You can’t go wrong when heading to downtown Urbana for food and drink. Coffee shops, desserts, bar grub, vegan fare, Indian cuisine, live music… the list goes on and on and it’s all within walking distance. What’s even better is now there’s an event called ‘Urbana First Fridays’ hosted by the folks at Imbibe Urbana. If you’re planning a date night soon, especially if you’ve got kiddos and you’re lucky if you only get one night out a month (I said ‘if you’re lucky’), then consider planning your sitter for the first Friday of the month. All of the downtown Urbana businesses get involved and you’ll have your pick of art, culture, free tastings, live music, and wine and food specials, just to name a few. Check out their Facebook page for next month’s events. This month’s events happened to also fall on the same weekend as the Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival so we were really lucky to be able to experience more great live music than usual. (Pssst, and the art/furniture galleries have free snacks and wine/beer during First Fridays! How fabulous is that?!)

I recently discovered that Dancing Dog started serving vegan pizza (deep dish after 5 p.m. on Saturdays!) so when I saw they were doing vegan pizza specials as part of First Fridays I was stoked to try it out. My husband and I are not vegan but we do enjoy trying new things and everything we’ve had at Dancing Dog has always been fantastic. We have also never tried vegan pizza so we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were ready for a Friday night adventure.

Like I said, the food at Dancing Dog is great. We’ve even taken people there who have never had a vegan meal in their life and they absolutely loved it. The restaurant itself is small but cozy and inviting, like a little coffee shop (which they are also considered — they have fantastic fresh juices and smoothies too). My absolute favorite is the Sunday brunch. Get the DD Burrito! I often try to replicate this at home. It’s passable, but nothing is comparable.

For the pizza, they had a few different options to choose from: plain ($10), onion/mushroom ($12), and butternut squash ($15). We chose the two latter. Now, these prices are a tad pricey for a small, personal pan pizza that’s maybe 8” across, but when you consider the fresh ingredients (they make the "cheeses" in-house!) and that they are made-to-order, you’re paying for high quality, locally produced food. Since the pizzas were so small we each decided to try one of the two soups of the day ($4 cup): black bean with chipotle cashew cream and split pea soup. I also had a CiSaves coupon (pay $8 for $16 worth of food) so I wasn’t too worried about getting the pricier pizza options. 

Our soups came to our table first, each served with two slices of French baguette. I had the black bean and my husband had the split pea soup. The black bean was good, but I preferred a bit more pepper and salt. The beans were cooked perfectly and there were some trace bites of corn and onion to help balance it out. We swapped after a few bites and we didn’t switch back. I wouldn’t allow it. The split pea soup was so, so good. It was a wonderful, earthy flavor and included some bits of garlic, carrots, and potato.

Our pizzas took a bit more time which was fine because it gave us more time to catch up on our day. I ordered the butternut squash while my husband chose the onion/mushroom. I’ll talk about his first because while it pains me to say it, we both just really didn’t care for it. The onion/mushroom came with a house-made almond mozzarella. The taste and texture was a problem for me, but like I said earlier, we don’t have any other examples of vegan pizza to base our opinions. There was also way too much of the caramelized onion and the mushrooms were non-existent. All in all, it was not a pleasant taste or texture.

On the other hand, the butternut squash pizza was fan-freaking-tastic. The hand tossed crust was a perfect crispness. They use the same house-made pesto that’s on the grilled cheese as the sauce on this pizza. The amount of squash was perfect and I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of pistachios. The “cheese” for this one was dollops of cashew cheese which I loved. It was a much better texture and flavor that worked perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. Two thumbs up!

So, with the coupon and tip, our total at Dancing Dog came to $34.50. Next up, imbibing some wine at Kraft Properties and Bohemia before the Irish folk music started at Pizza M.

Right across the street from Dancing Dog, Kraft Properties was hosting the artwork of Phil Strang and live music by John Lindell. It was great fun to pop in for some wine, mingle with guests, and scope out some local artwork and music. I’m sure the art prints of Wrigley Field sold well that night. (Two glasses of wine were free, plus $2 — everyone tip their bartender!). Next door, Bohemia was hosting a trunk show and also had their own table of snacks and wine. I could spend hours in this store. Soaps, clothing, jewelry and so much more. It was also packed in there as they had lots of supporting patrons so there was a fun vibe in the air (2 glasses of wine each were free). By now it was almost 8 p.m. so it was time to walk over to Pizza M to check out Piper’s Hut Irish music jam.

Pizza M, Bar M, and Flying Machine Coffee are all located in the same building in downtown Urbana. Check their Facebook pages because they often host some fun events like trivia night and movie viewings. Pizza M hosts a large, seat yourself dining hall so it can be a bit noisy but it’s always a fun atmosphere. Sadly, their ½ price draft special ended at 7 p.m. but we still chose to order two drafts: Two Brothers Domaine Dupage and Triptych Belgian Dubbel ($12). The Domaine Dupage is a French style country ale that is a really great middle ground beer. It’s incredibly well balanced in that it’s not too heavy nor is it too light. I hadn’t tried Triptych’s Belgian inspired dubbel and it proved to be very tasty as well. It’s a darker brown ale that wasn’t as heavy as one might expect. With beers in hand, we sat back and enjoyed the Irish folk music that began filling the room. As I mentioned earlier, it was a bit loud but we could still hear the band OK and enjoyed the community environment.

By the end of the night we found ourselves very satisfied with the food, art, culture, and music scene downtown Urbana provided. And we were under $50…just barely! The final tally was $48.50. Not too shabby and think of what we saved with coupons and free wine tastings. I’d say it was a success!

Dancing Dog Eatery and Juicery is located at 126 West Main St. Urbana and is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday 11a.m. to 8 p.m. and Tuesday and Sunday 11a.m. to 2p.m.

Pizza M is located at 208 West Main St. Urbana, and is open Monday through Wednesday and Sunday, 11a.m. to 9p.m.; Thursday andSaturday 11a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Friday 11a.m. to 11p.m.

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.