Smile Politely

Date Lab: Putting your date ideas to the test

Date Nights: the bane of most couple’s existences. By the time you decide that a date needs to happen, you’ve run out of energy to decide what to do. Allow me to help. I’m test-driving the best date ideas in the area to make date night easy and enjoyable, just the way you intended.

Most of my date night ideas have been pulled directly from the depths of Pinterest, and I was eager to tailor my date night ideas list to the local community. Using my social media and field reporting skills, I gathered data from roughly 50 randomly selected individuals, local community members, and college students alike. I asked people on Facebook, in classrooms, at a coffee shop, on the campus quad, and received a huge variety of suggestions. Several restaurant options were consistently mentioned, including Black Dog Smoke & Ale House, Seven Saints, and The Bread Company. My friend Tyler (yes, Mom, he’s just a friend) agreed to test this date with me and of those options, he chose Seven Saints. To make this event a little more interesting, I decided to throw an experience into the mix. In addition to receiving suggestions for restaurants, many people suggested going on a picnic. For this first test-drive, I merged the two ideas for a sure-to-be-successful option.

On a Sunday afternoon, we placed an order at Seven Saints in downtown Champaign. Tyler chose the Portobello Sandwich ($8.75) and I selected three signature sliders, salmon ($4.25), turkey ($3.35) and fried chicken ($3.35); we each ordered a side of waffle fries ($2.60). We had time in between ordering and pick-up to get cupcakes from Cream and Flutter, just around the corner. We purchased both of the signature September flavors, lemon blackberry and s’mores ($8.30). After picking up our Seven Saints order, we ventured over to the University of Illinois Arboretum for our picnic lunch.

Due to the transportation time between locations, our sandwiches had absorbed a bit of the moisture that formed in the boxes. As a result, our fries and bread/buns were a bit less crispy than if they had come right out of the kitchen. With that being said, our food was still marvelous. It was easy to eat in a picnic setting and each sandwich mixed a variety of textures that made each bite interesting. I loved the salmon slider; it was slightly salty, which provided wonderful contrast to the dill sauce. Tyler’s sandwich was very filling and he only got through half of it before surrendering and saving it for a later time.

We both agreed that our cupcakes stole the show! My s’mores cupcake was topped with perfectly browned marshmallow meringue, a feat I’m never quite able to accomplish with my own marshmallows. After peeling away the wrapper, I discovered a layer of graham cracker crust supporting the bottom. This combined beautifully with the marshmallow meringue and the chocolate ganache layered in the center, providing a rich, textured desert. Tyler’s blackberry lemon cupcake was topped with blackberry buttercream, and had fresh lemon curd in the center. These cupcakes were a perfect conclusion to our picnic lunch.

The picnic ambiance was charming and light-hearted. This is a perfect idea for those looking for a casual, low-key date. However, dates need to be romantic, not just charming, right? So, we analyzed the “romance factor” of this date. We were in a space that wasn’t totally private but allotted us our own area, uninterrupted by waiters or other customers. We were able to spend time together talking and walking around, rather than being tethered to a table, and were surrounded by the beauty of nature. We were able to get close on a small blanket and the exploring involved allowed for a shared experience, rather than just time spent together (remember, Mom, just friends).

I would recommend a picnic component of a date for fans of Wes Anderson Films and Etsy. This experience was perfect for an afternoon and could be made more romantic (switching to an evening and fancier set up/food) or more casual (perhaps just deserts or homemade sandwiches) depending on the needs of the date-goers. Our afternoon concluded on the mutual agreement that this “date” was highly successful and definitely one worth keeping in the books, or in my case, on my Pinterest board.

All photos by Stephanie Svarz. 

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