Li’l Porgy’s Barbeque has been a venerable local institution since 1979. It’s no secret the restaurant business is difficult. Many places have come and gone over the 43 years Porgy’s has been in operation. So it comes as no surprise that they must be doing something really well.

Not even a recent fire could stop them from re-building, and the locals have come back in droves to enjoy quality meat cooked on wood and Porgy's amazing secret sauce. Now that customers can buy the sauce, I know many formal locals who make Porgy’s their first stop so they can bring the sauce back home. The sauce comes in mild, mix, hot, and extra hot. My preference is mixed sauce on the side, so I can dip my fries and white bread in all that goodness.  


Photo by Carl Busch.

After graduating from SIU, I was lucky to get a job offer back in my hometown of Champaign, and I haven’t left since. Back then (in my old man’s voice), we wore suits and ties for work, and we liked it! Casual Friday was years away. My first week of work I went to Li’l Porgy’s for lunch. It was always a challenge not to get any sauce on my dress clothes, but I had planned well and didn’t wear a white dress shirt. I had set my tray down with the sauce on the side, and as I sat down, my tie dunked right in the sauce. Talk about an epic fail before I even took a bite. (That tie did smell wonderful for days until I took it to a dry cleaner.) It didn’t deter me from going back to Porgy’s time and again for their wonderful barbeque, sauces, lemon shake ups, and fountain Fanta Strawberry.

Photo by Carl Busch.

I’m a rib tip fiend, so my first order was small rib tips ($8 for eight ounces, bread and fries included) with mixed sauce on the side. The tips had a great bark on the outside and a wonderful flavor from the wood smoke. They were meaty and tender — and easy to eat. For $8, I think they are one of the best values on the menu. After devouring the rib tips, I dipped the fries and bread in that wonderful sauce. I always save the fries and bread for last as my dessert.

Photo by Carl Busch.

My drink was a yummy lemon shake up (small $1.85, medium $2.25, large $2.50), and this version was better than any shake up at the fair. It was a nice, sweet counterbalance to any item on the menu.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Next up was third slab of pork ribs ($10 for four ribs, bread and fries included) with mixed sauce on the side. First thing to strike me was that these ribs were meaty and came with the tips attached! I prefer ribs that are tender but not fall off the bone tender — and these are those ribs. They were plenty tender and easy to eat, and I liked being able to hold the rib and eat it without it falling apart. The texture made these ribs a pleasure to eat. The flavor was as wonderful as the tips, which make sense since the tips are cut off from these ribs.

Photo by Carl Busch.

If you visit Porgy’s website, you will see a banner message: "ATTENTION: Beef ribs are back!" Beef ribs are available on Friday only, so I used this as an excuse for a second visit on a Friday. I channeled my inner Fred Flintstone and ordered half slab beef ribs ($12, fries and bread included) with mixed sauce on the side.

The beef ribs were excellent and much larger than the pork version. They had the same great bark, smoke, and flavor as the pork ribs and tips plus a whole lot of meat. In fact, I was not able to finish them all and brought some home, which made breakfast the next morning awesome! Cold beef ribs kick cold pizza’s ass any day.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Now let’s talk about my guilty pleasure. I don’t drink a ton of pop, and when I do, it is typically diet. If I’m not getting a lemon shake up at Porgy’s, then it is fountain Fanta Strawberry. First off, I don’t know anywhere else in town you can get fountain Fanta Strawberry. Secondly, there is something about sweet strawberry pop that pairs so well with barbeque. I love seeing that red goodness pour into my cup in anticipation of washing my wonderful food down with it.

Photo by Carl Busch.

If you haven’t tried it, I urge you to give it a go. Since you now pour your own at Porgy’s and refills are free, just pour a little in a cup to see if you like it. All fountain drinks are $1.85, $2.25, or $2.50 with free refills if you dine in.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Li’l Porgy’s is as local as it gets. It is amazing to me that over three decades of going there, I still see some of the same regulars. On my last two visits, I saw my former next-door neighbor and a high school classmate. Customers are friendly to one another, and it makes for homey atmosphere. It is a wonderful diverse collection of people supporting a local business. I no longer wear a suit and tie, which makes it even more enjoyable.

Porgy’s also caters and you can view the full catering menu here.

Li’l Porgy’s Barbeque
1917 W. Springfield Ave.
Champaign, IL
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily 

Top image by Carl Busch.