Smile Politely

Game Day concessions play-by-play

With each passing year post-graduation I call this town home, Homecoming elicits in me elevating levels of emotion and pride in our school and Illini family. We’re not perfect, but we all shared time here in this amazing pocket of Illinois full of kind and intelligent folks.

Strangely enough, school pride manifests itself in me as a major craving for game food — nachos, hot dogs, you name it. So when Saturday rolled around and we got ready to go to the game, I set my sights on some serious eating.

Here’s a play-by-play analysis for those of you going to the final home games.

First Quarter: Hot Dog

Before we even found our seats, we passed an Eisenberg Grill behind section 116 and couldn’t resist the smell of sizzling hot dogs.

Although condiment options were limited (relish, mustard, ketchup), we devoured our American classic. Something about being at the game made me recess back to the days where all I wanted was one big squirt of ketchup on my hot dog, and it didn’t disappoint.

The hot dog itself, an Eisenberg all-beef ($4), was perfectly charred and still piping hot. Its meaty, greasy interior complemented the sweet ketchup and doughy bun. We appreciated that the bun held up all the way to the end without breakage or sogginess.

Second Quarter: Nachos

I love nachos so much I would eat them every day of my life. Sadly, I’d recommend staying away from the “Sideline Grill” Illini concession stands nacho fare ($5). While I was happy to eat nachos regardless, the chips were too thin, flavorless and almost entirely unsalted. I still can’t place why the nacho cheese was weird, but it had a floury mouthfeel I couldn’t shake with any number of jalapenos.

We passed a couple other nacho options around the stadium. If it’s cheesy goodness you’re craving, I would try one of those.

Third Quarter: Cheeseburger

Having consumed nachos and a hot dog and not felt anything close to satiety, I set out for the big leagues. Downstairs, we passed a lady sinking her teeth into a cheeseburger outside of the Joe’s Brewery stand. My fate was sealed.

I splurged and ordered a bacon cheeseburger ($9; I know. Just a cheeseburger was $8) and a “Joe’s Jumbo Lemonade” ($5). It came out promptly and plenty warm, and we added a hefty portion of coleslaw and pickles before leaving.

The add-ons made it. Slightly sweet and peppery coleslaw, plus crunchy and acidic homemade pickles, took the burger from game-food to gourmet. Unfortunately, my $1 of bacon was lost in all the juicy goodness of the burger and pungent notes of the veggies.

While the hamburger finally hit the spot, Joe’s Jumbo Lemonade tasted like a mix. Maybe they do “make” the drink, but I could have ordered a soda for $4 at the Illini concession stand and been plenty happy.

Final Quarter: Pretzel & cheese

Everyone needs dessert, and my dessert of choice is anything I can dip in cheese sauce. I sprung for the Illini concession stand’s Bavarian soft pretzel ($5) and cheese ($1).

The pretzel was a crowd favorite back at our seats — it had a perfect slightly sweet dough with a robust yeasty flavor that paired well with its generous salting. We largely ignored the cheese sauce because it overpowered the pretzel’s delicate flavor.

Final Thoughts

Although dated, this 2013 Concession Stand map from Illini Loyalty held up to be pretty true .

While I wasn’t blown away with the offerings at the Illini concession stands, a portion of those proceeds do go to the indicated charity, which is awesome. Get your pretzel and soda there and try some other options around the first floor.

Memorial Stadium has several good eats if you are willing to walk. Halftime leads to predictably long lines, but if you’re like me, the band is often more enjoyable to watch than the game itself. Missing a little of the third quarter is always worth it if there’s food involved.

All photos by Emily Cross. 

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