A few weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, a few of my neighbors got together at our house for a couple beers. One of my neighbors suggested doing a road trip over to Rock Island's College Hill District to check out a nano-brewery that I'd wanted to go to for some time, Against the Grain. As we parked in front of the small brewery, I looked over and saw a building that said, "Gendler's Wines." I thought Gendler's had gone out of business years before and was amazed that it was still around. My neighbor said, "I guess they reopened as a combination wine store and restaurant." I was sort of intrigued.
For our usual Monday night date night two nights later, I told my wife about the Gendler's in Rock Island. She told me that one of her co-workers had gone there for dinner with her husband and spoke highly of the place. We drove over and parked in front of Gendler's, then walked around to the side entrance. There we saw two doors - one, the entrance to Gendler's, the other, the entrance to the Black Ram restaurant. After going into Gendler's to look around for a bit, we went into the Black Ram. (see map)
I found that there's a history behind the Black Ram, but the restaurant has only been open since August of last year. The gentleman who owns Black Ram, Dave Requet, Sr., is the son of a gentleman who owned and operated the old Italian Village restaurant in Rock Island. The Italian Village in Rock Island was before my time, but I do remember an Italian Village in downtown Davenport. Evidently, the two Italian Villages were related by family members - Dick Requet owned the one in Rock Island, and his brother owned the one in Davenport. We were told that there was a dispute between the brothers and Dick's brother moved over to Davenport.
(I remember being in the old Italian Village and I kept telling Cindy that we had eaten there before. But then I found out that the Davenport Italian Village closed in 1992 and Cindy and I didn't get together until 1993. Oops! Must have been another girl I was with!)
Dick Requet had worked at Eagle Supermarkets for a number of years before he opened the Italian Village in Moline in 1963. He and his wife, Mary, and their children all worked in the restaurant with other family members. In 1971, the Requet's moved their restaurant to the College Hill section of Rock Island, just up the hill from Augustana College. In 1980, they added an ice cream parlor next to the Italian Village, then in 1986 they changed the name to ReQuette's. Dick and Mary retired from the business in 1994, and their son, Rick, ran the place as R.T.'s Italian Village until it closed it in 2005.
Dick's son - and Rick's brother - Dave Requet, Sr. bought the rights to the Gendler's Wine and Spirits name in 2007 not long after it closed its Moline location. Gendler's was my place to go for wine and beer when I first moved to the Quad Cities in 1991. Jerry Zeffren, the longtime owner of Gendler's before he sold to Tom Getz in 2001, used to get Capital Beers for me when the closest place I could find some would be up in East Dubuque. They'd cost a little more at Gendler's than what I could get them at liquor stores in Wisconsin, but at least I wasn't driving an hour and a half to buy them.
Dave Requet and his wife, Lynda, had been planning on doing something with the old Italian Village space for a number of years. Requet was an entrepreneur/developer by day and a wine enthusiast at night. Requet is a member of the American Wine Society and the Requet's have taken numerous trips to Napa Valley to sample wines. They decided to do a massive upgrade to the building and put in a wine store with an upscale restaurant. They spent over $700,000 in renovations and opened Gendler's/Black Ram in late July 2012.
However, almost as soon as they opened, they had to close again. A crushed sewer line shut down the business until they could get a company to come in an fix it. After another two-week-plus delay, the restaurant reopened in August. (Pictured left - Dave and Lynda Requet. Photo courtesy Rock Island Dispatch-Argus/QC Online)
Now, one thing I did not know was that the Black Ram is actually in two parts. They have their main entrance behind the building from 30th Street with a large parking lot near the entrance. The entrance we went in took us into the Grotto Bar. My wife was telling me that her co-worker's husband was feeling a little uneasy in the restaurant and asked to be seated elsewhere. When I walked into the Black Ram, I thought this was the restaurant. I thought, "What could be so pretentious about this place?" I didn't know they had a formal dining room on the other side.
The bar area had a great cozy feeling to the place. It had a rather neat curved ceiling with exposed beams that bent in tandem with the top of the room. There was a nice bar and a number of small tables and some high top tables along the wall. A nice fireplace was on the wall to the right of the bar. A hostess got up from the bar to greet us and asked us if we wanted a regular table or a high top. Cindy is a little uncomfortable at high tops, but the hostess said, "The seats at the high tops are more comfortable." Sure enough, they were. They had some nice padding on the seat and back. She dropped some menus off for us to look over.
