Tomorrow is the first day of fall. I seriously love the fall season, and I know I’m not alone on this because just yesterday, I overheard two people yacking about how they love fall, too. Seriously, what’s not to like about the temperate interlude between hella hot summer and polar vortex season? Bless that hoodie season, amen.
My fickle heart changes with the seasons, and so, with the arrival of fall, I’m done with summer foods. Give me everything autumnal. I want chili, I want cinnamon spice, I want apple pie, and I want pumpkins in as many foods and drinks as possible! If you, too, are ready for autumn’s flavors, here are six eats and drinks for fall in Champaign-Urbana.
Brisket Chili ︱ Black Dog Smoke & Ale
Chili is a fall staple, and there’s few things more satisfying than a bowl of chili on a brisk fall day. Served with three corn chips and a squiggle of chipotle sour cream, Black Dog’s chili ($3.50 for appetizer cup) was an awesome spicy Texas-style chili. Who better to make a meaty chili than a barbecue restaurant? Packed with big brisket bites in almost every spoonful, the thick chili had no beans — and needed no beans. Black Dog’s brisket was so tender, and the barbecue beef tasted delicious with the chili’s rich concentrated tomato flavor. I loved the spicy kick, which was surprising but so yummy. The chipotle sour cream was nice, playing into the peppery and garlicky notes of chili while the creaminess balanced some heat.
Those house-fried corn chips were super crispy with a tasty barbecue seasoning, and they tasted awesome with the chili. This isn’t the only way to eat chili at Black Dog; the restaurant also offers chili mac, chili cheese fries, and Frito pie.
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.
Pumpkin Nut Roll ︱ Central Illinois Bakehouse
I was already a fan of CI Bakehouse’s maple bacon cinnamon rolls, but this pumpkin nut roll ($4.95) was an instant fall favorite for me. Instead of a bacon-maple twist, this was the Champaign bakery’s fall take on the giant flaky cinnamon roll. The classic cream cheese frosting had some pumpkin pie spice, and the cinna filling had chopped walnuts. Overall, the pumpkin flavor was subtle, not overwhelming like wham-in-your-face pumpkin flavor, but distinguishable for sure. The nuts in this roll (that I bought at the farmers’ market) were crunchy and added a delicious nuttiness.
The roll wasn’t overly sweet. I mean, of course, it was sweet, but the airy layers of the cinnamon roll tasted bready — and since the frosting didn’t cover the roll entirely, this had a lovely balance of fall sweetness and fresh bread. Buy one at C-U outdoor farmers’ markets (which only run through next month) or at Pekara Bistro at the corner of Springfield and Prospect.
Dirty Cinnamon Chai ︱ Espresso Royale
This medium iced dirty cinnamon chai ($5.30) to-go was a sweet sip of fall. Cinnamon flavor dominated the drink in the best autumnal way, and though it was sweeter than I expected — almost like a dessert drink — it was delicious. The earthiness of the chai naturally went really well with cinnamon spice. Unlike a dirty martini, a dirty chai doesn’t have olive brine; dirty here means the barista added a shot of espresso. I enjoyed the dirty chai’s punch of coffee, giving a bit of bitter to the sweet cinnamon and milky tea.
I’m the kind of person who loves to drink cold brew coffee no matter the weather, even in the winter, so I love an iced coffee drink in the fall, but if you hate the idea of an iced coffee in autumn, just order yours hot. The drink is customizable, so feel free to get the cinnamon-chai in the temp you prefer, with or without the shot of espresso.
Espresso Royale – Village Green at The Crossing
2401 Village Green Pl
7 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily
Pumpkin Spice Latte ︱ Just Yolkin’
I would never write a fall list without the iconic fall staple of the pumpkin spice latte (PSL). This year’s PSL is from a restaurant and not a coffee shop. The breakfast joint Just Yolkin‘s pumpkin spice latte ($8) was served at the ideal temperature: not too scalding and not too cooled off; immediately sippable. The thick layer of whipped cream had a dusting of cinnamon spice plus a sprinkle of big sugar crystals. The crunches of sugar made it taste a little like crème brûlée. A sip of the latte started sweet with whipped cream, then coffee flavor for a moment, and then punctuated by pumpkin spice. The thick mouthfeel, big pumpkin flavor, and whip on top made it taste kind of like drinking a slice of pumpkin pie. It’d be good with the restaurant’s brunch.
2501 Village Green Place
7 a.m. to 2 p.m., daily
Apple Turnover and Cinnamon Doughnut ︱ Rick’s Bakery
Just in time for fall, this apple turnover ($3) from Rick’s Bakery in Urbana was life-changingly good. I tried to eat nibbles and savor it, but I truly couldn’t; this apple turnover was too addicting that I couldn’t stop myself. I loved the flaky crumbles and super buttery pastry. Not folded all the way over, the golden turned-over dough peeped glossy apple slices between the layers. Freshly baked and still gooey, the syrup-y filling hadn’t even fully set yet, so the glaze clung to the apples and crust like the filling of an apple pie. Cut thick, the sweet apple slices had a soft crunch and no over-the-top seasoning, no flecks cinnamon. An ode to both apples and damn good pastry, this turnover is one of my favorite desserts in C-U.
This cinnamon sugar doughnut ($1.50) was delicious, too. Coated in cinnamon sugar, the doughnut was fresh and fluffy. The gritty sugar coating wasn’t too sweet, only enough to sweeten the airy doughnut’s yeast flavor. It’s simple but amazing. In fact, my son loves Rick’s doughnuts so much that when we’re driving around town, he’ll ask if Rick’s Bakery is on the way home — just for Rick’s doughnuts.
Rick’s Bakery and Café
124 W Main Street
T-Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pumpkin Curry ︱ Sticky Rice
For me, pumpkins are the biggest indicator that it’s fall; there’s no pumpkins out in April, and they all gone by Christmas. For pumpkin in all its gourd-glory, try the pumpkin curry by Sticky Rice ($15.50). It’s a delicious bowl of pumpkin and noodles. Made with any protein (I chose chicken), the curry has long rice noodles with bean sprouts in a sweet yellow curry topped with Villa Grove pumpkin. The broth comes mild but can be ordered spicy; I asked for mine medium.
Sticky Rice’s pumpkin curry uses pumpkins grown just down the road at the restaurant’s Green G Farm. The chopped pumpkin had a delicious natural sweetness that went wonderfully with the creamy coconut broth, and both elements harmonized with the heat. The medium spiciness brought it: my scalp tingled, my nose ran, and yet only I wanted more of that peppery, hot coconut broth. The cuts of chicken absorbed the flavors of the super spicy curry, and the raw sprouts added a good crunch. Is this curry a good excuse to eat some Sticky Rice egg rolls, too? Hell yeah. I love the food at the Downtown Champaign restaurant, and the Lao-Thai cuisine is great for takeout, too.
415 N Neil St.
M 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
For more fall food and drinks in C-U, read my lists from years past:
2022: Cafe & Co PSL, Hamilton Walker’s sherpa, Original Pancake House pumpkin pancakes by Original Pancake House, spiced molasses cookies by Six Red Chairs Bakery, and apples
2021: Aroma Cafe (R.I.P.)’s PSL, Blind Pig’s Curtis Orchard hard cider, Britt’s apple pie, pumpkin spicebush cake by Berries & Flour, and Suzu Bakery’s kabocha pan
2020: Art Mart’s pumpkin cookie, Caffe Paradiso’s PSL, Curtis Orchard apple fritters, pumpkin pie snowstorm from Jarling’s, and Harvest Market’s pumpkin cream cheese bars