The second iteration of the revitalized Champaign County Restaurant Week kicks off on January 26th. Menus for most of the restaurants are listed below (we’ll update as we get menus from the stragglers).
There’s no doubt that last year’s RW was more successful than years prior — there was more participation among restaurants, and it seemed like people on the internets and social media were excited and engaged. Last year we published our reviews all week (find them here), and we’ll do the same this year. Restaurant Week has been extended to include two weekends — hopefully a welcome addition for those of us who have a hard time getting out during the work week — and we’ll get you as many reviews as possible after the first weekend so that you can plan accordingly.
We must take a moment to establish what Restaurant Week is, at least abstractly. (You can read some of my previous thoughts about that here and here.) After all, dining out is really a game of managing expectations: Will the food be good? Will I feel full after my meal? Will the restaurant have great ambiance? Will the service be adequate? Will I be seated near the bathroom, yet again? Restaurant Week can establish unrealistic expectations, in that you think you’re really getting a steal of a deal monetarily, or you’re getting the best the restaurant has to offer, or you’re getting something the menu doesn’t normally offer. Please allow me to gently stop you right there. Making those assumptions, holding those expectations will only cause you heartache and frustration.
Instead, I find it more productive to think of Champaign County Restaurant Week as a celebration of Champaign County dining. Consider it an opportunity to visit a place you haven’t before, or to try a dish at your favorite restaurant, gather a few friends to make a drive to a restaurant outside of the town you live in, or to order and eat dessert “because it’s included and it would be a waste to not eat it.”
As for this year’s event: In the past I’ve taken the time to break down what is ostensibly a deal. Turns out, restaurants don’t really like that. So I will not break down each item by price, but I strongly encourage you to do so, especially if you’re on a tight budget and really want to get the most for your money.
Most dinner menus are $25 to $29, and include three courses. Most intriguing of the bunch is Hamilton Walker’s dinner for only $19, which includes soup or salad, 6oz of beef tenderloin medallions or grilled salmon, and dessert. The beef equivalent on the regular menu will cost you $22 alone, so $19 is either a typo, or it’s an incredible deal and attempt to get some new people in the door of a restaurant that perhaps hasn't met the pre-opening hype. Watson’s has a chicken pot pie on dinner menu ($19 for three courses), which would be a really nice warm-up during a particularly cold week. For vegetarians who don’t mind spending money, check out V. Picasso’s $29 three-course dinner (fried butternut squash, artichoke tortelloni, gooey butter cake).
There are a few lunch menus, too. Silvercreek has a $12 two-course plus cookie; Pizzeria Antica’s menu ($19, lunch and dinner) could easily be a shared lunch of salad, pizza, and gelato. Baxter’s and Houlihan’s both have very reasonable $9 lunch specials.
If you’re going out of Champaign-Urbana, C&C Kitchen in Rantoul has two po’boy sandwiches (with sides included) for $15. Project 47 Smokehouse in Mahomet has a three-course, $29 dinner special, though one of the dessert options is fried corn bread, which seems like a very easy way to save money by passing leftovers off as dessert. JT Walker’s dinner ($29) includes an option for a 10oz NY strip steak .
Some of the sillier menus include Sun Singer’s, which is a convoluted mess of nothingness: the normally $9 appetizers are now $7; charcuterie plates with 2 or more items get you 2 glasses of house wine for the price of one; save $3 on some lunch sandwich and soup selections; save 50% on a dessert at dinner…are you still with me? There are also some brunch certificates available based on how much you spend at lunch or dinner. The whole menu reeks of Kohl’s cash, and I can’t keep up, but you should live your best life.
Look, you know what you like. You know what you’re willing to spend. Take a few minutes to look over the menus. Do your math magic, if you like. Or, just go out with some people whose company you enjoy, and have a great time.
Update, January 12th: Baxter's dinner menu has been updated to reflect the correct price of $19. Caribbean Grill, Kohinoor, and Nando Milano have been added.
If you read Smile Politely, you'll know that I absoultely love Caribbean Grill. It's delicious. That being said, this Restaurant Week menu is literally Caribbean Grill's regular menu, plus a little more money: The jerk meals on offer (with the rice, side, and one plantain slice) are always $8.99, so lunch is actually one cent more expensive, which means the dinner option for $19 is more expensive than if you simply ordered two jerk meals with one side (normally $17.98).
C & C KITCHEN
Here's SP's review of C&C Kitchen.
Last year's RW review is here.
DANCING DOG EATERY & JUICERY
SP's review of JT Walker's is here.
SP's review of Kohinoor is here.
MONARCH BREWING COMPANY
SP's review of Monarch Brewing is here.
Read SP's review of Pizzeria Antica here.
PROJECT 47 SMOKEHOUSE
Check out SP's review of Scotty's Brewhouse here.
SP's review of Sun Singer is here.
Read about V. Picasso's RW meal last year.
WATSON'S SHACK & RAIL
Here's what we thought of Waston's RW meal last year.