Summer is in full swing in Champaign-Urbana and you will not catch me complaining about it at all. Every time I think I’m going to say something about the heat I think about the winter and I feel fine in an instant. I always want some light nibbles and a refreshing cold beverage after the sun goes down, so my friends and I planned to go Collective Pour for some Monday night apps and drinks.
Collective Pour was a good choice because there was enough air-conditioning to be comfortable, but the big ceiling to floor windows were pulled up to let you hear the sounds and see the sights of the activity in Downtown Champaign. There were a good amount of people at 10 p.m. and the dim-lit setting with fun music made me wake up a little from the dreariness of my Monday. We ordered a wide array of appetizers and some of my friends tried a variety of beers.
First up were the cheese curds with a dill aioli ($9). They were lightly battered with salty cheese and deep-fried to crispy perfection. The dip was a summer delight because it was so cool and creamy. Together they were crunchy and refreshing. I would say these are my new favorite cheese curds in town.
Then we tried the masa crusted pickle fries ($7), which were great for people who love spice and pickles. This satisfied the craving for a greasy fried snack paired with a spicy and smoky chipotle aioli. The dipping sauce was boldly flavored and paired with the acidic and bright pickles, this was the most adventurous appetizer we tasted.
The fried perogies ($8) with a creamy chili sauce and garnished with pickled red onion ribbons was a good follow up after the bold pickle fries. The perogies were filed with smooth mashed potatoes and fried crispy on the outside. They had a nice drizzle on the top, and the mashed potatoes were fluffy enough to make the dish not feel heavy despite being predominantly carbs.
The jumbo pretzel ($9) with the jalapeño beer cheese sauce and German mustard sauce was another crowd favorite and vanished quickly in spite of its massive size. Crusty and salty on the outside with a fluffy middle, the pretzel was satisfying and great with the cheese sauce. The texture, saltiness, and chewiness made a delightful accompaniment to the drinks and we dipped the pretzel in all the other dipping sauces as well to find our favorite combinations. Mine was the pretzel and the chipotle aioli that came with the pickle fries.
A lot of people in my friend group love fries. We get fries everywhere we go. We are fries people. So, we had to try out the salt and pepper fries ($6). The hand-cut fries were golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The seasoning was perfect; not too overwhelming or subtle. They went great with the ketchup they were served with and were all cleaned out by the time we were done.
My friends tell me that the pulled pork sliders (2 for $5) were delicious with tender slow-cooked pork, jalapeños, sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, and dill pickles.
The last stop on our food train were the ale-brined chicken sliders (2 for $6). We asked for the creamy Louisiana sauce on the side because some are not spice fans. The fried chicken was served on fluffy slider buns. The chicken was fun to dip in the other sauces, and we loved how it tasted with the pretzel’s German mustard.
For drinks, we chose a blueberry lemonade shandy ($6), and our friend who worked on his feet all day and had been in the sun said that it was intensely refreshing. A blood orange blonde ($6) was lightly sweet and thirst-quenching. The beer list is incredibly large but we skipped over to the cocktails and wine to pick the innocent bystander moscato — it was a nice $10 grab for a small bottle and was delicious for a summer drink.
Overall, we loved the experience at Collective Pour. The food menu was large enough for vegetarians and meat-eaters, the drinks selection was massive, and we got to try various options before picking what we wanted. The kitchen was open late enough that we could all finish work and our long Monday chores and get a chill meal with friends in a convenient and fun location.
340 N Neil St
M-F 3 p.m. to midnight
Sa noon to 1 a.m.
Su noon to 11 p.m.
Photos by Rashmi Tenneti