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Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: April 2021

April is here, and with the beautiful weather we’re having this week, it feels like spring has sprung. To me, spring feels like a nice time to try new things, so I’m giving my mouth a little shake-up from my usual favorites.

From a gelato-stuffed brioche sandwich to a spicy samosa, this list may inspire you to eat something new this month.

Baldarotta's gelato brioche sits in a plastic clamshell container. Inside a brioche bun are two scoops of gelato, dark chocolate on the left and caramel on the right. There is a lot of chocolate syrup covering the entire dessert with crushed pistachios and chocolate sprinkles in the middle. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Gelato Brioche | Baldarotta’s Gelateria

A gelato brioche is something I’d never tried — or ever heard of before Baldarotta’s new Gelateria menu launch, but it is something I’ll be getting often. This bready dessert had one brioche bun with two scoops inside and the toppings all over. That sauce ran over the top bun, inside, and all around. The soft, fluffy bread with cold, melting gelato and a responsible amount of toppings was divine. This is next level ice cream sandwich.

For Baldarotta’s gelato brioche, you can choose two different flavors and three toppings. I chose dark chocolate and caramel for my gelato, and I chose pistachios, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate sauce for my toppings. The chocolate syrup brought out the mini chocolate chips inside the dark chocolate gelato, and bites of that plus the chocolate sprinkles took me into choco-ecstasy. The caramel was decadant and paired well with all the chocolate. The crushed pistachios gave a saltiness and crunch that balanced the Sicilian sandwich.

This combination was heaven, but if you want to make yours differently, the other topping choices are strawberries, raspberries, candied lemons, candied oranges, candied cherries, almonds, hazelnuts, chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles, caramel sauce, raspberry sauce, maraschino cherries, and granola. There are eight gelato flavors, and I sampled all of them and wrote about it. Put your order in online or order at the Lincoln Square Italian eatery in person.

300 S Broadway Ave
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.

Homemade nachos by the author have cooked taco beef mix with cooked veggies, red salsa, yellow melted queso, and dollops of sour cream over tortilla chips. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Taco Mix | El Progreso

On Bloomington Road in Champaign, there’s a small grocer called El Progreso which is attached to the brick-and-mortar location of Tacos Locos/Taquería El Progreso. The grocery offers many pantry goods, snacks, sweets, salsas, and spices in addition to fresh produce and fresh meat. The taco mix in the deli case spoke to me, and I asked the staff for a pound of it ($5.29). The man working the meat case assured me that the taco mix wasn’t just for tacos; it could be used for burritos or nachos, too.

I cooked it up on the stovetop and dumped it on some chips to make some beef nachos. The meat was so good, well marinated with pepper and the perfect amount of salt. It was not spicy: just flavorful, juicy meat. The veggies were partially cooked, so everything finished cooking at the same time which was super convenient. It was the easiest meal I’ve made in awhile. The meat and veggies were already chopped, so I didn’t need a cutting board or a bowl or anything. Just one pan, and boom: delicious taco beef and veggies ready to eat.

Last week, I shared about the brand new location of El Progreso in Urbana, and the taco mix is available at that location as well.

El Progreso
1017 1/2 W Bloomington Rd
8 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Bibimbap from Masijta Grill in Urbana sits in a black plastic container. The egg on top is perfectly fried with black strands of seaweed overtop. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Stone Bowl Bibimbap | Masijta Grill

Masijta Grill is an Urbana classic that made our BEST of the decade list. This bibimbap ($19.99) was fantastic. The charred, smoky flavor of the rice gave a depth of flavor that could only come from being cooked in a stone bowl. The fried egg’s yolk burst when I poked it with my chopstick and then, my dish had a yummy, yolky sauce that paired well with the veggies. The egg itself had a smokiness similar to campfire-cooked food which I really enjoyed. The dish had an evolving flavor as the ingredients blended and mixed. The bulgogi was amazing: sweet, marinated beef with a great chew. There were green beans, spinach, lettuce, sprouts, and carrots in the dish, and all of it, together, was so tasty. It’s a meal worth getting this month.

You can order online or enjoy indoor dining at the Urbana restaurant.

Masijta Grill
202 N Race St
10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily

A medium pizza with pepperoni and white sauce is dusted with bread crumbs and a few caramelized onions. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Build Your Own Pizza | Manolo’s

Manolo’s has probably the best frozen pizza in the world, but my freezer can’t fit anything else. I wanted some hot pizza, and I wanted to go out into the world to fetch it. I ordered a medium build-your-own ($10.99) with roasted garlic alfredo sauce ($2.25). I added pepperoni ($1), caramelized onions ($2.25), and seasoned bread crumbs ($1.25). Readers, this pizza was so good. I know I got to pick the ingredients, but imagine if you picked your favorite ingredients.

The sauce was so decadant and creamy, and the crust was chewy and expertly cooked. I love onions, so I’m biased, but these caramelized onions were tasty, soft, and sweet. The real star was the bread crumbs; they gave a good, crumbly crunch and a lot of salt — which made the whole pizza pie for me. There’s lots of great pizza on the menu, but if you’re wanting to design your perfect pizza, Manolo’s will let you do that. Order here.

1115 W Oregon
M-Th 11 a.m. to midnight
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Su 4 p.m. to midnight

A small potato samosa is split in half revealing the center of peas and beans from Strawberry Fields Cafe in Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Potato Samosa | Strawberry Fields

I was in Urbana, and my tummy was rumbling, so I stopped by Strawberry Fields to peek at what they had available for lunch. Turns out, Strawberry Fields had lots of options for lunch including hummus, baba ganouj, tabouli salad, sandwiches, and more available for takeout or an indoor dining. The seating area was populated with a few couples enjoying a meal. I tried several of the grab-and-go options in the case, but this potato samosa ($1.99) was my favorite. Served cold, you will need to heat it up. When I was at the cafe, I saw a customer heating something in the microwave, but I heated mine in the oven for about ten minutes.

This flaky, savory pastry had some serious heat. Filled with peas, onion, and potatoes, this samosa was a hearty option in a small package. The peppery spiciness started slow, but the spice made my scalp tingle and burned fire on my tongue. I was surprised at the level of spicy, but I really liked it. The bready outside was delicious relief from the heat. This little samosa is definitely worth a try — especially with its $2 price tag.

Strawberry Fields
306 W Springfield Ave
M-Sa 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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