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Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: March 2024

Beef shawarma plate at Dubai Grill.
Beef shawarma plate at Dubai Grill; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

The month of March always throws me for a loop. Spring break is smack-dab in the middle of March, and then there’s that stupid spring-forward daylight savings time adjustment, and then wow, the holidays; it’s just too much. From personal experience, I know that chaotic schedules can lead to stress eating. Since stress can happen any time of day, this March list has you covered with comfort foods from breakfast bites to dinner indulgence.

This month, try a delicious chocolate doughnut, a decadent French onion soup, a Middle Eastern lunch, a hot pink margarita, and a crazy good appetizer of hand-cut fries.

A ceramic bowl of French onion soup at The Bread Company.
French onion soup at The Bread Company; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

French Onion Soup ︱ The Bread Company

This is no weak French onion soup, dear reader. Available only on the bistro’s dinner menu, The Bread Company’s French onion soup ($7.50) had instant plate appeal and, thankfully, tasted totally delicious. The soup came topped with a hat of gooey yet simultaneously crisp cheese that smothered the broth and dripped down the sides of the bowl. Imagine taking a spoon and cracking through the crispy layer of cheese to the melty, globby layer in a from-scratch broth filled with soft onions and squares of soggy, soup-soaked housemade bread. With a satisfying, slow-cooked flavor, the onions tasted divine, but the cheese truly stole the show.

Offering more than just soup, the cosy Urbana spot also serves tasty goat cheese apps, lunch sandwiches, and a damn good cheesy breakfast sandwich.

The Bread Company
706 S Goodwin Ave
M 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. + 11:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
T-F 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. + 11:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. + 5 to 8 p.m.
Sa 4 to 8 p.m.

A chocolate frosted doughnut on a white plate on a white table.
Chocolate frosted doughnut by Carmella’s Creme; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Chocolate-Iced Glazed Doughnut ︱ Carmella’s Crème

Champaign-Urbana is blessed with many a doughnut shop that sling delicious doughnuts, but when I’m craving a chocolate doughnut, the only one that can scratch that itch is Carmella’s Creme chocolate-iced glazed doughnut ($1.50, cash only). The doughnut was unapologetically sugar overload: a sweet yeast doughnut completely glazed on all sides — including the bottom — with a sugary shell, plus a thick layer of rich chocolate icing. On the Saturday morning that I went, the guy working told me that what makes these chocolate doughnuts so special is that these doughnuts do not get frosted with a knife or tool; Carmella’s takes their glazed doughnuts upside down and dips them in fudgy chocolate. Probably not everyday should start this sweet, but when a chocolate craving hits this March, go for this chocolate-iced glazed doughnut at Carmella’s Crème.

Carmella’s Crème
1611 W Springfield Ave
6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., daily

Hibiscus margarita at Collective Pour in Champaign, Illinois.
Hibiscus margarita at Collective Pour; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Hibiscus Margarita ︱ Collective Pour

This hot pink drink feels like a spring break sip whether or not travel is on the schedule this March. At Collective Pour in Downtown Champaign, I ordered this pretty hibiscus margarita ($9.50). An off-menu twist for the bar’s margarita, this marg was made with housemade hibiscus syrup, blanco tequila, lime juice, and triple sec. Well balanced, the drink sipped fruity and sweet with a hint of tequila booziness. I loved both the bright color and the delicious fresh taste. I don’t know many places with a hibiscus drink, and I love an off-menu item, so this marg checks a lot of boxes and has become my current go-to at Collective Pour. If March margaritas lead to snack cravings, Smith Burger Co serves burgers and bar food (including their awesome onion rings) inside the bar most days.

Collective Pour
340 N Neil St
M 3 to 10 p.m.
T-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Su 1 to 9 p.m.

Beef shawarma plate at Dubai Grill in Urbana, Illinois.
Beef shawarma plate at Dubai Grill; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Beef Shawarma ︱ Dubai Grill

On the University of Illinois campus, Dubai Grill serves fresh, customizable Middle Eastern cuisine. One weekday, I met up with a friend for lunch and ordered this beef shawarma bowl ($14.99). Made to order as I ordered, there was a choice for everything: which rice, which sauce, and three of the 12 toppings options. For my beef shawarma, I chose not-spicy rice, garlic sauce, sumac onions, Arabic salad, and hummus.

Everything on the plate hit. The beef’s spices were delicious, and that garlic sauce was pretty much too good to be true. The tasty rice was an enormous portion that I couldn’t finish. But the toppings — which were not topping anything and instead served on the side — I did finish. Those small scoops of from-scratch yummies took the shawarma beef and rice to another level. The delicately thin onions had a perfect amount of lemon and sumac; the diced cucumber and tomato were speckled with fresh parsley, and the hummus was super smooth. I like a few other things about Dubai Grill: their Turkish coffee on a golden platter, the strong wifi, and the fact that the place opens at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast but still will make these savory build-your-own plates for customers in the morning no matter the time.

Dubai Grill
701 S Gregory Ave
M-F 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bone marrow fries appetizer at The Space restaurant in Champaign, Illinois.
Bone marrow fries at The Space restaurant; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Bone Marrow Fries The Space

The Weird Meat Boyz Downtown Champaign restaurant The Space dropped a new permanent menu with a solid app lineup. On a weekend evening, I ordered the bone marrow fries ($15) and about lost my mind with how good this appetizer tasted. Cooked on the griddle in the open kitchen, so everyone in the restaurant could smell it, the roasted bone marrow was absolutely incredible: gelatinous and so unctuous over top a ridiculous amount of fries. The chimichurri dollop and sprinkle of house-pickled red onions gave a bit of acidity to the fatty marrow, and those fries were there to support — and support they did. Hand-cut, the hot fries tasted amazing when dragged down the bone, like the most decadent dip, adding globs of rich, beefy deliciousness to the salty potato sticks.

After all the marrow was eaten, it only made sense to enjoy a bone luge. Because the eccentric establishment has Chicago’s infamous and iconic Malört on tap, that’s what I ordered for my bone luge shot. The Malört burned (of-fucking-course) and stole delicious, beefy, unctuous flavor from the bone on its way down, commanding the bitter liquor to taste better than usual and making for a marvelous finale.

The Space
1 E Main St
M-W 4 to 9 p.m.
Th-Sa 4 to 10 p.m.

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