Smile Politely

Watson’s Shack and Rail is a hip spot for fried chicken and more

Watson’s Shack and Rail is known for their Nashville hot chicken, but their menu spans a variety of unique offerings that you will find something that you enjoy. Plus, Watson’s embraces what it means to be local. A poster inside lists 12 area businesses they use to supply them with food, beer, and spirits.

On the wall inside Watson's Shack & Rail, there is a framed chalkboard with a list of the local producers the restaurant uses in the restaurant. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch. 

The woodwork inside was made by Urbana-based company Lucent Designworks, Inc. The décor is rustic with a lot of hip artwork and musical instruments on the wall. The music played is very eclectic and entertaining. No matter who is controlling the playlist, I always enjoy it.

There is a lot to love about Watson’s including the food. The best thing about Watson’s is their unique menu and recipes. You truly cannot get what Watson’s offers anywhere in the area. Watson’s is uniquely Champaign-Urbana, and that is what I love about it most.

On a wooden table, there is a pint glass of slush with a cinnamon donut on top. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

You can’t talk about Watson’s without talking about their slushies ($9). They have a variety to choose from and offer two ounce flights of each slushie flavor if you cannot decide. We decided to try their seasonal slush, The Authorized Apple ($6). This is the booze-free alternative to their Forbidden Apple Slush ($10) which has both rum and bourbon. The slush was made with Curtis Orchard Cider (did I mention local suppliers?), and served in an ice cold pint glass with a cinnamon donut apple garnish! The big ass purple straw comes with a one brain freeze guarantee. It was a great way to start our lunch.

In a red and white checkered parchment paper lined basket, there are wings covered in a light orange Carolina gold sauce. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Next, we had half a pound of wings ($8) spun in Carolina gold sauce. The Carolina gold sauce was outstanding. The first time we tried it, we told our server we would like to buy some to go. She said they really don’t sell the sauce. We nicely asked her to have the manager name a price, and we would pay it and give the sauce a good home. We agreed on terms and took the sauce home.

Carolina gold sauce is a mustard-based sauce with some vinegar, but it is perfectly balanced with sweet elements. If you haven’t tried it, do what your mom would suggest and always try something once before claiming you don’t like it. The wings are fried nice and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside with a scallion garnish. You can also order a full pound for $15.

On a plate lined with red and white checkered parchment paper, there is a fried chicken sandwich with the top of the bun to the side revealing the white poached egg on top. Beside the sandwich is a lot of potato wedges dusted in an orange seasoning. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of fried chicken sandwiches over my lifetime from all over the country. The Du Velo ($16) may be the best I’ve ever had. It is certainly in the top three. It’s made with a Nashville hot chicken thigh, crisp pork belly, American cheese, herb mayo, and a glorious fried egg on a brioche bun. This sandwich was really a decadent treat. I had my egg over easy because I need that gooey yolk to cascade through the entire sandwich; ask for an entire roll of paper towels.

The chicken was the star of this sandwich. The thigh was nice and moist. and the sauce brought the heat which was cooled by the succulent herb mayo and brioche bun. And really, how can you go wrong with adding American cheese and pork belly on anything? The answer is you cannot. And if the sandwich isn’t enough, it comes with a side of tasty potato wedges. We saved some leftover Carolina gold sauce from the wings to use as a dipping sauce for the potato wedges.

An overhead photo shows a big white bowl with maple bourbon bread pudding topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Beside the big bowl is a small bowl of cinnamon apples. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

If you have read my reviews before, you know I’ll order something solely based on the name. This leads us to maple bourbon bread pudding ($10). If the name wasn’t enough, it was served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. There is something delightful about a warm dessert slowly melting ice cream. The bread pudding had both sweet and savory elements, and the ice cream offered such a sweet and creamy counterbalance, making this a tremendous dessert. The caramel sauce tied the bread pudding and ice cream together in a wonderful marriage of flavors.

Watson’s menu also features firecracker shrimp, rice bowls, tofu po’boy, and Nashville hot fish. Their signature cocktails and slushies are as high quality as their food. Oh yeah, did I mention gravy fries with Ropp’s cheese curds with fried chicken? Sounds like I have my appetizer planned for my next visit.

Watson’s Shack and Rail
211 N Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. + 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Top image by Carl Busch.

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