Smile Politely

Ultimate food and drink gift guide for Champaign-Urbana

Cheese & Crackers chocolate
Alyssa Buckley

The holiday season is here. Many of us will not travel or host family for the holidays this year. Since we can’t be with the ones we love, we might be looking for ways to make this holiday extra special. I want my friends and family to know that even though I can’t be with them in person, I still care about them and want to gift some joy this pandemic holiday.

Food and drink gifts are great because they are consumable, and gifts from C-U businesses support our community. Most people on your list are already drowning in lotion sets, toys, sweaters, and socks — and I can guarantee you that everyone needs to eat (and drink). If you’re looking for the perfect gift for someone on your list, check out this guide to C-U food and drink gift ideas.

Four square shortbread cookies from Suzu's Bakery are in a plastic wrapper with a label sticker affixed to the plastic. They sit on a white table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Gift for under $5

Suzu’s Bakery in Downtown Champaign is a delight, and these shortbread cookies ($4) would make a brilliant little gift for someone you love. They aren’t your basic shortbread cookies; these four cookies each have a different flavor: vanilla, chocolate, matcha, and the seasonal flavor. My set of cookies included lemon as the seasonal flavor.

These shortbread cookies were elegantly piped and delicately sweet. The vanilla had a faint vanilla essence, the chocolate a deep cocoa flavor, the matcha an earthy sweetness, and the lemon was a divine citrus cookie. These sturdy cookies could probably handle being shipped to far away family, but they would also make a nice gift for anyone local who appreciates subtle sweetness and fancy treats. Order online for pick up at the bakery.

Three four ounce bags of coffee with a masked Page Roasting Company logo affixed to the black bag sit on a wooden counter. Photo from Page Roasting Company's website.

Photo from Page Roasting Company’s website.

Gift for your partner’s stocking

How cute are these tiny bags of coffee? They would be a perfect stocking stuffer for your pandemic-partner. Three bags of different coffees ($15) from Page Roasting Company would make a fun surprise this holiday season. You can select whole bean or ground coffee. If you’re spending these holidays at home, you’ll definitely want to have some exceptional coffee brewing. 

Check out the shop here.

Several bread dipping sets sit on a shelf at Grovestone in Champaign. The bread dipping set include two mini jars; one is herbs and one is olive oil. The sets are wrapped in plastic and tied with ribbon. Photo from Grovestone's Facebook page.Photo from Grovestone’s Facebook page.

Gift for the home chef

Home chefs have really exercised their skills this year, and many of us have struggled to feel inspired in the kitchen. This bread dipping sampler set ($15) would make a great gift for anyone who cooks. A home chef would love this ultra premium extra virgin olive oil as it is probably nicer than what’s already in their cupboard. This set comes with the special olive oil and a glass jar of bread dipping seasonings. Paired with crusty bread (or not, it’s 2020), this sampler makes for a lovely gift.

Grovestone has a whole gift section on their website and in their Champaign store. 

A single bottle of red sits on a wooden bar at Art Mart in Champaign. In the background, there are wooden shelves holding hundreds of bottles of wine. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Gift for the wine lover

If someone on your list loves wine, your best bet is to find a bottle of something at Art Mart. There are more than 450 different wines in stock, and there’s definitely one that’s right for the wine drinker in your life. If you have an idea of what you’d like to get them, just email Todd to let him know what you want to order. If you’re not sure (like I usually am), you can let Todd know your price point and anything else (red wine, Italian wines, or something rare) to guide his selection. He will pick out the wine for you, in your budget and taste. You can pick up in store or have Art Mart staff bring it to your car curbside.

Follow Art Mart on Facebook for updates on different wine specials. 

A holiday tin featuring Santa in his sleigh sits on a mirrored shelf in Cool Bliss Pop Bliss. Behind the tin, the wall is painted a pale pink. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

For someone who loves to snack

Cool Bliss Pop Bliss (CBPB) is a local establishment popping up fresh popcorn and covering it in flavors, drizzles, or seasonings. You can order a three-and-a-half gallon tin (starting at $30) with up to three popcorn flavors to be picked up in store or shipped. The price of the tin varies based on the flavors you choose.

In the Cool Bliss Pop Bliss store in Champaign, many bags of many flavors of popcorn are on a wooden shelf. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The regular popcorn flavors available are butter, caramel, cheese, mix of caramel and cheese, jalapeño cheese, vanilla toffee, white cheddar, and cheesy ranch. The premium flavors include Cajun, Devil’s dust, caramel pecan, caramel cinnabomb, choco-mel, white choco crunch, almond crunch, cashew crunch, cheesy bacon, and Buffalo ranch. You can pick one, two, or three different flavors for your popcorn tin.

Message CBPB on Facebook or call 217-607-5397 to place your order.

In this photo, the tea beginning set from Japan House is beautifully displayed. There is a jar of matcha, a matcha whisk inside of a plastic container, and a bowl. There are decorative bamboo shoots holding the bowl. Photo provided by Japan House.

Photo by Japan House.