Our server for the evening, a pleasant blond lady with the interesting name of Donai, came over to greet us. Cindy wanted a glass of white wine and I wasn't certain if I wanted a beer or a glass of wine, or even any alcohol at all. I had my back to the bar and I asked what kind of beer they had on tap. She gave me a quick rundown of about five or six beers, then she said, "And we have a new one. It's a Hawaiian beer, but I can't remember the name of it." I asked if it was a Kona Brewery beer and she said, "Yeah, I think so."
I turned around and walked over toward the bar. They had the Kona Longboard Lager on tap. I couldn't believe it. I have such an affinity for Kona beers that I had to have one. It wasn't my favorite - the Big Wave Golden Ale - but it was close enough.
Chef Dean McCollum features a full menu of steaks, seafood, pasta and the old Village Inn recipe for pizza. Actually, we were both in the mood for pasta that night and they had fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and a couple other pasta dishes on the menu.
We pretty much knew what we were going to get, but our waitress was nowhere to be found. We noticed another young man who was a server who came into the bar area a couple times to get drinks, but that was sporadic. Finally, our waitress showed up after we waited for about 10 minutes. She was somewhat out of breath and ready to take our order.
My wife got the fettuccine alfredo with chicken. Normal price on the fettuccine alfredo was $10.95. With the grilled chicked added, it was an extra five bucks. I also got the fettuccine alfredo, but with the shrimp added for an additional $8. We both got the regular house salads - Cindy with oil and vinegar, I got the house Italian.
We waited patiently for another long stretch for our salads. Finally, a man came over - it turned out it was Dave Requet, Sr. - to explain the delays for the evening. "We have a big party next door, folks. We're getting them served right now. After that, things should get back to normal for us on the floor and in the kitchen."
I still hadn't put two-and-two together to realize there was another part of the Black Ram. I expressed my amazement that I thought the bar area was the only part of the restaurant. Dave Requet said, "Oh, no. We have a formal dining room next door."
Then my wife explained to me, "I was telling you that (her co-worker's husband) didn't feel comfortable in the dining room and asked to be seated in the bar." OOOOHHHHH.... I see now...
(Skipping ahead - After we finished our dinner, we went back and took a look at the formal dining area at Black Ram. Quite honestly, it looked more like a banquet room than a formal dining room. I mean, it was nice in there, but it looked like it would be more suited for wedding receptions than fine dining. I can see why the husband of Cindy's co-worker would be a little uncomfortable in the room. I liked the lounge area much better at Black Ram.
Dave Requet, Jr., the restaurant manager, allowed us a look into the restaurant's wine cellar. It was a climate-controlled room off the main dining room. Dave, Jr. was a nice guy, giving us the run-down of the history of the Italian Village, the recipes that were handed down to the third generation of Requet's to work in the restaurant, and their short and long-range plans to develop the large outdoor area on the north side of the building.)
Skipping back - Our salads did finally make it out and they were good, not outstanding. And not long after the salads were finished, our server came out with our fettuccine alfredo. Cindy's had a good amount of sliced grilled chicken breast on the top of her fettuccine. There was also a good amount of fettuccine on her plate, so much so that she knew she wasn't going to eat the whole thing. "I'll concentrate on the chicken and eat what else of it that I can," she said.
Mine, however, featured just four morsels of butterflied shrimp scampi. This was an extra $8 bucks? Four pieces of shrimp? You've got to be kidding me! I buy shrimp at the grocery store and I know there's not way that four pieces of shrimp can cost a restaurant that much. I was disappointed in the value of my meal from the start.
The taste of the fettuccine alfredo was, well, different. There seemed to be some sort of a chalky taste to the bite of the pasta and alfredo sauce. It was like they had taken a handful of flour and added it to the sauce before it was served. The overall taste of the sauce was OK, but I don't know if I've ever experienced this chalky texture on the tongue when I've eaten fettuccine alfredo in the past.
The shrimp - what there was of them - were actually pretty good. They had a nice chargrilled taste to them and were plump and meaty. I just wish there would have been a couple three more for $8 bucks. Cindy gave me a slice of her chicken breast and, it too, was good. But the thing I liked most about the meal was the garlic bread- flat pieces of sliced Italian bread topped with garlic and herbs and toasted. The bread was very good.
