Smile Politely

Wednesday dinners at Prairie Fruits are a farm-to-table dream

A table for two with white wine, small plates with a deviled egg, four forks each, two knives each, and a spoon each.
Alyssa Buckley

Away from our downtowns and Campustown on 20 acres of Champaign farmland, Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery’s farm dinners offer a taste of Midwest produce and protein in chef-driven dishes over multiple courses. These dinners have long been loved, but last Wednesday was my first time going to one — and it felt like a dream.

Walking around the quiet farm, seeing happy goats run in green pastures, and then enjoying course after course of delicious dishes that utilized milk from those same goats and herbs from the farm’s garden to highlight a local farm’s pork — it was such a departure from the usual dining experience that it didn’t seem real. It felt like I’d fallen into some sort of idyllic alternate reality where nobody had ever uttered the phrase “Scan QR code for menu.”

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery on a beautiful summer night with blue skies and wispy white clouds.
Alyssa Buckley

Before dinner, the new owner of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery led guests on an optional farm tour. I learned fun facts about the goats, that the trees surrounding the green pasture are called silvopasture, and that the meaning of the word Champaign is “flat land.”

A pen of baby goats looking at the camera.
Alyssa Buckley

We even got to pet the farm’s cute baby goats!

The chalkboard on gravel reads "Welcome to the farm. Pet the goats. Grab a drink or snack or meal. Walking path. Sit and realx. Play outdoor games. Watch the sunset. Ask staff for help."
Alyssa Buckley

Each week, Chef Garron Sanchez prepares a different unique Wednesday night menu from all-vegetarian to Italian fine dining to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed dinner. My friend Julie said she’d go with me to any of Prairie Fruits’ farm dinners, and I picked last Wednesday’s dinner because that menu had a pork belly main.

We bought our tickets online and checked in at a barrel (how quaint!) by the covered patio when we arrived. Since we had purchased the beverage pairing add-on, we received cool coasters for the night, signifying Bring-This-Person-Wine during dinnertime. I will say it was nice to have the ticket include the whole tab (tax, tip, and drinks) in advance, so we could just relax and enjoy the night. All tickets included a welcome beverage in a mason jar from the bar inside, and they encouraged us to drink it wherever on the farm. We drank ours on the covered patio where farm dinners are held when the weather is not windy as hell.

A mason jar with a red spicy rim and an orange liquid on an outdoor wooden table.
Alyssa Buckley

A non-alcoholic drink was served for those without the drink upgrade, but we had the upgrade, so we sipped a spicy-sweet cocktail. This aperitif had mezcal mixed with all-spice liqueur and pineapple liqueur plus a rim of spicy Jamaican jerk seasoning and dried herbs from the garden. The cocktail had alluringly complex flavors from warming spices alongside fruity pineapple and a lick of the spicy jerk seasoning. It was an exciting and delicious way to begin the evening.

A two-top with two place settings with four forks, two knives, and a spoon.
Alyssa Buckley

Last Wednesday’s dinner theme was Kilgus Farmstead, a local farm specializing in pork from Fairbury, Illinois. Throughout the evening, the farm’s chef told us about each of the six courses — the inspiration, ingredients, and how it connected back to local farms. Then, the farmer who raised both the pork for the dinner’s protein and the cows for the creamery’s mixed-milk dairy was there. He also spoke, telling diners about his family farm’s Berkshire pork and 180 dairy cows.

Two place settings with a deviled egg, four forks, two knives, and a spoon for each diner.
Alyssa Buckley

The first course was a deviled egg topped with crispy pork, breakfast radish, and lavender honey — the fanciest deviled egg I’d ever had — and the wine pairing was a German dry Riesling.

A deviled egg with tiny radish and crispy pork on a white plate.
Alyssa Buckley

The whipped egg yolk was silky and runny, a gush of delicious, creamy mustard sauce. I loved how delicate the egg white was, just firm enough to hold the yolk center. The radish added a lovely texture, and the crispy pork — somewhere between bacon bits and pulled pork — tasted wonderful.

A white bowl with chicharrones, crispy potato, red pepper, and fresh dill.
Alyssa Buckley

The second course was a potato salad, which looked unlike any potato salad I’ve ever had in the Midwest let alone anywhere. The salad had smashed potatoes, knob onions, kohlrabi slaw, chicharrones, peppers, mustard, and dill dressed in bacon fat vinaigrette. I loved the airy, crispy chicharrones most, but it was all so delicious. Threads of kolhrabi, aromatic dill, and sweet red peppers added fresh flavors while the smashed potatoes served crispy-fried yumminess with edges crunchy like potato chips. The halved onions had a tasty textural duality with inside layers having a snappy crunch of garden-fresh onion but the charred outside was soft. It was well balanced in flavor, texture, and a really cool way to use the Kilgus Farmstead pork.

