As a long-time vegetarian and sometime vegan, Dancing Dog Juicery & Eatery has been a regular stop — or rather, it had been before COVID. Fortunately, Restaurant Week 2021 provided just the right opportunity for a reunion.
Browsing on the Visit Champaign County Restaurant Week site allowed for some helpful pre-event planning. There were some tempting new options that I was excited to try. I knew I was going to order way too much food for our party of two, and I was AOK with that.
As per the RW site suggestions, I called ahead to 217-552-1344 to place my order. The staffer I spoke with was friendly and helpful, making sure I knew all of my options and choices before I completed my order. We agreed on a pickup time and that I would pay then.
At the appointed time, I parked mere feet from the entrance and arrived at the pickup table where my order awaited. And yes, Dancing Dog, you had me at the paw print stamp on my bag. Plus, you spelled my name right. Before paying, the staffer wisely reminded me of the daily dessert options which hadn’t been posted on the RW site. Never one to turn down dessert, I opted for the lemon cake with brown sugar frosting. But more about that later.
Since Dancing Dog closes at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, I brought home my stash intending it for dinner. I’m happy to report that everything warmed up well, which bodes well for tomorrow’s leftovers.
When I saw French onion soup on the menu, I knew I had to order a full bowl. My spouse is a fan but rarely gets to enjoy a bowl since going vegetarian. I opted for the almond mozzarella “cheeze” which was definitely the way to go. In the spirit of due diligence, I dug in for a taste of his soup. French onion is not typically my go-to soup, but Dancing Dog’s version definitely won me over. Without the overpowering beef broth base, this well-seasoned soup was light yet satisfying. The perfectly prepared onions were the star of the show, as they should be. The baguette and “cheeze” added a satisfying contrast without being overwhelming. This would make a great winter lunch on its own.
Next up were our two appetizers. Out of sheer curiosity, I ordered the Reuben egg roll. To be honest, even in my meat-eating days, I was more a fan of egg rolls than Reubens. But maybe Dancing Dog knew something I didn’t. This combination of marinated seitan, almond mozzarella, and sauerkraut encased in a deliciously deep-fried egg roll wrapper was surprisingly delicate and delightful. The accompanying vegan Thousand Island dipping sauce was a lighter, more nuanced version of its namesake. Once again, my initial skepticism was overcome.
The order of chili chz fries was intended as a surprise for my spouse who takes a “more is more” approach versus my preferred minimalism. The portion I tried “for research purposes” was a revelation. Light, full of seasoning, and free of the heaviness (and grease) one associates with such piles of goey appetizers. The TVP (textured vegetable protein) chili made with red beans and tomatoes had a pleasing texture and just the right kick to balance the house-made cheeze sauce and diced yellow onion. My spouse said that this would be the perfect Super Bowl food, one that meat eaters would find satisfying without the fullness and guilt.
For our entree, we shared the Beyond Beef burger with the classic set up (lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic aioli) which we ordered with fresh cut fries. The flavorful burger had a perfect mouth feel and texture — and the combo of greens, onion, tomato, and garlic aioli took it to another level. The classic Kaiser bun was a good compliment that didn’t compete but held up well to all of the toppings. After a months of at-home stove-top grilled Gardenburgers, this felt truly decadent. Speaking of which, since the whole meal felt like a healthier, more flavorful version of bar food staples, I decided to pop a bottle of Brut and test a foodie theory I had read about the combination of well-salted, fresh cut fries accompanied by a chilled glass of bubbly. I’m happy to say the hype is real and if you haven’t tried it you definitely should.
With leftovers packed for tomorrow, we dove into our dessert. I’m a big fan of lemon desserts and thought this would provide just the right finish to our meal — which it did. The cake offered a substantial texture and mellow lemon flavor which paired with the brown sugar frosting, hitting that sweet spot between rich and warm and light and crisp. In other words, it was the perfect way to end a deliciously suprising mid-winter meal of vegan comfort food,
Dancing Dog Eatery & Juicery
126 W Main St
Tu–Fri 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Sa noon to 3:00 p.m., 5:00–7:00 p.m.
Su 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.