For me, August is all about soaking up the last of summer. This month, I recommend delicious bites and sips to try in Champaign-Urbana while it’s still summer. Try a bowl of pho outside, pistachio gelato, patio appetizers, an Italian summer dish, and a peachy cocktail.
Pho | 83 Vietnamese Cuisine
Pho is one of my favorite foods, and this pho from 83 Vietnamese Cuisine was very good. The restaurant used to be in BFH, closed in the pandemic, and now has reopened at The Crossing where Rumbergers used to be. The menu here is small, but the flavors were big.
This pho ($15) had sliced beef, brisket, and meatballs with rice noodles in a beef broth topped with onions, mint, cilantro, green onions, and jalapeño. Served hot in a big bowl, this pho was so satisfying. The meatballs were sliced in half for easy eating, and I loved the beef and brisket. The thinly sliced onions and the generous amount of chopped green onions were awesome with the savory broth. As I ate, the jalapeño steeped in the soup making the pho deliciously spicier than it started. Currently, the restaurant is operating as dine in only; no takeout is available. There are tables inside for diners, but if available, snag one of the two-top tables on the front patio.
2502 Village Green Place
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Gelato Pints | Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
When it’s hot out, I like a cold dessert, and Baldarotta’s gelato nailed it. I bought two pints ($16 each), one with raspberry and pistachio and the second with dark chocolate. These are my three favorites, but every one of Baldarotta’s gelato flavors is great.
The raspberry sorbet had a bright berry flavor with a tart finish that tasted just like fresh raspberries. The pistachio was perfectly nutty and smooth with a little bit of saltiness. The dark chocolate was so yummy: rich cocoa flavored gelato speckled with little chocolate chunks — and so very good that we needed a full carton of just chocolate. I like to keep gelato in my freezer for an easy dessert any summer night. Order a pint of gelato in person or call it in for pick up. Baldarotta’s pints of gelato come with your choice of one, two, or three flavors per container. The Lincoln Square Mall restaurant also offers gelato by the cup, cone, cocktail, or flight of eight flavors.
Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
300 S Broadway Ave
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.
Boom Balls | Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
First off, the name of this app is fun to say, and secondly, these boom balls ($5.75) were flawless. Boomerang’s boom balls appetizer had thick spheres of mashed potatoes, breaded, and fried to golden brown. When they arrived, they were fresh from the fryer and burning hot. Inside, the mashed potato middle was soft and well seasoned. There were little bits of (real) bacon and a subtle onion taste. Served with sour cream and ranch on the side, these boom balls were downright addicting. They would be a perfect app to split with friends — or just yourself if you’re a mashed potato enthusiast.
My server told me that Boomerang’s hand crafts most items on the menu from scratch and to make these boom balls, they make a huge batch of mashed potatoes, scoop it, freeze it, batter it, and then fry to order. The bar is located in East Urbana with seating available inside and on the patio.
Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
1209 E Washington Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
Proscuitto e Melone | Nando Milano
Nando Milano is a good place for a fancy night, and this proscuitto e melone special ($22) was a perfect summer dish. Thinly sliced cantaloupe was topped with prosciutto di Parma, frisée, Crescenza Stracchino cheese, balsamic glaze, and a fig-orange jam. I had never had cantaloupe so thinly cut, and the wafer-thin fruit slices were absolutely amazing with the thinly sliced salted pork. The play between the cold, sweet cantaloupe and the salty proscuitto was fantastic. The little leafy crunch of the frisée and the creamy bites of the Crescenza Stracchino cheese added textural interest, and the balsalmic glaze was great. The little gobs of fig-orange jam made the dish taste next level; the jam’s citrus sweetness complemented the cantaloupe and was delicious with bites of pork and soft cheese.
The fine dining restaurant is open only for dinner. Try the appetizer this August while it is on special at the Downtown Champaign trattoria or order online for pick up.
Nando Milano Trattoria
204 N Neil St
M-Th 5 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 5 to 11 p.m.
Su 4 to 9 p.m.
Georgia Peach | Neil St. Blues
It is peach season at the markets, so if you’re living your best peach life this August, you will want to sip Neil St. Blue’s Georgia peach cocktail ($8). Made with Southern Comfort, peach Schnapps, orange juice, and grenadine, it’s a fruity drink that was deliciously boozy and sweet. I like the price and size of this cocktail — and the fact that I can pair it with Southern comfort food. If you have not yet tried the food at Neil St. Blues, you are missing out. I love the Yardbird fried chicken sandwich, the fried shrimp po boy, the all-you-can-eat buffet brunch, and the spicy jambalaya, but this peachy cocktail is a smashing Southern summer cocktail that you need to try this August.
Drink a Georgia peach cocktail at a table inside Neil St. Blues’ dining room or on the shady patio beside Neil Street. You can order food to go here.