Three slices of pork belly on a white plate with two littleneck clams and discs of sweet potato and turnip.
Alyssa Buckley

The main was pork belly, and my god, it did not disappoint. On Wednesday’s pork journey, Chef started with just a sprinkle of pork in the first bite, then a good amount in the second course’s salad, and then this: a plate with thick hunks of pork belly (and a few other things, too). This dish was worth the price of admission. Topped with littleneck clams, the three thick slices of fatty pork belly sat atop hakurei turnips and sliced sweet potato in a sweet honey-cider gastrique. The pork was so tender that it needed no knife; it melted in my mouth. That pork demanded savoring because it tasted so delicious: smoky and salty and indulgently rich especially in contrast to the wine pairing’s crisp apple notes.

The little clams were mild, and glazed circles of vegetables added a satisfying crunch without much flavor, so the show-stopping main shined.

A white plate with fennel, pork sausage over a blue grits on a white plate.
Alyssa Buckley

The next course was a boudin blanc, which I’d never had before. The dish featured a made-in-house pork sausage over blue Hopi grits, kale, cabbage, sage, and fennel. The pork was braised in the creamery’s goat milk, tenderizing the meat with a beautiful tanginess. A symphony of flavors, the boudin blanc was meaty, vegetal, creamy, and crunchy. The grits tasted smooth in texture with occasional flecks of corn kernel. The citrusy fennel slaw was excellent, and the garnish of crispy kale leaf had a tasty crunch. Seared on the flat-top, the braised pork was really good, but the portion was a lot following the pork belly course. Still, we did our best to eat it as we lingered over our second glass of wine.

A glass of white wine on a black coaster on a wooden table.
Alyssa Buckley

I didn’t scribble any notes about the name, but the second pairing was even better than the first. This white wine had a subtle oak flavor with some pear crispness and a little bit of vanilla. The dinner’s wine picks were great, but if one isn’t into surprise wine, the bar did offer beverages a la carte.

A glass cup with a beaded handle has mango with a red mostardo sauce.
Alyssa Buckley

Served in the cutest little cup, we had a palate cleanser course — how special! The beet-mostarda-apricot sorbet’s strong flavors playfully bounced around the tongue. The mustard-flavored syrup was an interesting flavor alongside the earthiness of the diced beets and the apricot’s bright sweetness.

A stacked dessert with caramel sauce and goat yogurt.
Alyssa Buckley

Finally, the dessert was a bacon pecan mille-feuille. This impressive stacked dessert had a bacon-pecan blondie sandwiched between two flaky, sweet pastries. One bite and there was no mistaking the bacon. The cookie’s candied bacon had a dominating flavor, cutting all the sweetness from the caramel syrup and tangy-sweet goat yogurt. It was buttery, nutty, and sweet but then, that addition of local pork gave the dessert an unexpected and amazing salty, smoky, bacon finish.

A field with mother goats running to the pasture.
Alyssa Buckley

This was a farm-to-table dinner dinner in every sense of the phrase.

The inside of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery restaurant has black dining chairs with wooden tables, mason jars for water, and a glass vase with fresh flowers.
Alyssa Buckley

Beautifully plated and so delicious, our pork journey began with a small sprinkle of pork over an egg, then a salad with made-in-house chicharrones, a crescendo of amazing pork belly main and a plate of housemade pork sausage, and finished with a dessert that screamed bacon. Last week’s farm dinner totally showcased the versatility of pork, but moreover, it exemplified how delicious the food that Prairie Fruits Farm (and their farmer friends) are producing.

Baby goats look through a metal fence at the author.
Alyssa Buckley

What a gem Prairie Fruits Farm is. The Champaign goat farm and creamery not only makes award-winning cheese, hosts fun events, and posts adorable goat content but hosts weekly fine-dining Wednesdays on the farm. Each Wednesday, there is a unique menu for the event posted online in advance. The dinners are prepared by Chef Garron Sanchez — who is also local himself, an alum of Urbana High School who returned back to C-U after training and cooking all over the country.

Overall, the dinner price was expensive at $65, more than the usual dinner price for a person, but this was more than the usual dinner; it was extraordinary.

For more information, check out the farm’s website here.

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery
4410 N Lincoln Ave
Champaign
W 7 to 9 p.m.

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