Smile Politely

Just a taste, promise…

“Taste of Champaign? What’s that?”
“Well, you know the Taste of Chicago?”

After finding out that “Taste of (insert appropriate location here)” is not a concept that everybody with a capacity to consume edible products knows, I invited my two friends from Wisconsin to come with me.

Traversing through the festival/fair/eating event, we found that there were also craft tents strategically placed adjacent to the food tents. So in a figurative sense, one can get a taste of Champaign by perusing the local art scene. There was an impressive array of jewelry, vibrant paintings, and pottery of various sizes. People also had the opportunity to experience how each artist created their work, as demos were scheduled to enlighten a passerby and hopefully entice a purchase. Following the path of the craft tents led us to a fountain in West Side Park, where the event was located, and just past it were lines of food vendor tents.

From the more known chains like Smoothie King to the local Vietnamese eatery Xinh Xinh Café, the choices seemed to cater to a wide demographic. But upon tasting the actual food, one realizes that despite recognition and the promise of good local fare, the Taste of Champaign does not do these places justice.

Although the concept of getting “tastes” of restaurants in the area sounds promising, the actual experience falls short. One vendor that people seemed keen on visiting was the Zorba’s tent. As we approached the tent, there were many people surrounding it hoping to get their hands on the gyros that they have been missing since the location was damaged by the fire in the spring. Unfortunately, the hype was undermined by the expense and insufficient amount of food that was given.

This was pretty much the case, across the board.

That being said, the quality of the food was almost redeemed as booths like Ko Fusion and Xinh Xinh served accessible food that would hold up well to sitting out. The sushi from the former tasted fresh and the flavors were well-balanced. Xinh Xinh’s sticky rice dessert benefited from its characteristic of tasting as it should no matter what the temperature. It was not too sweet and refreshing with its slight hint of coconut.

Taste of Champaign also featured a fun zone with inflatable playgrounds and video game booths. There was also a rock climbing wall in case anyone wanted to test their ability to climb things. We took a pass on that, mainly because we were halfway up the wall already by just standing next to it.

Though the Taste of Champaign suffers from delusions of grandeur in concept, it does deliver on its intention: to make people aware that there is quality food within Champaign-Urbana. This was just a baby step in getting to know the diverse and tasty food scene in town. Just be aware that the cost is a little high for not very much food. A “taste,” if you will.

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