Smile Politely

Veggies and beer at Destihl

Finding vegan dishes on menus at local restaurants can be incredibly frustrating. With so many vegans and vegetarians living in C-U, there should be more options at local restaurants, that’s quite clear. While many places are more accommodating to vegetarians than ever before, few places move beyond vegetarian mac and cheese, a Morningstar black bean burger, salads, and Portabella mushroom sandwiches. Vegan options on the menu? Good luck. It’s basically that scene from When Harry Met Sally — no, not that one, this one.

Destihl only has one true vegan item on the menu, but that might be more than many other places. The squash and cashew cream pasta ($9.75 for lunch; $11.75 for dinner) is clearly marked with the V for vegetarian and (vegan) to denote that it is indeed a vegan item. This is a dish that was added in December when the restaurant reimagined (slightly) the menu. The menu description is this: spaghetti-style yellow squash noodles, coconut milk, cashew-cream sauce, nutmeg, garden vegetables, mint, basil. Not so bad, eh? I have to applaud the effort to make a cashew-cream sauce; it’s not something I’ve seen on any menu locally. I’ve only been lucky enough to have it at home (and friends’ homes).

I’ve been eyeing this menu item for six months now, and finally had an opportunity to order and eat it. When the dish came out it was, admittedly, not all that appetizing to look at. It was just sort of this blob of julienned veggies suspended in some thick sauce. I was hesitant, but it was hot and it smelled pretty good. The serving size was fairly generous. As I lifted a forkful toward my mouth, I hoped that it would be good. Please be good, I hoped. (I should also mention that it was particularly warm on the day I had it, so eating hot cashew-cream stuffs was a little disconcerting.) Alas, it was good! As I forked around in the bowl, I uncovered zucchini, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and yellow squash. The veggies were perfectly cooked to crisp-tender. They maintained their integrities and flavors (sort of, the sauce overpowered some), but were cooked enough that it was clear I wasn’t eating a bowl of raw vegetables. The cashew cream sauce was also perfectly executed to a creamy and smooth consistency, with just the slightest hint of cashew-cream grittiness. The overall texture of the dish was quite pleasing; the crunchy veggies complemented the smooth cream sauce and the few droplets of mint or basil oil that fell to the sides of the bowl.

The dish, as a whole, was just a touch salty, but by no means inedible. The inherent sweetness of the cashews was enhanced by the coconut milk and red peppers. The coconut milk was hardly present, and I didn’t taste much in the way of nutmeg, either. I’m pretty sure the mint and basil were incorporated in the oil, as herb leaves were not present within the mix of vegetables. The cashew cream sauce definitely drove the flavor bus for this dish—almost to the point that I couldn’t taste some of the milder veggies, like zucchini—and I do think it would have been nice to balance that heaviness with some fresh herbs, or even a splash of acid (lemon or vinegar, perhaps).

While I found the squash and cashew cream pasta to be a pleasant surprise, it wasn’t exactly what I had pictured while reading the menu description. It would have been a stretch to call the yellow squash “noodles”, or “spaghetti-style”, and if I were to list the ingredients in order of amount present, I’d do so like this: garden vegetables, cashew-cream sauce, spaghetti-style yellow squash noodles, coconut milk, basil, mint, nutmeg.

There were two things about the dish that I had concerns about: firstly, the price; and secondly, whether or not I’d be hungry in a half an hour. I had the lunch portion for $9.75, and I can only assume that you get a bit more with the dinner portion for $11.75. I found the lunch portion to be quite satisfying, although if you’re super hungry, you’re going to need something else. Admittedly, I did have some of the one-pound slab of carrot cake after my meal, so that could have easily contributed to the fullness I felt hours after lunch. (The carrot cake is not vegan, but is quite delicious.) I have a bit of a hard time justifying $11.75 for a bowl of carefully sliced veggies, but cashews are indeed expensive, and you need a really good blender to make smooth and creamy cashew cream. If you’re out with friends, $11.75 seems like a small price to pay for good company and a truly vegan meal.

There are a few other items on the menu worth considering and adapting. The Herbivore veggie burger is one of the best veggie burgers in town; it contains roasted garlic, rice, and jalapeño, making it a step or ten up from the ubiquitous Morningstar black bean burger. Order it without mayo and without the bun (contains egg). There are a few salads that can be ordered sans cheese: Greekish, roasted beet salad, and strawberry no goat cheese. Most other vegetarian items are smothered in cheese and/or egg, so read the menu carefully.

Finally, all of the beer (unless honey is noted as an ingredient) is vegan. If we’re being honest with each other, I’m not totally a fan of Destihl’s beer, but I did order the raspberry weisse (pictured here) that was available. This sour beer was really lovely. It was tart, for sure — there were no sweet notes whatsoever. The beer was light and crisp, and sour exactly like that of a tart raspberry. A 4-ounce glass was $3, 8-ounce was $6, and a 64-ounce growler was $40, all of which seemed a bit steep. For another light summery beer, try the strawberry blonde ale. It’s slightly fruity and sweet, but like most other Destihl beers, has a hoppy finish.

Destihl is one of the best places to dine out if you’re with a diverse group of eaters. While carnivores will certainly have many, many more options, Destihl has made an effort to be inclusive of those who do not eat animals or their products. Destihl also has a gluten-free menu, and I know a few GF eaters who have had some luck with those options.

Destihl is located at 301 North Neil Street in Downtown Champaign. It’s 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. You can make reservations here, or call 217-356-0301. They also validate up to two hours of parking in the Hill Street parking deck.

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