November is coming in cold, which is rude. It’s still technically fall season, but it sure feels like winter already. This month, we need foods and drinks that will sustain us on freezing, cold days. Let’s have a hot sandwich with epic cheese pull. We should eat a gigantic plate of moo shu pork, go out for a cozy cocktail, and pop into a little sushi joint for a vegetarian roll. Oh, and for those hungry for Thanksgiving already, I also included a turkey and gravy dish with a side of mashed potaters in this November list.
Moo Shu Pork ︱ iWok
Feast your eyes on this plate. I ordered the moo shu pork ($12.75) at iWok, and it came with a hot platter of marinated pork, egg, sliced cabbage, and shredded carrot plus a plate of pancakes, sauce, and steamed white rice. Adding some smokiness, the pork’s char went really well with the wok-fried veggies. Tender crisp cabbage had a mild, oily taste, and those little egg morsels were awesome. Seasoned and fluffy, any bite of egg served a tiny bomb of deliciousness. Moo shu always contains egg; in Chinese, moo shu refers to osmanthus blossoms (small, yellow flowers) resembling the pieces of egg in the dish. The pancakes were a little stiff, but after a scoop of moo shu pork and cabbage, the wrapper softened almost like a handmade dumpling, and a little splat of that thick sauce took the pork pancakes to the next level.
The portion was huge; I shared it with someone and still had leftovers, lucky me. This dish is available everyday but Mondays when iWok is closed. The Chinese restaurant is located near Industrial Donut and El Rancho Grande II.
iWok Chinese Restaurant
113 Calvin St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Philly Steak Meal ︱ Niro’s Gyros
Of the two Niro’s Gyros in town, I ordered this delicious Philly steak meal ($9.66 with fries and a fountain soda) at the one on Springfield, which has been open since 1999. The guy behind the counter told me that the beef for this is slow-cooked for two hours. Sliced thin, Niro’s beef tasted so flavorful with chopped onions and green peppers. The yellow peppers, while unusual for a Philly cheesesteak, added a bright crunch and some sweetness. The roll was soft and spongy, and the fries were straight up amazing. Super crispy, they had a textured exterior that was golden brown.
Niro’s mayo, banana peppers, and chopped green bell peppers are not traditional elements of a Philly steak, which is just soft bread, beef, onions, and cheese, but we’re not in Philadelphia, so I’ll allow it because it was a very satisfying sub sandwich. For me, the mayo was a bit too pronounced (dare I say unnecessary) because the gush of tangy, hot mayo was a wild surprise under the cheese pull. Would I get that much mayo on this again? No, and you probably wouldn’t either (unless you’re one of those mayo freaks). I ordered it how the Philly steak comes, but it’s made to order, so customize away.
2001 W Springfield Ave
9 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily
Green Forest Roll ︱ Sakanaya
People seem to be really into trees this time of year, and this green forest roll ($13) was evocative of a forest. Very green and filled with avocado, cucumber, asparagus, lettuce, and a spinach-artichoke cream cheese, the roll was topped with oba leaves and spinach crunchies. The oba was brightly flavored like mint, a refreshing contrast to the rich cream cheese. I really loved all the textures of the green forest: little crunchies, sticky rice, leafy oba, creamy avocado, thick cream cheese, woody asparagus, and chewy nori. A total woodsy experience, the roll’s bitter asparagus and spinach harmonized with the sliced cucumber and oba, and mild avocado with cream cheese added a softer element to all the crunchy, grassy flavors.
With no raw (or cooked) fish, this roll is vegetarian and a yummy way to eat some greens. Find this roll on the menu at the Campustown sushi restaurant Sakanaya, open everyday but Mondays.
403 E Green St
T-Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 4 to 9:30 p.m.
Su 4 to 9:30 p.m.
Coffee Cocktail ︱ The Ribeye
Opened in 1979, The Ribeye is a Champaign institution. When I heard the restaurant had a menu of coffee cocktails, I stopped in for dinner. On Monday evening, I ordered the create-your-own coffee cocktail ($8), which came with Columbia Street coffee plus a choice of liqueur topped with whipped cream and a cherry. I chose Grand Marnier, and it was delicious. The coffee had a nice roasted flavor, and holding the glass cup kept my hands warm. With enough booze to taste, it was good spiked coffee, and the cloud of whipped cream and cherry on top were fun. Other options for what to spike the coffee cocktail with include: Godiva chocolate liqueur, Kahlúa, Baileys, or Frangelico.
The Neil Street steakhouse offers a variety of house cocktails including a Dreamiscle ice cream cocktail in addition to a dinner menu and salad bar. Look for my full review of The Ribeye restaurant publishing later this month.
1701 S Neil St
M-Th 4:30 to 9 p.m.
F 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sa noon to 9:30 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
Hot Turkey Sandwich ︱ Urbana Garden Family Restaurant
If you’re already hungry for Thanksgiving foods, then go for the hot turkey sandwich ($14.99) at Urbana Garden Family Restaurant. This was no normal sandwich. When I ordered it, I did not expect two slices of white bread under a heap of smoked turkey slices drowned in gravy with a side of mashed potatoes also drowned in gravy, served with a steak knife, but it was yummy. The poultry was juicy, and I liked the flavor, but as turkey is, it was pretty plain. Same with the white bread, so the sandwich — and I’m using the term as loosely as Urbana Garden — needed something, and that gravy was all over it. Sprinkled with parsley and well seasoned, the gravy was on absolutely everything, bringing the sandwich and potatoes together. The gravy soaked the bread, so it was wet and flavorful, low-key reminding me of Thanksgiving stuffing.
A fitting November side, Urbana Garden’s mashed potatoes were smooth and tasty. This whole meal was way too big for me to finish which tracks with November feasts. The family-friendly restaurant is located in Urbana just by Highway 74. Since I overheard customers asking the staff at checkout, don’t confuse Urbana Garden with Urbana’s Rainbow Garden which is closing for good this month. Urbana Garden is definitely open and will remain open for breakfast everyday, lunch seven days a week, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Urbana Garden Family Restaurant
810 W Killarney St
M 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
T-Sa 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.