The Pygmalion Festival kicked off earlier this week, but the meaty parts are happening this weekend. The second iteration of Pygmalion FOOD promises improvements from last year’s event, the most critical of which is having the food festival concurrently with MADE Fest and musical performances. The major issue with last year’s event was that it wasn’t particularly well attended, but by nature of scheduling, that will most certainly not be an issue this year.
The FOOD Festival takes place on Main Street in Downtown Champaign Friday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. Main Street will be closed off between Walnut and Chestnut Streets, allowing for festival attendees to check out the food vendors, and the Made Fest, and listen to live music at the outdoor 51 East Main Street stage. All of these components are all ages and free to attend.
The FOOD festival participants are Big Grove, Black Dog, Columbia Street Roastery, Farren’s, Maize, Papa Del’s, Pekara, The Pop Stop, and Watson’s. Most food items are at $4 or $8, with a few at $5 and $7. There are options for herbivores and omnivores alike, though vegans may struggle to find substantial sustenance.
Menus are shared below, with my thoughts on what to expect. But if you don’t have time for that, or would prefer the element of surprise, here’s the TL;DR version:
What: Pygmalion FOOD Festival
Who: You and your friends and family. It’s an all ages event.
When: Friday, September 22nd, 5 to 11 p.m. + Saturday, September 23rd, noon to 11 p.m.
Where: Downtown Champaign, Main Street between Walnut and Chestnut Streets. Street parking available; also consider the Hill Street Parking Deck.
Money: Mobile meter or change for parking; cash for food. No entry fee, no secondary currency. Feeling hungry and thirsty? Figure $20+ per person. Not so hungry? $10-$20.
Big Grove Tavern
- Southwest Chicken BLT $8 | with organic chicken, Nueske bacon, Chandley Farm tomato, Shullsberg Creamery muenster cheese, el milagro tortilla
- Fried Brussels Sprouts $4
I’m not particularly jazzed about the Southwest Chicken BLT. Based on this description, the only thing that makes it “southwestern” is the tortilla, and I see no L in the list of ingredients. Despite this, I’m sure it will be a tasty sandwich (wrap?) — everyone likes bacon, right?
On the other hand, those fried Brussels sprouts? They are, in my very humble opinion, the best item on the Big Grove Tavern menu. Order them with gusto; they are supremely delicious. (And you can feel better about yourself for eating your veggies.)
- Pulled pork slider $4 | Central Lean pulled pork smoked in banana leaves with pineapple mojo sauce, served with a side of pineapple slaw
If you cannot eat pineapple (or don’t like it), then this dish is obviously not for you. However, if you’re indifferent toward or enthusiastic about pineapple, then I suggest you give it a go. Black Dog is constantly lauded for its superior barbecue (for good reason), so the pork will be well-cooked and tasty. The banana leaves will lend a little earthy je-ne-sais-quoi, and mojo sauce is, in fact, what is up. This sammie will be like visiting a tropical island, which might make you feel terrible given the current state of affairs in the Caribbean and South Florida. (Consider donating to a reputable organization for hurricane relief.)
Papa Del’s Pizza
- The Original Sicilian Pan Pizza Slice, cheese or sausage $4 | Deep dish pizza filled with premium cheese and topped with a rich tomato sauce
Papa Del’s, a much-beloved Champaign-Urbana institution, will be serving up slices of their pizza. No matter how you classify this pizza (Is it Chicago-style? Is it deep dish? Is it Sicilian?), it will be a solid option for the unadventurous eater, children, and those who want to eat something they know will be good. I also recommend a slice of this after several drinks. It’ll do wonders for soaking up some excess alcohol.
- A selection of Farren’s burgers as sliders $4 | Hamburger, or with cheese, The Russell, Green Chile, Motherlode, and Veggie, yellow mustard, red catsup
I will say two things about this:
1. Farren’s makes delicious burgers.
2. It’s ketchup.
Okay, three things:
3. Get the green chile slider, with spicy cheese.
- Tamal $5 | Traditional scratch-made Mexican tamal, filled with pork or poblano pepper, steamed in a cornhusk
- Taco, one for $4, two for $7 | A traditional taco with your choice of carne asada, al pastor or zucchini blossoms, garnished with fresh cilantro & onion
- Volcan $4 | A tostada topped with grilled cheese, onions & cilantro with your choice of carne asada, al pastor or zucchini blossoms
- Churro $4 | Sweet cinnamon and sugar dusted churros
You can’t go wrong with any of these choices, though the tamal and the churro are not on Maize’s regular menu, so these two are worth sampling. Perhaps if people respond well enough, Maize will add them both to the menu, which would be awesome. Given that Maize’s regular menu offers tacos at $3, the two tacos for $7 is the best financial choice in this circumstance. As with some of the other Downtown Champaign-based vendors at this event, it seems a little weird and silly to pay extra for something you can get by walking a block or two.
A selection of sweet crepes:
- Lemon filled $4 | Dusted with powdered sugar
- Nutella, banana, and walnut filled $8 | Garnished with whipped cream
- Fresh strawberries and sweet cream filled $8 | Garnished with whipped cream
Despite being European street food, crepes are not exactly the easiest thing to eat on the go; grab a few extra napkins. Since Pekara’s crepes are clearly in the dessert column, they might be worth sharing, though I’m sure no one would judge you for wolfing down a Nutella, banana and walnut crepe on your own. Like Maize, these crepes are on the regular menu for this Downtown Champaign bistro at the same price, save for the lemon crepe, which is special to this occasion.
- Full pound of Miller Amish citrus marinated chicken wings with a Pyrat rum glaze $8
- Elote salad $4 | Corn, ancho, mayo, cotija cheese, cilantro, onion & lime
At last year’s event, Watson’s served jerk chicken wings, and they were probably the best thing among all of the options. I’m disappointed that there won’t be jerk wings again, though if there is something that Watson’s does well, it’s chicken. These wings won’t burn your face off, but they will be sweet and tangy and tasty. A full pound of wings at the restaurant will run you $12, so this is a steal.
There’s a reason that elotes are an incredibly popular street food in Mexico: the flavors are tried and true. The salad will pair well with the flavors in the chicken wings, so order both items and share with someone. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the staff at Watson’s for making a salad version — I just can’t take another food festival in which I have to watch people eat mayo-slathered corn on the cob. Gross.
The Pop Stop
Sorbet style popsicles $3
- Wappy Sprayberry | Strawberry, Blueberry, Lemongrass Lemonade
- Mango Sunset | Mango, Cantaloupe, Raspberry, Cane Syrup
- Pineapple Habanero | Pineapple, Habanero, Lime, Chili Powder & Salt, Cane Syrup
Gelato style popsicles $3
- The Fudgesicle
- Bourbon Caramel
- Maple Bacon Cookie Dough
Need a little sweetness? Perhaps a bit of frozen fruit flavors in the sweltering heat of late September? Get yourself and your kids some popsicles — they are really quite delicious and refreshing. The pineapple habanero sounds fun, and I’m looking forward to trying the maple bacon cookie dough.
Columbia Street Roastery
- Pour over $3
- Cold brew $4
Solid choices for coffee. You can also buy a bag of the special Pygmalion blend beans for $15.
The local brewery released a special Pygmalion PYNK, an ale brewed with guava and passion fruit.
More information about the Pygmalion Festival is available here.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.