Yesterday was quite a busy day. I had a full day of interviews, another pre-night for more interviews, and had to walk around Champaign buying Illini t-shirts for friends (Joe and Ariel, I bought you two Illini shirts!!) After a full day of work related functions, I finally had a minute to myself (and Audrey) and we chowed down on pizza (ONCE AGAIN).
Thursday, 4:45 PM - call Monical’s on Kirby to place an order for a medium pizza – half pepperoni, half onion, chicken, and green peppers. Ask for an extra side of French dressing because their dressing is da BOMB.
Thursday, 6:25 PM - finally have the opportunity to pick up the pizza from Monical’s – we were supposed to leave at 5 PM, but didn’t end up leaving until much later because of interviews and such. Thought of the cold pizza we’d be eating.
I had to rush to another event at Kennedy’s immediately after all of the interviews so I didn’t have a chance to eat any pizza, but I let Audrey start without me because I knew she’d starve otherwise. Here’s our half-eaten pizza:
Thursday, 9:30 PM – Begin devouring pizza while watching The Office. Yes, I realize I am on central time and that The Office is on at 8 PM here, but Audrey saved the episode for me. Okay, back to the pizza. The red sauce is their “special sauce” – kind of similar to the Papa John’s garlic sauce that you can dip your pizza in; I hate French dressing on salad, but French dressing with fat and carbs just WORK! The crust is really thin and also crispy (kind of like matzo with more flavor). The pepperoni was a little greasy, but if you douse it with French dressing, who cares how greasy it is!!
Thursday, 9:45 PM - realize during the middle of The Office that Custard Cup (Jarling’s) closes in FIFTEEN MINUTES. Tell Audrey to stop everything she’s doing to run to get custard. End up driving across the street:
The inside smells SO delicious – like freshly baked cookies EVERYDAY:
I almost worked there when I was in high school, but decided against it because I was afraid I’d get too fat from eating custard. I got fat, but because of other foods! I told Audrey that my favorite thing to order there is the cold fudge with custard (in all seriousness, I’d probably shower with cold fudge if I had an endless supply of it). I ordered a strawberry custard (which used to only be available on Wednesday’s) with cold fudge. Audrey followed suit by ordering their vanilla custard and cold fudge:
Audrey was really impressed with their cold fudge and loved the congealed texture. It tastes like Jell-O, but thicker. Kind of like the chocolate fudge sauce you get at McDonald’s, but it’s a lot thicker AND it’s served COLD. Crazy, I know. Custard cup is the best because they make their custard in the shop AND it’s from the milk from cows from UIUC. Pretty amazing, I know. Tom Hanks’ brother used to be a professor at UIUC and when Tom visited, he would always hit up Custard Cup. If Tom gives it the seal of approval, you know it’s good!
Thursday, 10:30 PM – creepily drove by my old house and took photographs. Didn’t have the opportunity to go to the backyard to check out the peach tree or the Asian pear tree.
I also headed to Firehaus and Brother’s after driving to my place and realized just how old I am because I didn’t recognize ANYONE there. Now I don’t regret my decision to fly back to New York tonight (Friday) instead of Sunday.
Surprising how good the food in Champaign is, right??
So, I’ve been in Champaign for all of 14 hours and I’ve already been to THREE restaurants (two of them were on my list and one was just for a quick breakfast). I started off my Champaign pizza adventure with Jupiter’s Pizza, a downtown bar (with pool tables and food). My brother, David, introduced me to Jupiter’s and we used to pick up the pizza bianco all the time. Our ritual during the holidays was to pick up a pizza bianco, pick up a movie at Hollywood Video, drive home and eat pizza and blueberries while watching a movie (FYI: it was AWESOMEZ). Since I’m only in Champaign for three nights (two days), I have to take advantage of the little time I have here, so I landed, checked into my hotel, and called Jupiter’s to place an order.
Wednesday night, 11:45 PM: Audrey picks me up and drives me to Jupiter’s
Surprisingly, I barely remembered how to get to Jupiter’s (located on Main Street in downtown Champaign) and we had to look it up on my blackberry. I’ve only been gone from Champaign for two years and a half years and I’ve already forgotten all of the street names! ANYWAY, we arrived at Jupiter’s and I popped into the bar to pick up our piping hot pizza’s.
My pizza bianco:
The pizza bianco comes with olive oil, mozzarella/provolone, onion, spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, oregano, and basil. It’s all on a cracker thin crust that kind of resembles a hearty saltine and the combination is absolutely amazing. I’m not a fan on onions on pizza, but Jupiter’s cuts the onions into little pieces that aren’t stringy (which makes a difference when you’re eating pizza!).
