Merry Ann’s Diner (Campus Location)- Champaign, IL

19 05 2008
  • 1510 S. Neil St.Merry Ann's
  • Champaign, IL 61820
  • (217) 352-5399
  • No Known Website
  • Menu (downtown Location)

So here’s the first of my reviews of dining in Big Ten communities (well, second if you count The Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor).  I was in Champaign for the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship.  When I lived in Peoria, I would end up in Champaign quite often for work.  When we had an early call time, I would pretty much always be put up in the Hilton Garden Inn on Neil St.  From the hotel, I always saw this little diner called Merry Ann’s.  For the most part, I needed to get to bed and didn’t have time to grab a bite to eat, so I kept passing this place up.  Not this time.

I spent the weekend in town and I got off work at a fairly early time on Saturday.  I had eaten nothing but cold meat sandwiches supplied by University Dining Services for two days, so I needed something good and greasy.  I walked across Neil to get to Merry Ann’s.  There were only a couple guys sitting in a booth when I got there, so I grabbed a spot at the bar.  The set up is pretty interesting.  There is only one row of booths and the bar.  All the booths have a cut-out area on the kitchen side so the waitress never has to go out to the dining area.  Merry Ann’s is your typical 24-hour diner and the menu is too.  It’s filled with breakfast items, greasy burgers and they even have some after midnight “hangover” specials. 

The waitress brought me a Pepsi and asked if I needed a menu.  I glanced over it and right away, one thing jumped out.  The Horseshoe!  If you don’t know what a horsehoe is, check out my post on unique regional foods.  This is what I really miss about Central Illinois.  The flat top was right in front of me, so I was able to watch the cook grill the burger, fry the fries, toast the bread, and squeeze the cheese on.  I actually got quite a bit more than I expected.  The fries came piled on and the burger was a pretty good size.  The cheese, for being squeezed out of a bottle, was just what I wanted.  I devoured the “sandwich” in just a few minutes.  The waitress was actually a little surprised I finished so quickly, but I was really hungry. 

My bill was a little over $7, so with tip, I got out of there for ten bucks.  Merry Ann’s is a great asset to the University of Illinois’ campus.  Diner’s are getting rarer and Merry Ann’s has been there for 25 years this year.  I’ve drove by there on my way to Memorial Stadium on Saturday mornings and the place is usually pretty busy.  If your in town, hunt this place down…it’s on Neil and Kirby and two blocks from Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium.

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Chicken Coop

19 05 2008
  • 848 S. Kalamazoo St.Chicken Coop
  • Paw Paw, MI 49079
  • (269) 657-6136
  • No Known Website
  • No Online Menu

I was on my way back towards the Chicago area one day when I needed gas.  I got off in Paw Paw to stop at a Speedway and I noticed a sign across the street.  All it said was “Chicken.”  I looked down and saw a little restaurant that looks like it was a chain store at one time converted into a little chicken shack.  I figured what the heck.  I was hungry and not sure when I’d actually get a chance to eat again, so I stopped in.

When you walk in, you walk up to a counter and order.  The menu is is pretty much chicken and fish.  Off to the right there’s a dining room that didn’t look very inviting.  There’s a few booths then a few tables scattered in the remaining open area.  Behind the counter are the deep fryers so you can see your chicken getting fried.

I ordered the popcorn chicken basket.  You have a choice of a la carte, baskets, and meals (I think that was the word used…might have been platter or something similar…the point is, you get three choices).  Baskets Chicken Coopcome with a side and the meals get the side and a pop.  The popcorn chicken was dropped into the deep fryer when I was standing there, so there was a five minute wait.  It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but that’s not a bad thing.  Usually, popcorn chicken is little bite size pieces.  In this case, they were more like chicken chunks.  The order only came with five pieces which when you think popcorn chicken, doesn’t sound like a lot, but for the “popcorn chicken” that I got, it was actually a pretty substantial meal.  The side I got was fries, but they were what you’d expect.  The cook did take a little extra effort and dump the fries that were sitting under the warming light back into the fryer, so the fries were warm and crispy.

I found an article in the local paper that says The Chicken Coop won’t be at this location much longer.  Pretty soon there will be a Walgreens there.  That kind of sucks for the restaurant. I never would have found it and definately would not have stopped if it hadn’t been located right off the Interstate.  The food was alright, but it isn’t something that’s memorable.