Black History Month brings awareness to the great many contributions and triumphs of Black individuals who have shaped and changed our country for the better. This Februrary, let's broaden from awareness to action. What better way to celebrate culture than through food? Supporting Black-owned restaurants and businesses is a great way to honor the work our C-U Black entrepreneurs have been doing — and you get to eat some of the most delicious food in town.

This month, I'm sharing bites from Black-owned restaurants and food businesses here in C-U. Seize the opportunity to celebrate the great food these businesses are making. In this list, you'll find a Southern fried shrimp po boy, Zambian hand pies, and more.

Of course, there are more Black-owned restaurants and businesses in Champaign-Urbana than I have included in this list of five things. You can learn about 150+ C-U businesses on Buy Black Chambana's site. The community organization does a great job supporting Black businesses and uplifting our community with events and networking. Be sure to follow Buy Black Chambana on Facebook, too.


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Popcorn | Cool Bliss Popped Bliss (CBPB) Popcorn Shop

The popcorn shop on Neil Street has more than just popcorn; the CBPB Popcorn Shop also sells chocolate turtles, chocolate covered Twinkies, dipped pretzels, and more. Stocking up on for our snow days this week, I picked up family-sized bags of cheesy ranch ($10) and cashew crunch ($12). The cheesy ranch had a big cheesy flavor with a little finish of ranch — just how we like it here in the Midwest. The ranch tang gave a fun twist to the classic cheesy popcorn. Each popcorn piece was well coated in the salty yellow-orange seasoning, and it was so good that I couldn't stop at just one bowl.

The cashew crunch was a treat that had an audible crunch. The caramel covering the popped corn was hardened with a glassy glaze and made the popcorn taste super sweet with a buttery finish. There were cashews coated in the same tasty caramel as the popcorn, and the nut was a great addition. My teeth got sticky from this popcorn, but if you're not sticky when eating caramel, is it even good? 

Go wild and mix the two together, or enjoy them separately. The flavors in the store are first come, first serve but include 19 popcorn options like cheesy bacon, caramel pecan, Cajun, and more.

CBPB Popcorn Shop
1506 S Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Shrimp Po Boy | Neil St. Blues

At Neil St. Blues, you can have a po boy sandwich with shrimp, catfish, or alligator. I ordered a shrimp po boy ($12) and chose to have my shrimp fried, but there were options for blackened or grilled as well. The sandwich was served Carolina style with slaw, tomato, and pickle or served regular style with no slaw but added lettuce. The five fried shrimp were lightly battered and crispy with a plump middle. The super soft hoagie held the sandwich together well, and the thick pickle slices were a yummy addition. The sweet, creamy coleslaw took the sandwich up a level. The pairing of salty fried shrimp and mayo slaw made this a stellar Southern sando.

The sandwich comes with a side, and I chose sweet potato fries which were great. Anytime I go to Neil St. Blues, the service is friendly, and the food is fantastic. The menu has pasta dishes, fried chicken and shrimp, burgers, ribs, gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, and a super good chicken sandwich called the Yardbird. If you still haven't been to this Southern style restaurant yet, make plans to go. 

Neil St Blues
301 N Neil St
Champaign
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Bundtlet Tower | Nothing Bundt Cakes

This two cake bundtlet tower from Nothing Bundt Cakes is on special this week for $9 for Restaruant Week, but the cake tower is always on the menu at the bakery in North Champaign. The bundtlet tower is totally customizable: choose how many cakes, which flavors, the color of the flower, color of the ribbon, and even add a flag with a message.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I ordered pecan praline and chocolate chocolate chip. The pecan praline was a sweet vanilla cake with crunchy pecans baked into the top and then frosted in the signature Nothing Bundt Cake cream cheese frosting. The nuttiness of the pecans cut through the sweetness of the cake, and the soft vanilla crumb was lovely with the thick frosting stripes. The bottom of the cake was speckled with cinnamon spice. Packed with flavors of vanilla, pecans, cream cheese icing, and cinnamon, this praline bundtlet was a terrific dessert.

The chocolate chocolate chip is a favorite of mine (the big chocolate bundtlet made it into my birthday dessert list), so it's no surprise that I loved the little chocolate cake bundtlet. It was spongy and had mini chocolate chips throughout giving a suprise crunch and extra sweetness. The chocolate cake itself was not too sweet, and the cream cheese frosting was divine with the cocoa flavor of the bundtlet. Cakes in a variety of flavors and sizes are available at the bakery everyday except Sundays, so be sure to visit to buy yourself a bundlet.

Nothing Bundt Cakes
408 W Town Center Boulevard
Champaign
M-F 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Beef Pie | Stango Cuisine

Stango Cuisine is the only Zambian restaurant in town, and I am obsessed with the beef pie ($4) there. This amazingly flaky pastry was filled with beef and spices like a savory turnover. My beef pie came out freshly baked from the oven, and the buttery flavor in the handmade pastry was so yummy. The beef was cut tiny and had more of a paste texture: a smooth, soft filling. The crimped edges of the pastry had a delicate crunch, and the app had a lot of flavor and seasonings but was not spicy hot. This warm comfort food always hits the spot.

It's an appetizer that I love to get when I'm dining in at the restaurant or at the Market at the Square in the summer. Find lots of great apps on the menu at Stango from homemade chips with salsa, vegetable samosas, plantains, and fried cheese sticks. Entrees include sampler platters, Zambian-spiced chicken wings, oxtail, goat meat, stew, curry, and more. Plus, Stango has beignets for dessert. The restaurant in the Lincoln Square Mall is spacious with many tables (in addition to carryout and delivery options), and the staff is attentive and happy to make recommendations if you're not sure what to order.

Stango Cuisine
140 Lincoln Square Mall
Urbana
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Fried Chicken Drumsticks | Wood N' Hog

There are a lot of tasty things on the menu at Wood N' Hog from smoky ribs to fish to pulled chicken sandwiches to fried okra, but I want to highlight this masterpiece: three huge fried chicken drumsticks over fries for $4.59. 

The fried skin on the chicken had a salty crunch, and some of the exterior was soaked in the mixed (half hot, half mild) sauce but the skin still stayed crunchy. The three meaty legs were super hot from the fryer, and the meat was so juicy. The fries under the chicken were great: some squishy and smothered in the signature sauce and some spared from sauce and still crispy. You can get your sauce on the side if you don't want the drizzle, but I absolutely love the way Wood N' Hog adds a nice peppery BBQ sauce. Go try this fried chicken basket at either location.

Wood N' Hog
500 N Walnut
Champaign
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

101 W University Ave
Urbana
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.