Smile Politely

The inaugural Pygmalion Food Festival: a preview

The Pygmalion Festival is the highlight of the early fall for many, myself included. There’s a celebration of the end of the summer and the coming together of locals and visitors. The festival footprint is more or less the entirety of C-U, and there’s an opportunity to visit places around town you might otherwise forget or dismiss, and to discover new things: music, literature, technology, artisan crafts, and this year, food. 

This year the festival is bringing a new component: food. This new food event is the only festival in C-U truly dedicated to celebrating thoughtful, tasty, interesting local restaurants and the meals they produce. It’s going to be awesome. This especially curated selection of local restaurants (and chefs) is small and mighty, and I am quite confident that the food will be really delicious.

Pygmalion Food takes place in Downtown Champaign Friday, September 16th from 5 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday, September 17th from 4 p.m. to midnight (or at least until the food’s gone), in the parking lot west of The Accord (N Market and E Main, Champaign). Each restaurant will have a booth or tent, and will offer two dishes: one smaller dish at $4 and one larger at $8. In the spirit of the festival, each dish will incorporate at least one local ingredient. 

This preview article really could have been just one question: Do I really need to explain why this festival sounds so good? But since I have a lot of thoughts and opinions, the article’s a bit longer. I’ve included the quick and dirty details below, if you’re short on time. Otherwise, check out the menus, and be sure to save room in your wallet and stomachs for the deliciousness that will ensue.

Note: Most photos are not exactly what will be served at the festival, but rather close approximations.

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WHAT: Pygmalion Food Festival

WHO: You, your friends, your family, your kids, your cousins, your cousins’ kids. Leave your pets at home, please. 

WHEN: 5 p.m. to midnight, Friday, September 16th and 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, September 17th. 

WHERE: North Market Street and East Main Street, Champaign. The festival is in the parking lot west of The Accord (between Jupiter’s Pizza and The Accord). Note the following road closures, per the City of Champaign: 

To accommodate the Pygmalion Food Festival being held in Downtown this weekend, the following roads and parking lots will be closed beginning at 5 a.m. Friday, September 16th and will reopen at 3 a.m. Sunday, September 18th. Through traffic will not be allowed during the closure.

– Main Street between Walnut Street and Chestnut Street.
– Market Street between Main Street and Taylor Street
– Parking Lot located at intersection of Main Street and Market Street

HOW MUCH: The festival is free to attend. Food prices are $4 and $8 (scroll down for specifics). Drink prices vary. 

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Ricotta Gnocchi with fall vegetable ratatouille, herbs, parmigiano-reggiano | $4

Braised Beef Short Ribs with roasted fall vegetables, potato puree, braising reduction | $8

This menu sounds fantastic. When gnocchi are done right they are tender pillows of heaven, and I’m sure that bacaro will deliver on the proper execution of these little babies. Despite the fact that it will likely still feel like summer this weekend, this dish is a welcome nod to the ensuing fall weather.

Last year bacaro had a braised beef short rib sandwich special during one of the Pygmalion Tech events; it was delicious. (Pictured above.) Like the gnocchi, this could be a heavy choice for a hot day. Perhaps the best strategy here is to eat these items last, or, eat them first, take a walk, and come back and eat other things. Regardless, they must be eaten.

Black Dog Smoke & Ale House

Whole hog sandwiches with Lexington dip BBQ sauce | $4

Piemonte beer sausage with grilled peppers and onions and Triptych beer | $8

Do I even need to explain how and why Black Dog’s food will be delicious? For those of you who are not familiar with the restaurant, Black Dog is one of the most popular and delicious spots in town. Those folks know how to smoke some meat and make some sauce. The beer sausage seems to be a bit of a treat; we don’t often see similar items in Black Dog’s restaurants.

Try both items, for sure, if you can. If you can’t, I’d say try the sausage because it’s something special. The whole hog sammies are special, too, and if you’ve ever had Black Dog you know they know how to work a pig into deliciousness. So maybe you should get that. Or shit, just get both.

(Sadly, mac and cheese is not on the menu for the food festival.)

