Best Kept Secret: The Apple Dumpling

by Amy L. Hatch

We all have strong associations with food. After all, we eat meals on so many important occasions — weddings, funerals — and one of the time-honored rituals of welcoming a new baby is to bring food to his or her parents.

When I am especially homesick, I want the flavors of my hometown; pizza made the way I remember from my childhood, Buffalo wing sauce and frozen custard from the lakefront shack where we’ve been getting cones since I was a girl.

When we moved to Chambana, I sought out the foods that I imagined were iconic to our twin cities. In the Apple Dumpling, I found that food.

Tucked away behind shady trees on a rural stretch of High Cross Road in Urbana, the Apple Dumpling as a down-home an eatery as you can imagine. It is, by no sense of the word, fancy. It looks like a diner, with a sneeze guard on the salad bar and a limited menu on a small, laminated yellow card.

Leave room for dessert, an apple dumpling, of course.

Leave room for dessert, an apple dumpling, of course.

Farmers frequent this joint, and it isn’t unusual to see someone in the overalls tucking into a big plate of chicken and noodles, served over mashed potatoes, thank you very much, with a yeast roll and the veggie of the day.

The place is bright, clean and cheerful, and the wait staff looks like they all come from the same jovial family. There are highchairs a-plenty, and wiki sticks for the kids to play with while they wait for their meals.

The menu items vary by day — Saturday is beef and noodles, for example, and I’ve heard tell that Friday’s twice-baked potato is to die for — but you can always get fried chicken and sandwiches. Breakfast is served daily until 11 a.m. and refills on your soda and iced tea are free and plentiful.

Please, for the love of all things holy, please leave room for an apple dumpling. If you’ve never had one, prepare for an other-wordly experience — a whole apple, wrapped in pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon and severed a la mode.

In a word: Yum.

Bring your appetite to the Apple Dumpling because servings are ample, and if you’re looking for lean protein or highfalutin’ fusion cuisine, this ain’t for you. This is my kind of diner — the kind that serves you carbs with a side of carbs.

The service is fast, friendly and efficient, and no one will stare you down if you nick some crackers from the salad bar to tame a toddler or two while you’re waiting for a grilled cheese sandwich or some chicken. Come for the home-cooking and the simple goodness of plain food, cooked well and served with a grin.

The Apple Dumpling
2014 N. High Cross Road
Urbana, Ill. 61802

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  1. Yay! My neighborhood fare is famous!
    I give kudos to the waitstaff at AD – they are always very sweet to my loud, turbocharged 2 1/2 year old son.
    Also, during the first trimester of both pregnancies, when the thought of food made me ill, but I was constantly starving (love that morning sickness!), Apple Dumplin provided heaven on a plate. I could not get enough.
    For what it’s worth, I’ve never heard a local pronounce the ‘g’ at the end of Dumpling – I’m even surprised that the sign does not read “Apple Dumplin'”.

  2. Love the Apple Dumpling! My city boy hubby didn’t understand the concept of chicken-n-noodles served over mashed potatoes! Now he loves it!

  3. Another reason I need to move to Chambana…

  4. Sounds like it’s a lot different — and better — than the original restaurant. We went there right after we moved to town in 1984, and the regular crowd stared at us and generally made us feel out of place. Who knows why? The food wasn’t remarkable, so we never tried again. I know how to make apple dumplings, so I didn’t have a big incentive, I guess. (Btw, I don’t know if 26 years in a place makes you a local, but we do say the “g.” Maybe that was our problem! LOL)

  5. Sandy- I had the same kind of experience when we went last year!

  6. Mallory says:

    I love the Apple Dumpling! I’m not a “regular,” but I don’t ever feel like I’ve gotten the “You ain’t from around here” stare… Maybe you hit it on a bad night? Who knows. Anyway, they were very kind to me when my infant had a massive spit-up attack during dinner. One thing I know – It is delicious! I love the chicken noodles!

  7. Doh! Guess what? The exterior sign actually does read “Apple Dumplin'”