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Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: October 2020

October is one of my favorite months because fall is truly here. If you’re looking for pumpkin flavored things, you won’t find them on this list. I already wrote about all the fall things (#PSL) here.

This October, I want to share with you five foods and drinks that you need to try this month. No tricks, only treats: an Oktoberfest beer, a dessert in a jar, a messy sandwich, a boozy apple cider, and a Thai dish.

A silver crowler from Collective Pour is next to a burnt orange lager poured into a tall beer glass on a marbled counter. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Short Fuse Brewing 1872 Oktoberfest Lager | Collective Pour

Available in a 32 ounce crowler, this Oktoberfest by Short Fuse Brewing ($12) is a great October beer from Collective Pour. It was such a smooth drink that I’d recommend it for a day beer. It was bright and just a bit bitter with a beautiful rusty orange color that looked like fall. Toasty and bready, this drink had no strong finish, just a little bit of hops that didn’t linger. I found it so smooth and drinkable that I finished it and wanted another.

It feels like a tailgating beer — or a stay-home-and-watch-football-on-tv-in-loungewear beer. It’s a good one, and you’ll want more than one, I’m just saying.

Collective Pour
340 N Neil St
M-Th 3 to 10 p.m.
F 3 p.m. to midnight
Sa noon to midnight
Sa + Su noon to 9 p.m.

Two vanilla cupcakes with caramel frosting from Sugga Shaii Sweets are stuffed into a clear jar with a white cover. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cupcake in a Jar | Sugga Shaii’s Sweets

Holy cupcake, Batman. This cupcake in a jar ($7) is actually two cupcakes in a jar. I wrote about wanting to try Sugga Shaii’s Sweets’ jar desserts, and I finally tried one. This caramel cupcake had me smitten. The cake was a sweet, spongy vanilla cake that reminded me of angel food cake. The caramel topping was thick, and it wasn’t really a frosting. It was a ribbon on caramel dolloped generously on top of this cupcake. The caramel was buttery and rich. It was not syrupy sweet or a thin caramel; Sugga Shaii Sweets’ caramel has a chew to it. It felt fancy and decadent — and clearly homemade.

The jar was a novel way for me to enjoy a cupcake. I dug into it with a spoon, and after I’d eaten some of the top cupcake, it was hard to tell where one cupcake ended and the next one began. If you can’t finish two cupcakes in one sitting (or if you’re like me, and you eat this cupcake hiding in the laundry room away from your kids), you can easily put the jar’s cover back on so you can keep the dessert fresh until you can finish it later. Sugga Shaii’s Sweets is at the Tuesday Champaign Market this month from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., but you can also order her sweets online here

Sugga Shaii’s Sweets 
Champaign Farmers’ Market
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A chicken sandwich from Neil St. Blues in Champaign is dripping with cheese and sauce. The bun is soft and the chicken is fried, beside it is a pile of french fries. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Yard Bird | Neil Street Blues

This yard bird sandwich ($12) from Neil St. Blues is a huge, messy sandwich that I’m obsessed with right now. It’s basically an entire meal between buns. The yard bird sandwich has two large filets of fried chicken, homemade pickles, house remoulade sauce, and melted Monterrey Jack cheese on a soft bun.

I took bites of this sandwich that were just chicken and no bun because the sandwich was so full of chicken. The chicken was salty, crunchy, and plentiful; this was double the portion of chicken than I expected on a sandwich. The cheese melted into the cracks of the fried chicken, and the pickles were thick-cut and had a tangy flavor with a solid crunch. The real star (besides the fried chicken) was this house remoulade sauce. I don’t know what was in it, but it had a crazy kick that was fantastic. Neil St. Blues won People’s Choice Award in the 2020 Artisan Cup & Fork competition event — and for good reason. This yard bird sandwich is a must try this month, and you can get it onsite or for carryout.

Neil St. Blues 
301 S Neil St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

An apple cider slush from Watson's Shack & Rail with a purple straw and a half-donut garnish sit on a butcher block counter. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Apple Cider Slush | Watson’s Shack & Rail

Garnished with a half donut from Curtis Orchard, this apple cider slush ($9) was a real treat. The slush has a dominant cider flavor with notes of apples and cinnamon. Watson’s knows how to make a good slush: the texture was smooth to drink, no clumps or chunks. The best part was the donut garnish paired with the drink. Dunking the apple donut into the cider slush was so good: a bite of soft, sugary donut with a rum finish. I poured my mini bottle in and set the donut on top, so when I ate the donut, it was a boozy bite — and I loved it.

In the interior of Watson's Shack & Rail, a carryout cider is ready with a plastic cup of cider slush on top of a plastic container holding a donut and a mini bottle of Bacardi rum is next to it on the bar. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

This slush is seasonal at Watson’s, so you need to try this slush this October. You can get it at Watson’s for dine in or carryout. If you order onsite, staff will serve you the version with alcohol already added. If you order this for carryout, then you’ll be poured a non-alcoholic version of this slush and provided a mini bottle of Bacardi rum to pour in when you are safely home.

Watson’s Shack & Rail 
211 N Neil Street
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Pad Lard Nar from Sticky Rice in Champaign is filled with chicken, fried noodles, broccoli, and yu choy leaves. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pad Lard Nar | Sticky Rice

I told you this list would be all treats, and this veggie-heavy dish is no trick. Sometimes we need to treat ourselves to some vegetables, and the best way is with fried noodles alongside them.  This Pad Lard Nar ($12) had deep-fried wide rice noodles stir-fried with broccoli, yu choy leaves, and garlic in a thick soy-based sauce. You can choose to add a protein (chicken, beef, pork, or tofu at no extra cost), and I chose to add chicken. Shrimp is an additional $2, and duck is an additional $5.

This dish was a great way to eat broccoli. Cooked tender crisp, the broccoli was so tasty. The fried noodles had a varied texture: some parts were crispy and some were chewier. I quite liked the flavor of the noodles and the light sauce. The yu choy had soft leaves and crunchier ribs which — if you’re treating your body to some veggies — made the dish even better. I liked the thin, bite-sized chicken which had a mild Thai flavor. Overall, it’s a wonderfully balanced dish that really lets broccoli shine. In a month where we all indulge in candy, this dish can bring us some much needed greens.

Sticky Rice
415 N Neil Street
W-Su 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
M 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.

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