Smile Politely

Go for flavor-packed Southern food at Neil St. Blues

Two Restaurant Week meals at Neil St Blues in Champaign, Illinois sit on a high top table. In the blurred background, the restaurant is busy with full tables and purple party lights. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

When I saw seared scallops on the Restaurant Week menu for Neil St. Blues, I was so pumped. Neil St. Blues is known for their big portions of soul food like the Yardbird fried chicken sandwichshrimp po boy, jambalaya, and gumbo, but for Visit Champaign County’s Restaurant Week 2023 celebration, Neil St. Blues created three special, not-usually-on-the-menu dishes, all of which sounded appetizing.

When we walked into the restaurant, the front room was packed with diners waiting for tables, and the current wait time was 45 minutes. Since I had called in a reservation, we waited only fifteen minutes before a host sat us at a high top table in the main dining room.

Alyssa Buckley

The regular menu was available, but we came for the Restaurant Week dishes. I ordered the Cajun shrimp and scallop seafood alfredo ($42), and my husband went for the smoked half chicken ($22).

Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered drinks: a Georgia peach cocktail and Riggs red lager. The Georgia peach cocktail ($8) is my favorite adult beverage here. Made with Southern Comfort, peach Schnapps, orange juice, and grenadine, the peachy cocktail was sweet and delicious. I liked the two cherries, too. The Riggs red lager ($7) was a great pint of beer with refined bitterness and a strong finish.

The Cajun shrimp and scallop seafood alfredo included a starter (a choice of soup or salad) and a choice of dessert. For my first course, I ordered the sweet corn and crab bisque.

Alyssa Buckley

This soup was simply amazing. The sweet, buttery crab pieces were delicious, and the bisque was creamy, chunky, and packed with flavor. Aptly named, the bisque was chock-full of corn and crab claw meat, and the savory, crumbly corn bread muffin on the side was a tasty addition.

Our entrees arrived at the same time. My dish looked perfect, but my husband’s plate lacked his side of red beans and rice. Staff assured him that the kitchen was finishing up a fresh batch, and the side arrived to the table shortly thereafter.

Alyssa Buckley

Look at the sear on these (much anticipated) scallops.

Alyssa Buckley

The RW special seafood alfredo came with sautéed shrimp, bell peppers, onion, and garlic simmered in a white wine parmesan cream sauce over fettuccini noodles with seared scallops and two pieces of garlic toast. The three scallops were well seasoned and absolutely delicious. I loved the sear, how big they were, and how tender and delicate they tasted. Three tail-on Cajun-seasoned shrimp were super buttery, very garlicky, and so yummy. The seafood was super seasoned and perfectly cooked.

Alyssa Buckley

I loved the pinot grigio wine sauce on the pasta and the super toasty garlic bread, but I do wish that the cheese garnish had been freshly grated or melted instead of the crunchy Parmesan threads on top of the dish.

My husband ordered the smoked half chicken ($22) Restaurant Week special which came with a choice of any two sides. He chose fried okra and red beans and rice.

Alyssa Buckley

My husband’s smoked skin-on chicken came slathered with a tasty mixed barbecue sauce (half sweet/half spicy). The meat had a big, smoky barbecue aroma and an even smokier taste. Just one bite, and smoky barbecue flavor dominated my palate. The tender chicken tasted excellent with the sticky sauce, and the portion of chicken was so big that we took home leftovers.

The fried okra had a thick breading (almost half breading, half okra) that tasted pretty good but needed more salt. The side of red beans over white rice was hearty with an amazing smoky flavor, and the beans were the perfect texture. The beans were so freaking good — and they’re on the regular menu, so I will definitely be getting these red beans again.

Dessert options were Southern-style banana puddin’, house-made strawberry shortcake cheesecake, or peach cobbler, and I went for the banana puddin’.

Alyssa Buckley

The banana puddin’ was quite big, easily sharable between two people, and came in a to go container. Honestly, it worked out because we couldn’t finish it all — and it was awesome the next day for breakfast. Topped with crumbled Nilla wafers, the puddin’ was thick and rich with vanilla and banana sweetness. Layers of cookies softened under the pudding and tasted like cake while the cookie crumbles on top still had a little crunch. The banana slices were thin and few-and-far-between, thankfully; this dessert was almost entirely cookies and sweet puddin’ with the perfect amount of banana flavor.

Overall, our Restaurant Week experience at Neil St. Blues was wonderful. The dining atmosphere was lively with great music and colorful lighting. Though the service was slower than in visits past, the staff were as attentive as they possibly could have been at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in a packed restaurant with a Sweet 16 party and another group of 20 plus plenty of tables for two and four-top tables in the dining room.

The dishes we had for Restaurant Week were excellent Southern dishes that fit the style of Neil St. Blues’ menu but still offered a taste of something new and special. The portions were satisfying, but what we loved most were the intensely delicious flavors.

Stop by the Downtown Champaign restaurant for a flavor-packed Southern meal, or order Neil St. Blues food online.

Neil St. Blues
301 N Neil St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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