The 2014 Pygmalion Festival begins today and continues through Sunday at a number of venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. Thursday and Friday will feature several music acts performing in Urbana venues including and/or near the Krannert Center and Canopy Club. Saturday and Sunday the festival will take over Downtown Champaign, with large and small, indoor and outdoor venues including The Highdive, Mike 'M Molly’s, and Memphis on Main. This year on Saturday and Sunday the festival will include The Made Fest, a two-day outdoor market for handmade and vintage items, as well as a Literary Festival that spans the entire Pygmalion Festival, including live readings from a lineup of well-known and highly-regarded fiction writers and poets and a Saturday book fair at the Esquire Lounge.
If you don’t come for the music, come for the live readings, books, and various handmade objets d’art! And here’s a fun fact: my boyfriend and I met randomly at Pygmalion 2011’s Cut Copy show at the Canopy Club. Love could be in the air for you this weekend as well! No matter your specific festival plans, we’ve got a roundup of excellent food options for the inevitable meal stops you’ll want to make as you’re out and about. Our list is of course not exhaustive, and doesn’t include fancier restaurants (for those, you can always check out our reviews tab), but everything on it meets our criteria of (relatively) fast, affordable, and delicious. Check it out!
Thursday: Krannert Art Museum + Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Black Dog, 201 North Broadway, Urbana
This place serves delicious smoked meats and tasty sides (most of which include meat). I mean, lip-smacking delicious. Go with a group of four or less, or order it to go. Keep in mind that Black Dog will not seat parties until every member is present. If you’re dining in, try arriving between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m.; you’ll miss the dinner specials, but you’re more likely to find a table. Black Dog’s beer, whiskey, and cocktail selection is top notch, and they offer a great (and generous) beer flight that is perfect for sharing with a friend. Be sure to write your name and party size on the board directly in front of you as you enter. Will there be a line? Almost certainly. But Black Dog is well worth your wait!
Manolo’s Pizza & Empanadas, 1115 West Oregon Street, Urbana
If you’re looking to grab some hot hand-held food a few minutes before the performances begin, stop in Manolo’s. This pizza and empanada place has a variety of flavors for pizza (by the slice, definitely get the Spotted Goat) and empanadas, and includes tasty vegetarian options. Manolo’s has a small storefront and is strictly a to-go joint; there are no seating options inside. I recommend enjoying your empanadas en plein air on the sidewalk outside the Canopy Club while concertgoers funnel in and out. Quick, easy, and delicious. For a more comprehensive run down, check out this review from earlier this year.
Meatheads, 1305 South Neil Street, Champaign
Or maybe you’re a burgers-and-fries type? That’s cool. Meatheads is a relatively quick, family-friendly burger place just a short drive from the Krannert Art Museum. Walk in, order at the counter, and then grab a seat. Meatheads makes one of my favorite burgers in town, and you can dress yours as you please. I’m also a fan of the fries and milkshakes. For vegetarian friends, try the ALT (avocado, lettuce, tomato).
Friday: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Canopy Club, Red Herring
The Bread Company, 706 South Goodwin, Urbana
The Bread Company is perfectly located so that you can easily access KCPA, Canopy Club, and the Red Herring. At lunch, you order at the counter and grab a table (and they usually run a tasty lunch special). At dinner, the Bread Company transitions to a sit-down restaurant, where the service might take a little longer. The food options here are plentiful and can be described as Italian bistro-esque (soups, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas). They range from the more casual (pizza) to something a little more formal (lamb medallions). I’m partial to the roasted garlic pizza with garlicky greens on top, but the meat options are really tasty. Do make a point of eating something with bread. It is The Bread Company, of course.
Manolo’s Pizza & Empanadas, 1115 West Oregon Street, Urbana
Conveniently located. See above for more info.
KoFusion on Campus, 701 South Gregory Suite F, Urbana
Downtown Champaign’s KoFusion has opened a new, more casual spot on Gregory in Urbana, right around the corner from KCPA, Canopy Club, and the Red Herring. Food writer Jonah recently stopped by and had some affordable and tasty sushi. In addition to sushi, KoFusion on Campus also serves some stir-fry and noodle dishes. I have not yet been to this location, but everyone seems really excited about it. Definitely worth checking out!
Saturday: Downtown Champaign
Seven Saints, 32 East Chester Street, Champaign
Seven Saints is the perfect place to grab a booth with friends and enjoy a variety of bar foods: sliders, cheese curds, onion rings, and chicken tenders. But in addition to all of the delicious fried things, there are also a variety of what I like to call “bomb-ass” salads — and you can even get a salad and slider combo. Or salad and half sandwich. Or other combinations of two or three. Oh, and Seven Saints has an incredibly varied beer, wine, and cocktail list and a hell of a lot of whiskey options. If you come to drink whiskey (which you should), you can count on an incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff to help you navigate the extensive menu. It is highly possible that you will see me there this weekend, digging into an order of cheese curds and drinking whatever the rotating Triptych tap selection happens to be. What can I say? I am a huge fan.
