October is one of my favorite months. After a hot summer, I crave the respite of autumn’s reliably cooler weather. Fall in Central Illinois has got to be one of the most beautiful things in the world: leaves changing color, crisp mornings, beautiful evenings, and lots of great fall activities around town like picking apples, pumpkin picking, and picking up pretty fallen leaves.
Another favorite fall activity of mine is eating and drinking. If you like apple and pumpkin treats, check out my fall eats and treats article from last month. This month’s list is more of a vibe; to me, these are the things I need in October: an affordable sandwich, takeout birria tacos, thick bacon, and two great cocktails that are worth going out for (but are also available to go).
Pastrami on Rye | Cheese & Crackers + CI Bakehouse
For me and my family, October means settling into fall semester routines. Every school day, I pack lunches. This week, I made these pastrami sandwiches for under $3 per sammie. I picked up a half loaf of rye bread ($4.25) from Central Illinois Bakehouse at the Saturday farmers’ market and a pound of pastrami ($12.99) from Cheese & Crackers. The pastrami was sliced thin and the shaved slices of pastrami had a great peppery edge. I love this particular pastrami so much because of its exceptional flavor and how Cheese & Crackers slice the meat fresh when I order it — and I have used this pastrami in the past for a sandwich charcuterie. This week, I am keeping the bag of deli meat on the top shelf in my fridge and putting pastrami on some bread with a smear of thousand island dressing and sliced onion, and it is the most satisfying lunch — and so easy to assemble.
The rye bread from Central Illinois Bakehouse is wonderful sandwich bread to have on hand, especially when you have pastrami too because together they are simply delicious. Central Illinois Bakehouse’s rye bread has little seeds and a hearty flavor that I can’t get enough of. I also like to eat the rye bread as toast with some avocado slices. You can buy a full loaf or a half loaf from CI Bakehouse at either of the farmers’ markets: Saturday mornings in Urbana or Tuesday afternoons in Champaign. A friendly reminder that October is the last month of our outdoor farmers’ markets, so be sure to grab some this month.
Cheese & Crackers
1715 W Kirby Ave
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
French Martini | Hamilton Walker’s
Made with Hamilton Walker’s vodka, Chambord, and pineapple juice, this is a cocktail I think about at night, wishing I could have another. HW’s French martini ($10) was so delicious and fruity. It looked fancy, and it tasted even fancier. Shaken cold and garnished with a lemon peel, this martini had a lovely pineapple flavor which made the vodka taste smooth. If you are wary of martinis (or you love martinis), this one from Hamilton Walker’s should be on your radar as one to try. It was such a well balanced tasty drink, and I definitely want another of this cocktail.
Hamilton Walker’s updated their drink menu recently, and there are several new cocktails with fun names like Penicillin and Tuxedo #2 to try. Don’t forget that if you’re ordering curbside pick up from the Downtown Champaign steakhouse, you can order any of HW’s cocktails to go.
201 N Neil St
W-Su 4 to 8 p.m.
Birria Tacos | La Mixteca
I learned in 2020 that takeout is life, and after getting many a taco to go, I know I like takeout tacos. This birria taco dinner ($10.99) from La Mixeca is on the regular menu everyday. Served with a side of rice and beans (and a bag of hot corn chips), La Mixteca’s birria tacos were excellent.
Three tacos were filled with tender meat and topped with cilantro and raw white onions, and the outside was crispy (even on my takeout tacos). The birria dipping sauce was out of this world: so thin and insanely tasty with great pepper and cilantro flavors. I dipped the tacos in the sauce, and it seeped into the taco and the meat to give a messy, saucy, yummy bite. There was a really nice heat that was enjoyable and not overwhelming. The flavors in this were so bright and so very good; La Mixteca’s birria taco dinner is a terrific dish whether you enjoy it at the restaurant or as takeout.
510 N Cunningham Ave
M-F 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa+Su 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Thick Bacon | Moore Family Farm
It’s the last month of the farmers’ market season, so go get some of this awesome bacon ($6.75 per pound) from Moore Family Farm at the Urbana Saturday Market in the Square. Smoked and cured at the farm, this bacon is thick; I’m talking thicc. I like to cook my bacon in the oven at 400 degrees on parchment paper (for easy clean up) until it’s done. This bacon had an incredible salty and meaty flavor. This pound of bacon took my weekend breakfast up a notch. The slices were thicker than any bacon I’ve ever had, and of course, it tasted great. The bag I bought fed my family of four perfectly, so if you have a bigger family or are hosting brunch guests, get more than one pound of their bacon.
You can also find other offerings like ground beef, sirloin tip roasts, beef kabobs, liver, brisket, NY strip steaks, lamb, jumbo sized eggs, whole chickens, chicken breasts, bratwurst, sausage links, pork spare ribs, and more at the Moore Family Farm market stand on Saturdays.
Moore Family Farm
2013 N 1950 E Road
Harvest Moon Cocktail | Punch! Bar
Made with Por Siempre sotol, Nixta licor de Elote, ginger, lime, and cilantro oil, this Harvest Moon cocktail ($9) from Punch! tasted like fall. It was kind of a savory cocktail, and it looked pretty with cilantro oil dotting a semi circle.
The cocktail had a buttery maize flavor from the Nixta licor de Elote and a spiciness from ginger. The Por Siempre sotol is a Mexican drink that is neither tequila nor mezcal; Por Siempre Sotol is a spirit that comes from a plant called sotol, and it had a smoky, grassy flavor which paired so well with the ginger and corn flavors. This Harvest Moon was a fantastic, punchy cocktail.
The speciality cocktails at Punch! Bar have been changed to all new autumn cocktails on the bar’s drink menu including Smoke and Smolder which I wrote about last month. You can enjoy the drinks at the Downtown Champaign bar or order any of the drinks to go.
217 N Neil St
Su-Th 4 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 4 p.m. to midnight