As a part of our BEST series, we thought we’d throw a little food your way. Now we’re not saying that the places we’ve listed are the best places in town to eat and drink, but—wait, what’s that? We are saying they’re the best places to eat and drink? Oh. Okay. Carry on.
Best place to meet your online flirtation: Carmon's Restaurant
So you and that awesome guy or girl you've been chatting up are finally gonna take your relationship to the next level. You're going to meet in person for the first time. But where should you go? A coffee shop? A bar? Fine dining? Feh!
We implore you: do not rashly choose your favorite place to hang out, and think that'll be good enough. These things must be carefully thought out. For example, say you choose a coffee shop. So then, what happens? You arrive outside, hang around, hoping he/she will resemble those Facebook/flickr/manhunt photos you've been fantasizing over for weeks. And then? You're both trying not to invade each other's space, awkwardly attempting witty chit chat, while the line moves slowly forward. Then, inevitably one of you gets your coffee first and then what do you do? Stay there and wait for the other coffee to arrive? Find a table? No. No, no, no. This is not the way to meet someone for the first time. The coffee should wait until the morning after, when nocturnal delights have eliminated all that clumsy new shyness.
For this first, all-important date, we suggest Carmon's Restaurant. Carmon's is a lovely, cozy place with walls painted in rich, warm colors, art and posters decorating the walls, and elegant light fixtures. Candles and fresh flowers will add to that romantic atmosphere you need.
Carmon's stocks a full bar, and they make the best Mimosa in Champaign-Urbana. The service is friendly and efficient, and the food at Carmon's is top of the line. Whether you're there for brunch, lunch, or dinner you won't be disappointed. The menu (.pdf) offers a variety of delicious and filling crêpes, soups, and salads, as well as an imaginative hors d'œuvre selection. Carmon's specialty is its crêpes, however, and this is good news for you, because the last thing you want to be doing on a first date is picking up a dripping Motherload at Farren's or trying to cover the pasta hanging out of your mouth with a napkin at Biaggi's.
Choose Carmon's for your first date with your Internet flirtation, and we guarantee that if it doesn't work out, it won't be because standing in line at the coffee house led to devastating, mood-killing awkwardness that hastened the inevitable "it's not you; it's me" text, followed by the "It's complicated" Facebook status update.
Perhaps a bit on the pricey side (not like you're paying) Milo's offers a fairly classic array of entrees as well as several surprising bursts of creativity. Dad will love the steaks (they usually have a Filet Mignon and a Ribeye on the menu — if Dad's a man, he'll have the Ribeye) and Mom will love the froofy lighting and the extensive wine list. And hell, they have plenty of kiddie food for you, too. I'll bet they'd even hook you up with a grilled cheese if you asked them to, although you'll want to be sure to tell your frat brothers you had the Ribeye. Long story short: Milo's will make your parents love each other again.
Best place to take your parents for dessert: Jarling's Custard Cup (we guess).
It's ironic that the most sacred cow in this area is a frozen dairy dessert stand. But so it is. Calling the Custard Cup the best frozen dessert is like calling Laurel Prussing the best mayor in Champaign-Urbana — it would only be the lack of competition that creates the winner.
Look, there are things in C-U that we can all just be okay with and then there are things where we should not just settle. When it comes to frozen dairy, we should reach for the goddamn stars. Trust us — we've had gelato in Rome; we've eaten at Toscanini's in Boston; we've swung by Jeni's in Ohio; and we've done the deed at Margie's in Chicago. We're freaking connoisseurs/snobs. Ice cream/custard/gelato should be delicate and refreshing. You should be able to let it sit on the back of your tongue and marvel while the sweet cream dances all over your taste buds. But not so at Jarling's, where the custard is the equivalent of getting hit in the side of the head with a two-by-four. Everybody seems to love the strawberry cheesecake, but everybody seems to love that cream cheese/shrimp crap at family reunions too. Worst of all, the chocolate custard is indistinguishable in taste (and texture) from a Wendy's Frosty.
