Old Time Meat & Deli is one of those local shops that provides top quality products and service and has become a staple in the C-U community. This small but mighty store resides along the busy Neil Street corridor across from the Carriage Center shopping center. At just about any given time, their business is bustling. They have two dedicated parking spots, in addition to a handicapped spot, just outside their main entrance. If you struggle to find parking in the main lot, there are some parallel spots along the length of the building, as it’s at one end of a strip mall.

COVID specifics: Old Time requires a face mask to enter and shop. They have reserved 9 to 10 a.m. as a shopping hour for those with compromised immune systems or chronic health issues. The cash register has plexiglass separating the cashier from the customers and hand sanitizer is available. If it’s less crowded, it’s easier to stand six feet apart from the next person, but since they do a hefty business, it’s not as easy to keep a physical distance. However, the service is speedy, so one can keep their visit relatively short.

I stopped in at lunchtime on the Friday before a long weekend and the pre-weekend shopping was well underway. I had a list of things to get for our weekend meals and wanted to see what I could pick up that might complement them. 


A photo of Old Time Meat & Deli's center aisle dairy meat eggs. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

First things first: breakfast. I knew I was going to get a slab of bacon, and they have a couple of great options. Instead of going for their thick cut applewood smoked bacon from behind the counter, I grabbed the Dutch Valley bacon from the center aisle fridge. A couple of times a month, we throw a slab in the oven on low for about 45 minutes, and it goes with just about anything else you plan to make.

Inside Old Time Meat & Deli, there is a center aisle with twice baked potatoes. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

Next, I grabbed some of their infamous twice baked potatoes. If you have not yet tried these, Old Time takes all the work out of this delectable (vegetarian) side dish. The ‘meat’ of the potato is blended with cheese, seasonings, and green onion and put back into the skin. You throw them in the oven for 25-30 minutes, and you have an easy side. Some of the potatoes are hefty in size, and we have paired these potatoes with salad as its own meal. While I was at the center aisle fridge, I also picked up some baked beans that were made with brisket; it just sounded too good to pass up.

Inside Old Time Meat & Deli, there is a meat section with various meats available for purchase. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

I turned to the deli counter. All of the staff are incredibly friendly and cheerful. You won’t wait long to be served since they have plenty of people to help the throng of customers. You can request special cuts while you’re there or ahead of time, depending on the time of year. (Example: at the holidays, my spouse and I have purchased a London broil to pick up for Christmas dinner.)

Inside Old Time Meat & Deli, there are several meat options for sale including ground beef. There is a COVID sign on the glass. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

Although it was easy to be tempted by several of their specials and sale items, I focused on picking up some ground chuck for burgers I knew we wanted to make over the weekend. They do sell large cuts of meat, such as whole pork shoulders, if you enjoy smoking your own meat. Old Time sells smokers and wood chips, too. If it seems as if I’m implying you might get sucked into a vortex of spending, I am. It is a challenge to not buy way more than you need.

Inside Old Time Meat & Deli, there are grilling supplies. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

Next, I headed to the freezer and grabbed a bag of the famous Beef House dinner rolls. These can be eaten just about anytime but traditionally go well with a steak dinner.

I went around the center aisle once more to see what else they had available, and I decided to treat my dog to a package of their smoked dog bones.

Inside Old Time Meat & Deli, there are cling-wrap packaged dog bones and treats in an open cooler. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

As I approached the register, I also grabbed one of their Honey Beef Sticks for a snack later.

A photo of the author's purchases from Old Time Meat & Deli. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

My haul totaled $50, which was not a small amount of money, but it was also going to go much farther than if we had simply dropped the same amount on one meal out.

After I got home and put away all the goodies, I cracked open my honey beef stick: it was very mild in terms of heat, which I preferred, and it was a perfect balance of sweet and smoky flavors. It also didn’t taste as processed as some other famous snack stick brands. If you like the honey grilled chicken from Cactus Grill (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love this particular snack stick. 

While I was enjoying my snack, I gave my dog Woody one of the smoked bones, and he attacked it with gusto. Having bought dog treats before that went to waste, I’m happy to have something to treat him with occasionally this month that he really enjoys.

Come Saturday morning, we put the Dutch Valley bacon in the oven and had a classic breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee.

A photo of sliced bacon, cooked, on a metal cooking rack on a baking sheet in the author's home. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

It might seem like bacon is bacon, but there is quite a difference in flavor from the ultra processed and cheaper brands versus that of a farm who specializes in their product. This brand of bacon is also thick cut, and when baked in the oven below the smoke point (375), you get those perfect bites of semi-crisp, semi-soft ends. Because we made the whole slab, we saved the other half of the cooked bacon for the remainder of the weekend.

Yeast rolls cooked at home by the author. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

Sunday afternoon, we had thawed one of the two trays of the rolls and decided to make them to have on hand for lunch and potentially breakfast the next day. After they thaw, they need to proof for an hour, and then they bake up pretty quickly. These rolls are fluffy with a slightly sweet taste from the yeast dough. They bake up into a giant, pillowy muffin shape. I enjoy topping mine with butter or jam, but they are also amazing for making leftover sandwiches, such as after Thanksgiving.

A yeast roll from Old Time Meat & Deli is baked, spit in half, and buttered on a white plate. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

For our big Sunday night meal, we grilled burgers with the ground chuck I bought and added the twice baked potatoes and baked beans.

A photo of the author's dinner: cheeseburger with twice baked potato and baked beans on a paper plate on a pink table. Photo by Zoe Valentine.Photo by Zoe Valentine.

Of course, just because one buys ground chuck, it doesn’t guarantee amazing burgers, but it does give you a nice head start. I can take exactly zero credit for how well our burgers turned out — that’s all my husband — but the quality of the meat is extremely apparent. The bacon from Saturday made another appearance on a couple of the burgers, too; all in all, we got two meals and a snack out of the slab I bought.

Before this meal, we hadn’t tried their baked beans before, but I can say that we will be buying them again. For me, baked beans are usually take-‘em-or-leave-‘em, but these were outstanding. The brisket added an extra depth of flavor and richness, and the sauce itself wasn’t overly sweet. Our potatoes came out perfectly with loads of melted cheese and green onion to hold the filling together. These are so good that you’ll find yourself eating the whole thing, skin and all. For those who don’t want an entire potato, two people could reasonably split one.

We had a truly tasty weekend, thanks to what I picked up from Old Time Meat & Deli. My husband and I have been going there for years, and we almost exclusively buy our meat from them because we know the deli is careful about where they source their meats. Old Time Meat & Deli takes pride in their cuts and handling, and they provide terrific service — and we prefer supporting a locally-owned business.

If you haven’t stopped in yet, do yourself a favor, and give them a try. You will be hard pressed to find anything disappointing.

Old Time Meat & Deli
2018 S. Neil Street
Champaign
M-Sa 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Top image by Zoe Valentine.