Gift for the tea lover

Japan House released a holiday gift guide this year, and the tea beginner set ($55) is perfect for anyone who likes matcha. It includes a Koyamaen Isuzu matcha can, chasen (tea whisk), and chawan (tea bowl). The whisk is carved from one piece of bamboo and is uniquely designed to aggravate the finely ground tea leaves until they are fully suspended. Using a brisk “W” or “M” motion, tea makers mix matcha and water in a bowl until the matcha is frothy. The quality of the whisk and bowl look exceptional and would be impressive wrapped up for the tea drinker in your life.

You can shop the Japan House gifts here.

Five small coffee bags are laid in a row with white labels of the coffee's origin. Behind the small bags there is a larger black bag reading

Photo from Columbia Street Roastery’s Facebook page.

Gift for the coffee lover

Whether the coffee lover on your list is local or long-distance, Columbia Street Roastery has you covered. You can purchase the coffee cupping set ($10) and taste five different coffees. This at-home coffee treat is a great way for coffee enthusiasts to try coffees from each coffee growing region: Costa Rica, Brazil, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Sumatra. The packets are pre-measured, so the coffee works in eight or twelve ounce coffee mugs. Those who purchase the cupping sets will be able to join Columbia Street Roastery for a virtual cupping session on zoom.

Also, the Columbia Street Roastery virtual pour over brewing class could be a fun way to get a group of friends something consumable like coffee and also an experience of hanging out on zoom while you take the class together. There’s lots of coffees, coffee accessories, and more in Columbia Street Roastery’s online shop.

A black can of O Christmas Meme O Christmas Meme beer sits next to a full pint glass of beer from Triptych in Savoy. Behind the beer is a metallic background from the brewery. Photo from Triptych's website.

Photo from Triptych’s website.

Gift for the beer lover

If someone on your list likes beer, treat them to an O Christmas Meme, O Christmas Meme ($15.99 for a 4-pack) from Triptych. This double India pale ale is a festive one that would be great wrapped up under the tree or in the fridge with a giant red bow on it. If pale ales aren’t your beer fan’s jam, you can find lagers, pilsner, and dark ale also available from Triptych.

See what’s available here. Pick up your order curbside at Triptych in Savoy.

In a basket filled with hay, there are the contents of Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery's Cheesy Chef box. There is a plastic wrapped hard cheese, a paper wrapped soft cheese, and a chevre in a plastic circle container. There is also a white apron with a goat on it, and there is a par-baked baguette. Photo from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery's website.

Photo from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery’s website.

Gift for the cheese lover

A great gift for someone who loves cheese would be the Cheesy Chef box ($50) from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery which includes a chef apron, a Central Illinois Bakehouse demi-baguette, chevre (your choice on flavor), milk camembert style bloomy “snow fog,” and a wedge of Ludwig Farmstead “Kickapoo.” 

There are lots of basket options ranging from $19 for a simple cheese and bageutte combo to $85 for the Farm’s Kitchen Sink gift box which includes a little of everything. Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery offers lots of options for those wanting to gift local cheese with those outside C-U. Orders can be shipped via FedEx, UPS ground, or 2-day air. Check out the Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery online store here.

Four tarts sit on a wooden platter from Tasty Tart in Champaign. There is a cheese tart, a s'more tart with a green christmas tree on top of white frosting, a lemon tart, and a raspberry tart shaped like a reindeer. Photo by Tasty Tart.

Photo from Tasty Tart’s website.

Gift for a family

Families are hard to buy for: should you buy each person something or a big gift to split among them? This Christmas gift box ($14.96) from Tasty Tart hits both. The holiday tart box includes a cheese tart, s’more, lemon, and raspberry chocolate. You can add on as many other tarts as you want, so everyone in the family gets a little tart. The other flavors include pumpkin, blueberry, strawberry, mocha, milk tea, cookies n’ cream, matcha, and fresh mixed fruits.

You can pre-order your tarts here. You can schedule a pick up in store or the catering option (which will require scheduling with Tasty Tart).

An overhead shot of six fine chocolates from Cheese & Crackers. The top left is a square navy chocolate with gold flecks, then there is a green circle one, another square navy with flecks. On the bottom starting on the left, there is a blue circle chocolate, a strawberry shaped chocolate, and a white egg nog circle chocolate. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

For the friend who has everything

You know this friend: they have a nice home filled with nice things, and they have everything already. Well, this chocolate set ($17.94) from Cheese & Crackers would bring anyone joy. The chocolates are gorgeous, but what makes this chocolate set a noteworthy gift is that the chocolate is incredible. The little edible beauties are Norman Love fine chocolates ($2.99 each) with a big taste. I chose three of the holiday ones: white Christmas (blue), cup of cheer (green), and egg nog (light yellow) in addition to three others. The round egg nog one tasted just like egg nog; the cup of cheer had strong notes of Kahlua and Bailey’s Irish Cream; the white Christmas gave bold cinnamon and hazelnut flavors. The navy colored ones were rich dark chocolate ganache, and the red one was bursting with strawberry flavors. There are more than fifteen flavors available of Norman Love chocolates at Cheese & Crackers, so you can create your own custom box of chocolates in any size, and Cheese & Crackers will have a pretty box that will hold them.

