Smile Politely

Destihl debuts new menu

Last week, I had dinner at Destihl in Downtown Champaign. The menu is large, and despite this, no item has not particularly moved me; I’ve had plenty of good meals, but nothing spectacular. It always takes me several minutes to figure out what I want to eat. Since its spring 2011 opening, I’ve eaten there countless times, had many of the menu items, but cannot confidently point to a singular awesome or incredible meal. This new menu, though, might have me singing a new tune.

For me, Destihl functions as a go-to place for large groups with diverse eating preferences. They have meat and meat-free entrees, gluten-free options, a full bar, and plenty of desserts. As such, it’s on my list of go-to restaurants when I’m with a group. It’s also on the top of my list of places for dessert-only outings. The dessert menu is awesome, as it offers several different items for differing sweet-tooth tastes. They have portions for individuals and for sharing (one pound of chocolate cake), chocoholics and sugar fiends, fruit lovers, and carbo loaders (bread pudding, please). 

Based on my observations, I may be in the minority in thinking Destihl is consistently mediocre. (However, it looks like management has responded to like-minded concerns in making adjustments to their menu.) The last few times I’ve been downtown with a group of four or more, I’ve been unable to secure a table at Destihl without waiting for an hour. An hour! In Downtown Champaign! We always end up going to a place where we could be seated immediately. (Ahem, across the street to Big Grove, which usually has seating available. This is a blessing and a curse because I genuinely enjoy their menu options, but they are generally less accommodating with substitutions and adjustments, and their desserts aren’t nearly as good. ) Incidentally, one way around this conundrum would be to plan ahead and make a reservation; Destihl is one of a handful of places in C-U that actually accepts reservations. You can make them here.

Just last week, Destihl unveiled a new menu. On my latest visit, the waitress was telling us about that evening’s specials when she indicated that the specials were entrées that would appear on their new menu. My interest was piqued. A new menu? Tell me more, I said. She was quite forthcoming with information about the new menu, and let us know that the menu change was mostly a reduction of available items and a tweaking of some current offerings.

She indicated that the restaurant was responding to customer feedback, not a change in kitchen concept or staff. She even admitted that some of the items being cut from the menu were being cut for good reason: they just weren’t that good. One example that came to her immediately was the turkey burger. She said that the turkey burger was ok flavor-wise, but the texture of the meat was unappealing and customers were not pleased. Thus, goodbye, turkey burger. There was some cheddar chicken salad that was cut from the menu. My husband and I like the ancho chili potato chips appetizer, and unfortunately, those are gone, too. The pretzels that were on the menu were being adjusted to be more delicious; they will now be Bavarian-style pretzels served with the same cheese and mustard dipping sauces.

The updated menu is cleaner and sleeker. There are still plenty of options, including their thin-crust pizzas, burgers, and salads. There are nine salads on the menu ranging in tastes from the regular, old, garden variety, to Mediterranean and Asian flavor profiles. Salad prices range from $5.25 to $11.25. While the turkey burger is gone, the flavorful veggie burger and bison burgers remain, and are joined by a Mediterranean-inspired lamb burger topped with mozzarella cheese.

Poultry items have been adjusted, too. Goodbye, duck. Hello, chicken. (And pastrami.) The duck egg rolls have been replaced with pastrami and mustard egg rolls. These new egg rolls contain applewood smoked bacon and Destihl’s smoked IPA mustard. The duck pot pie has been replaced with chicken pot pie. I’ve not had the duck pot pie, but I imagine the chicken pot pie will be a bit more accessible to eaters. There are some comfort foods that just don’t need the extra oomph. With all of this cold and snow, I’m looking forward to digging into their chicken pot pie.

