October is the month of pumpkins and free candy. Who doesn’t love that? Pumpkin lovers will like the seasonal kumbucha in this month’s list, and those with a sweet tooth need to try this spinkles-topped pastry from the farmers’ market.
The rest of this month’s list is an ode to the brisk October aesthetic. The pretty weather — the kind that requires no coat, gloves, scarves, or snow boots — only lasts a bit, so let’s grab a cocktail al fresco in Downtown Champaign. After a walk to crunch fallen leaves, I want to eat chicken wings in Urbana and colorful sushi in Champaign.
If this October you crave more specifically fall flavors, check out my favorite autumnal food + drinks: this year’s list, last year, and 2020.
Strawberry Pop-Tart | Cakes & Bakes by Kate
If you only try one thing from Cakes & Bakes by Kate at the Tuesday market, this handmade strawberry pop-tart ($5) is it. I wrote about the blueberry version in August, and since then, I cannot quit buying these handmade pop-tarts almost every Tuesday afternoon. Kate’s pop-tart has two buttery shortbread cookie rectangles pressed together with a layer of fruit jam inside and a lightly frosted top with rainbow sprinkles. The smear of made-from-scratch strawberry filling imparted a great berry taste, and the pastry exterior tasted yummy.
In addition to the taste, I love the novelty of eating a bigger, better version of Pop-Tarts. Cakes & Bakes by Kate will only be selling these handmade strawberry pop-tarts through October 25th, so pick a Tuesday this month to try this unique — and ridiculously good — pastry.
Cakes & Bakes by Kate
302 N Neil St
Tu 3 to 6 p.m.
Magic Pumpkin Ride | Cloud Mountain Kombucha
Every October, I get pumpkin cravings, and this sweet and spicy pumpkin kombucha hits the spot. I had a pint of Magic Pumpkin Ride ($5), one of the seasonal brews on tap at the Urbana booch bar. Made with local pumpkins, it’s not surprising that Magic Pumpkin Ride had a familiar pumpkin-spicy taste. The cinnamon, cloves, and ginger flavors were strong but balanced. Some kombucha is pretty sour, but Cloud Mountain finds a way to smooth out the tart in their kombucha brews; there was no puckering, just enjoyable sips of a great pumpkin pie spiced beverage.
Have a draft pour of Magic Pumpkin Ride at Cloud Mountain’s kombucha bar inside the Lincoln Square Mall or purchase a bottle to take home. Find various flavors of Cloud Mountain Kombucha by the bottle at the Champaign farmers’ market, Pekara, Caffe Paradiso, Urbana Boulders, and Walnut Street Tea Company. The Urbana kombucha company has won awards for two of their brews, and you can read about their current kombucha offerings here.
Cloud Mountain Kombucha
300 S Broadway Ave
W 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Th+F 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
October’s Gin and Tonic | Ladro Enoteca
The Downtown Champaign bottle shop + wine bar Ladro Enoteca has a great G and T. Both the gin and the tonic for Ladro’s G and T rotate each month. This October, the G and T ($14) is made with Green Hat gin, Three Cents lemon tonic, sakura petal syrup, and salted pickled Japanese cherry blossoms. Out on the bistro tables on Main Street, Ladro’s October gin and tonic looked pretty with its flower garnish. The lemon citrus in the tonic tasted lovely, and the gin’s floral flavor paired perfectly with the sakura petal and cherry blossoms. Wonderfully refreshing, the cocktail’s cherry notes bloomed as I sipped the drink, and the G and T’s flavor evolved in a beautiful tasting experience.
Visit the wine bar for a gin and tonic, and stay for the unique small bites, delicious cheese platters, and natural wines from small wineries.
1 Main St
Su-Th 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Rainbow Roll | Sushi Siam
This rainbow roll ($17.99) had crabstick, avocado, and cucumber topped with more avocado and a spectrum of raw fish: white tuna, red tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and roe. The basic ingredients inside the sushi roll allowed the fish on top to be the roll’s razzle dazzle. The salmon was delicate and perfect; it melted in my mouth. The yellowtail was topped with chopped green onion and had a nice salty sea taste. Sushi Siam’s red tuna had a rich, smooth taste that was punctuated by the considerable amount of roe atop. The bites with white tuna had a mild flavor and pops of salty roe. Creamy avocado and little sticks of cucumber paired with each fish well. To me, the rainbow roll exemplified the allure of sushi and was a good little sampler of raw fish. None of the fish had a fishy taste, and I liked how some pieces had two different cuts of fish.
Sushi Siam is located in the plaza at the corner of Mattis and Kirby. The restaurant offers lunch and dinner for dine in or takeout.
1729 W Kirby Ave
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. + 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Chicken Wings | Windy City Express
I’ve driven past Windy City Express on University Avenue in Urbana many times, but I finally stopped by the drive-through for the first time last week. I tried a few things, but the wings were so damn good that I’ve already been back twice. I love chicken wings, like really love wings, and these are definitely worth a try this month. I ordered four wings, and they were jumbo (drums and flats connected), battered, fried, and dusted with a lemon pepper seasoning on top of a side of fries — all for only $6.99.
Fried to order, Windy City’s wings were served piping hot. The ratio of batter to chicken was superb, and beneath the crunchy golden exterior, the chicken was juicy and delicious. These were easy wings to eat: one nibble and tender pieces just slid off the bone. The lemon-pepper salt took these crispy chicken wings to another level. I liked the speedy service, the affordable price, and, of course, the fact that these wings were totally delicious. Windy City Express has a no frills dining room with counter service in addition to a drive-through window.
Windy City Express
410 N Race Street
M-Th 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sa 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.