Audrey ordered the barbeque chicken pizza with barbeque sauce, mozzarella/provolone, chicken, and onions. She wasn’t that hungry, but really enjoyed the pizza and ate about half of her personal pizza (they’re only 9 inches).
Jupiter’s is freaking awesome because 1. the pizza actually tastes really good and 2. they are FREAKING CHEAP AS HELL! A personal pizza is freaking $6.50 and on Wednesdays they have some deal (it’s not listed on the website but when I called in, the guy that took my order gave me $1.50 off EACH PIZZA!!). MAN I MISS CHAMPAIGN!
Thursday morning, 7:45 AM: Drive to Atlanta Bread (which looks EXACTLY like Panera bread) and order a honey wheat bagel and lite cream cheese. The lite cream cheese doesn’t taste like anything and I’m upset with myself that I wasted a meal on Atlanta Bread.
Thursday afternoon, 12:15 PM: Meet up with Audrey and walk to Za’s (which is now known as MiaZa’s but the food is exactly the same and the logos are all still Za’s). Order a custom pizza (with a whole wheat crust!) with pesto sauce, roma tomatoes, pineapples, jalapenos, and mushrooms.
Thursday afternoon, 12:20PM: Wait patiently for my pizza to come out of the scrolling oven. It looks delicious!!
Here’s the pizza:
The whole wheat crust kind of fell apart and I would’ve preferred a plain crust, but otherwise, it was absolutely great. The pesto at Za’s is better than pesto I’ve had from restaurants (and I’m pretty sure it just comes from a can). Audrey ordered a panini that she thoroughly enjoyed and I also had a side of tomato basil soup (which I would’ve liked more if it wasn’t cream based).
Tonight, I’m going to hit up custard cup and maybe hit up Tang Dynasty or Monical’s. It’s surprising how much freaking GOOD PIZZA IS IN CHAMPAIGN!!!
I’ll be back with another update of my Champaign adventures later tomorrow!
Hey guys, I’ll be on the radio TOMORROW morning at 11 AM on WBAI (99.5 FM in New York). Eneida del Valle, my wonderful friend that I met at the screening of The Duchess, interviewed me for the radio show the “Women’s Collective” – tune in for an interview all about gracenotesnyc!
If you’re not in the New York area or can’t access the radio station, I’ll try to post the interview on the blog soon. Thanks for reading (and listening!)
Edit: Eneida sent me a link to listen to the show online: WBAI live-streaming.
· October 8, 2008
Under: Cheap Eats
Ha ha do you like my creative blog title?
I’m headed to Champaign TONIGHT for some interviews and will be stopping by all of my favorite restaurants while I’m there. Here’s a list of some of the places I WANT to visit:
1. Custard Cup (Jarlings) – hopefully it’s still open because I LOVE their cold fudge!
2. Papa Dels Pizzeria – their thick crust pizza is better than anything I’ve had in Chicago (although Pequod’s is quite amazing)
3. Jupiter’s – I really hope they still have the artichoke pizza
4. Za’s- I LOVE LOVE LOVE their pizza creations
5. Zorba’s – awesome gyro’s with amazing cucumber sauce
6. Monical’s Pizza- the place that taught me to dip thin-crust pizza in French dressing (don’t knock it until you try it!)
7. The Great Impasta - everything is pretty amazing there
8. La Bamba – I used to eat their super nachos when I was sober because I thought they were so good!
9. EVO Cafe – is that place still around? Maybe I’ll stop by for some bubble tea (although their shrimp fried rice was also pretty good)
10. Tang Dynasty – the best Chinese food (well, ever since Mandarin Wok changed owners)
11. Courier Cafe – their potato skins and milk shakes are drool-worthy
Any place I’m missing? I don’t know how I’m going to fit all of these restaurants into a two day (three night) visit, but if you know anything about my eating habits, I’ll probably get to at least 7 of these places. I haven’t been back to Champaign since I graduated (in 2006), so please let me know if I should check out any other spots!
One of my roommates from college, John, came to New York over the weekend. John hasn’t been to the city since last summer and I wanted to show him a good time, so I made a reservation for Saturday night at Employees Only. I figured Employees Only would be a good restaurant to go to because John wanted to get a “New York experience” but also have good food and maybe a drink or two. I looked at the menu beforehand with Chris and we decided we would share a bunch of plates so we could all sample a thing or two (it’s more fun when you’re in a group, too). We wanted to try the steak tartar, the sweetbreads (we weren’t going to tell John and Joe what sweetbreads were until after they tried them), the scallops, and the Merguez Stuffed Lamb Loin because Chris loves Merguez sausage.
