The outdoor Market at the Square is still a couple of weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long to find scrumptious treats at the Lincoln Square Mall. Between the Winter Farmers' Market, Baldarotta’s, and the Common Ground Food Co-op, no one should go hungry there on a Saturday morning.

If you arrive at the golden hour between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., the sleepy mall transforms into a food lover’s paradise. You can catch the tail end of the Farmers' Market, nab a sandwich from Baldarotta’s just as they open, and round out your haul with a hot drink from the Co-op. These are some of the items that keep me going back for more.


Beef Pie from Stango Cuisine. A golden orange beef handpie cut in half set on a plate with yellow edges and white center. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Beef Pie | Stango Cuisine

Stango Cuisine will probably be the first food stop you see if you’re walking in the southern doors to the Winter Farmers’ market. Officially, the restaurant does not open until 11 a.m., but Stango does set out a few nibbles before opening time for market-goers.

I decided to try one of their palm-sized beef pies ($4.50). The crisp and flaky crust was what caught my eye, but it was the filling that surprised me in the best way possible. When I took my first bite, I expected to feel the granular texture of ground beef. Instead, I was greeted by a silky-smooth beef pâté, lightly spiced (much like a beef samosa) with a bit of heat from chile peppers. The smooth pâté and the crisp crust created a delightful textural contrast.

Stango Cuisine
140 Lincoln Square Mall
Urbana
Tu-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Danish from CI Bakehouse. A round danish, puffed pastry on the outer ring, white cream cheese and red raspberry preserves in the center. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Danish | Central Illinois Bakehouse

Next, walking through the mall’s main thoroughfare, you will probably come across the long lines at the Central Illinois Bakehouse stand. With their wide selection of country loaves, sourdoughs, bagels, danishes, and more, it was not easy to select just one item. The moment I laid eyes on their raspberry cream cheese danish ($3.50), though, I knew it was the one for me.

At six inches wide, these danishes from the Central Illinois Bakehouse are ginormous. You could probably use them for liferafts in a pinch. The outer ring was a delicious, buttery pastry, while the center featured a perfect yin and yang of raspberry-flavored cream cheese and raspberry preserves. I have a running order to pick these up anytime I find them and always “more than one, please.”

Central Illinois Bakehouse

Pecan Pie from Brit's House of Sweets. A round pecan pie with crimped edges set in an aluminum pan. The top (pecans) is shiny mahogany brown. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Pecan Pie | Brit’s House of Sweets

At the end of the thoroughfare, you will find Brittany and her beautifully crafted selection of sweets. I had some trouble choosing amongst all the temptations on the table, so Brittany helped me by suggesting I try one of her pies. Grateful for her suggestion, I picked out a personal-sized pecan pie ($10) with neatly crimped edges and a shimmering pecan top. I had never tasted a pecan pie before. In fact, I had specifically avoided them because I thought they would be too sweet for my tastes. I’m so glad I finally tried this version. Was it sweet? Yes. Was it fantastic? Also, yes!

I started with one large slice. The crunchy pecan and streusel-like topping gave way to a soft pool of browned butter caramel sauce below. I scraped my fork across the plate to grab a bit of crust, caramel, and pecan on each bite. I intended to eat this pie over several days, for the sake of moderation, but that didn’t happen. It lasted me a day and a half — and that was while practicing a lot of self-restraint.

Brit's House of Sweets
aka Brittany's Sweet Spot

Pastrami and Pepperoncini Melt from Baldarotta's. A cross-section view of a sandwich with thick slices of red/pink pastrami, green pepperoncini, and melted cheese.  In the background (blurry), is a beige bag of chips. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Pastrami and Pepperoncini Melt | Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage

Finding yourself close to the mall food court, you’ll want to make your way to Baldarotta’s. I arrived just as they were opening, and a line had formed already. I noticed a Saturday special posted at the counter: pastrami and pepperoncini melt ($12). That's what I decided to order.

I had to wait a while to get my sandwich, but the wait was worth it. The smoky slabs of caraway- and coriander-flavored pastrami cradled in marbled rye was exactly what my hungry stomach was craving. Caramelized onions, whole pepperoncini, sharp mustard, and lots of melted swiss cheese rounded out this sandwich’s flavors. This monster sammie ended up serving as my breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the two sides (kettle-cooked chips and pickle) filling in the gaps.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
Lincoln Square Food Court
300 S. Broadway Ave.
Urbana
Tu-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m
Su 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Golden Milk Latte from Common Ground Food Co-op. A top view of a cup of white frothy latte with yellow edges. The cup sits on a grey concrete floor. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Golden Milk Latte | Common Ground Food Co-op

Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to complete your Lincoln Square haul with a sippable drink from Common Ground. Having been caffeine-free (and proud) for several years now, I’m always excited to find new ways to fill my desire for a hot and flavorful morning drink sans the jitters. I was pleased to see that the Common Ground had several drinks that fit this bill.

I chose a 12 ounce cup of their golden milk latte ($3.50), which reminded me of a therapeutic drink (haldi doodh) served in India. I’d like to say I chose the latte for turmeric’s immune-boosting properties, but really, it just sounded good. The frothy steamed milk with the sunshiny color and flavor of turmeric warmed up my fingers and taste buds in the most soothing way. It felt like drinking a lightly sweetened cup of Spring.

Common Ground Food Co-op
Lincoln Square Mall
300 S Broadway Ave
Urbana
7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Top image by Tias Paul.