Smile Politely

Five foods and drinks that I’m thankful for

Thanksgiving week is here. Usually, I’m preparing to host friends for a big feast where we eat and drink — and let the kids go nuts in the basement while we finish off bubbly. But not this year; this year, it’s just me, the huzbuzz, and our kids. The pandemic has hindered my social life, but it has made me realize the many things for which I’m grateful: my family, my house, my backyard, my job, my internet connection, pajamas, tacos, and wine bottles with a screwcap.

Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, and yet, our C-U restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops have been working hard to adjust their businesses to be able to serve carryout that is as good as dining in. I haven’t eaten onsite at a restaurant since early March when I started as Food & Drink Editor, but I will tell you: takeout is where it’s at. Dining in the comfort of your own home (in pajamas) with restaurant dishes is 2020 life, and it’s the pivot we need to embrace for this long winter — with gratitude that we’re able to enjoy our favorite restaurants, support the staff when they need it the most, and stay safe during this pandemic. I’m grateful to all the restaurateurs, chefs, servers, and staff who make my order, package it up, and give it to me to eat. Thank you, C-U food industry, for all you do.

I have a lot to be thankful for in my life — and I could list at least 50 foods and drinks that I’m thankful for — but I’ll share with you just five foods and drinks that I’m grateful to be able to enjoy.

A half slab of ribs from Black Dog in Champaign are in brown piece of parchment paper. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pork Ribs | Black Dog Smoke & Ale

I am thankful for meat every Thanksgiving, but this Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for Black Dog’s ribs. When I first moved to Champaign in late 2013, Black Dog in Urbana was the first place someone took me, and since then, Black Dog ribs and whiskey (and twice baked potato casserole) have been a C-U staple for me.

Black Dog’s pork spareribs are $17.95 for a platter of half a slab of ribs and two sides, but you can also just buy a full slab of ribs for $21.95 with no sides included. Black Dog’s ribs are smoked for three to four hours to tenderness that falls off the bones; there is nothing but a pile of clean bones left. The meat is smoky, porky, and so damn delicious. I like to dip my ribs in the Lexington dip (a thin, vinegar sauce), but Black Dog’s ribs don’t need any sauce to be good. These ribs are so great that it’s literally the first thing I add to my cart when we put in our online order.

Black Dog is open for carryout and also outdoor dining at the Champaign location in their four-season porch. Place your order for pickup or delivery by Black Dog here.

Black Dog Smoke & Ale
320 N Chestnut
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

A ham, egg, and cheese sandwich from The Bread Company in Urbana is in a tin foil piece with the charred ham and peppery egg sticking out. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Ham, Egg, & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich | The Bread Company

The grab-and-go half sandwiches ($3.50) from The Bread Company are downright addictive, and I’ve been obsessed with them since July. The egg and cheese sammies come with your choice of one item added: bacon, ham, sausage, mushroom, spinach, or tomato. I always choose ham for my breakfast egg and cheese. I like to ask my kids, “Who wants to go watch Mommy pick up a sandwich from campus?” on mornings when we’re bored, and I’m hungry. The sandwich is perfection, honestly, and worth the trip. 

The ham is shaved and slightly charred from the grill. The cheese is fancy and melted, and you know the bread is incredible from a place called The Bread Company. The egg is expertly cooked and imperfectly-shaped like eggs should be allowed to be. The toasted bread has a dijonaise spread that gives a good tang to the salty ham and peppery egg.

I’m grateful for places like The Bread Company who have pivoted their business from a cozy date night in spot to a safe, window-service establishment with available outside tables. This made-to-order breakfast sandwich is always still really hot when I get home — and affordably fantastic that I must continue to get one weekly.

The Bread Company
706 S Goodwin Ave
M 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
T-F 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa 3 to 9 p.m.

Two cocktails from Hamilton Walker's sit on a black table. The cocktail on the right is an Old Fashioned, and the one on the left is Bees Knees. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

To Go Cocktails | Hamilton Walker’s

The stay-at-home initiatives have been a struggle to enjoy, but I have certainly enjoyed cocktails to go. Hamilton Walker’s has totally nailed the to go cocktail game. Served in sealed bottles with a pretty decal and garnishes in teeny containers, these bougie cocktails are as good as they look. Heavy on the liquor, you will feel the buzz quickly, and I’m thankful for that.

