Smile Politely

Five things to eat or drink this month: May 2024

A black tray with fries and five sauces (orange, light green, deep red, yellow-orange, and yellow).
Alyssa Buckley

May is the start to the good part of the year. The sun is setting later every day, and it’s warm again. I’m so over everything winter, the jackets and gloves and cozy foods. Now that it’s May, I’m hungry for fresh flavors. I want light bites, delicious dips, and tart sips.

This month, explore spring flavors of Champaign-Urbana: a refreshing appetizer, farmers’ market goodies, tacos on Green Street, a bright green cocktail, and hand-cut fries with every sauce on the menu.

Four rolls each with two pink shrimp in clear rice paper with a white cup of peanut sauce with crushed peanuts.
Spring rolls at 83 Vietnamese; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Spring Rolls ︱ 83 Vietnamese

Is there anything more spring than spring rolls? I think not, and so last week, I ordered 83 Vietnamese‘s spring rolls ($9). These rolls were amazing. Inside soft rice paper, there was blanched shrimp, sliced pork, rice noodles, fresh herbs, lettuce, and a little savory crispie snack. Cold but not freezing, I could tell the roll was freshly made. I loved the symphony of mild, refreshing flavors of the cool cucumber, chopped lettuce, fresh herbs, and totally delicious chilled shrimp. Roasted pork, soft noodles, and that delicate, airy crispy-crunch of the garnish added even more yummy complexity, yet nothing overwhelmed anything else.

And, my god, the sauce! 83’s peanut sauce was a house-brewed peanut dipping sauce made from scratch with whole peanuts — not peanut butter — topped with a heavy garnish of house-roasted crushed peanuts. So crazy delicious, the sauce had a dark nuttiness with natural sweetness from the peanuts. The flavorful sauce was thin and drippy, so it easily clung to the clear wrapper and fillings, coating every bite with a salty, peanut-y layer.

83 Vietnamese
2502 Village Green Pl
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A black tray with fries and five sauces (orange, light green, deep red, yellow-orange, and yellow).
Fries at Baldarotta’s; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Fries with All the Sauces ︱ Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage

The other day, while eating the Urbana sandwich shop‘s namesake porketta sandwich, I ordered a side of fries ($3.50), which came with one sauce included. Because I was splitting these with someone and we couldn’t decide on one sauce, we picked every sauce on the menu (varying from 50 cents to 75 cents each). Baldarotta’s hand-cut fries had a light sprinkle of a simple house seasoning blend and a generous salting, making the potato sticks a fine vehicle for five dippy dips.

Starting with the top left (and top-tasting I think), the Calabrian remoulade was insane! Well balanced, it was tangy, creamy, and absolutely packed with Italian spices. Usually included on the pesto sandwiches, the pesto mayo was excellent, and I loved the herby dressing with hot fries. Baldarotta’s ketchup was an Italian side sauce packed with a strong roasted red pepper flavor and much more savory than sweet-tangy bottled ketchup. This dijonaise was solid, and the fifth sauce, the giardiniera remoulade, was not part of the menu, but they had it from a sandwich special, so we ordered that, too — and good thing because the giardiniera remoulade was also delicious. From the Italian beef to the cannoli, everything at Baldarotta’s is made in-house, so the food is quality. That includes even the side of fries and ketchup.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
300 S Broadway Ave
T-F 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.

A brown woven basket of broccoli, peats, baked goods, kombucha, feta, and tomatoes.
Alyssa Buckley

A Basket of Goodies ︱ Farmers Market

2024’s May farmers’ market watch publishes tomorrow ahead of Saturday’s Urbana’s Market at the Square opening day, but the TLDR is: get to the markets. Bring a basket (or a reusable bag) and walk around from small business to small business shopping for whatever looks delicious. At the Urbana market, I’m drawn to cheese, pastries, fresh greens, and kombucha. The cheese table by Prairie Fruits Farm‘s table is a must. They’ve always got fresh cheeses like the ones that are nationally award-winning. My favorite is the mixed milk feta in whey brine. Also, I love to see what yummy produce Ben & Molly’s Farm has brought to the market, too, and what the Lincoln Square kombucha bar Cloud Mountain‘s been brewing.

At the Tuesday market in Downtown Champaign, I go for a mid-week fridge restock, picking veggies for dinner and perhaps bread to go with. I love to stop by Sola Gratia Farm because they have a large variety of Urbana-grown produce including exceptionally flavorful garlic. Ending a Tuesday market stroll with Central Illinois Bakehouse is a must for me because they’ve got everything at their stand: croughnuts for breakfast, sliced sandwich loaves for lunch, baguettes with dinner, and cookies for dessert. To see which market sellers will be there, check out these handy sites: the Urbana market and the Champaign market.

Urbana Market at the Square
Sa 7 a.m. to noon

Champaign Farmers’ Market
Tu 3 to 6 p.m.

A steak taco and an al pastor taco, both topped with cilantro and onions, on a yellow plate at Maize.
Tacos at Maize; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Tacos Tradicional︱ Maize on Green Street

Next month, Maize’s original location at the corner of Green and First Streets is set to be demolished, so this month is a good time to visit. For lunch, I ordered my go-to: two tacos tradicional, one carne asada ($4.25) and one al pastor ($3.75). On handmade corn tortillas, both tacos had a considerable sprinkle of cilantro and onion atop protein. The carne asada taco’s charred steak was chewy and deliciously salty. The saucy pastor taco had hunks of peppery pork that were so tender they almost melted in my mouth. I loved how soft and fresh these tortillas were, made by Maize from masa made from Illinois corn ground on volcanic stone.

My tacos came with a free side of chips and salsa, which I enjoyed. Although these tacos are available at the other locations (The Station, the truck, and the Union), the taco shack on Greet Street won’t be around forever. Literally, it’s going to be flattened next month, so this month, eat tacos in the little taco shack (that used to be Ye Olde Donut) while it’s still a thing.

Maize on Green Street
60 E Green St
T-Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A martini glass with a bright green liquid and a sliced jalapeno.
Última Palabra at Seven Saints; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Última Palabra Cocktail ︱ Seven Saints

Last but not least, something to sip this month: the última palabra ($12) at Seven Saints. Served in a martini glass, this gorgeous, green sip of goodness had mezcal, Dolin Génépy, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and lime juice, garnished with a jalapeño. The drink tasted grassy in a way, thanks to the herbal notes of the Dolin Génépy liqueur. I enjoyed how fruity flavors of lime and cherry mellowed the mezcal and botanicals. The jalapeño garnish added a fresh garden-pepper aroma on the nose with each sip and added no spiciness to the drink because it was only on the rim. This cocktail tasted a little like a margarita to me with its bold and tart lime against the warm agave taste of mezcal.

This drink was awesome, but if a tart, herbaceous sip doesn’t sound appetizing, check out the rest what’s on Seven Saints’ drink menu. The Downtown Champaign bar makes lots of good drinks including the billion dollar dream cocktail that has an absinthe wash and the Flight of Icarus that comes flourished with a feather of sage.

Seven Saints
32 E Chester St
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to midnight

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