When we arrived at Employees Only, the doorman asked if we had a reservation and what the name was – I told him we were here for the Grace reservation and he knew that we had four people in our reservation AND that one other person was already inside – pretty impressive, considering he didn’t have any notes or anything (I later found out from Joe that the doorman did have a notepad with everyone’s reservation, but I thought it was really impressive before I found out). Anyway, we were seated right away and started looking at the drink menu while we waited for John to find his way to the restaurant.
The signature drinks are all supposed to be amazing, but we started off with the Amelia, which is a combination of Russian Standard Vodka & St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with Pureed Blackberries & Fresh Lemon Juice (Joe actually ordered the Amelia and thought it was too fruity). I thought it tasted like an amazing blackberry juice (I didn’t even taste the alcohol but then it HIT ME all of a sudden). Based of the waitresses recommendation, I ordered the Fraise Sauvage – Plymouth Gin shaken with Wild Strawberries & Tahitian Vanilla, topped off with Mumm Joyesse Demi-Sec Champagne and Chris ordered the Billionaire’s cocktail – Bakers Bourbon shaken with Lemon juice Homemade Grenadine & Absinthe Bitters. My drink was really light and fruity and I traded with Chris because he liked my drink more than his drink (his drink wasn’t that bad, but I don’t think he likes bourbon. I’ve had my fair share of bourbon experiences, so I drank the billionaire’s cocktail and gave him my drink).
After John arrived, we agreed on ordering four dishes. Originally, we REALLY wanted to try the scallops, but they weren’t on the menu so we opted for the potato gnocchi instead:
The gnocchi came with an assortment of mushrooms and was the only thing we ordered that I didn’t like. Gnocchi is really difficult to make (I tried a while back and had disastrous results) but this gnocchi was too mealy and mushy. John agreed with me and wasn’t a huge fan of the gnocchi, but Joe licked the plate clean because he really liked the mushrooms.
Our next dish was the steak tartar, which is prepared tableside:
I realized that I’ve never had steak tartar (I don’t think) and was really excited to try it. They present the hand cut steak and organic egg yolk first and then this lady comes over the prepare it for you tableside (just like guacamole at a Mexican restaurant!):
This woman was pretty cool, especially the black leather gloves, and helped us make the steak tartar. She added scallions, salt, mustard, capers, and Worchestershire sauce and seasoned it with a little more salt and pepper. Here’s John with a slice of French bread and some lettuce with the steak tartar:
It was everyone’s first time trying the steak tartar and we all loved it (and didn’t even think about how we were eating raw egg yolks and raw steak).
Our next dish (and possibly my favorite) was the seared rib-eye with potato gratin:
Originally, we weren’t sure whether or not to order the rib-eye, but the table next to us ordered it and we saw how large and amazingly delicious it looked, so we decided to get it for our table. The large piece of meat comes on a CHOPPING BOARD. I mean, it is a large piece of FREAKING MEAT. Joe originally told me that we wouldn’t be able to finish it all, but I told him that I can put away a 24 ounce porterhouse, so he shouldn’t worry about finishing the rib-eye.
The rib-eye comes with mustard, lemon, sea salt, and jalapeno peppers, all interesting toppings. The waitress suggested we use the combination of mustard and jalapeno peppers, which was actually John’s favorite way to eat the steak. Chris’ favorite way to eat steak was with a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor of the steak. I tried cutting the steak for everyone, but ended up shaking the table, so Chris was nice enough to cut the steak into bite sized pieces for everyone. I thought the steak was a little tad on the dry side, but the lemon helped bring some tangy-ness to the steak. The steak wasn’t seasoned at all (which was done intentionally), so I ate every piece with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon. I tried one piece with jalapeno, but my pepper was larger than my meat and I burned my tongue.
Our last dish was the Merguez Stuffed Lamb Loin:
The Merguez sausage was seasoned like taco meat, but the lamb was so tender and juicy (I mean, look how raw the lamb is). We all liked the dish, but I think the table didn’t appreciate my taco comment because they all tasted the Taco Bell-ness of the meat after I mentioned it.
Here are some gratuitous pictures of John and Joe because Joe thinks I never give him the attention he deserves:
And maybe it’s not Joe not getting enough attention from his friends, it’s his friends that don’t get enough attention from HIM!:
Yes, they were BOTH on their cell phones in the middle of dinner. HOW RUDE.
We didn’t end up ordering desserts and thought the service dropped off a little after our entrees came, but overall, it was a really enjoyable experience. During the warmer months, Employees Only has an outdoor garden (I’m not sure if you can eat out there of if it’s just standing room for drinks). By the time we finished our meal, the bar area was completely packed and it was kind of a pain to leave the restaurant, but the restaurant was so small that we didn’t have to push too many people out of the way. The restaurant seems like it would be a great place for a birthday party, so it might be the perfect location for Chris and my next birthday party (our birthdays are in MAY, in case you forgot).