There are three new pasta dishes worth mentioning. First, there is the vegan—that’s right, VEGAN—squash and cashew cream pasta. Props to Destihl for putting a vegan item on the menu. The pasta is actually spaghetti-style yellow squash; the sauce is made of coconut milk and cashew cream. It’s flavored with nutmeg, basil, and mint. “Garden vegetables” are also mixed in; I take that to mean whatever is available in the kitchen on that day. I’ve not yet tried this item, and am curious to see what vegan eaters have to say about it. Perhaps you’ll catch a review in our Vegan Ease column.

The other two pasta dishes involve lots of cheese: a four-cheese bacon mac, and a green chili pork mac and cheese. The four-cheese bacon mac is a small plate; this item looks pretty good and assuming the pasta is cooked properly, should taste pretty good, too. Asiago, mozzarella, white cheddar, and American cheeses are mixed in with jalapeño and applewood smoked bacons. Yes, please.

I had the green chili pork mac and cheese on my latest visit. This entrée portion was really enough for two people, so I imagine that a small plate would be plenty of cheesy mac for one person. However, the green chili pork mac and cheese is a bit of a misnomer. I suppose it is indeed macaroni and cheese, technically, but the pasta is not baked in a cheese sauce. Actually, the sauce is more of a cream sauce. The cheese is melted on top.

This dish was good. The cavatappi pasta (a fun, corkscrew shape) are mixed with poblano peppers and roasted pork, and tossed in a green chili-garlic cream sauce. Not exactly mac and cheese, certainly, but a cheesy, creamy, slightly spicy indulgence. The cheese was melted over the top—placed under a broiler, for sure. While I found the dish to be nicely plated (it was served in a skillet), and certainly generous in its portion size, I found the cheesy top to be a bit, well, cheesy. That is, I found the broiled cheese top to be an unnecessary and misleading attempt to make the dish something it wasn’t.

The menu indicates that the dish is tossed in a cream sauce. That means that it is not a baked mac and cheese, which means it could be plated in a regular bowl. The skillet indicates that this was baked in the oven, which it wasn’t. Even the inclusion of braised pork—which could have easily been cooked in a cast iron skillet—wasn’t enough in quantity to suggest that this dish should be plated in a skillet. The skillet then serves the purpose of safely going under a broiler to melt the cheese on top and look fancy and rustic as it’s placed in front of you on the table.

I found the overall flavor of the dish to be on point. It was creamy. It was spicy, but not too much so. The pork was tender and nicely cooked; I just wanted more of it. The cheese on top was not that great. I don’t think the dish needs it. The mixture of cheddar and mozzarella was strange; the mozzarella is too stringy, and the cheeses weren’t evenly distributed, resulting in large, stringy clumps of mozzarella-laden pasta. Because it was placed under a broiler, the pasta on top took on this odd texture and flavor: it was overcooked, rubbery, and tasted like over-microwaved, oily pasta. It looks nice to have browned, bubbly cheese all melty and crisp on top, but this dish just doesn’t need it.

I suppose I should also mention that many favorites remain on the menu, including this ridiculously large, 18-ounce bone-in ribeye steak. It’s rubbed in decaffeinated espresso and served with a damn tasty and tangy chipotle-espresso barbeque sauce, sautéed swiss chard, and roasted fingerlings. This is a meal for two. The steak was well seasoned and salty in all the right ways. Be sure to order an extra side of the barbeque sauce; the tanginess cuts through the heft of the marbled meat.

I’m impressed that Destihl has taken the time to consider customer feedback, especially since weekend wait time seems to suggest that they don’t really need to. The shorter menu is definitely easier to navigate. I’m also pleased and relieved that they didn’t make any changes to the dessert menu. (If you haven’t had dessert there, you must.) Even though I’m usually not overly impressed with their food, I am always impressed with their staff and customer service. I’m not sure I’ve been to a restaurant with such a knowledgeable and friendly staff. Many of the wait staff have been there for some time, which tells me that management is doing something right to keep those folks satisfied. Consistency is key to success, and offering up an accessible menu with plenty of options for all eaters will keep people lining up to patron Destihl.

Destihl is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Find them at 301 N. Neil Street, Champaign. Follow them on Facebook here

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