If you're strictly a custard person, we recommend you stop off I-55 in Edwardsville, Ill., and head to Annie's to see how good custard can be. And if you want to climb the top of the mountain, stop by Crema Café the next time you are in Minneapolis. No, it's not cheap, and no, they won't fill your selection with chunks of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. But after you've tried a scoop of this hand-churned marvel, you'll never look at frozen dairy the same way again.
So yeah, take mom and dad to Jarling's Custard Cup and reminisce about that one time dad broke his ankle trying to impress your mom at Hessel Park. But just because you eat the custard, it doesn't mean you have to drink the Kool-Aid.
Honorable mention goes to Cakes on Walnut, but again, only if mom and pop are springing for it.
(Hatemail for this particular write-up can be addressed to Mr. John Steinbacher)
Best place to eat in your pajamas: Merry Ann's Diner
Pop quiz, hotshot: it's 10:30 a.m. and the random amalgam of friends and acquaintances who crashed your efficiency last night have begun to wake up — what do you do? Well, we would recommend that you either (a) obscond through an opened window and call the police (depending on the situation) or (b) wade through the mist of Popov-infused body odor, open your front door and announce: we're going to Merry Ann's! Then, cleanse your system with a stack. It'll be good for you.
Note: Merry Ann's Diner also wins for Best place to:
- eat while intoxicated
- throw up
- learn hard life lessons from grizzled old townies (several of our editors, perhaps)
- drink coffee before a home game
- win an awesome stuffed animal out of a giant claw machine
Best place to take your Favorite Person in the World: Boltini Lounge
This isn't yet another "Best place for a date" category. This is simply our way of giving kudos to one of the best places to hang out in Chambana.
At Boltini you'll enjoy an outstanding, high-end bar that serves quality liquor and a full, delicious menu from which you and your Favorite Person in the World can commit the deadly sin of gluttony to your hearts' content. We encourage you to indulge in the cheese plate, which — along with four cheeses — includes a soft, crusty baguette, fresh fruit, and ripe, decadent olives. We also suggest the sesame encrusted, seared Ahi Tuna. It's orgasmically delicious.
Boltini serves some of the best Martinis and cocktails in Champaign-Urbana (personally, we think the best, but at Smile Politely, we're all about the superficial appearance of objectivity). Try their Forbidden Cosmo (Pearl pomegranate vodka) or one of their seven varieties of dirty Martinis, and you will know what it means to have lived. But be forewarned: if ever there was a certainty of experiencing uncontrollable laughter, anger, or tears, it's drinking too many cocktails at Boltini Lounge. The price of their fabulous drinks are well worth every dime.
The atmosphere at Boltini Lounge is gorgeous. Sleek design; modernistic and elegant, with just a hint of loucherie.
Whether you're clad in jeans or dressed to the nines, student or townie, gay or straight, old or young, plain or beautiful, Madonna or whore, Boltini Lounge welcomes us all. Bring your Favorite Person in the World here. If he/she doesn't like it, reevaluate your taste in people.
Best Grocery Store: Strawberry Fields
For all intents and purposes this should be a tie with Common Ground Food Co-Op (really a three way tie with Aldi if you factor in price), but for the townies among us who remember this cultural hub when it was located in a house, there's no replacing Strawberry Fields. Replete with a wide array of organic food and baked goods (many of which are vegan if you're so inclined), locally grown produce as well as a kick-ass coffee bar and an extensive vitamin section, Strawberry Fields is absolutely irreplaceable.
Best Patio: The Esquire Lounge
Champaign / Urbana's got quite a few places to have a drink or 22. Many of those places feature a good staff, fair prices, and a decent patch of concrete to sit outside on, but it's the Esquire Lounge's proximity to the zoo that is downtown Champaign on a Friday night that allows it to rise above all others and earn Smile Politely's coveted ‘Best Patio' trophy.
