Cindy wanted to go out for steak recently and we discussed going to Bud's Skyline Inn over in Moline for dinner. But we'd had a couple bad experiences the past couple of visits and decided to pass on Bud's. We thought about The Captain's Table on River Drive in Moline, but the Mississippi River was flooding and it would have been tough to make our way around the detours to get to the place (it turned out that all access to The Captain's Table was shut down due to flood waters). So, I made the decision on the spot to head over to Geneseo, IL, just about 15 miles from the Quad Cities, but close enough to be considered part of the metro area, and have dinner at a place we hadn't been to for quite some time, The Cellar.
The Cellar is located in the basement of the historic Geneseo House in downtown Geneseo at the corner of State and Main (see map). The Geneseo House was built in 1877 and was (at that time) a state of the art four-story hotel. The hotel had gone out of business in the 50's and stood empty until brothers Bob and Stan Bestor purchased the building and put a restaurant in the cellar of the building. Calling it, of course, The Cellar, the restaurant featured fine dining and banquet facilities. However, since Geneseo's population was hovering around 6,000 people at that time, the Bestor's relied upon the new Interstate 80 that would allow customers from the Quad Cities to make it to their restaurant in a jiffy.
When the Bestor's opened The Cellar in 1960, their first chef was Bob Schaefer. Schaefer eventually bought the business and building from the Bestor's in 1977. In 1980, a young kid by the name of Scott Stetter came in and asked for a job. Schaefer put him to work as a busboy and a dishwasher, with Stetter eventually working his way into the kitchen and becoming head chef. In 2000, Stetter bought the restaurant from Schaefer. (Schafer still owns the building and much of the space on the upper floors is used as office space.) Stetter continues to work as the head chef at The Cellar and you can see him most nights laboring over the large grated charcoal grill in the kitchen.
The Cellar consists of two main dining areas and a bar area with a banquet are off to the side of the bar. Local artists have their artwork on display on the stone walls of the restaurant. The lighting is subdued and each table features a lit candle. It gave the dining area a nice little coziness. However, the tables in the dining area are a little too close to one another, putting people in pretty close proximity.
It was around 7:30 on a Friday evening when we got to The Cellar. We found some parking on the side street and went down the stairs into the restaurant. We were wondering if we would be able to get in without a wait, but the hostess took us directly to the back dining room and sat us at a table along the wall. Cindy looked at the closeness of the tables around us and she said, "Wow! They really like to cram 'em in here, don't they?"
We were given menus and the waitress came over to take our drink orders. I looked over the wine list and while it was pretty short, they did have a couple three good red wines on the list. Cindy wasn't certain that she wanted much more than a glass of wine that evening, so she ordered an in-house-brewed iced-tea and I got a Bud Light for the time being.
Steaks, chops and seafood are the headliners at The Cellar. They're famous for their chargrilled shrimp served with drawn butter. I considered getting a "surf and turf" combination that evening with the grilled shrimp and a steak.
Another specialty at The Cellar are their skewered beef filet tips. They only have those from time to time, usually after they've cut up a number of filets off of a full tenderloin. It turned out that they had them this particular evening and that's what Cindy ordered. She also got a side of their hash browns mixed with cheese and onions.
I ordered the regular filet, rare. I also got the hash browns with the cheese and onions. We also both got salads - Cindy got the homemade garlic, I got the Italian vinegar and oil with blue cheese crumbles on top. And when the waitress brought out our main entrees, I asked her to bring out a couple glasses of the Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet.
The salads were good, nothing outstanding. The garlic dressing Cindy had wasn't as overpowering as she seems to like her garlic dressing. Nonetheless, I still had to have a bite of her salad with the dressing or I wouldn't have been able to sleep with her that night, no matter how many times she brushed her teeth before we went to bed. My vinegar and oil dressing was pretty basic, but the blue cheese was definitely fresh and had a rich taste. Glad I learned about that combination a number of years ago.
The waitress brought out our glasses of wine saying that she wanted to make sure the wine was on the table before she brought our steak. And it wasn't much longer when she came back with our main entrees.
As I said, it had been a long time since we'd been to The Cellar, but the presentation was very nice. Our beef entrees along with the hash browns were served on a nice, somewhat ornate plate. Everything was very nice. I was a little taken back by the hash browns. It looked like they were more of a potato pancake with some cheddar cheese melted on top. But I soon found that the hash browns were certainly made in house with fresh potatoes, and the onions were cooked in with the potatoes rather than sauteed on the side and mixed in before they were put on the plate. They were very good.
And whoever cooked my steak that evening got the temperature right on (above right). The filet was thick and tender with a nice grill ring around the top and bottom of the steak. It was absolutely fabulous.
And Cindy's filet tips were also very good. She likes hers a little more medium than I and she told me that the tips were cooked perfectly. They, too, were tender and flavorful with a great chargrilled taste to the meat.
I also forgot to mention that with dinner we got these little sticky honey buns that were just outstanding. In fact, everything was wonderful at The Cellar. Half way through the meal we were questioning each other as to why it had taken so long to come back over to Geneseo to have dinner there. It's definitely worth the 20 minute or so drive - one way - for us from Davenport over to The Cellar.
Before we left, we went into the bar area to look around. It's not all that big and not that many people were in there. The bar itself is a dark-wood, three-sided small bar with lighted candles on top. There were a number of small tables in the room, also with lighted candles. It's definitely a nice place to hang out if you have to wait for a table at The Cellar.
As we were getting ready to walk out the door, I glanced into the glass enclosed kitchen/grill area. Scott Stetter silently mouthed, "Thank you!" and waved at us.
I waved back and also silently thanked him and then exaggeratedly mouthed, "We'll be back!"
And not long ago, we were. We were invited by some friends of ours to join them for an anniversary dinner at The Cellar with two other couples who had never been there before. This time, I had the 6 oz. grilled boneless pork chop and 5 count grilled shrimp combination. They grill both the pork chop and the shrimp with a homemade barbecue glaze - somethling that I don't care for during the cooking process. Then to top it off, the waitress brought out melted butter for the shrimp and a side of sweet barbecue sauce for the pork chop. I have to question why they glazed the shrimp and pork chop with the barbecue sauce, and then brought out butter and barbecue sauce. Actually, the shrimp were pretty good, but the pork chop was a little thin and a tad overcooked for my liking. But I should have asked for both without the glaze.
On this trip, Cindy got the grilled orange roughy that she said was very good. She got a side of rice with hers (I got the good ol' hash browns with onions mixed in and a dollop of cheese on top). While she had a salad with the homemade garlic dressing - this time with more zip in the garlic than last - I had a cup of their outstanding French onion soup before dinner.
The two other couples who had never been to The Cellar before seemed to like it very much. All of them had steak and they all raved about how good it was. Cindy said, "I should have gotten the steak, too. It smelled so good."
I love places like The Cellar. While tons of places have come or gone during their 50-plus years of existence, The Cellar has persevered through a couple of tough economic times during that period. The price of the meal wasn't out of line, the service was very good, and the food was just excellent. Sometimes you've got to go to the small towns to get some of the best steaks available, and The Cellar is absolutely one of those types of places.