Smile Politely

Dancing Dog brings vegan to downtown Urbana

Dancing Dog Eatery, an all-vegan restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in downtown Urbana, opened with limited hours a couple weeks ago. 

It felt like a pretty big deal to me. I don’t eat meat, so its opening means there are now two places in town — Red Herring being the other — where everything on the menu is something I’d want to order. I stopped by last Friday to have lunch and try their food for the first time.

The first thing that struck me when I walked in the door is that the owners have done an amazing job renovating the space. The restaurant was cozy and tastefully decorated, perfect for a quick lunch or for settling in to get some work done over some fresh-squeezed juice. The big windows made the interior bright and inviting, even with last Friday’s blustery weather. The restaurant also has a second level; I was told they don’t have food service on the second floor, but patrons can order food or drinks to go and then eat their meal upstairs. The service was exceptional; all of the wait staff were very attentive and seemed eager to tell me about what the restaurant has to offer.

Here are Dancing Dog’s menus from that day (they told me some of their selections change daily):

Last Friday’s chilly weather had me craving something hearty, so I decided to go for one of their faux meat dishes. My first choice was the Italian Sausage and Peppers sandwich, but when I learned they were out, I ordered the Meatball Marinara instead. 

The food was brought to my table, and overall, I was very impressed by what arrived. The sandwich was on mouthwateringly fresh homemade bread, and the meatballs were very tasty with a bit of a spicy kick. The marinara sauce, also homemade, was richly flavored and delicious.

The main issue I had with the sandwich was that it got soggy fairly quickly; I had to eat about half of it with a fork after the bread got soaked through with marinara. I’m guessing a crusty bread — possibly a hoagie roll — would work better for a saucy sandwich like this one. Either way, I didn’t want any of the flavors to go to waste.

I was less impressed by the classic “chips and a pickle” side, especially since the chips were a pretty basic and greasy. In my experience, most vegans/vegetarians are pretty underwhelmed by greasy food. A higher-quality chip, such as Sun Chips or Miss Vickie’s, seems more appropriate. My favorite vegan and vegetarian restaurants cater to their customers’ salad fetishes by offering a daily selection of grain, bean, and/or leafy salads to choose from for the standard side, with soup or a larger portion of salad available for an additional cost.

Since Dancing Dog is a juicery as well as a restaurant, I sampled an eight-ounce Tingler, a blend of freshly squeezed spinach, kale, beets, carrot, cucumber, parsley, ginger, lemon, lime, orange, and apple. This juice was nothing short of awesome. It was sweet, balanced with earthy flavors from the beets and tangy flavors from the citrus. I had to hold myself back from slurping down the entire glass in my first drink.

Unfortunately, since I was on a solo lunch, the number of items I could try from the menu was pretty limited. But from what I spied of others’ meals, everything looked fantastic (especially the fresh-made Quinoa Salad, which I regretted not ordering after seeing how tasty it looked at a table next to mine). The selection of baked goods looked wonderful, as did the Green Lentil Soup, which I noticed was served in a very generous portion.

In total, my meal cost around $16, which I thought was fairly reasonable for a high-quality vegan meal. Fresh juice blends tend to be expensive, so $5 for an eight-ounce glass matched my expectations. The $9 sandwich would have been more worth it to me of the side had been of higher quality, as mentioned above. But I think these prices are consistent with what vegan/vegetarian diners will find in the area.

Overall, lunching at Dancing Dog was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to eating my way through their entire menu.

Dancing Dog, located at 126 W. Main St. in downtown Urbana, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and brunch from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. on Sunday. Check out daily specials on their Facebook page.

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