My wife and I have a Monday night tradition when I'm in town to go out on a "date night". We usually go get something to eat, then eventually end up back home and catch a movie or television show that we've taped on the DVR. Lately, we've been getting into funks about where to go out to eat. Most of the places we like are getting expensive or they offer too much food and we're just miserable afterward. One particular Monday evening a while back, we didn't know where to go until I decided to drive to a place we hadn't been to in quite sometime - the Waterfront Deli in Bettendorf.
I've lived in the Quad Cities for over 21 years and the Waterfront Deli was in business for 10 years prior to my arrival. Mike Chupka was the longtime owner of the restaurant and he ended up selling the place about seven years ago to Ray and Christine Brandt. Chupka was the first general manager at the Symposium Cafe (click here to see my entry on the Symposium Cafe) before he went over to open and co-own Rivals Sports Bar in Davenport. The Brandt's daughter, Nicole, is the manager of the Waterfront Deli.
The Waterfront Deli is located on State Street in Bettendorf, the eastbound one-way that goes through downtown Bettendorf (see map). It is situated next to an abandoned strip mall and a plot of land where - in my opinion - the best Dairy Queen in the world once stood. (They had a great pork loin sandwich as well as great burgers. The owner had a falling out with Dairy Queen and he lost his franchise affiliation. He changed the name of the place to "Usta Be's" as he was having to answer to patrons who were coming in and asking if his place used to be a Dairy Queen. He was open for only a couple more years before closing and the building was razed a number of years ago. But the sign is still there.)
We got into the restaurant just after 6 p.m. and like most evenings it was pretty dead. (They close at 7:00 p.m. through the week, 4 p.m. on Saturday and are closed on Sunday.) They do a brisk business throughout the day with both dine in and take-out orders. You order at the front counter from a number of signature sandwiches they have at the Waterfront Deli, or you can build your own sandwich with your choice of five different types of meat, six different types of cheese, five different types of veggies, and six different types of bread. They also have soups, salads, and interestingly, hot dogs including their own "Chicago style" hot dog topped with tomato, cucumber and hot peppers. I've never had a Chicago Dog at Waterfront Deli. I guess Portillo's spoils me enough with their great Chicago style hot dogs.
They have a number of signature sandwiches at Waterfront Deli including the Touch of Class - pastrami, turkey, Swiss cheese, sliced fresh mushrooms, onions, tomato and alfalfa sprouts on marble rye. I almost pulled the trigger on that sandwich this particular evening. They also have a good reuben sandwich - the Riverside Reuben with your choice of pastrami or turkey, topped with melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a horseradish/1000 Island dressing served on sour dough bread.
But my favorite sandwich they have on the menu is the 1020 Sandwich. (1020 State Street is their address.) You have your choice of roast beef or turkey - I always get the beef - topped with cheddar and Swiss cheeses. Then they pile on shredded lettuce, tomato slices, onions, fresh sliced mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts, then finish it off with honey mustard on a toasted onion roll. That's exactly what I ordered.
Cindy was always partial to their Waterfront Hoagie - ham, turkey, American cheese, chopped lettuce and tomato on a poppy seed hoagie bun. She ended up ordering that. You get a choice of potato chips, potato salad or cole slaw with the sandwich. I took the potato chips and Cindy asked the girl at the counter, "You used to have this great pasta salad with the dill in it. Do you still have it?"
The girl said, "The garlic dill pasta salad? Sure, we still have that." Cindy asked if she could get a side of that instead of the others and the girl said there would be a small upcharge and Cindy said it would be no problem. Actually, I remember the garlic dill pasta salad and I went ahead and ordered a side of it to go along with the potato chips I got with the sandwich.
There was only one other couple in the restaurant, so we took a table next to a large window in the larger of the two dining rooms they have at the Waterfront Deli. The wooden ceiling has exposed rafter beams with lights and ceiling fans hanging down. The wooden walls are sort of rustic and gives the place sort of a country feel. Some people may say that it's designed to be more of a waterfront warehouse, but to me it's like eating in a barn. On the walls throughout the Waterfront Deli are original watercolor paintings of local landmarks and buildings by local artist T.F. Hempel. Hempel's works are very good and we spent a little time looking around at some of the pictures on the wall as we were waiting for our sandwiches.
A handful of people came in and picked up sandwiches to go. Some had called ahead and the sandwiches were waiting for them. It took about 10 minutes for our sandwiches to make it out to our table.
The 1020 sandwich was exactly as I remembered - a soft and pungent onion bun, slightly toasted, piled high with thin sliced roast beef. The honey mustard is a nice compliment, and even though I don't care for alfalfa sprouts all that much, the combination of their taste with the fresh mushrooms gave the sandwich a somewhat pleasant earthy taste. It's a very good sandwich.
Although she liked the sandwich, Cindy was a little perplexed with her Waterfront Hoagie. "I remember it being bigger than this. But, then again, it's been a few years since we've been here. They may have made it smaller instead of raising the price." But she did remember how good the garlic dill pasta salad was. The pasta salad has more of a dill taste than garlic and has a light oil base to it. "This would be easy to make at home," Cindy said as she ate the pasta out of the small cup. "I should make this sometime."
In all the years we've been coming to the Waterfront Deli, we've always had good sandwiches and the pasta salad is excellent. But it can get a little expensive - it was $7.50 for the 1020 sandwich and $6.95 for the Waterfront Hoagie. Still, the Waterfront Deli is a unique little place that is consistently good. And I'll pay a little more for that. And, obviously, for as long as they've been in business, others will, too.
(Update - October 2013: After 33 years along State Street in Bettendorf, the Waterfront Deli has moved due to the upcoming construction of the new Interstate 74 bridge across the Mississippi. They have moved to 1813 Kimberly Road in Bettendorf (see map) across from Duck Creek Golf Course in a building that was most recently housed La Flama Mexican Restaurant, but was called Papi's Bar and Bites before that. I'm sure the sandwiches won't change at all from the former location. But maybe the 1020 Sandwich will become the 1813...)