You can purchase in person at Cheese & Crackers in Champaign.

On a white plate, there is a vegetarian Philly cheeze

Photo from Red Herring’s Facebook page.

Gift for the tired-of-cooking friend

Red Herring has been serving up Meal Clubs all pandemic long, and the Philly cheeze steak pack ($30) would be a neat gift delivered contact-free to your friend’s front porch. The Philly cheeze steak pack serves four people and comes with 24 ounces of marinated “steak” seitan strips, 12 ounces of cashew nacho cheeze, eight ounces of jalapeño mayo, 12 ounces of grilled peppers and onion, and four hoagie rolls. There’s lots of options on Red Herring’s ordering site including a Mediterranean platter ($11), sandwiches, soups, and more that you can order.

Delivery is included in the price for Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy addresses. Order on Monday or Thursday by noon; orders will go out on the subsequent Tuesday or Friday. Any friend on your list will be delighted to have a ready-to-eat dinner arrive one December evening. You can order here.

Several biscuits are on top of a chicken pot pie from Oh Honey Pie. There is a salt shaker and a pepper shaker both with a red lid and a blue towel above and to the right of the pie. Photo from Oh Honey Pie's Facebook page.

Photo from Oh Honey Pie’s Facebook page.

Gift for a local friend or family that you can’t be with this year

This year, I can’t gather with my best friends, but I still want to give them something delicious — but I literally can’t find the energy to bake something nor the self control to refrain from eating something I baked. Enter Oh Honey Pie: a food truck specializing in sweet and savory pies.

I know lots of people are also tired of cooking, so any pie from the menu (or a gift card for a future pie) will make a great gift. Put your order in here.

Gift for U of I alumni or friends who moved away from C-U

I had to pick two for this — which could be helpful if you have multiple long distance friends and family on your holiday list.

Four quarts of Jarling's custard are stacked in two stacks in front of Jarling's in Champaign. Photo from Jarling's Facebook page.

Photo from Jarling’s Facebook page.

Jarlings now offers nationwide shipping. The pick-4 freezer pack ($50) would make a marvelous gift. This freezer pack includes your choice of four mix-and-match items: daily flavor quart, chocolate quart, vanilla quart, chocolate cookie sandwiches, or wafer cookie sandwiches. Imagine the joy of opening a box of frozen treats: someone far away will be wowed. You can order online here.

A slice of deep dish pepperoni pizza from Papa Del's is being lifted out by a metal spatula. Photo by Justine Bursoni.

Photo by Justine Bursoni.

Papa Del’s also ships nationwide. This classic Champaign pizzeria makes each pizza to order, then freezes it, and ships it overnight via UPS. Each box will be shipped with five pounds of dry ice to keep the pizza frozen. Pizzas start at $11 and are customizable in toppings and crust. The shipping charges are costly ($93), but if someone in your life lives far away from deep dish pizza areas, the price might be worth it. You can order pizza here.

A black cardboard box has a circular sticker reading Walnut Street Tea Company with a golden ribbon. Photo from Walnut Street Tea Company's Facebook page.

Photo from Walnut Stree Tea Company’s Facebook page.

Gift for someone when you can’t decide

I get it: picking out a gift for someone is complicated. If none of the above ideas speak to you, perhaps you should let Walnut Street Company pick out the gift. They are offering a holiday surprise box. You select your price point ($35, $50, $75, or $100), and they’ll do the rest. You can add notes about what you’d like to see in the box or leave it blank, and Walnut Street Tea Company will give you a surprise. Things your box might include: tea (loose leaf/tea bags), coffee, chocolates, cookies, candy, hot chocolate, scones mix, soup mix, mug, tea cup, infuser, towel, tea caddy, or a teapot.  

You can have the box shipped anywhere for $9.95, pick up for free, or have it delivered to a Champaign, Urbana, or Savoy address for $5.

A gift card to Neil St. Blues sits on a dark wood table with a white envelope reading in cursive

Photo from Neil St. Blues’ Facebook page.

Gift for anyone on your list

Lastly, gift cards are an excellent way to show local friends and family that you love them. Cash is great, but it feels impersonal. A gift card to a place that is special or important to you will have more meaning, especially if you tuck it inside a card with a handwritten note about why you picked that place for this recipient. Anywhere you like to eat or drink would make a great place to buy a gift card, sharing your love of a local establishment to the people on your list while also supporting our C-U restaurants when they need it the most.

If you’re not sure from where to get a gift card, I would recommend Neil St. Blues (one of my family’s favorites). They have a special going right now; those who buy $50 gift cards will save $5, and those who purchase $100 gift cards will save $15. Another great place to get a gift card is Hamilton Walker’s. Everything on the menu at Hamilton Walker’s is great (especially their to-go cocktails), and they have a gift card special as well: purchase a $100 gift card and have $20 added to the card. Other C-U places that would be a nice place for a gift card are Cafe Kopi, Black Dog, and Farren’s.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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