Smile Politely

Watson’s Shack and Rail offers seasonal lunch options

I was really excited to hear that Watson’s is now open for lunch. It is a regular go-to for a date night with my husband, so I looked forward to determining if it could also be a feasible working-lunch option. My husband and I and a couple of our friends gave it a try on our lunch break last week.

Upon arrival, there were a few other tables of people who looked as though they were also on their lunch breaks; this made me hopeful that we could get in and out in under an hour. I specifically chose a Tuesday because I saw on their Facebook that it was “taco Tuesday” and I had heard great things about their chicken tacos. When we placed our order, I was told that the specials are only nighttime offerings, so I was not able to order the tacos for lunch. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed, but now this gives me an excuse not to cook dinner on some other Tuesday night.

Watson’s updates the menu frequently based on the season and availability fresh ingredients. There were some really nice sounding fall options that we were excited to try. Being that this was a working lunch, only one of us decided to imbibe. My friend ordered a Gorky Park Mule ($7), a frozen Moscow Mule. He said the balance of spicy ginger to tart lime was perfect, and there was a very mild vodka flavor. If it had not been lunch, I would have definitely chosen my new favorite drink (I had tried it the week before at dinner time), the Forbidden Apple ($9). This slushie is made with Curtis Orchard cider and is garnished with half of a Curtis cider donut. It has the perfect amount of sweetness and the alcohol flavor is not overwhelming.

For an appetizer, a friend ordered chicharrones, delicately fried pig skin, which are much more delicious than they sound. When fried, the chicharrones take on the texture of a cheese puff, but the flavor is complex and meaty. These chicharrones are dusted in nacho cheese powder, but the flavor is different than nacho flavored corn chips as these are more herby and less synthetic tasting. They were delicious, and at $7, reasonably priced for the big bucket that we were given. Our server even gave my friend a lid for the bucket for him to take the leftovers home, which was a nice feature.

We ordered a few different lunch options. I ordered a new menu item, the buffalo starchild sandwich ($12), which came with potato wedges. The sandwich consisted of a fried chicken thigh smothered in buffalo sauce, sorghum glazed bacon, ranch, blue cheese, and lettuce, on a Central Illinois Bakehouse bun. The chicken thigh was fried perfectly and very tender. The blue cheese and ranch provided a tangy bite and the bun was soft and absorbed all of the sauces. The only element that I did not enjoy was the sorghum glazed bacon. It was a bit limp and fatty, and the glaze was overwhelmingly sweet, to the point that it overtook the flavor of the buffalo sauce. Once I removed the bacon, I was very happy with the sandwich. The potato wedges were freshly fried and crispy on the outside, but soft and pillow-like on the inside.

My husband ordered the chicken sandwich ($9). He chose spit roasted chicken instead of fried chicken. It came on a Central Illinois Bakehouse bun with herbed mayo, in-house made pickles, and lettuce. My husband loved the bun, the pickles and the herbed mayo added a complexity to the sandwich, but he felt that the pulled chicken was very dry. He decided that he would stick to fried chicken from now on. He felt that the price was reasonable at $9 because it also included potato wedges.

One of our friends ordered a menu stand-by, the fried half bird ($16). He said that the skin was perfectly crispy and the meat inside was tender. He ordered two sauces, Carolina gold and buffalo. He greatly enjoyed the heat from the buffalo sauce, and the sweetness from the Carolina gold sauce.

Another of our friends ordered a seasonal menu item, the fall bounty salad. The salad included Blue Moon kale, roasted butternut squash, maple pecans, apples, and dried cranberries with a miso-mustard vinaigrette. Our server suggested that he add blue cheese and pulled chicken to the salad as well, which he did. He greatly enjoyed this salad and the variety of fall flavors, both sweet and savory. The acidic components were well balanced and there was a nice variety of texture provided by the walnuts and cranberries. He felt that the addition of the cheese and chicken was great as well. The only thing impeding my friend from ordering this salad again in the future is the price. While the salad uses wonderful fresh and local ingredients, the cost may be off-putting to some. The salad without any additions costs $9, which he felt was reasonable, but with the addition of the blue cheese ($1) and the chicken ($4), the salad came to $14, which seemed expensive for lunch.

Our experience with Watson’s lunch menu was positive. We were in and out in about 45 minutes, which is a good amount of time for a working lunch. There were elements to each lunch option that we really enjoyed, and pieces that weren’t our favorite, but overall we enjoyed our lunch.

Watson’s is located at 211 North Neil Street, Champaign, and open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (brunch from11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The kitchen is closed from 2 to 4 p.m.

All photos by Jessica Wolff. 

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