Guido’s, 2 East Main Street, Champaign
If you’d prefer to dine at the center of it all, go to Guido’s. This bar and grill sits on a larger corner lot at Main and Neil, very close to the downtown Champaign festival venues. They have a generous outdoor seating area, but it could be crowded. Guido’s has a reputation for delicious burgers and eggplant fries, but they’ve got a number of sandwich, soup, and salad selections as well. In addition to their ample beer list, what makes Guido’s a standout bar is their amazing menu of BOOZY MILKSHAKES. That’s right, ice cream and liquor in a glass, just for you. Why are you not at Guido’s right now?
Farren’s Pub and Eatery, 308 North Randolph, Champaign
Otherwise known simply as Farren’s, this groovy pub and eatery is tucked in an alleyway just off of Randolph St. in downtown Champaign. When it comes to giant, gourmet burgers, Farren’s is a fantastic option, especially if you’re looking for a slightly smaller, more hidden restaurant (or, ahem, eatery). Random fact: most, if not all, of Farren’s specialty burgers come with sautéed mushrooms. Whether that delights or terrifies you, I have always been able to make whatever custom modifications I’d like to my burger order. Also, let it be known that they have a burger called The Motherlode. If that sounds right up your alley, then head right down this alley to Farren’s! Sorry, not sorry.
Cracked Truck (on site)
It is impossible to miss the Cracked Truck, as it is a giant yellow food truck and will likely have a sizeable and consistent line of people. As the clever name suggests, the Cracked Truck specializes in egg sandwiches with decadent, gourmet toppings (think chorizo, guacamole, sundried tomatoes). I’m a big fan of their hotdog (called The Underdog). Believe it or not, the Cracked Truck also has vegetarian options! Their stand-out side dish (and really, maybe the standout of the entire menu) are their tots. Yes, as in tater tots. The Parmesan truffle tots are my personal favorite. They come out hot and crispy and covered with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Eat these, and thank me later.
Hendrick House Truck (on site)
A relatively recent entry onto the Champaign-Urbana food truck scene, Hendrick House is sure to have some tasty selections with perhaps less hype than the well-known Cracked Truck. A clear crowd favorite so far has been their chicken and waffles, with their ribeye breakfast burrito at a close second. If you’re looking for lighter fare, Hendrick House offers a yogurt with berries and granola. And if you want straight up sweet, check out their waffles and whipped cream. Smile Politely Food Editor Jessica Hammie recently reviewed these and more from the Hendrick House menu here.
Sunday: Downtown Champaign
Dublin O’Neil’s, 301 North Neil Street, Champaign
Dublin O’Neil’s is a slightly more upscale pub on Neil street that claims, according to their website, to offer patrons a “slice of Irish heaven.” I am a fan of their mac n’ cheese and their fish and chips; at Dublin O’Neil’s you can expect pub fare classics done in a slightly more elegant, grown-up way. Their beer selection is fantastic. They also feature a tantalizing late night menu (until 2 am Thurs-Sun) for night owls. The restaurant is on the smaller side, so Dublin O’Neil’s can get pretty crowded. Sometimes they offer outdoor seating, too.
Sam’s Café, 115 North Walnut Street, Champaign
Do not underestimate Sam’s Café. This small, unassuming diner on Walnut St. has a bit of a cult following. Open from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm, Sam’s offers classic diner fare like omelettes and French toast. If you’re looking for an early diner breakfast, this is a great option.
Big Grove Tavern, 1 East Main Street, Champaign
On a large corner lot at the intersection of Main and Neil (across the street from Guido’s), Big Grove offers large windows, some outdoor seating, and more upscale décor (large pieces of wood suspended from the ceiling and twinkling lights). Their bar is beautiful, and they offer a nice selection of beers and wines by the glass, as well as signature cocktails. They offer a semi-rotating seasonal menu that highlights local food. Big Grove is at a higher price point than most of the other restaurants on this list, but if you’re looking for excellent food and a farm-to-table concept in a beautiful atmosphere, Big Grove is it. Make dinner reservations if you can.
Pekara, 116 N Neil Street, Champaign
If you go to Pekara and don’t order bread, I don’t want to hear about it. This place is simply one of the best places to buy freshly-baked bread in Champaign. I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but on Sundays their day-old loaves are half off! Pekara is a more casual café, and is perfect for lunch with a small group of friends. Watch out for their treat selection, though. I often go just for a hearty sandwich (they do a classic roasted beef au jus that I enjoy), and end up also ordering a chocolate mousse, or an opera cake, or pistachio tea cookies, or any other delightful-looking dessert they’ve got on hand. They also make fine coffee beverages, so you can get your caffeine fix here if the line at Kopi is too long.