I got a text message from my wife while I was on the road earlier this week telling me that the venerable Belgian Village Inn in Moline would be closing on February 1. I was aghast at the notion of another favorite food place in the Quad Cities closing down, but after a quick reflection on the last two or three visits to the place I found that I wasn't overly surprised. (Click here to see my entry on the Belgian Village.) (Belgian Village sign courtesy Trip Advisor.)
Citing health reasons, Karen Manning and her husband, Shawn, decided earlier in the week to close down the 37-year-old restaurant today. The couple bought the business in 1997 from Karen's mother and father, Loretta and Denis Ceurvorst who had started the business in 1977. The Mannings broke the news to employees after a frigid outbreak earlier in the week shut the place down for a couple days.
The draw to the B.V.I. (as the locals called it - short for Belgian Village Inn) was their Vande Reuben sandwich. I'm not gonna tell you it was the greatest sandwich ever - it was good, but not great. It wasn't even much of a sandwich with a couple thin slices of ham, a similar amount of shaved corned beef and a small spread of sauerkraut. The winning taste for the Vande Rueban was the bread that was baked fresh each day. The over-sized sandwich was made even better by slathering Boetje's Mustard and placing copious quantities of dill pickles on it.
We'd order one - lightly grilled. (A former cook used to overcook the Vande Reubens years ago - we just got used to ordering it that way, even though that cook was long gone and they never overcooked them after that.) We'd cut the Vande Reuben into thirds, then the thirds into halves. My wife and I would both eat two "squares" at the sitting, taking the other two pieces of the sandwich home with us for a light lunch a day or two later.
Now, I'll tell you that when I was younger I could eat a whole Vande Reuben sandwich on my own at one sitting. I did it three or four times before I realized that all I did was make myself miserable and overstuffed. But a third of a sandwich after a cup of clam chowder and half a bowl of the marinated cole slaw was enough for me.
But, to me, the Belgian Village was just more than just an over-sized sandwich with skimpy toppings. They had great clam chowder and it was a treat to get their prime rib when they served it on Friday and Saturday nights. Getting a big frosty mug of beer (Budweiser, but it used to be Old Style when I first started going there nearly 23 years ago) was also a pleasure. And my wife and I particularly loved their sweet marinated cole slaw. The ambiance of the place was cozy, warm and sort of blue collar. We always jumped at the chance to go to the Belgian Village.
I was turned on to the B.V.I. by one of my co-workers when I was the General Manager of an audio store in Davenport in the early 90's. It quickly became one of my favorite places to take friends from out of town who came to visit. My wife immediately liked the place the first time I took her there almost 20 years ago. Each time we took someone new to the Belgian Village, they left with a favorable impression. "What's the name of that place you took us to that had the huge sandwiches," was a question I heard many times from friends who we turned on to the Belgian Village.
But on recent visits, we noticed that things weren't quite the same at the B.V.I. The last time we were there, the tap lines for the beer were broke down so I couldn't get a frosty mug of tap beer. I did get a bottle of beer and they poured it into the frosty mug for me, but, mentally, it wasn't the same. The wait for a table or booth on a Friday or Saturday night had become non-existent. Over the past couple of years, we could always count on getting into the Belgian Village with no problems on the weekend. In years past, we may have had a 30 minute - or more - wait to get a place to sit on a weekend night. I don't think the food had gone downhill - my wife may disagree - but the place had sort of gotten tired and we could see that parts of the building needed some upgrades.
Now, hindsight is always 20-20, but announcing four days before you're going to close forever is probably not the way I would have handled the closing of the Belgian Village. I was told last night that they ran out of food at both the main location and at their drive-thru location in Moline on Thursday. And I heard that the Moline police were called out last night to handle a disturbance at the drive-thru after they ran out of food - again. Given how popular the B.V.I. once was, it was no wonder that crowds have gathered early and waited a long time for one last sandwich. I understand there was as much as a four-hour wait yesterday at the drive-thru location around the corner from the original Belgian Village. I would have given locals a month - heck, even two weeks - to have a chance for one last visit to enjoy a Vande Reuben sandwich.
My wife is in the Iowa City area visiting her daughter this weekend and I thought about going over there either last night or sometime today to get one last Vande Reuben. But after the reports I've heard about big crowds and long waits, I've decided that I'm going to pass on that and rely upon my memories of the many visits to the Belgian Village. It's sad that another landmark local restaurant is closing and I'm hoping beyond hope that someone will come in, buy the place, spruce it up and resurrect the Belgian Village to its glory days. For what it was, it wasn't much. But the B.V.I. will always hold a special place in my heart - and my stomach.
(Update - According to this article in the Quad City Times, the Manning's have had about two dozen inquiries to buy the Belgian Village. A local commercial real estate agent says he's fielded a number of phone calls from people since last Wednesdy looking to buy both the Belgian Village Inn and their drive-thru location. Meetings with what were termed as "serious" buyers could begin next week.)