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The Greatest Midwest Food Town

Joanna Strauss's picture

We are so lucky. This was my thought on a recent Saturday that perfectly illustrated just how fortunate we who live near such amazing local food really are.

On Saturday, September 9 Champaign Urbana was officially honored by Midwest Living magazine with their "Greatest Midwest Food Town" award for their 2017 Food Edition. Midwest Living Magazine staff arranged for a series of fun, engaging events throughout the day to highlight this distinction and many of the incredible local restaurants, breweries, chefs, and markets we have.  I started my Saturday as I often do, with a trip to the Urbana Farmer's Market but this market had a special welcome from Midwest Living with a band and surprise swing dancing flash mob from the Illini Swing Society. It really was slightly magical, walking amongst the aisles of fresh produce, with glipses of people dancing and upbeat music wafting through the air, people running into one another, bits of conversation floating around, kids chirping out cute things to adoring parents, the weather in the perfect upper sixties/low seventies with absolutely no humidity. Midwest Living magazine coundn't have picked a better day to visit our twin cities and check us out. 

Later in the day I stopped by another of the Midwest Living's celebratory events, this one at the Blind Pig in downtown Champaign. Here too was that feeling, that everything seemed almost surreal: the live music, the pockets of crowds in various alleyways and sidewalks chattering and laughing, people eating al fresco, Midwest Living staff smiling and passing out treats, a raffle of U2 tickets. I was ambush interviewed about my favorite restaurant for a Facebook Live video and had to laugh as I started with restaurants that I've been going to my entire life, like Timponi's, and moved along to those more recent to the Champaign Urbana landscape like Bacaro and V. Picasso but could not choose an absolute favorite. It just isn't possible. There are too many great dining options and in many cases a lot of dining options with food from the very same farms represented at the market I had visited in the morning.

And as far as farm-to-table, the evenings plans were just that. Friends had invited my boyfriend and me to Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery's 100 Yard Farm. Now this time I was ready for the magic. I'm a photographer and I rarely bring my camera along to any non-work related events but I just knew it was going to be that sunset-y perfect evening with a quaint farm backdrop complete with random run away goats that I'd want to capture.

We toured the farm and listened as they discussed how they grew what we were about to eat. We pet the goats walking around, made small talk with strangers.


And pretty soon we were nestled in amongst people we'd never met, enjoying the goat meatballs with spicy tomato sauce and herbed yogurt. The entire menu (pictured here) was absolutely incredible and hand selected with care by the growers and makers and you could just taste the fresh, earthiness of the veggies and the tart, newness of the rhubarb. 

As it became too dark to photograph all the lovely courses, I simply enjoyed the evening full of deliciousness and wonderful company. Midwest Living was right on the money, we have some truly amazing food, from markets to farms to restaurants to farm-to-table events, and virtually right in our backyard. I marvel at my charming day of local, food related events but also acknowledge to myself just how frequently weekends in Champaign Urbana are filled with Friday Night Lives and downtown streetfests full of people enjoying themselves with good food and drinks. Maybe we aren't just lucky to have such great food, maybe we are lucky that good food bring us together and brings about great people. Congratulations, Midwest Living Magazine Food Edition Greatest Midwest Food Town 2017, Champaign Urbana, you deserve it!

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