Smile Politely

Old Orchard thin-crust pizza wins the 2024 Food & Drink Tournament

A tavern-cut thin-crust pizza by Old Orchard Lanes & Lines on a metal tray.
Thin-crust pizza at Old Orchard; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

A big congratulations to Old Orchard’s thin-crust pizza for being crowned the champion and last food standing in Smile Politely’s 2024 Food & Drink Tournament. Determined by reader vote, last night’s intense matchup of Old Orchard’s thin-crust pizza versus the legendary Black Dog’s burnt ends finished with the pizza taking the championship win over the title-holding barbecue. Readers have spoken, and they love this pizza.

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As Smile Politely’s resident tournament analyst, I’ve shared bracket breakdowns, and now I want to take a look back and review the tourney journey that both Black Dog and Old Orchard had taking their eats to the end — plus four hot takes on the tournament by yours truly.

A tavern-cut thin-crust pizza by Old Orchard Lanes & Lines on a metal tray.
Thin-crust pizza at Old Orchard; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

The Champion’s Journey to the Championship: Old Orchard pizza

Just look at that pizza in all its tavern-cut glory. Old Orchard’s thin-crust pizza did not have an easy run through the tournament, especially when compared to the series domination by Black Dog’s burnt ends. In close set of matchups, Old Orchard’s pizza battled Stango Cuisine’s beignets, then Cheese & Crackers’ Mindy’s Italian sandwich, and Maize’s taco al pastor, with the taco losing in a final score of 51-49. For the Final Four round, Old Orchard’s thin-crust pizza destroyed Gus’ French toast at Sam’s Cafe, which was the division’s number-one seed. In the championship match against Black Dog, readers voted hard in favor of the bowling alley’s pizza with a final percentage score of 62-38, for an Old Orchard championship win.

This pizza deserves accolades. Made fresh on a super-thin housemade crust, each bite tastes like a saucy pizza-cracker, and because of the way they slice it, it’s easy to share. Old Orchard’s thin-crust ‘za is cheesy, it’s greasy, and very delicious.

Black Dog barbecue burnt ends
Burnt ends at Black Dog; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Black Dog’s Tournament Domination

Black Dog Smoke & Ale’s brisket burnt ends entered the final food fight and served punishing point-spreads at the start of the tournament. The burnt ends destroyed Cloud Mountain’s award-winning kombucha with a whopping 60-point spread and Smith Burger’s doughnut-burger by a confident 30 points. In the Elite Eight, the barbecue battled The Space’s signature smashburger for a 56-44 win. For the Final Four, the race was even tighter against Baldarotta’s porketta sandwich, but the burnt ends punched through, victoriously ending the match 51-49. But it was in the championship round that the barbecue was defeated for the very first time. During the previous Smile Politely Food & Drink Tournament, readers named burnt ends the champion.

A victory this week would have been the barbecue joint’s second championship win, but just making it to the title game once again as one of the top-two foods solidifies these burnt ends as a favorite Champaign-Urbana food, amen.

Often sold out, Black Dog’s burnt ends are cut from the point-side of the brisket that the barbecue joint smokes for 12-14 hours, making the meat so tender. The barbecued edge tastes smoky, and each thick slice of brisket’s fatty ribbons are unctuous, delicious bites of barbecue.

Tres leches cake by Rick's Bakery for five things to eat or drink in Champaign-Urbana for June 2023. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Tres leches cake at Rick’s Bakery; Alyssa Buckley

Hot Take #1: Rick’s Bakery tres leches should have defeated Maize’s taco al pastor.

In the Sweet 16 round, the tres leches cake at Rick’s Bakery should not have lost. I really love tacos, especially this one, but have you ever had cake? Cake is kind of amazing, and Rick’s Bakery in Downtown Urbana makes the most amazing tres leches cake. In my opinion, it did not deserve that rude 20 percentage-point loss.

Thali lunch at Kohinoor
Thali lunch at Kohinoor; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Hot Take #2: Kohinoor could have taken Riggs beer.

How does a beer — even a very delicious beer that’s made locally — even compete on the same level as a personal sampler of from-scratch Indian cuisine beautifully arranged on a silver freaking platter served and made by the family who owns the restaurant? Make it make sense how a glass of the same sip can win over a tray of eight different, delicious bites.

Hot Take #3: Savoy deserves some respect in the local food scene.

Of the many competitors in the 2024 Food & Drink Tournament, all were from a place located in Champaign or Urbana except two. There was one Savoy food (the winning pizza) and one Savoy drink (Triptych’s Dank Meme). C-U’s sister city village’s restaurants serve yummy food and award-winning beer, and we need to recognize. Most notable, of course, is the newly-crowned champion of the 2024 Food & Drink Tournament: Savoy’s thin-crust pizza at Old Orchard, but also worth the trip down Neil Street to where it turns into Dunlap Avenue: Triptych Brewing, iWok Chinese, Industrial Donut, Smoky’s House BBQ, and El Rancho Grande II.

A side by side of two smashburger photos: Smashy McSmashface at The Space, Glazed and Confused at Smith Burger;
Smashy McSmashface at The Space, Glazed and Confused at Smith Burger; Photos by Alyssa Buckley

Hot Take #4: Burgers maybe deserved to beat barbecue.

Lastly, look, I love Black Dog’s burnt ends; they are absolutely delicious. Black Dog is nationally recognized for being amazing, and they’ve been serving damn good barbecue since day one in 2009. But if there can be a little dissent, I did think either smashburger could have taken down the barbecue. To me as a spectator it would have been epic to watch an underdog, lower-seed, new-ish restaurant’s burger beat the reigning champ.

Both burgers have impressive complexity and innovative spins on a cheeseburger. Smith Burger Co utilizes Champaign’s 65+ year old doughnut joint Ye Olde Donut Shoppe‘s amazing glazed doughnut as a bun for their double smash-patties, strips of bacon, housemade sweet chili aioli, and spicy cheese. That’s a lot of amazing going on. And The Space restaurant slings a delicious Smashy McSmashface burger with a wagyu beef patty smashed super thin on a diner griddle, topped with house-pickled red onions and jalapeño, special housemade sauce, and American cheese. That’s also a lot of amazing going on.

Scandalously presumptuous of me to say, but I think some foods and drinks didn’t advance because people haven’t tried them yet. Voters smashed that like button for longtime favorites — and I totally get it. Though as your foodie friend, I’m (gently) encouraging hungry readers to try foods from post-pandemic establishments — instead of another same ol’ order. Seek out the Autumn Mary at Cloud Mountain Kombucha (opened 2021), the mantu at Afghan Cuisine restaurant (opened 2023), the Glazed and Confused burger (with onion rings) at Smith Burger Co (the truck opened at the end of 2020; the restaurant inside Collective Pour in 2023), and the Smashy McSmashface burger (with bone marrow fries) at The Space (opened in 2023) if you haven’t already.

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