Smile Politely

Farren’s serves towering burgers and great sandwiches

A close up of the fire burger by Farren's Pub in Downtown Champaign.
Caitlin Aylmer

One of the first restaurant recommendations I received when I moved to Champaign was Farren’s. 

“You have to try their black bean burger, even I like it!” extolled my vehemently non-vegetarian mother-in-law. That was all the information I needed to pique my curiosity, and now, after devoting nearly a decade gathering data on the subject, I am fully prepared to say she is absolutely right.

Farren’s is a beacon of classic comforting food with generously sized portions of golden-fried appetizers, towering burgers and sandwiches, and salads with enough toppings that you might mistake the lettuce for garnish. The friendly, relaxed service makes it an ideal choice for everything from family dinners to informal date nights to catching up with friends. 

Caitlin Aylmer

Once inside, there are two seating areas; one directly ahead near the bar, and another through a doorway to the right. The seating by the bar has a few tables that are sized well for drinks and an appetizer, but end up quite cramped if you end up ordering food as well. Personally, I prefer the seating to the right, especially with kids, as the tables are a bit larger and can accommodate the table settings a bit better.

We didn’t need long to decide on our orders: fire-roasted corn and cheese nuggets, fried pickles, buffalo wings, chicken tenders kid’s meal, the fire burger, and a mother clucker sandwich plus a vat of diet Pepsi and the largest unsweetened iced tea I have ever seen.

Even though we were there on a busy Friday night, everything was well timed. We were able to place our orders quickly, our drinks and appetizers were brought over promptly, and we had just enough time to eat those before our mains were brought to the table. Before I get into our orders, a quick note about the fries: they are no longer made in house. This discovery was quite disappointing to some members of our party. I’ll admit, the old style was good when dining in-person, like order-a-side-of-fries-for-the-fries kind of good, but they did not travel well. The new style is more crisp and I think carryout orders will see the biggest benefit of the change. 

Still made in-house are their spectacular dressings. Farren’s made me completely reevaluate my relationship with ranch and see its potential to actually taste good. I had to, more than once, remind my daughter that while the condiment cups do kind of look like little drinking cups, sipping ranch is not traditionally how it’s consumed. 

Caitlin Aylmer

First to the table with their crunchy cornmeal coating, tangy pickle, and creamy ranch, the fried pickle sticks ($9.00) made for an enticing appetizer that checks a lot of comfort-food craving boxes. Needless to say, they were not on the table for long. The coating-to-pickle ratio is much better with stick shapes, as opposed to chips, and I’m glad to see Farren’s recognizes this fact.  

Fried pickles are also my daughter’s favorite and unsure of the restraint I would have, I also ordered the fire roasted corn and cheese nuggets ($9.00) to distract myself from the pickles I was not eating.

Caitlin Aylmer

The plump cornmeal fritters were packed with sweet corn and served with a chipotle ranch, which provides a good, smokey, kick.  

Caitlin Aylmer

The fire burger (double, $22.00) is my husband’s standby; he really only looks at the menu to confirm it is still there. As a two-portion kind of man, it’s not often he calls a burger filling, but Farren’s accomplishes that. The high-quality beef from Old Time Meat & Deli made a superior foundation which was tastefully appointed with condiments.

Caitlin Aylmer

Add to this burger the buffalo wings (8 for $14.00), and he’s in spice heaven. The wings were quite plump, and he was impressed with the overall quality of the meat. 

Caitlin Aylmer

We tried the mother clucker ($15 with fries) with a mock chicken patty (vegetarian, not vegan) made of mycoprotein (Quorn), which had a distinct but pleasant texture. It paired exceptionally well with the other components of the mother clucker: melted Swiss, sautéed mushrooms, and an outstanding funky blue cheese sauce. Truly, I’m not sure who the saucier is at Farrens, but I adore them. The slightly sweet, super soft, almost brioche style bun, was a great.

Caitlin Aylmer

Served on a cute quarter baking sheet lined with red-checker paper, the chicken strip children’s meal consisted of two fried chicken strips, a full side of fries, and a drink for $6.50.

While we didn’t order it on this trip, Farren’s does have arguably the best black bean burger in Champaign. It’s flavorful and has a little kick to it, delicious in any of the burger combos, and absolutely perfect in the tacos. For a lot of restaurants, they seem to try to make black bean burgers mimic hamburger as close as possible, and I’m not convinced that’s the right move. Rather, I much prefer Farren’s decision to simply make a great black bean burger.

Caitlin Aylmer

Added bonus: if you come across some formal wear during your spring cleaning that no longer sparks joy, Farren’s can help with that! For the second year in a row, Farren’s will be assisting Twisted Sisters in collecting prom attire to distribute a pop-up shop in Downtown Champaign at the beginning of April. The formal wear will be available to high schoolers for free, removing some of the highest financial barriers to the quintessential American high school experience: prom.

117 N Walnut St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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