We both couldn't finish our full helpings of fettuccine and when our server came back to check on us, she asked if we wanted the leftovers. My wife explained that it's never as good when it's taken home and re-warmed.
But our server didn't give up. She said, "Any dessert tonight?" I sort of groaned from being full and then she said, "We have homemade tiramisu, creme brulee..."
Cindy stopped her, looked at me and smiled. "Your tiramisu is homemade? We'll take a piece with two forks."
At first, I was upset with my wife for ordering the tiramisu. But when it was brought out, whoa! What a nice presentation! It was a thick slice of tiramisu with the whipped topping sprinkled with cocoa powder. From the first bite, I could tell it was one of the better pieces of tiramisu I've ever had - and I've had a LOT of tiramisu over the years. It was just fabulous.
Although I was disappointed in the taste and value of my fettuccine alfredo, I told my wife that I'd like to go back again sometime to get their Italian Village recipe pizza. We were told that their pizza isn't like traditional Quad Cities-style pizza - which I don't care for - but a pizza that had a thinner crust and not the spicy-sweet style of sauce you find on pizzas all over the area. They also grind their own blend of sausage for their pizzas at Black Ram. We thought we may have found another alternative to the unbelievable number of Quad City-style pizza places in the area.
We made our way back over to the Black Ram on a Saturday night about a month after we were there for the pizza. Once again, we had a very nice young lady wait on us and we ordered up a pizza. We figured we'd order up a large because we could take some home with us to snack on the next day when we would be out doing yard work.
The only problem is that the large pizza (16") was $13 bucks - with only cheese on it. For sausage it was an EXTRA FIVE BUCKS!! I thought, "Wow! Their homemade sausage must be REALLY good if it's that expensive to put on to a pizza. For an additional $3.00 each, we could get pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. So, if I got my usual sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom pizza it would have been $24 bucks. I decided to save some money and just get the sausage and pepperoni. For $21 bucks, it had better knock it out of the park.
When the pizza showed up, Cindy and I looked at one another and sort of laughed. It was cut in the manner of a Quad City-style pizza - long thin slices. And we could smell the pizza and we KNEW it was MORE of a Quad City-style pizza than not. The sausage was ground up and the slices weren't more thin than a regular QC-style pie.
From the first bite, we knew we'd been had. It didn't taste very good. I don't want to say that it tasted horrible, but it was one of the worst tasting pizzas I've had. Nothing clicked on the pizza. The sausage was dull in taste and it was mushy to the bite. I had a hard time detecting any taste of pepperoni on the pizza, even when I would see a slice on the piece I was getting ready to bite into. The sauce was "blah!" I wanted to like their pizza, but I couldn't. Did it pass my "Does it taste good with beer?" test that I use to measure against other pizzas? This pizza wouldn't have tasted good with any kind of beer.
I know people who grew up in the Quad Cities who love this type of taste in their pizza, but I find it very unappealing. I'm still amazed that there are only two or three places around town that do more of what I would call a traditional tasting pizza with chunks of sausage and a good tangy sauce. The vast majority are Harris Pizza clones. I still have a problem with the number of Quad City-style pizza places that are found throughout the area.
Years ago, I tried a Harris Pizza and found it to be so disagreeable in taste that I threw out nearly 3/4's of the pizza. (Even the critters who got into the garbage bag sitting on the curb that night didn't touch the pizza - it was that bad.) That was the only time in my life I threw out a pizza. Until now. We had a little over half of the Black Ram pizza left and took it home. We got it home and I tried another bite. I couldn't handle it. I told Cindy, "This will be the second pizza I've ever thrown out." She didn't quibble with me when I took the pizza box out to the garage and threw it in the garbage.
I really wanted to like the Black Ram. I mean I REALLY wanted to like the Black Ram. I loved the bar area and the fact that they had Kona Longboard Lager on tap. The service was very good and the people were extremely friendly. And their tiramisu was some of the best we'd ever had. But I didn't think my fettuccine alfredo was all that great and the pizza was - to us - inedible. And the value of the meals weren't very good at all. $21 for a pizza - even if it would have been one of the best I'd ever had - was still a little steep. $18 for pasty tasting fettuccine alfredo with four measly grilled shrimp was sort of outrageous, as well. I don't know if they're going for more of an upscale crowd at the Black Ram or what, but they've lost a couple of customers who didn't think much for the food or the prices they were charging for it.