One of our favorite places to dine is a place called The Boat House just a five minute drive from our home along the Mississippi River in Davenport. This past summer, it was difficult to get to The Boat House as the City of Davenport had River Drive - a main four-lane artery to and from the downtown Davenport area - torn up and closed down for nearly four months. But the construction that inhibited access to their entrance at Bridge St. and River Drive (see map) opened up to two-lane traffic in both directions in the late summer. Earlier this week the city opened all four lanes again when construction was completed. Not long after they opened River Drive to two-lane traffic, we made our way over to The Boat House for dinner. We hadn't been there since we had dinner with friends of ours on New Years Eve last year.
The building in which The Boat House sits started out in the 1960's as the club house for the Lake Davenport Sailing Club at what is known as Onieda Landing. Actually, I don't know if there is such a thing as Lake Davenport as the river in front of the building is officially known as "Pool 15", just upstream from Locks and Dam 15. Under the water is a series of rapids that made navigation through the area almost impossible until the Locks and Dam system was installed in the mid-1930's for the Upper Mississippi River. (The river makes almost a 1000 foot drop from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota down to St. Louis.)
"Pool 15" is the shortest of all pools along the Mississippi River and the stretch from just upstream of the Quad Cities down to Muscatine, IA is the longest stretch of the river running east-west. (When my wife moved to Davenport nearly 20 years ago, she had the hardest time figuring directions because she was taught in school in Cedar Rapids that the Mississippi River runs north-south. Not through the Quad Cities. You go south into Illinois when you cross from Iowa.)
In the 80's, the Lake Davenport Sailing Club built a new club house further up the river and the original building became a restaurant. When I first moved to the area in 1993, the place was a Cajun restaurant - actually, a very good Cajun restaurant. The Cajun restaurant moved in 1995 (and subsequently went out of business), and local restaurateur Jim Sweet came in and opened the Boat House. Sweet was the former owner at the highly acclaimed Captain's Table restaurant in Moline, at that time one of the finest places to eat in the Quad Cities. After selling The Captain's Table, trying to capture some of the same magic at The Boat House proved to be tough for Sweet. Along with his son, Dave, they ended up putting on an addition to the restaurant more than doubling its seating and adding a bar. The new addition featured booths with splendid views of the river not more than 10 feet from the flood wall. Today, Dave Sweet and partners Lori Bentley and Mark Klundt run The Boat House.
Above left - the original dining room at The Boat House. Above right - the addition with the bar area. (Picture on right is from The Boat House's Facebook page.) With their big windows, the dining/bar area is a great place to watch eagles fly around on sunny days during the winter.
In the warmer months, The Boat House also has a wonderful patio that looks out onto the river and across to Arsenal Island and the Rock Island Arsenal. (Picture at left from The Boat House's Facebook page.) On beautiful nights, the patio is usually packed. And since its located right along the riverfront bike path, it's a popular destination for people riding bikes in the summer time. This particular recent evening we ventured to The Boat House, it was nice out, but we knew as soon as the sun went down it would get cool on the patio. We decided to sit inside the dining room/bar area in one of the spatious booths they have.
As we looked through the menu at The Boat House, our server for the evening, a nice young lady, came over to greet us. I ordered a beer and Cindy decided that she just wanted iced tea. The lunch menu at The Boat House is more geared toward soups, salads and sandwiches, while the dinner menu features steaks, seafood, barbecued ribs, and The Boat House's wonderful slow roasted prime rib. Actually, I was looking for for the soup and sandwich thing that evening and they do offer a handful of their sandwiches during the dinner hours, as well. Their reuben sandwich is one of the better reubens I've ever had.
They also have a wonderful Bavarian steak soup at The Boat House. It's a thick tomato/beef stock soup with chunks of ribeye steak and vegetables. I usually get a cup of the steak soup on my visits to The Boat House. Their New England-style clam chowder is also very good. It's the same recipe that Jim Sweet used when he ran The Captain's Table. For some reason, a number of restaurants in the Quad Cities have very good clam chowder, some of the best outside out New England.
Cindy was also sort of thinking along the lines of light eating. She particularly likes the creamy garlic dressing at The Boat House. Tonight, she was thinking of getting a salad and some fish. She thought about getting a half order of the stuffed sole filet - a sole filet that is rolled with spinach and three different types of cheese, broiled and finished off with a homemade creamy chardonnay sauce. She also thought about getting the mahi mahi - you can get it with your choice of Cajun seasonings, lemon peppered or plain. But at about $20 bucks, she thought that was too expensive.
She saw that they had a crab cake sandwich on the menu, but didn't know if she wanted the sandwich. Then she saw literally the same thing as one of the many appetizers The Boat House has on their menu, only without the bread. She ended up ordering a dinner salad with the garlic dressing and the in-house-made crab cakes that featured capers and Cajun seasonings and served with a remoulade-style sauce. (The Boat House calls it a "European-style" cocktail sauce.) I went with a bowl of the Bavarian steak soup and I had to have one of their very good reuben sandwiches. With the sandwich, you get your choice of four different types of potatoes, rice or the vegetable of the day. I ended up getting fries.
Our first part of the meal came out with the steak soup and the salad. My steak soup was in a large bowl brimming with a hearty broth. I like lots of pepper in my steak soup and I may have put in two table spoons of black pepper before I stirred it in. The steak is slow cooked with the veggies and tomato/beef stock. The Bavarian steak soup at The Boat House is simply phenomenal.
Cindy's salad featured fresh greens with a small roma cherry tomato, a slice of cucumber and a sprinkling of The Boat House's homemade croutons. The garlic dressing is thick and creamy, and it contains a lethal amount of garlic - lethal for vampires. I have to take a bite of the salad dressing just so I can even be near Cindy later in the evening as you can literally reek of garlic for hours afterward. The dressing definitely gets your attention without being too overbearing.
Cindy's crab cakes and my sandwich came out after we finished the soup and salad. Her crab cake appetizer featured three decent sized crab cakes with a tomato slice. She said they were very good, but very rich. She offered me a small taste of the crab cakes with the remoulade sauce. The crab meat was fresh in taste and the sauce had a nice little spicy spike to it. Cindy declared her crab cakes and salad as "the perfect meal for this evening." She said she certainly didn't need any more than that.
My reuben had a pile of tender corned beef topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing between two pieces of toasted dark rye bread. One of the things I like about The Boat House is that they put the dressing on the sandwich and then bring out a small container of dressing with the sandwich. I started asking for my reubens served that way when I eat them at other places. I sort of like dipping them in the dressing although there's usually already enough dressing on the sandwich.
Isn't this just one of the best looking reuben sandwiches you've ever seen? They certainly didn't skimp on the succulent corned beef, and the sauerkraut was fresh and tasty. Just like other times I've had the reuben at The Boat House, I certainly wasn't disappointed.
While the prices at The Boat House can skew a little more to the higher end of the scale, especially with their entrees, I have to think back to remember if I've ever had a bad meal at the place. Quite honestly, I can't remember any problems on any of our visits to The Boat House over the past 17 years. They've always been accommodating to us and the service has always been fine. We don't go as often as we used to, but with River Drive fully open again, we may find ourselves turning into Onieda Landing for a meal at The Boat House a little more often.
(Update - The Boat House closed in early 2014 and was replaced by a restaurant called The Waterbar (my wife hates the name). We've been there three times and we've had two bad experiences and one good one. One of these days - if they're still open and we feel like torturing ourselves with slow service and mediocre food - we'll go back and I'll do a blog entry on The Waterbar.)