My buddy, Greg Hipskind, the drummer for Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls, Superfly Samurai, and the Midwest touring edition of Caroline's Spine, texted me one day earlier this year and said, "Excellent burger at Lee's on 14th in Rock Island. Gotta go there sometime." He had just finished having lunch with his dad there and he texted a second time, "But don't order the double. My dad did and he regretted it. It was huge!"
I texted Greg to see where Lee's on 14th was as I didn't seem to be familiar with it. He texted back, "On 14th street in Rock Island. Next to La Rancherita."
I knew where La Rancherita was, but I was sort of confused as to where Lee's on 14th was in Rock Island. After dinner one evening, Cindy and I drove up the hill to go past La Rancherita. As we went past La Rancherita, just down the street my eye caught the sign for Lee's on 14th. Cindy exclaimed, "Oh! We've been here! This was the place we had breakfast!"
On New Year's Eve day, we had tentatively agreed to meet some friends for breakfast at Jimmy's Pancake House in Bettendorf. We got over there around 8:30 and the place was packed (as always - Jimmy's is damn good!). Our friends were there, but they were seated at a booth for four. Instead of staying and waiting for a table for six, I decided to cut our losses and go someplace else for breakfast. It didn't sit well with Cindy. "I would have waited," she pouted as I tried to figure out a place for breakfast.
We went across the river and a place that Cindy had enjoyed in the past was closed up. It turned out they had closed a week before Christmas while they went through some organizational and ownership changes. So, we drove around for a bit more before I remembered this little place called The Waffle House on 14th St. in Rock Island. We pulled up to the place and it was no longer the Waffle House, but called Lee's on 14th. We decided to go in and have breakfast.
And I'm glad we did because it was very good. The blueberry pancakes were just outstanding. They fold the blueberries into the batter rather than just putting them on top. I happened to leave my phone in the car and Cindy implored me to go out and get it so I could get pictures of the breakfast we had. I told her, "This place is good. We'll be back. I can get pictures then."
When I went to pay at the cash register before we left, I met the owner, Lisa Slaight. We told her we really liked the food and she was overly appreciative. She told us that this place was, indeed, the old Waffle House. She said they bought it early last year and opened last fall. Lisa told us, "We didn't realize how much work it was going to be to basically remodel everything in this place. It took us nearly 8 months of work before we opened up."
And it's not that big of a place. There's a small counter that seats seven or eight people, along with about five booths and a like number of tables. But it has knotty pine panels on the wall with some rural and rustic accessories on the wall. She told us at the time that they were only serving breakfast at that time, but hoped to start serving lunch very soon.
After Greg texted me a couple three months later, it was fully apparent that they were serving lunch now. I called him up a couple days later and I said, "So, Lee's on 14th does a great burger, huh?"
He said, "Oh, buddy! They're huge and they're cheap! My dad ordered a double cheeseburger and he's a big guy, right? Well, he couldn't finish the thing!"
Greg and I immediately made plans to go have lunch there at some point very soon. He said, "Yeah, but they're only open until 2 p.m., so we'll have to make sure we get there before then."
A couple months ago, it turned out that for the first time in weeks I'd be home on a Friday. I called Greg up the day before and told him that we needed to run over to Lee's on 14th for lunch. He said, "Cool! Give me a call tomorrow and we'll set it up."
I picked Greg up around 12:30 p.m. that next day at his place in Moline and we drove over to Lee's on 14th. Parking is plentiful up and down the street around Lee's on 14th. We went in and took the last booth available in the corner. Lee's on 14th was hoppin' for lunch just like it was hoppin' for breakfast the one morning we were there.
The waitress brought us menus and Greg said, "I think we know what we want." We both got the cheeseburger baskets that came with fries and your choice of cottage cheese, cole slaw and, I believe, pasta salad with the basket. Greg and I both got the cottage cheese. Greg sort of laughed when she took our order and said, "That was pretty simple!"
They certainly didn't rush the burgers as it was a good 15 minutes between the time we ordered and when she brought out the burgers. I couldn't believe my eyes - the burgers WERE huge! I could see where Greg's dad would have problems eating a double cheeseburger because one was big enough! They were a hand-pattied burger topped with two slices of cheese that didn't even cover the face of the meat. Fresh lettuce, pickles and a very fresh tomato (considering the time of year, it was six months before any vine ripened tomatoes would be available locally) came with the burger. It was all we could do to get our mouth into a full bite of burger, toppings, condiments and buns.
Here's Greg making his best effort to get a full bite into this burger at Lee's on 14th. The only thing that I'd have to say about the burger is that the flat top grill helps with the taste of burgers like the ones at Lee's on 14th. It's evident from the taste of the burger that the grill isn't "broken in" yet for a flat top burger grill. There are a number of places that have burger meat just like Lee's on 14th, but the grill has it's own flavor that helps with the taste of the burger. While the burger was meaty and lean, it was a tad drowsy in taste. Not that it was bad - far from it. But as I told Greg, "I wonder what a burger from here will taste like three or five years down the road. Once that grill gets more burgers on it, it will develop it's own taste and character. It will transfer to the meat and make it even better."
Greg shrugged his shoulders and said, "I think it's pretty damn good as it is!"
And Greg was right about the price - the burger basket at Lee's on 14th is only $4.95. "That's friggin' cheap," Greg exclaimed. "And the thing about it, a double cheeseburger is only a buck more! How can they do that?!"
When I went up to pay for our lunch, I handed the waitress a $20 (they do take credit cards, as well) and she gave me back about 7 bucks and a lot of change. I just took the five dollar bill and gave her the rest. It was a helluva value even with the nice little tip for the waitress.
Lee's on 14th is open every day except Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m 2 p.m. Both visits I've been there, the food has been very, very good. It's small and you may have to wait for a place to sit down, but it's worth it. I'm hoping it doesn't get TOO busy where they'll have to turn customers away. But if they keep it up with the great breakfasts and the large burgers, it could very well turn out that way.