The Esquire has two distinct outdoor drinking experiences. The South Patio is lined with what are either very small trees, or very huge bushes on both sides. In the spring and early fall this allows you to see what's happening all around you, but from a position of seclusion and relative safety. In the summer you're somewhat sheltered from the setting sun, but still have clear views of who and what is coming and going. The patio on Walnut Street is less secluded, butting up against the sidewalk. It faces another popular patio, that of Café Kopi across the way, which allows you to observe other people (sober people), who are also sitting and watching...people. This becomes very bizarre after a fashion, but entertaining nonetheless. Both patios have massive heat-rays to warm your chilly bones in the early spring and fall, without having to fully rely on those free-standing propane palm-tree things.
Best Fried Shit: Sea Boat
This one is easy. Sea Boat. Glorious Sea Boat. Tilapia, Cod, Whiting, Catfish, chicken, shrimp, french fries. Fried, fried, fried. It's food of the gods, people. Sea Boat's website says that people only discover them when locals tip them off. Well, we're locals, and we're tipping you off.
Here's how it's done: before you go to those Elysian Fields that we call "Sea Boat," eat lots of fiber throughout the day; drink lots of water; exercise in the morning if you can. Then, get thee to Sea Boat; gird your loins; order the 3 Shrimp, 2 Chicken Tenders, 2 Fish dinner. Order it with french fries and cole slaw. Yes, order that. All of it. You'll thank us.
Best place to get food you could make at home, but don't want to: Farren's Pub and Eatery
Of course, there is not one universal answer to this, but we choose Farren's Pub & Eatery, and this is not a case of: Farren's deserves to be on a Best list devoted to Food and Drink, so we manufactured a category for it. We promise; that didn't happen.
Everything on Farren's menu (.pdf), could be made at home. In fact, we think that many of us have probably made most of the dishes on Farren's menu. As a commenter here said a few months ago: Farren's is "high end" pub food. Indeed, and it's the most delicious high end pub food in the city. And it's affordable. And it's served by friendly staff, in a spacious, (mostly) quiet, intimate room, with adult clientele, in a fun, active part of Champaign.
So those times that you're simply not in the mood to shop for the ground sirloin (or bison, or chicken, or veggie burger), the tomatoes, the onion, the lettuce, the cheese, and the bread . . . when you're too tired to wash, slice, and fry potatoes . . . when you're out of charcoal or don't want to mess up your kitchen, Farren's is a welcome, enjoyable, and fucking delicious alternative.
Best Corporate Restaurant: Chipotle
Give the execs at Chipotle some credit; they took a popular idea and mass-marketed it on a hugely successful scale. They probably get too much credit for being animal-friendly and having food with integrity, but they are doing way more than any other major chain in America. At least they make a point to tell people where their food comes from. Plus, the burritos really are pretty decent.
After all, sometimes we need every one of those 1200 calories to satiate our hunger.
Best place to get pummeled: The Phoenix
Couched between a porn shop and a rim shop, the Phoenix offers several things that your run of the mill bar does not. Among them are a smoking section, a cash only bar, easy access to the aforementioned pornography, awesomish heavy metal music and, come around midnight, a bar full of ready and willing ass kicking locals who don't like the way that you're looking at them with your fancy tennis shoes and that stupid fucking grin on your face.
Best restaurant that students don't know shit about: Black Dog Smoke and Ale House
OK, OK — we've got more than a crush on Black Dog. We absolutely love it. And part of the reason we love it so much is simply because when we walk in, there is a certain element missing, and that's the student population. Now, of course, some students know about Black Dog and some of them even go out of their way to go over for what is hands-down-no-argument-to-be-had the Best BBQ in town. But on the whole, step inside, and it's a townie paradise. And while that does mean a few of those Pro-Chief Schweighart types now and again, it also means a much more relaxed atmosphere in which to imbibe a tremendous cask-conditioned ale and munch on some rib tips and house smoked baked beans. Damnit. Mouth. Drooling. Again.
Best place to get drunk all by yourself: The Brass Rail
We recommend the Brass Rail. We don't really want to talk about why. You just wouldn't understand.