Smile Politely

Cozy up with drinks and shareable bites at the outdoor patio of Punch!

Readers, I went out on a date. I’ve had lots of date nights in (and more date nights in) this pandemic. My husband and I work from home, and our children attend school on zoom. It’s a lot of time with our children — which has been lovely — but we have missed the going out part of date nights.

On a chilly evening, we bundled up and headed out for a date. My biggest requirements were somewhere with good drinks and somewhere with outdoor heating. When my husband suggested Punch!, I was down to give it a go.

At the outdoor patio for Punch! in Champaign, there are several metal tables. Beside a giant flame heater, there is a table for two with the author's husband's head cropped out but his gray shoes and outfit are on the right side of the photo. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Peep my cute husband at our outdoor table. When we arrived, we went inside to ask for a table outside by a heater. A friendly staff person walked us to a table for two on the patio. With the wind blustering, we placed our first drink order at a restaurant in this pandemic: two hot toddies.

A hot toddy set from Punch! sits on a silver outdoor table. There is a glass mug with a lemon slice and French press with the drink in it. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Punch!’s hot toddy ($9) came in a French press and a glass mug with a thick lemon slice. The toddy was made with Old Forrester bourbon and loose leaf masala chai from Walnut Street Tea Company.

A full glass of hot toddy sits besides a French press on a silver outdoor table at Punch!. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I loved how cute this drink was. Rarely do drinks come with accessories! It felt so fancy. I gave the press a few pumps (don’t know if you’re supposed to, but if I see a button, I’m going to press it) and then poured it into my glass mug and watched the lemon rise in my cup. It was nice to hold the warm glass on a winter night out.

An overhead shot of the author's hot toddy. The lemon circle is floating in a brown drink in a clear glass mug above the author's jeaned lap. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The herby drink had earthy chai notes with a brightness and tart from the lemon. It wasn’t very strong; we joked that maybe it was a non-alcoholic hot toddy (compared to our heavy pours at home), but it was very delicious. We sipped our first glass while watching the cars breeze down Neil Street and lingered in the silence of being away from our kids for a moment. The French press had enough for another pour, so we each poured another half glass which was even more spicy and lemony than the first.

A rectangle of the White Russian bar from Punch! sits on a plate on a silver outdoor table beside a flame heater. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We started with dessert because we’re wild like that. This White Russian bar ($8) had a chocolate cookie crust, espresso cheesecake middle, and a vanilla cream cheese frosting dusted with cocoa powder.

An overhead shot of the White Russian bar on a yellow plate from Punch! Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

This three-layered cake was large, definitely enough to split. The thick and tall dessert had a delicious coffee taste. The bottom was like a dense brownie mixed with a crumbly cookie. The middle was creamy with strong mocha and espresso flavors. The top was a generous, rich cream cheesy topping with a tang that balanced the strong coffee notes. It was yummy on the patio, and I think it would be yummy for takeout as well.

A green mug holds a cocktail with charred marshmallows and a metal fork sticking out. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I was still a bit cold on the patio, so I ordered another hot drink. This drink was called And Then You Roast The Mallow ($11). Made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Mozart chocolate cream liqueur, Giffard Vanille de Madagascar, chocolate, almond milk, and bourbon infused marshmallows charred and melted on top — and served with a fork. It was decadant and piping hot which was great for a wintery night on the patio, like a boozy hot chocolate. The sugar crystalized on the marshmallow, and when I took a forkful of just mallow, I could taste the bourbon infusion, and it was divine. The dusting of cookie crumbles gave a nice texture as did the melty, gooey marshmallow.

Unfortunately, this drink is no longer available as it was part of the specialty winter cocktails; fortunately, there are ten new speciality cocktails for spring.

An overhead shot of the wings platter on a long, rectangular piece of wood. On the left, there is a kale-pineapple slaw, in the middle, a miniature dipping sauce, and on the right, six jerk wings covered in sauce on a metal outdoor table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We had planned to go for just drinks, but if you give me a drink, I’m going to want a little snack to go with it. We also ordered the jerk BBQ chicken wings ($11.75) from the sharable bites part of the menu. 

A close up of the six wings from Punch!. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I love wings, and these six wings were lovable. Covered in a sticky sauce with a zing, these wings were not too spicy, and they were full of flavor. The sauce started smoky and ended with a jerk flavor finish. The meat was tender and fell right off the bones. The little coconut flakes on top were pretty, but I didn’t really taste them against the jerk sauce. These half dozen wings were phenomenal. 

A kale-pineapple slaw sits in a metal square bowl beside a mini cup of a yellow-ish blue cheese sauce on a wooden platter. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The wings came with a bleu cheese dipping sauce and a kale-pineapple-coconut slaw. The spicy meat went really well with the creamy bleu cheese sauce. I didn’t really use much of the dipping sauce because I thought the wings were solid without it.

The slaw had kale, bell peppers, apple chunks, craisins, and pineapple tossed in a sweet and cold white dressing. The dressing was plentiful which was good because I’m not eating kale by itself. I loved bites with the pineapple and bell peppers. It was definitely sweet, especially fruit covered in the dressing, but it was a good side to the hot wings.

A Manhattan from Punch! has a metal stir stick, an orange peel, and a cheery inside the brownish cocktail in a clear glass. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We ended the night with one final drink. I ordered a Manhattan ($10) from Punch!’s classic cocktail menu. This Manhattan was made with Journeyman Last Feather rye, Carpano Antica, orange and angostura bitters, and cherry. It was fantastic: very strong with slightly bitter and herbal notes from the Italian vermouth. I always enjoy a Manhattan, and this version was top-notch.

If you’re ready to go out for drinks, Punch! is a great spot to visit. They do offer pick-up and delivery (which I wrote about in March), and Punch! also has indoor dining and patio dining available. There aren’t many tables outside, but it does seem that many chose to sit indoors while we visited, so you should have decent luck scoring a table on the patio. 

Punch! Bar
217 N Neil St
M-Th 4 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 4 p.m. to midnight

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Food + Drink Editor

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