After the insane lines had dwindled a bit from Saturday’s opening, I ventured to Krekel’s on Sunday with my kids to experience Champaign’s version of the central Illinois staple.
I wasn’t disappointed; it was as I remembered it from my Krekel’s visits in Decatur and Mt. Zion. The double hamburger, crinkle-cut fries and strawberry milkshake was finely fit for a Krekel’s, and my kids had no trouble scarfing down their chicken tenders and chocolate chip milkshake.
If you’re looking for someone to talk you out of Krekel’s, or perhaps are skeptical of what all the fuss is about, you won’t find it here. For my money, it is good food for a very reasonable price. Even if it is another ground beef joint in our little slice of the world. (At this point shouldn’t C-U be considered the burger capital of Illinois? With recent additions That Burger Joint, Krekel’s, Freddy’s and Portillo’s, in addition to the fixtures of Five Guys and other chains, plus the premium-burger offerings from the likes of Farren’s and Hamilton Walker’s … if you can’t find a burger to fit your palette in C-U, well, maybe you should just give up.)
If you’re unfamiliar with Krekel’s, the short version is this: It is most similar to Culver’s, or perhaps Freddy’s. These are thin, crispy burgers. They have a scattering of other offerings, too, but the Krekel’s locations have made their bones on burgers and fries and shakes. And that’s why the consternation about Krekel’s physical location — on Kirby Avenue, next to Jarling’s Custard Cup — has stunned me.
When Chambanamoms.com broke the news in April that Krekel’s was opening at the site of the former Vinny’s Pizza, folks got their — well, as the Brits would say, “knickers in a twist” — about the location. It really isn’t that baffling. Krekel’s is a restaurant that features meals, with custard as a side gig. Custard Cup features desserts. (It is here that I’ll acknowledge Krekel’s choice to include “custard” in its name might mislead people who aren’t familiar with it. It is no less confusing than Krekel’s having a chicken on its storefront sign; the place sells chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders, and that’s about it. Then again, Chick-fil-A has made a fortune using cows to sell chicken, so if Krekel’s wants to use chickens to sell beef, who am I to argue?)
But the location makes plenty of sense. First, the two are competitors only in the loosest sense, for the reason described above. Krekel’s main competition is Steak ‘n Shake and Freddy’s and Culver’s. Second, the building in which it resides was established as a restaurant, with a kitchen in place and little renovation required. Why not move there? Third, even if the concern about two custard-selling businesses being side-by-side were legitimate, what’s so unusual about that? Who says anything when bars are next to each other in downtown Champaign? Has anyone noticed there are about five banks within 200 yards of each other near the Crossing? McDonald’s and Burger King are across the street from each other in hundreds of cities.
So, at the bottom line, I’m here to say this: Krekel’s and Custard Cup will peacefully coexist — and continue to thrive — because they offer quality food. There’s always a hunger for that in Champaign-Urbana.