CU celebrates recognition as ‘Greatest Midwest Food Town’


Daily Illini File Photo

Sarah Fischer The Daily Illini The Farmer Market outside the Illini Union displays its produce for all the Quad to see on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

By Marissa Plescia, Staff writer

On a college campus, “free food” is something that never fails to bring in crowds. Not only can students get free food this weekend, but from some of the area’s famous restaurants as the community celebrates their recent recognition in Midwest Living Magazine as the “Greatest Midwest Food Town.”

Being named the best Midwest Food Town is an extreme honor for Champaign County and will be a tremendous boost to culinary tourism,” Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of Visit Champaign County, said in a press release. “Our food scene in Champaign County is unrivaled for a city this size in the Midwest.”

DeLuce said Champaign County’s event will have something for everyone at every price range, from fresh, farm-to-table selections to diverse, international cuisine.

The event is Sept. 9 at Urbana’s Market at the Square from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Blind Pig Brewery from 12:45  to 2:45 p.m and Grange Grove from 4 to 6 p.m. These areas were chosen because of their heavy foot traffic in the community.

The event will have giveaways, free samples and live music from “The Jazz Collective” and “Just Peachy.” There will also be a cornhole competition from 9:45 to 10:15 a.m. at the Market at the Square.

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Terri Reifsteck, vice president of marketing for Champaign County, said she promotes the area as a destination for visitors through different events happening in the community.

Reifsteck said Champaign-Urbana won this rating because of the unique flavors the town offers. The area has over 40 locally owned restaurants, many of which are award-winning.

Many of the restaurants get their ingredients from local farms, she said.

“My hope is that it will bring a sense of pride to the community,” Reifsteck said. “People here really do celebrate and recognize the amazing restaurants and flavors that we have in this community.”

Reifsteck said she believes Champaign-Urbana exceeds the other towns featured in the article, such as Madison, WI and Ann Arbor, MI, because of its unique qualities as a small town with a big town mindset.

Big Grove Tavern is one Champaign restaurant involved in the event. They will be giving out samples of their famous Steak Huevos Rancheros at Blind Pig Brewery, and their new AON burger at Grange Grove.

Scott McIntosh, manager of Big Grove Tavern, said he is especially excited about this new ranking. He said he believes it will be great for the community, and honors the variety of food that this restaurant offers.

“We’re really really happy that Champaign as a whole is getting more recognition as a good culinary destination,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh said Big Grove Tavern contributes to the ranking because, like a lot of the restaurants in the area, it receives its food from many local farms and features many creative dishes.

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is one of the local farms that sells their products to restaurants in the CU area. Their gelato and cheese can be found at Watson’s, Black Dog, Kofusion and Pizzeria Antica.

The farm is known for their use of sustainable farming techniques, which is a major reason for why restaurants use them to supply their food products.

“We have really delicious products and we’re very open and accepting,” Leslie Cooperband, farm owner, said. “People can see how we raise our animals and what it takes to do it the way we do it. It helps people understand what it takes to raise high-quality food.”

She also said that the new rating is a great honor, and she hopes that it brings more people into the restaurants of this town.

The event is something that is not only meant for those living in the community, but for students of the University as well.

Reifsteck especially is a big contender for students getting involved in the area and out of the campus bubble.

“It would be really great to have students there so that they can experience something beyond their daily lives,” Reifsteck said.

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