When it comes to comfort food for us on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities, we have a triumvirate of places that we go to - Harlan's (click here to see the entry on Harlan's); Ross' (click here to see the entry on Ross'); and an old stand-by that has been in west Davenport for well over 60 years - Riefe's (pronounced REE-fee's). Our neighbors, Murray and Mary, were raving about the meatloaf to us one afternoon. "Meatloaf Monday", Murray said. "It's tough to beat." On a recent Monday night date night, Cindy and I decided to go to Riefe's for some comfort food and to try the meatloaf.
Del Riefe was going to college in the mid-1940's. In the summertime, he and a fraternity buddy ran a small drive-in stand on the Iowa side of what is now the I-74 bridge over the Mississippi. After Del graduated from college and married his high school sweetheart, Mary Jane, the young couple took off for the promised land of California. However, Del found jobs tough to come by after World War II ended and Mary Jane became pregnant. Del's father, local grocer Orville Riefe, proposed a deal for the young couple to come back to Iowa and help out in a small drive-in restaurant he was looking to buy in west Davenport with the promise to turn the business over to Del sometime down the road.
Riefe's Drive-In opened in 1946 and featured burgers, tenderloins and chicken - all of which were served by car hops. The business moved to its present day location along West Locust in Davenport (see map) in 1948. True to his word, Orville Riefe soon turned the reins over to his son, but he continued to work in the restaurant business for nearly 40 more years.
Sensing changing times in the restaurant business, Del Riefe tore down the drive-in building in 1960 and constructed a 45-seat diner on the same plot of land. 11 years later, Rick Riefe joined his father in the family business and in 1980, Dan Riefe joined his father and brother in the business. Del Riefe continued to work in the family business nearly up to his death in April of 2008.
Riefe's is segmented into three different dining areas denoting three separate additions to the original building. The area up front looks more like a coffee shop from the 60's, there is a center room that is a little more ornate with booths and tables with high back chairs, and the third part is a room with a number of booths. It was in the third room where we were seated by the hostess on our recent visit to Riefe's.
We were greeted by our server that evening, Amber, who dropped off a basket of two rolls and two pieces of Riefe's cinnamon-sugar soda bread, a long time tradition at the restaurant. It's sort of like coffee cake and a nice little touch to start the meal. (Riefe's serves warm cinnamon-sugar donut holes in the morning for breakfast.) She wanted to know if we wanted anything other than water to drink to start out. Riefe's is alcohol free, but I wasn't looking for a beer that evening. She told us she'd give us a minute to look through the menu and would be back shortly.
The dinner menu at Riefe's has your typical family restaurant fare - burgers, sandwiches, salads, and dinner plates. They also have Mexican items on the menu, as well as vegetarian choices and a kids menu. Riefe's has a series of nightly dinner specials in addition to the menu items. And Riefe's is also well known for their breakfasts which include their famous made-in-house monster-sized cinnamon rolls - you can't be a legitimate breakfast place in the Quad Cities without huge cinnamon rolls - that are made with cream cheese frosting. Personally, I think the cinnamon rolls at Riefe's are the best. There have been times we've had people over to our house for breakfast and I've run to Riefe's to get cinnamon rolls for the group.
Since it was "Meatloaf Monday", I was set on the meatloaf dinner. Cindy loves the hot beef sandwich at Riefe's - as do I. When Amber came back to take our order that's exactly what we ordered. I got a choice of potato with my meatloaf dinner and I got the mashed potatoes and gravy. And a dinner salad came with the meal, as well. I asked for their wonderful sweet French dressing to go with my salad. Oh - and I got a large glass of milk. Nothing better than a glass of milk with comfort food.
After finishing the salad - like I say, the sweet French dressing is delicious - Amber brought out Cindy's hot beef sandwich. They don't skimp on portions at Riefe's and Cindy usually eats about half of her hot beef and takes the rest home to have for lunch in the next day or two. The hot beef sandwich and two scoops of real mashed potatoes were slathered in Riefe's homemade gravy. About the only complaint I have with Riefe's is that their gravy is too salty. We're drinking water continuously starting an hour after we've eaten the hot beef sandwiches. The gravy is very good - don't get me wrong. It's just that it's very salty.
Amber then brought out my meatloaf dinner and along with the mashed potatoes and gravy, I got a half ear of sweet corn. All this and a salad for $6.95! Meatloaf Monday's are a helluva deal at Riefe's. The big slab of meatloaf covered half the plate. I got a scoop and a half of the mashed potatoes with a little gravy on top. If I would have been thinking, I would have asked Amber to put gravy on the meatloaf, too.
But it didn't matter - Murray was right, the meatloaf at Riefe's is very good. It held together well, but wasn't dried out like some meatloaf can get. It had a wonderful flavor and it was very filling. I had a few bites of the mashed potatoes even though I was full and I had to finally push my plate away because I was afraid I'd eat all of the potatoes after I'd gone through the meat loaf.
Cindy ate a good portion of her hot beef sandwich - "I was really hungry," she protested when I looked over to see that she had left only parts of the bread and about half the potatoes, eating up all the tender roast beef. Between Harlan's and Riefe's, it's difficult to say who has the better hot beef sandwich.
With a tip for Amber, who did a fine job taking care of us, the total bill was a titch over $20 bucks, which is a great deal for a lot of very good comfort food. A comfortable setting with good food - including breakfast - at a good value with good service, Riefe's is one of those places that is tough to beat for comfort food in the Quad Cities.