Like the chocolate wrapped in the middle of a croissant, the culinary scene in Central Illinois is surprising and delicious.

In this decidedly tasty region, including Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Peoria and Champaign County, visiting groups are encouraged to include a fun experience featuring local food and beverage sometime during the meeting.

From foodie tours and hands-on cooking classes to group-friendly breweries and restaurants, following are some standout ideas for planners interested in sweetening up a group program.

Don't Miss These Central Illinois Food and Brewery Tours

Culinary tours of local farms and breweries allow groups time to unwind in between meetings.

Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group, a working farm that offers several dining and event venues in and around Bloomington, practices a sustainable, environment-friendly, “farm-to-fork” concept.

According to Brie Lohr, communications and marketing manager for the Bloomington-Normal Area CVB, the farm facilitates group tours during its growing season (from June through October) in conjunction with sit-down meals at one of its restaurants.

One of the Brewers at Riggs Brewery Enjoys a Beer in the Field
Riggs Brewery Gets Groups and Brewers Out in the Field

Similarly, groups are encouraged to visit Champaign-based Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery when meeting in the area.

“Groups can walk around this working farm, the first farmstead goat dairy in Illinois, and then enjoy an interactive dinner,” said Terri Reifsteck, vice president of marketing for Visit Champaign County.

 Also located in Champaign County is the Urbana-based, solar-powered Riggs Beer Company, which arranges tours and tastings for groups.

Up the road from Bloomington in Normal is Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall, which also welcomes groups.

“There are two options for brewery tours, a guided tour with beer tastings or a comprehensive tour of brewery operations that is followed by a sampling of beers and culinary creations,” Lohr said.

Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall, Normal, Illinois, Credit: Ethan J. Rivera
Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall, Normal, Illinois, Credit: Ethan J. Rivera

Craft breweries that host group parties are scattered throughout the region, including Obed & Isaac’s locations in Peoria and Springfield, and the Springfield-based Engrained Brewery and Buzz Bomb Brewing Co.

“Each of our venues includes space for groups to gather, tour the facilities, enjoy a tasting and often offer live music and special events,” said Amy Beadle, sales manager for the Springfield CVB.

Central Illinois Wineries Feature Gifted Grape Growers

Beer isn’t the only adult beverage flowing in the region, which is also home to quite a few wineries that have event spaces and welcome group visits.

In the Springfield area, for example, there are six wineries, including the New Berlin-based Danenberger Family Vineyards, where groups can book a wine tasting and a wine-pairing meal.

Danenberger Family Vineyards in Springfield, Illinois
Danenberger Family Vineyards in Springfield, Illinois

The Peoria area is also home to several wine purveyors, including Kickapoo Creek Winery, which facilitates tours, tastings and private events, and Mackinaw Valley Vineyard and Winery.

According to Joni Staley, director of sales for Enjoy Peoria, Mackinaw Valley hosts tours, wine and chocolate tastings, murder mystery dinners and other private group events.   

Group-Friendly Dining in Central Illinois

There are also many local restaurants awaiting groups if time allows for an off-site meal function in Central Illinois.

Medici Restaurant Entrance, Normal, Illinois
Medici Restaurant Entrance, Normal, Illinois

Following are several popular options that serve hungry groups scrumptious food and drinks, as well as lasting memories.

  • Medici, located in the heart of Uptown Normal, seats 200 people in its main dining area. Additionally, the restaurant’s upstairs is available for buyouts for up to 64 people, and its rooftop patio accommodates 80 people. The menu here incudes delicious entrees such as Cajun coffee rib eye and butternut squash gnocchi, and one of the largest microbrew selections in Bloomington-Normal.
  • Two heritage brands come together under one roof at Pease’s at BUNN Gourmet, located in Springfield at The Gables shopping center. Here, attendees could shop for quality confections and grab a bite. Additionally, group experiences such as chocolate and wine pairing classes could be arranged.
  • Private dining is possible in Peoria at Connected, which serves pasta dishes seafood and more. Four event spaces are available for groups, including the Waterfall Room for up to 120 people and the Fireplace Room for up to 55. At the end of each meal, everyone enjoys a shot of limoncello and ladies get a long-stemmed rose to take home.
  • And Hamilton Walker’s in the heart of downtown Champaign is a 1940s-inspired steakhouse with a large private room for groups. The menu here, which features modern American cuisine and unique cocktails, is a fine representation of Champaign’s award-winning culinary scene.

Get In the Kitchen: Central Illinois Cooking Classes

Culinary experiences in Central Illinois also encourage hands-on team camaraderie.

In Springfield, for instance, is Copper Pot Cooking Studio, which, according to Beadle offers “community kitchen” classes that will engage the group with instruction and participation.

Likewise, when meeting in the Peoria, area planners could book a group cooking class at Morton-based The Cookery.

“Corporations and small nonprofit groups realize the importance of growing and learning together through food,” said Enjoy Peoria’s Staley.

“At the end of the Cookery class the participants enjoy a delicious ‘home-cooked’ meal that was prepared by everyone working together as a team," she added.

Grove Stone Olive Oil Vendor, Champaign, Illinois
Grove Stone Olive Oil Vendor, Champaign, Illinois

In Champaign is Grovestone, a purveyor of premium olive oil and vinegar that also hosts private events.

“Groups can sample various oils and vinegars before engaging in a cooking class provided by a local chef that will integrate these flavors into their dish,” said Visit Champaign County’s Reifsteck. 

Central Illinois CVB Contact Information

Bloomington-Normal Area CVB

Enjoy Peoria

Springfield CVB

Visit Champaign County