Smile Politely

Date Night: Drinks and desserts

It’s a new year, a new you. While we’re all busy trying to live up to our New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you to set aside your salad for a night and use your cheat day to indulge in some adult beverages and epic desserts. You’ll be, at the very least, making me feel better about myself. Misery loves company, right?

There’s a multitude of places with great cocktails and desserts, but when we want to hop around and try different seasonal menus Big Grove and Destihl are one of our go-to combos. It’s all the more perfect and convenient that the two restaurants are located right across the street from each other. I love what Big Grove comes up with for their fall/winter cocktail menus; I know I can always count on finding at least a couple new recipes that are unique and dangerously delicious.

BGT had their own version of a hot toddy on the menu, and since it’s been colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon, I ordered it immediately. I’d be shocked if you’ve never heard of a hot toddy, but maybe you’ve never tried one? It’s known as a ‘hot whisky’ in Scotland (yes, the Scots spell it without the ‘e’) and made with liquor, water, honey, herbs and spices, and served hot. Most people will turn to this drink when they feel they’re coming down with a cold. It’s one of my favorites during these blistering cold months.

Big Grove’s version is called ‘Tea Thyme’ ($9) and is served in a glass mug with a sprig of thyme floating on top. True to its name, they use a chamomile tea and thyme infused syrup as the sweetener. Buffalo Trace bourbon is BGT’s liquor of choice, and they use lots of fresh lemon juice. For me, the ratios were perfect. It wasn’t too heavy on the bourbon and the lemon, and the chamomile and thyme combination had a great nose and flavor. They didn’t make it too sweet either, which I appreciated.

My husband ordered a drink called ‘Let There Be Tequila’ ($9). There’s a lot going on in this drink: Letherbee Frenet (a digestif that has a lot going on by itself: rhubarb, chamomile, and saffron just to name a few), Piedra Azul Reposado, green tea infused syrup, red wine shrub (acidulated syrup), and lemon bitters. I don’t like Frenet (or really any Amaro), so I’m sure I’m not the best judge for this cocktail, but my husband enjoyed it. He said it was well balanced between sweetness and bitter, but thought the tequila got a bit lost between the Frenet and red wine shrub. If you enjoy Amaro liqueurs — maybe you fancy yourself a Negroni now and then — this is the cocktail for you.

By now we were ready for dessert so we bundled back up to trek across the street to Destihl. Destihl changes their dessert menu seasonally as well, while also keeping some favorites on the menu year-round (the sour cherry bread pudding is my favorite). Our waiter immediately suggested two of the new desserts for us to try, with the first described as “Reese’s on steroids.” It’s the chocolate peanut butter mousse cake ($6.75) and it’s diabetes on a plate. Wow! Yes, it’s really good, but really rich. I couldn’t take more than a few bites before I felt my pancreas starting to fail. My favorite part was actually the house-made mixed berry jam and honey roasted peanuts on the bottom. The berry jam was delicious and a great way to mix up the chocolate and peanut butter flavors. The layers of mousse and ganache were a bit hard from being refrigerated, so it wasn’t easy to cut into with a fork. With each bite I worried a piece might go flying across the room. For the price, you do get a lot for your money (as with all of their desserts) and it’s a good one to share. I’m sure there are those with a bigger sweet tooth than I that would love this decadent addition to the menu.

My husband went with the toffee date pudding ($6.25). I think both of us liked this one a bit better, but it is more up our alley anyway. Three little date cakes were topped with orange crème anglaise (pouring custard) and toffee sauce, with orange zest and mint as the garnishes. The sponge cakes were a bit dry but were flavorful and the crumblier texture didn’t bother me too much, as I thought it was still a nice contrast to the sticky sweet sauces. The orange flavor paired nicely with the dates and toffee sauce. Who doesn’t love a good sticky toffee pudding? Again, everything on their dessert menu is a fantastic price and portioned well to share. I don’t think there’s a bad dessert on Destihl’s menu and I know many who make them their go-to spot for a #treatyoself dessert.

We also chose a couple of seasonal beers on tap to go along with our dessert. I went with a 4oz pour of The Outsider Vienna Lager ($1.50) and my husband chose a 12oz Punch it, Chewie! IPA ($4.50). I really enjoyed the Vienna lager. It’s medium bodied with a lovely reddish/amber color and had a nice, toasty Vienna malt flavor. And as someone not usually too fond of IPAs, I thought the Punch it, Chewie was very drinkable without being too bitter or overly hoppy.

Our grand total was approximately $46.70 — not too bad for a few drinks and some seriously decadent desserts. I definitely want to go back and try some more items from their seasonal menus. The Juniper Jazz at Big Grove is still calling my name.

Perhaps you’d rather drink your dessert? Try one of Guido’s boozy milkshakes or the Lemon Meringue Pie martini at Radio Maria. Not really into sweets? Share a cheese platter at V. Picasso or bacaro. Want to keep it chill and on the cheap? Aroma Café and Pekara have great coffee and pastries. What’s your go-to spot when you want to indulge?

Big Grove Tavern
1 East Main Street, Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday
10 a.m. to 10 p.m Saturday & Sunday

Destihl Restaurant and Brew Work
301 North Neil Street, Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday
10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.

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