No 'Paign, no gain
A couple of weeks ago we were dogsitting while our older daughter and her family were out of town, and since one of the dogs has a peculiar issue with me my wife suggested that I take a road trip over the weekend. I asked her, "Are you sure?" just enough times to make sure I didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt, and off I went. Because of my business trips to St. Louis last year I have enough Drury Hotels points built up for a few free stays, and while my first thought was to explore Springfield, IL I remembered that there's a Drury in Champaign
When I reached US-52 I exited I-39 and headed east to IL-23, where I headed south to 35th Road. 5 minutes after turning left I was in the parking lot of the Wedron Office
It's not a place that puts on airs, it's a bar.
At 10:15 am I was the first customer of the day, and while the salad bar hadn't yet been assembled the self-serve pot was bubbling away with tasty homemade chicken & rice soup. Even though the outside temperature was already in the 80s on its way to the 90s, I decided to start with a cup. It had good chicken flavor and while I added just a touch of salt, a lot of people would find it to be fine just the way it was.
But I wasn't there for soup. No, the Michael Stern-reviewed
Wedron Office is known for fried chicken.
Like Rip's Tavern
in not-too-far-away Ladd, Wedron's chicken is more crust-centric with the meat being rather mild. It was wonderfully crisp and crunchy and a little less salty than the chicken I had at Rip's a couple of months back, and I enjoyed it very much.
Full but not too so, I headed back to IL-23 and turned south to continue my trip. Before too long I was in Pontiac
, so I thought I'd stretch my legs awhile. The impressive Livingston County Courthouse
is in Pontiac.
As is the Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum
. It's been open for a few years now but this was my first visit. It's not a big museum but it has some interesting cars on display as well as an excellent reference/resource library, and it's air-conditioned. Even with the car's AC on the sun was still taking a toll on me, so a cool, quiet building would be a nice respite. 1964 Parisienne
. The Parisienne was one of the Canadian Pontiac models and was actually built on a Chevrolet chassis and used Chevy running gear, so take away its sheet metal and interior and it's basically a 1964 Impala. 1977 Can Am
, a car very much an example of the "paint & tape" performance of the late '70s. 1967 Grand Prix
. This was the only year Pontiac offered a big-car GP convertible. Check out the oil can collection and the vintage diagnostic machine!
After cooling off I headed east out of Pontiac on IL-116 until I reached IL-47, which would take me south into Mahomet. From there I traveled US-150 east into Champaign
and my next destination: Watson's Shack & Rail
, a trendy, well-reviewed eatery on Neil St.
Neil St. in the area of University Ave. is very pedestrian-friendly, with all kinds of shops and establishments. And beer, although I didn't partake.
It was still hot as blazes outside but when I saw chicken & andouille gumbo on the menu I knew I had to have some. Rich and earthy with just a little heat, it was immensely satisfying and I can't imagine a native Louisianan not giving it his seal of approval.
Just like before...soup first and chicken second. And Watson's chicken is definitely some of the best I've ever had. Ever. I suspect they might use corn meal or corn flour in the breading as the pieces had more of a shell than a crust, and it was altogether delicious.
So no, Watson's probably isn't roadfood but it's definitely worth a visit for anyone in the Champaign area. Maybe next time I'll try their Nashville-style hot chicken...
I was pretty beat after Watson's so I from there I checked into my hotel to rest and shower before visiting Champaign's neighbor later in the evening.
Well, I rolled into Urbana, stolen tags and almost outta gas.
I had to get some chicken, and lately I'd learned how to get it fast.
Them fryer vats was callin' me, somehow I just had to get downtown,
so I reached into the glovebox...another Pepto tab went down.
My final meal for the day would be at Courier Cafe
, which opened in 1980 in the building that once housed the Champaign-Urbana Courier
I was hoping that some remnants of the newspaper might've been used in the design of the restaurant, but didn't see anything obvious. For example, the darkroom could've been made into private dining alcoves for couples, because film and prints aren't the only thing that can develop in one...but I digress.
Start with soup again? Sure, why buck the trend! I was given a choice of soup or salad so I chose the former, but instead of getting a cup I got a generous bowl of terrific, slightly salty bean soup with bacon and ham. In fact, the serving was large enough for me to take half of it back to the hotel for the next day's breakfast! And I can't remember the last time I saw a soup plate in use.
Courier Cafe's chicken was much more the like Ilinois Valley style of the aforementioned Rip's and Wedron Cafe, so it had an excellent, exceptionally crispy crust and mild, juicy meat. And the rice pilaf I had as my side dish was also very good.
Courier Cafe pretty much wrapped up my day, as I was about chickened out and really couldn't eat anything else. So I picked up a bottle of cheap muscatel and a hooker and went back to the hotel to call it quits.
I wasn't in any hurry to get home on Sunday so I slept in a little bit (8:00, which is late for me) and took my time packing up. I finished the rest of my soup for breakfast, and while it was just as good as the night before it was also fairly filling so I would make only meal stop along my way. I moseyed to Bloomington-Normal via US-150 and then switched to IL-251 (old US-51, before I-39 was built) to get to Peru and Stone Jug Barbeque
, 1 of 3 LaSalle-Peru barbecue places I've been wanting to try.
The building dates to 1860, although it's obviously been modified and remodeled several times since then.
Look ma, no chicken! Brisket and ribs, with cornbread and beans on the side. The brisket was tender and beefy and the ribs had a nice chew and a rub that I really liked. Both meats were fairly light on the smoke and I would've liked more, but that's just personal preference. And while I'm normally not a fan of sweeter baked beans, these had a definite note of molasses that gave them an interesting flavor. Perhaps someday I'll return to check out more of the menu as well as Haze
and Tony's Butt Shack
...I'll bet it wouldn't take too much arm-twisting to get BuddyRoadhouse
I got home sometime around 2:30 and even though she'd sent me away for the weekend, Mrs. C was happy to see me so that she could get a break from the dogs. But I think I might be on to something, so as long as I get to hit the road I'm all for more dogsitting in the future!
post edited by ScreamingChicken - 2018/06/30 12:57:02