Summer is here, and we're into the thick of it (ugh). We're tramping through the summer; on and on, we push. I've spent my summer split between being outside enjoying summer things and being inside my house enjoyng TikTok while laying down.

One thing is constant for me, though, this summer: good freaking food. This month, I'm sharing things you must try, dear readers. I've lined up five essentials this month: two cold drinks and three sweet eats. 


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Gooey Butter Cake | Baxter's American Grill

Praise be for patio weather. This gooey butter cake ($6) is best enjoyed outside on Baxter's patio watching cars drive by on Neil Street. The cake alone would have been enough for me, but the two scoops of chocolate ice cream and the fresh fruit garnish took this over the top. The cake was dense and super gooey with a layer of cream cheese frosting that was just as thick as the cake. The frosting was soft, and the caramel drizzle was a sweet addition. The fruit tartness cut through the sweetness of the cake, and the ice cream gave a great texture (and temperature) contrast. All in all, this was such a yummy dish, and for $6, you can't skip this dessert.

Baxter's American Grill
100 Trade Center Drive
Champaign
M-F 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa 3 to 9 p.m.
Su 3 to 8 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Maple Bacon Sticky Bun | Central Illinois Bakehouse

When I was at the Urbana farmers' market, I had baguette on my shopping list, but when I saw this monster of a baked good with bits of bacon on it, I had to impulse buy it. I'm so glad I did. This sticky bun was ginormous. Most times, I like to eat my treats by myself, but I split this between four adults for dessert. The bun itself was so fresh and soft. The frosting was a super sweet maple flavor, and there were sprinkles of bacon slices atop. The maple-bacon flavor combination is a favorite of mine, and if you haven't yet tried this version from Central Illinois Bakehouse, you need to. Find Central Illinois Bakehouse at both markets: Saturday in Urbana from 7 a.m. to noon and on Tuesday in Champaign from 3 to 6 p.m.

Central Illinois Bakehouse

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Champagne Cocktail | Hamilton Walker's

I love the cocktails at Hamilton Walker's, and this champagne cocktail ($8) was a pretty one to look at. Made with sparkling wine, angostura bitters, and a single sugar cube, this cocktail brought the bubbles. I loved watching the sugar cube dissolve, and I liked drinking this elevated glass of champagne. The sparkling wine had a delightfully dry taste with a slight fruitiness from the bitters. This was a lovely apertif to sip while browsing HW's dinner menu. This drink wasn't overly complicated, and that sugar cube made me feel fancy. Sure, I can pop a bottle of champagne at home, but I don't have sugar cubes at home — and even if I did, I am not sure I'd have the forethought to add one to my bubbly. If you want an elegant evening drink, this champagne cocktail would be perfect. Book your dinner reservation for HW's here.

Hamilton Walker's
201 N Neil St
Champaign
W+Th 4 to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 4 to 8:30 p.m.
Su 4 to 8 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Chicken and "Waffles" | NAYA

I am obsessed with this chicken and "waffles" ($13) dish from NAYA, and I've been back a few times to get this brunch item because it's that good. The funnel cake makes for a fun pairing instead of the classic waffle. I need funnel cake if it's on the menu. The crunch of the chicken and the honey butter glaze on the batter was incredible. The "waffles" were dusted with powdered sugar, and the huge scoop of soft butter was literally the icing on this funnel cake. This dish is everything I want for brunch: salty, sweet, and way better than anything I can cook at home. The ambiance at NAYA is beautiful, and the drinks are actually pretty cheap ($4.50 for a mimosa), so brunch is a must do. Remember NAYA's brunch is only on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., so secure a rez before you go.

NAYA
212 E Green St
Champaign
T+W 5 to 10 p.m.
Th 5 to 9 p.m.
F 5 to 10 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 1:45 + 5 to 10 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cold Brew Concentrate | Nitro Cup

Nitro Cup is at the Urbana Market in the Square every Saturday morning serving cold brew coffee. A few readers might wonder, what is cold brew coffee? Cold brew is coffee that is made cold, never heated. Nitro Cup has a bike with cold brew taps and a cooler of cold brew concentrate; check out our interview with one of the co-owners. This 64 ounce cold brew in a glass jar ($25) was awesome. Made with locally roasted coffee, the cold brew was made black, but to me, the flavor was less harsh than regular black coffee. The cold brew concentrate needs to be mixed with water in equal ratio. I like to take a mug, pour some concentrate about halfway, then finish with water, and stir. Next, I add cream and sugar if I'm feeling like it, but Nitro Cup's coffee is great as is.

I know the sticker price seems high at $25, but this 64 ounce jar will make 128 ounces of coffee (16 mugs) which calculates to about $1.50 for each cup of solid cold brew, so I actually think it's a deal. We took a jar of concentrate with us on vacation, so we didn't have to worry about using a tiny coffee machine; we just brought Nitro Cup's jar, and making coffee was so easy each morning (just add water). If you're not ready to have a huge jar of cold brew in your fridge, you can also get cold brew coffee on tap by the cup for $4 for a 12 ounces and $5 for a 16 ounces. If you like cold brew concentrate, you can buy the big 64 ounce jar like I did, or you can also purchase a smaller 32 ounce jar for $15. 

Nitro Cup

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.