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Manny Martinez Brings Fine Food to Central Illinois Breweries

Destihl may sound like a place for spirits, but it’s actually the name of two brewery-restaurants that have quietly popped up in Central Illinois.

The first location for Destihl was in Normal near the Central Illinois Regional Airport. In an area where even a brewery is an unusual find, the owners made the decision that they wanted to do even more than brew beer. With the creativity of Chef Martinez and the brewing skills of Matt Potts, they have succeeded with both the brews and food. In fact, it was all such a big hit that Executive Chef Manny Martinez and his three partners –Potts, Laurie Nelson and Jason Brather — decided it was time for another. This time they choose the closest “metropolitan” area on this side of Chicago – Champaign.

Champaign, Illinois, is home to the University of Illinois, but the community built around more than college students, with well-educated professionals who have embraced downtown gourmet dining establishments over the years. Destihl was eying the area and the particular corner spot for quite some time. They moved in without any grand opening fanfare. In fact, they didn’t even put up a sign – just their silver logo, which blends into the building’s modern décor.

The Destihl beer selection varies from month to month, but you can count on a wide assortment that will include light to dark, sweet to pungent. Their Weissenheimer Hefeweizen, a fruity a flavorful take on the German-style is always sought after. The Champaign Blonde Ale is another favorite, light and dry, with just a hint of hops. You can also always find a gluten-free beer on the menu, like the Frankengluten Belgian Sorghum Ale.

When Manny Martinez designed the Destihl menu, he says the idea was to put together “The kind of stuff I like to eat – Latin American comfort food.”  The menu is full of things you are not going to find at a typical gastro pub, like the ever-popular, huge and delicious Stuffed Poblano Peppers.  Other entrees not to be missed include the Stuffed Pasta, made with grilled flat noodles stuffed with vegetables and cheese, covered in tomato sauce and surrounded by pesto sauce; and the Beer Braised Ribs in a chipotle espresso barbecue sauce.

Small plates are a huge part of the menu here and you can make a dozen visits and not try them all. The Beer Battered Asparagus are one of the biggest hits and Martinez says he goes through four and a half tons of asparagus a year making them. The Marinated Cucumbers will give your meal quite a kick with a big helping of chili powder. The Thai Wings, Potato Croquettes and Marinated & Stuffed Olives are also great starters to nibble on, but the Beer Cheddar Soup and Shrimp Ceviche are good choices if you aren’t into sharing.

The Texas-born Martinez has worked in Chicago, Vermont and Maine, but it was his stint as chef of Biaggi’s, a well-known Italian eatery in Champaign, that put him in touch with his current partners and gave him the idea to build a place of his own in the area. Destihl is a dream of all the partners and he keeps his food passions alive there. Almost all of the ingredients used at Destihl are grown local. Chef Martinez uses “The Spence Farms Foundation for goats, pigs and produce grown just for them.”  He shops in a farmer’s market near the Normal location to fill in with other items on the menu to always keep it fresh and new.

By Marcia Frost