This year’s Champaign Park District's Taste of C-U was crowded with happy families and foodies ready to some of the culinary delights Champaign-Urbana has to offer. When I say crowded, I mean that sidewalks were busting at the seams, tables were full to the brim, and food vendor lines were steady and strong. I arrived around 7 p.m. on Saturday and wasn’t expecting so many people to still be out and about, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. It was wonderful to be around my community and in the jovial atmosphere.
Once through the main entrance I headed toward the ticket tent to get my taste tickets ($1 each, sold in $5 sheets). Despite the crowds, I got my tickets quickly and was off to start my culinary journey of C-U. As I strolled around to choose my first taste, I enjoyed live music coming from the main stage and savored a cold beer from the Rewind 92.5 Beer Tent. They offered local craft beer from Riggs, JT Walkers, Blind Pig, and Triptych, as well as ice cold margaritas and domestic beer.
My first choice was to head straight to The Pop Stop. I got a refreshing taste popsicle for 1 ticket and moved on to find some hearty food to follow it up. The scent of herbs caught my attention and it was driving me crazy, so I went in search of the smell. It ended up being Baldarotta’s tent, where I had a full signature porketta sandwich for 7 tickets and a taste of the Sicilian sausage sandwich for 2 tickets. The mild Italian sausage was still surprisingly spicy and the peppers and sausage that topped it off were seasoned and cooked to perfection. The herb smell, I think it was fennel among others, that had brought me to the tent was the porketta sandwich. The pork was tender and flavorful and the slice of white cheese that draped the top was thick and gooey. Next, I stopped by one of my local favorites Caribbean Grill. I’m totally addicted to their unique and delicious island fruit punch, which was 3 tickets.
The tent that caught my eye next was the newly opened Stango Cuisine. They offer a mix of African cuisine, including the beef pie I selected for 4 tickets. I really had no idea what to expect when I bit into the flaky crust, but it ended up being scrumptious. The glorious mixture of beans, beef, and spices hidden inside the colorful crispy crust was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. I tried to get an idea of what made this thing of beauty so tasty but, understandably, the ingredients are a safely guarded secret only known by those who create them. I can’t wait to visit them in Lincoln Square Mall to sample more of their fare.
The next stop was the Jenkins Catering Snack Shack, and they had quite an extensive menu to choose from. Their taste offerings were Italian beef, BBQ pork sandwich, or ice cream for 2 tickets each. They also had cheeseburgers, hot dogs, nachos, cheesecake, cake pops and popcorn just to name a few. If you ever have the munchies, this truck would be like food heaven.
I was starting to get full, but I was craving a good old fashioned cheeseburger to end the night right. I’ve had some good cheeseburgers in this town, but had never tried one from Scotty’s Brewhouse. I decided to just go for it and try the Plain Jane burger for 6 tickets and the mushroom and swiss burger for 7 tickets. The generously sized burgers were juicy and seasoned well, and the cheese was thick and melted nicely. It was honestly a really great burger, but it didn't stand up to their giant loaded chili cheese dogs. Just…wow.
I needed a sweet treat before I left so I also stopped by the SOS Veteran’s Truck for some good old fair food. Getting a funnel cake to devour was a no brainer and I couldn’t resist a giant salted pretzel with cheese. They were both piping bit hot and delightful.
By this time I was so full that I felt a semi food coma coming on. I just walked around a bit before I left and relished the cooler weather and beautiful live music by singer-songwriter Emily Blue. Her songs are amazingly catchy. As I walked I thought about what a superb event Taste of C-U has become. Not only are there new vendors every year, but they also display work by local artists and have a huge Kid Zone sponsored by the chambanamoms.com. The kiddos were running around reveling in the rainbow colored bubbles, having their faces painted, and working off energy in bouncy houses, and of course the playground was open to enjoy.
This entertaining summer event has a little something for everyone. I love to discover new exciting foods, learn about new local music, and artists. If you’ve never been to the Taste of C-U I would highly recommend putting on the calendar for next year. Thank you to all of the workers and volunteers that put so much effort into this extravaganza — it couldn’t happen without them. I‘m already looking forward to Taste of C-U 2019!
Photos by Rebecca Wells