I shared Hamilton Walker’s Hemmingway cocktail in my September Five Things article. Recently, I went back to try out the Old Fashioned ($14) and the Bees Knees ($14) cocktails. I know $14 might sounds a lot for a drink at home, but I’ve found these to make two drinks — which I find to be a pretty good deal considering how strong they tasted and the fact that I don’t have to purchase (and store) all the liquors, mixers, or garnishes needed for these drinks.

Two Hamilton Walker's cocktails glasses are sealed with a black cover. Beside them are two miniature cups with covers holding garnish. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Old Fashioned is made with bourbon, bitters, demerara simple syrup, amarena cherry, and an orange twist. It was a strong drink that had a whiskey burn with a sugary cherry flavor. It was definitely a sipping cocktail; there is no way to finish this drink quickly. It tasted fancy and strong, and I liked it.

The Bees Knees is a cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, honey, and a lemon twist. This one was very lemony as you’d expect from the color; there was a sweetness from the honey that came through the lemon bite. As all Hamilton Walker’s cocktails do, this one had a warm, boozy finish that made me happy.  

Hamilton Walker’s
201 N Neil St
W + Th 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
F + Sa 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Four pastor tacos with cilantro and onions are in a takeout container. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pastor Tacos | Los Hidalguense

Taco trucks have always been something I’m grateful for, and this new taco truck — that opened this year in the middle of a pandemic — is great. These tacos are tacos I think about when I look into my fridge and see only spinach leaves, and I go, “Not today, spinach!” and I go get some tacos from the Los Hidalguense taco truck.

Tacos from Los Hidalguense ($2.50 each) come Mexican style or American, and I prefer the simplicity of the Mexican style: just cilantro and onions. These tacos can come with a variety of meat (steak, chorizo, pastor, chicken, or ground beef), but I always choose pastor because it’s the best one. The pastor meat is cooked with pineapple chunks, and getting a bite of pineapple with the pork is a salty-sweet flavor explosion that I can’t get enough of. The tacos have double corn tortillas, and neither tortilla falls apart as you eat them. If tacos aren’t your jam, check out my review of the Los Hidalguense truck to see what else you could order. Spoiler: try the ground beef burrito.

I’m thankful that I can call or text my order in, so when I get there, I just pay and take my tacos home. Go ahead and add this number to your phone right now: 217-369-4371. You can call or text your order in advance, or you can just order at the truck which is parked daily in front of Hunter’s Haven.

Los Hidalguense
1040 W Bloomington Rd
11 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily

An overhead shot of a delivery order from Merry Ann's Diner featuring a mikshakes, a burger and fries in an open styrofoam container, another container holding panckes, and a skinny styrofoam container holding two slices of bacon. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Burgers at 8 a.m. | Merry Ann’s Diner

You know what I need sometimes? A burger at 8 a.m.. Sometimes my body needs lunch in the morning, and I cannot wait for lunch hours. Merry Ann’s gets me; they’ll make pancakes and bacon (for my husband) and a burger with fries for me. It is my go-to hangover cure. One morning burger, and the hangover is gone.

Merry Ann’s whole beef cheeseburger with fries ($6.25) is classic diner fare and reliably tasty. The burger comes with a grilled bun, a thin beef patty, and melted American cheese with all the toppings on the side. Sometimes I just do meat, cheese, and mayo, but sometimes I splurge for the grilled onions ($0.25) as well.

A close up shot of a burger and fries in a styrofoam container from Merry Ann's Diner in Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

It’s a 24 hour diner, so you can order food anytime, whenever you’re hungry. Might I suggest this burger delivered to your front porch at 8 a.m.? You can order your meal for pickup by calling 217-352-5399, but they also offer delivery through GrubHub.

I’m thankful Merry Ann’s doesn’t believe in only breakfast foods at breakfast; that’s the kind of vibe we all need right now.

Merry Ann’s Diner
1510 S Neil St
Open 24/7

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Food + Drink Editor

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