Smile Politely

No Great Diners in C-U Will Help Contain Your Diet

First Sniff

I have recently tangled up with a new and freshly-minted obsession: weight loss. After years of making certain that my belt line increased annually with plenty of red meat, Jarling’s Custard Cup, and an excessive amount of mushroom sherry sauce from Original Pancake House, I have decided that this is the year to start reversing that trend. I am currently 5’7” and 200 pounds. That, according to most healthy weight-management sites, is about 40–60 pounds more than I should be, making me officially obese.

I am willing to accept this — for now.

But 2008 means more than marriage for me. It means a skinnier Sniffer.

The Easy Way?

Run. That’s the key, really. Combine that with lowering our caloric intake, and I should be able to take off the weight that I proudly gained since first grade. Or freshman year in college. Whatever. The point is that, in theory, it should be easy, right? I mean, that’s just two simple steps to a thinner frame and, more importantly, a healthier ticker. But, unfortunately, it isn’t quite so simple. After all, Ben and Jerry continually try to lure me in with flavors like Chubby Hubby. Steamed asparagus just doesn’t taste as good without a rich hollandaise. And television shows like Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives show me all the places around America where I could go to stuff my face with some of the most unhealthy and delicious diner food in the world.

Guy Fieri

I used to really despise this Food Network reality show winner. Now I am starting to develop a non-sexual man crush on him. It’s definitely not the bleach-blond spiky hair or the shades worn turned around on his head. His appearances on T.G.I. Fridays commercials are a little suspect, and his goatee reminds me of that dude who spit on me at the county fair, but damnit if I’m not excited for a new season of this program. There’s just something about him. I can’t quite put a finger on it.

I even went online to check out his homepage about the show, and the first thing I saw, aside from his mug with a big old smile on his face, is a post that states: “Tell Guy Where To Go”. So, I started thinking: where should I tell Guy to go in Champaign-Urbana?

The Harsh Truth

We don’t have a diner that qualifies for this program. It’s sad, but true. Ever since the The Elite Diner, Champaign and Urbana failed in providing it’s citizens with a truly unique and wonderful diner-type restaurant that serves homemade recipes with really good products. Since I’ve been cognizant, which I count as the summer my parents made me participate in Hands Across America, I can’t remember ever eating in a diner joint that really made me want to take my out-of-town friends to breakfast there on a Saturday morning.

Our Options

The most obvious choice would be Merry Ann’s Diner. Buzz readers awarded it like, 5 different awards in their “Best Of” issue, and I can understand why. It’s cheap, easy and basic. I have many times and the Diner Stack is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. But, I can’t ever remember thinking to myself that I was eating anything more than a generic recipe developed with much thought. I generally ate it because I was hammered. Granted, it’s hard to argue with the Diner Stack when you are three sheets to the wind. I like the motif, and I love that it’s 24/7, but it still doesn’t have the originality to qualify as a really unique joint that Fieri would show up to.

Taffies isn’t even worth bringing up. Junior’s Burger’s are pretty good, but, that’s about all they serve — nothing with any flare aside from custard that takes a trunk spot to Jarling’s. Big Mouth’s is good too, but nothing more than a rip off of Wiener Circle in Lincoln Park and not open long enough to qualify as anything more than an upstart. Jimmy John’s, while local, no longer counts due to the massive nature of their corporation.

In fact, there are only two places that I can safely recommend that could, in fact, make the cut: Seaboat and Lil’ Porgy’s. Both places are hole-in-the-wall type joints, with a unique smell that permeates the air as you drive by. Both have original recipes, and pride themselves on staying consistent.

Even still, I don’t think they are places worthy of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And I love both Seaboat and Porgy’s.

Good for me. Bad for you.

It just so happens that I am willing to accept this right now, as well. After all, I have 40 pounds to take off, and I wouldn’t be able to do it with diners of any worth. And despite the fact that there are a handful of terrific restaurants in town, I know myself well enough to be able to accurately determine the frequency in which I would patronize them over a good, fantastic diner. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a traditional southern/creole diner or a local burger joint that really and truly knew how to put some love into their patties. I would do more than I am allowed on this new “get-fit” program, that’s for sure.

Final Whiff

Why is it so hard for someone to open a diner in this town with a great burger? There are only two places, both restaurants, that hold the honor of being a “great place to get a burger:” 1) Crane Alley and 2) Farren’s. Aside from that, nothing else is really worth mentioning.

So, what about you all? Do you have a burger recipe that you’d be willing to share? If so, we want to know what it is. Email me — if it’s the jam like you say it is — and we’ll publish the recipe right here.

More Articles