Even though we’re quite lucky to have a relatively robust selection of drinking and dining options in town, I, like presumably many others, often fall into a rut when it comes to selecting locations and dishes or drinks. So with this new monthly column, I hope to highlight seasonal specials, as well as some things we may overlook on menus around town. I encourage you to share your favorite local dish in the comments.
So far April has been cold and windy as hell, which doesn’t exactly vibe with my mental images of happy me frolicking through fields of daffodils. As such, I’m still thinking about things that warm, but looking forward to the earthy flavors of early spring and incorporating more fresh produce in my diet. For this month’s installment I’ve included one warming beverage, but the other four items speak to springtime edibles like veggies and baby animals. Spring will be in full swing by the end of the month, and next month marks the opening of Urbana’s Market at the Square. Let’s try to get through April’s showers so we can enjoy May’s flowers. (Or graduation, or warm weather, or whatever moves you.)
Rosemary Mocha | Flying Machine Coffee
When I first sampled this tasty beverage a couple of year ago, I was surprised by how much I liked it. Rosemary is no stranger to beverages, but with coffee and chocolate? I wasn’t convinced. But at the first whiff and subsequent sip, I was hooked. It’s rich and chocolaty, but the herbaceous rosemary (incorporated via a simple syrup) cuts through the heaviness of the drink, providing a slight earthiness. It’s a delicious and indulgent way to warm up on this cool spring mornings (or evenings).
Flying Machine Coffee is located at 208 W Main Street, Urbana, and is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The rosemary mocha will run you about $5.
Watson's Wabbit | Watson’s Shack & Rail
Like the rosemary mocha, when I first read the ingredients to this cocktail (carrot juice, honey ginger syrup, lemon juice, Chicago Distilling Finn’s gin, $7), I snarked, “Carrot juice? Gross.” But then I saw that it had gin, thought about it some more. The ingredients aren’t much different than your fancy juicing concoction, save for the gin, unless you get down like that. (Good for you, or, maybe you need some help. Hard to say.) I was worried that despite the gin, this would taste too much like something healthy. But I figured Watson’s wouldn’t do that to me, so I ordered it. It was delicious. The color is intense, but the flavors are incredibly well balanced. It’s not too sweet or too vegetal; it’s herby and earthy and tangy and just a little ginger-spicy. This is my new favorite drink, hands down. Order it. Drink it. Enjoy.
Watson’s Shack and Rail is located at 211 N Neil Street, Champaign and is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Salad Bar | Common Ground Food Co-op
As April warms up, and we start thinking about summer, there’s a chance one or two or ten of you might start thinking about workin’ on your beach bod. They tell me that generally means fewer sugars and carbs, more veggies. The salad bar at Common Ground is a great way to get a big ass tasty salad for lunch or dinner (and at a reasonable price, $8.99 per pound). I’m partial baby greens and spring mix lettuces, and I generally load up on some carrots, artichokes, olives, and marinated beans, in a sort-of riff on a greek-ish salad. The marinade on the beans is essentially a salad dressing, so I try to get an extra spoonful of that instead of the salad dressings that are available in squeeze bottles. (But those are good, too.) There are plenty of topping options, and you can mix and match and find something that works for you.
Common Ground Food Co-op is located in Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana. The salad bar is available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Lamb leg medallions | Bread Company on Goodwin
As I mentioned last month, March often comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so why not eat lamb in April? Bread Company’s lamb leg medallions in a basil sauce are tender morsels of deliciousness. At $22, it’s not a cheap entrée, but it’s well worth the price. Bread Company can be pretty romantic, and the new and improved outdoor seating might even make an appearance if there are some warmer days and evenings.
Bread Company is located at 706 S Goodwin Ave, Urbana, and is open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Passover Seder | Illini Hillel or Illini Chabad
Passover begins at sundown on April 22nd and continues through April 30th. If you haven’t experienced a Passover seder, you have a few different options for attending in town. Illini Hillel will have a community seder on Friday, April 22nd and Saturday, April 23rd. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and children. You can RSVP/purchase tickets here. Illini Chabad is also offering a community seder on the same dates. Tickets for those meals are available here, and are $36 for adults and $18 for students/children. Images from each organization's website.
Photos by Jessica Hammie.