One of the very first posts I had when I started this blog over 4 years ago had to do with the Belgian Village Inn in Moline (click here to see that entry). I've come a long way from the style, prose and message from my earliest posts, plus I now have camera phone that can take pictures of the food. And the huge VandeReuben sandwich is still the big draw at the B.V.I. as it's been for over 30 years.
There's a large Belgian population on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities. There's a handful of Belgian clubs, restaurants and groups that call the Moline area home. A local electrician of Belgian descent, Denis Ceurvorst (pronounced cur-VORST), opened the Belgian Village Inn in 1977 on top of the hill of the Uptown neighborhood in Moline (see map). He and his wife, Loretta, offered a unique sandwich called the VandeReuben - a ham and corned beef sandwich topped with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese all on slices of a homemade bread. This homemade bread was the key - the loaves were huge! They were about a foot across and sliced into thin pieces of bread.
When I first moved to the Quad Cities in 1991, one of the guys that I used to work with took me to the Belgian Village for a VandeReuben sandwich. I was immediately hooked. Even though there wasn't a lot of meat, cheese or kraut on the sandwich, the bread was scrumptious enough on its own. When I would have people come visit me in the Quad's, a drive over to the Belgian Village was a must. I still have friends who ask, "Where was that place that you took me to that had the big sandwich?"
Not much has changed since my first visits to the B.V.I. nearly 20 years ago. Denis and Loretta semi-retired about 15 years ago and their daughter, Karen Manning, and her husband, Shawn, took over the day-to-day operation in 1997. Business at lunch is still brisk, but not as good as it was when the old Moline Public Hospital was in operation just down the street. The place would be teeming with doctors, nurses and other health professionals from about 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They shut the hospital down about 12 years ago and have since razed the building.
The one thing that you could never get at the Belgian Village Inn was a VandeReuben to-go. They have a second location - the Belgian Village Drive Thru - just around the corner (see map) that only does carryout orders. No matter what they used to tell me at the B.V.I., the sandwiches are not as good from the Belgian Village Drive Thru.
Cindy and I still get over to the B.V.I. about two or three times a year and we decided to head over not long ago on a cold winter night. We took a seat in one of the many booths the restaurant has in the main dining area. There's a large three-sided bar that can be full on weekend nights with people waiting to get a table. There's also a smaller dining area in the back of the restaurant. The weekends are pretty big at the B.V.I. as they serve prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights. It's so popular that they sometimes run out of prime rib long before the end of the evening. And I can attest that it's pretty damn good.
The clientele at the B.V.I. is a mix of young and old, blue collar and professionals, families or couples looking for a quick bite. It's got a great neighborhood feel to the place and they're always laid back and very welcoming each time we've gone there to eat.
One of the things I like about the B.V.I. is their frosty mugs of beer. When I first started going there years ago, they used to have large frosty schooners of beer. And they had Old Style on tap. Then they dropped the Old Style and I had to get Budweiser. Then they dropped the big schooner glasses and now they have 12 oz frosty mugs. When we went in that recent evening, I asked for a frosty mug of Bud. The waitress said, "We don't have Budweiser on tap any longer. I can bring you a bottle of Bud and a frosty mug." I opted for a Miller Lite on tap instead. And the mug was so cold that I swore they were keeping them outside in the well-below freezing temperatures. Even on a cold night, a frosty mug of beer from the B.V.I. still tastes pretty damn good.
We ordered up a VandeReuben with extra pickles (hamburger dill slices). I also ordered a side of their very good marinated cole slaw. Cindy and I can usually eat about 2/3rds of a VandeReuben and take the rest home for leftovers. That night, Cindy decided she wanted to warm up with a bowl of the B.V.I'.s surprisingly good clam chowder.
I usually cut the VandeReuben into sixths, throw on a ton of dill pickle slices and slather the sandwich with liberal amounts of Boetje's mustard. Even though the slices of meat are ultra thin, the sauerkraut is sporadic and you can't really taste the cheese, the bread is what makes the sandwich. It's the exact same recipe the Ceurvorsts and their daughter have used since the beginning. And it's always damn good.
The Belgian Village Inn is a tough place to beat for a unique meal, a comfortable atmosphere and good service - all at a pretty fair price. It's not fancy, it's not pretentious, but it's not low-rate either. It's one of those uncommon places where people from all walks of life rub elbows and have a good meal. Winter or summer, it's very tough to beat the Belgian Village.
(UPDATE - Sadly, the Belgian Village closed in February of 2014. Karen Manning and her husband decided to close the business due to health reasons. There were reports that a couple different investors were looking into buying the place, but the infrastructure of the building was in need of some serious updates long before they closed that it probably became apparent that a lot of money would have had to be spent to get the restaurant back into shape. Click here to read about the closing of the Belgian Village.)