Farren’s Pub

A selection of Farren’s burgers as sliders: The Russell, The Motherlode, Green Chile, Cheeseburger, Chipotle Black Bean yellow mustard, red catsup | $4

Farren’s has the best burgers in town. It’s true; I did the research. And it’s super exciting that you can get these burgers as sliders, because that means you can eat a bunch, and experience all the flavors (I’m partial to the green chile, pictured above). Although these burgers are super delish, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed that Farren’s isn’t planning on bringing anything new or off menu — the restuarant regulary offers special burgers, and they all sound great. 

Maize Mexican Grill

Tacos: skirt steak, marinated pork, white fish, zucchini blossoms with onion, cilantro, salsa molcajete or tomatillo | two for $4

Tlacoyos: skirt steak, marinated pork, white fish, zucchini blossoms with sour cream, cheese, onion, cilantro, mild or spicy salsa | $4

Locals: Here is your chance to eat Maize in Downtown Champaign. Who knows how long it will be before that much-coveted and eagerly anticipated Downtown restaurant will be opened? 

Maize isn’t doing too much different than what’s normally available. Like Farren’s, if it ain’t broke, you know? Everyone knows how awesome Maize is. Those tacos? I want to eat them all. I don’t believe the molcajete and tomatillo salsas are typically available at the restaurant, which sounds like fun for my mouth. The tlacoyos are tortillas that have been stuffed with a combination of the aforementioned ingredients, and they’re bound to be great. If you haven’t had anything with zucchini blossoms before, here’s an opportunity to try them. They’re delicious.

(Sopes are pictured above, and are sort-of, kind-of, just a little similar to what you’ll find on the tlacoyos.)

Watson’s Shack & Rail

Jerk Wings with local habanero and scotch bonnet peppers; choose half-pound or full pound | $4 or $8


Seriously. It needed to be said in all caps. Jerk chicken was on special at Watson’s in early August, but I missed it. I’m very excited to have a second chance. Those scotch bonnets can cause some serious harm, but in the most pleasurable way. Let’s cross our fingers that these wings are so loved that Watson’s puts them on the menu, or at least in the specials rotation more regularly. Eat these. Get some napkins. Wash your hands before touching your eyes.

(Photo from Watson’s Facebook page, featuring the jerk chicken special from earlier this summer.)

The Pop Stop

Frozen Novelty Bars: pistachio, cucumber melon, pineapple habanero, fudgesicle, strawberry watermelon | $3 each

With all that smoke and spice and meatiness available at the other five booths, a fancy popsicle from The Pop Stop is a necessary palate cleanser. It’ll be cold and refreshing, with interesting flavors that complement your meal(s) and your drink(s). Need a refresher on how good these pops are? Check that out here. I suggest eating one (or two) between courses at each of the restaurants; it’ll help you reset for the next meal. Perhaps you should pick a fruit flavor for between meals. Fruit helps with digestion, right?


Suggested Pairings are available for each dish, featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Tijuana Sweet Heat tequila. Additionally, there will be Bud Light and brews from Goose Island and Triptych Brewing. Coffee is by Columbia Street Roastery.

Pairing suggestions

Bacaro: lemon bourbon fizz (bourbon, lemon, and soda water)

Black Dog: spiked Arnold Palmer (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, iced tea, lemonade)

Farren’s: Moscow mule (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime, ginger beer)

Maize: spicy paloma (Tijuana Sweet Heat tequila, grapefruit, lime, soda water)

Watson’s: Cuba libre (rim, lime, pepsi)

Columbia Street Roastery

Pour Over Pygmalion blend | $3
Dirty Chata:
Maize’s horchata blended with iced coffee | $4
Iced Coffee | $3

Goose Island

Four Star Pils | IPA | Sophie | 312 | Green Line


Curtis: a collaboration with Goose Island, Curtis is a Belgian-inspired beer that was made with Curtis Orchard apple cider. It’s crisp and dry, with hints of tart apple. At 5.5% ABV, it’s totally drinkable in large quantities.

Pygmalion Pils

(Photo from Triptych’s Facebook page.)


All photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted. 

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