My wife wanted to go to this small bakery she'd read about in the local Radish Magazine to get some bread one Saturday morning - East Side Bakery. When we pulled up in front of the place, I was amazed that I hadn't noticed it before because it's less than 5 minutes from our house, located just to the west and up the hill from the Village of East Davenport (see map). In addition to great artisan breads and wonderful pastries, they also do pizza at East Side Bakery. We went there one night and got a pizza to go and we wanted to tell you about it today.
The owner of East Side Bakery is Nikki LaTray, a Montana native who moved to the Quad Cities nearly 15 years ago with her job with the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railway. She worked for the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern division of the DM&E until 2008 when the parent company was sold to Canadian Pacific Railways and LaTray was asked to move to South Dakota to continue working for the company. LaTray was reluctant to uproot her sons who were around high school age at the time and decided to do something on her own. She had always cooked and baked since a little girl on the highland prairie of Western Montana and she decided that she wanted to open a bakery. LaTray took all of her life savings and invested it in a building and baking appliances.
The building she picked out was not far from her home in the Mount Ida neighborhood of Davenport. Quite honestly, the previous business - Cases and Kegs - drew an undesirable element to the neighborhood. It sort of became the defacto place to hang out in the cross-cultural neighborhood. Once Cases and Kegs closed up, the building became available to LaTray.
Actually, the building has a long history as a neighborhood grocery store and meat market long before the supermarkets came onto the scene. Over 120 years ago, it began as the Mount Ida Meat Market, but more recently - and before it was Cases and Kegs - it was the home to the Holst Meat Market which longtime Davenport residents have told me had the best meat in town. The original Holst Meat Market sign is still on the front and side of the building. If it weren't for the "bakery" flags in the front window, you would still think it was a meat market.
The inside of the building is sparse, but always changing artwork lines the walls of the bakery, which LaTray calls "The Bakery Gallery". The gallery is actually run by Joseph Lappie, an art instructor at St. Ambrose University. The Bakery Gallery is an unusual and alternative place for local artists to show their work, something that Lappie was looking for when he initially approached LaTray, who admittedly had no background in art, whatsoever.
The East Side Bakery is not open on Sunday and Monday, but is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. the rest of the week. In the evening when LaTray is home resting (as her days usually start in the bakery at 4 a.m.), her sons, Justin and Quentin Schutter, run the business making their homemade pizzas and calzones. Because it's such a small bakery, LaTray usually takes orders on her oven-baked breads in advance and people can pick up their orders after 11 a.m. We were lucky in that she had an extra loaf of Italian bread and a baguette loaf that first visit. When asked about the pizza at East Side Bakery, LaTray told us that it was unlike any pizza she's had in the Quad Cities. She said it was a homemade crust that wasn't thick, nor was it cracker thin. "Just the right thickness, in my opinion," she told us. We told her that we'd give it a try sometime.
It was on a Friday evening when we decided to call up East Side Bakery to get a pizza to go. When I called in our order, not fully knowing what exactly they had in both sides and toppings, I decided to just order a large pizza with sausage and pepperoni. The young man on the other end of the line told me it would be ready in 30 to 35 minutes and with that, he hung up. He didn't take my name or ask for a phone number. I told Cindy, "I hope to hell he had caller ID!"
When we ended up getting there about a half-hour later, we went in to get the pizza. The same young man who had answered the phone, I believe it was Quentin Schutter, greeted us. I said, "We ordered a large sausage and pepperoni pizza, but you didn't take our name or number."
He said, "Oh, I have a pretty good grasp as to who is ordering what."
I pulled out my credit card and he said, "Uh, actually, this is a cash only business. We don't take credit cards."
I said, "Oh! OK, well, that's certainly no problem."
Cindy was looking through the pastry case and she wanted to get a couple of the cannoli-style creme horns they had. The total bill with the creme horns came to $20.71. I gave him $21 bucks and said to keep the change. Big spender, I know.
When we got the pizza home and opened it up, we were heartened to see that it wasn't a Quad City-style pizza that we usually don't care for. The pizza also had a wonderful Italian herb smell to it. The toasted basil and oregano was a wonderful addition on the top of the cheese. Plentiful amounts of what looked to be a homemade sausage was on top and, as we found out when we started to chomp into the pizza slices, the pepperoni had a great salty and spicy taste and were also plentiful under the generous amounts of mozzarella on top of the pizza. The sauce was not overly sweet, but pretty tangy.
The cool thing about the pizza is that they use a braided crust at East Side Bakery. And it was filled with garlic and Italian herbs, giving the crust a distinct flavor. A wonderful flavor. I'm usually not big on crust with pizza, but the East Side Bakery pizza crust was some of the very best I've ever had. It was like eating an artisan bread with Italian herbs and spices mixed in. In fact, I wished that I had a side of marinara to dip the bread into. I almost got up and got some olive oil to put on a plate to dip the crust into. It was absolutely wonderful. The only drawback is that it tasted a little salty. I don't know if it was because they used regular salt or garlic salt in the dough. But I'm a person who doesn't use salt very often and my taste buds pick up salt in food more easily than other people. It wasn't a deal breaker on the crust by any means.
We were able to eat just half of the large pizza that evening keeping it for lunch the next day and into Sunday. Cindy looks at the staying power of a pizza based solely upon how well it tastes heated up in the microwave a day or two later. She wasn't disappointed in her two pieces she had for lunch on Saturday. "I think it almost tastes better the next day," she said. I didn't quite agree with her, but it did taste pretty damn good both on Saturday and again on Sunday morning when I finished off the remaining two pieces for breakfast. Ummm.... Pizza for breakfast.
We're always on the lookout for good pizza in the Quad Cities, which has some pretty horrid pizza places in my opinion. But the East Side Bakery didn't disappoint. Oh, and the creme horns? Outstanding. They had a great sweet taste to the pastry dough and the creme filling was outstanding. They were a great dessert to go along with a very, very good pizza. East Side Bakery is worth the trip from anywhere in the Quad Cities to get a quality pizza to take home and enjoy.