cool bananas, melty whipped cream and powdered sugar dusting was the perfect ending to our meal on a freezing cold day.

116 N Neil St
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A piece of key lime pie at Sun Singer. A wedge of a yellow custard-based pie is served on a rectangular white plate. The pie is garnished with a slice of lime, whipped cream, and lime zest. The plate sits on a black table. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Key Lime Pie | Sun Singer

Current situation: Typing up this article while staring out the window at a very cold, dreary morning and a light snow falling. If you need a winter pick me up like I do, head to Sun Singer and have a slice of key lime pie ($7). As I mentioned earlier, I’m not normally a fan of fruity desserts. Thankfully, my friend convinced me that this little gem is a must try, and he was not wrong. The pie is presented in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the warm sun. I attribute it to the fresh lime shavings that adorn the plate. The filling is creamy, bright and just the right amount of tart. I really love that it is not too sweet. The graham cracker crust is buttery, flaky, and the perfect accent to the lime filling. Sun Singer, not only have you changed my mind about key lime pie, you improved my mood significantly during this yucky month.

Sun Singer
1115 W Windsor Rd
M-Th 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Bread pudding with salted caramel at Watson's is served in a white bowl. The bread pudding is light brown, and there is a scoop of vanilla gelato on top. The inside of the bowl and the bread pudding are drizzled with caramel. There is a cup of coffee on the table behind the bowl. Everything sits on a red table. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel and Vanilla Gelato | Watson’s Shack and Rail

I’m sorry, but y’all have been sleeping on Watson’s desserts. I realize patrons go in for the hush puppies, spicy gumbo, the Nashville Hot and the knock your socks off hand crafted cocktails. They fill their bellies to the brim of explosion only to be escorted into an Uber while they are blacked out on fried chicken and Kentucky slushes. But enough about me. My point is, the next time you’re at Watson’s, or just in Downtown Champaign looking for a sweet bite, save a little room for this magical nugget. Staying true to the Southern vibe of the restaurant, the newly released bread pudding with salted caramel and vanilla gelato ($10) is the hot menu item you’re not eating but need to make a part of your life. The edges are a little crisp while the inside is perfectly soft and warm without being mushy. It’s definitely sweet, which makes it good for sharing, but it is so light and fluffy it’s not overwhelming. Add that cold gelato melting on top of the hot bread pudding and you’ve got yourself a great mix of textures and flavors in one bite. Go crazy and get an Irish coffee on the side ($8). We all know Watson’s bartenders make some great cocktails.

Watson’s Shack and Rail
211 N Neil St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Top image of key lime pie at Sun Singer by Stephanie Wheatley.

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