Another Saturday. Another Saturday working. Actually, that’s been rare the last year and very welcome. I was back in Champaign for game two of a three game set between the University of Illinois and Michigan State University’s baseball teams. Once again, lunch time rolled around and I went in search of good food.
Yesterday, I ran into some trouble finding businesses open on Green Street, but I did notice a cafe open near the end of the stretch of businesses. I was craving an Italian beef and knew this place wouldn’t have it, but today, I just wanted a sandwich, so I headed back.
Mia Za’s Cafe is on Green Street near the corner of Green and Sixth. The cafe is one of three locations in Big Ten communities. The other two stores are in Madison, WI (University of Wisconsin) and Ann Arbor. If the name sounds sort of familiar, but not really, they used to go under the name Za’s Italian Cafe. The Ann Arbor store is located at 615 E. University.
The Champaign cafe sits on the very heavily traveled Green Street which is a classic example of new urbanism. The area is very walkable with no parking on the street itself. I found some meters behind the building a block away and walked back.
Mia Za’s has a really unique ordering concept. At first, I thought it was ridiculous, but after thinking about it, it’s actually kind of ingenious. When you enter the cafe, there’s a narrow hallway with a counter on the side. Above that counter are giant menu boards. On the counter are order slips. There are five order slips that correspond to the five categories on the menu. You actually pick up the order slip for the type of food you want (pizza, pasta, panini, salad, or beverages) and mark your selection. From there, you take the order slip, with your name on it, and hand it to the cashier. The cashier rings it up and passes it back to the kitchen. It’s a really efficient way to get people moving. You don’t have someone standing at the register trying to make up their mind. They can take their time and look over the menu and not hold anyone up. The cashier doesn’t write anything down. The order slip goes from your hand to the kitchen, so if a mistake is made, it’s your own fault.
I was in the mood for a sandwich, so I picked up the panini order slip and a pencil. There are a couple of options. You can either pick one of theirs or build your own. Should you want to build your own, you mark the choices on the slip in the appropriate sections. I went back and forth between the BBQ chicken and the Buffalo chicken. I eventually decided on the Buffalo. I checked that box, checked the “to go” box, added chips to my order and put my name on top. I then headed over to the cashier who was trying to get a couple of ladies out of the way who were just lingering. He grabbed my order and rang it up. The total came to just over five bucks, but I didn’t get a drink there.
I grabbed a bag of Ruffles original potato chips then took a seat near the order up window to wait. There’s not a whole lot of seating in the cafe. There are a handful of tables near the front and a couple back almost behind the kitchen. There’s a long hallway where you go to wait for your food. There’s a bench there to sit on and the fountain pop machine is back that way too.
After less than five minutes, my name was called out and my Buffalo chicken was boxed up and ready to go. They asked if I needed a bag and I said no, so I grabbed it and left.
I ate the chips in my truck on my way back to Illinois Field. When I finally parked and opened up the black Styrofoam container, I found what looked more like a Grinder than a panini. That didn’t hurt my feelings too much as the sandwich actually looked better than I expected.
The sandwich is served open face with chunks of Buffalo chicken on top of a sub bun with ranch and mozzarella cheese. It was as good as it looked. The chicken wasn’t too spicy,but had some zip to it. The bread was toasted really well. The whole sandwich worked really well and it satisfied my hunger. I wasn’t really in the mood for a burger or Italian beef. I wanted something lighter and something lighter for me still needs to be filling. This sandwich definitely was.
Mia Za’s was another pleasant surprise. I’m going to spend next weekend in Ann Arbor shooting baseball/softball and I just found another spot J and I can hit up for lunch and still make it back in an hour.