A place that we've known of for years, but never got around to going to until earlier this year is the Valley Inn Ale House in the Quad Cities suburb of Pleasant Valley. We've gone by the Valley Inn for a number of years, but one evening with our neighbor Murray we decided to head over for drinks and something to eat.
Pleasant Valley is one of the oldest towns in Iowa. It was first settled in the early 1830's and the first business was an old grist mill that sat near where the Valley Inn stands today. Soon thereafter, a sawmill was built nearby. These two businesses helped with the development of early settlements in the immediate area.
In the late 1830's or early 1840's a hotel/tavern was built on the spot where Valley Inn sits today. The original rubble foundation still exists and is visible on the exterior of the restaurant. Eventually, the second floor was turned into an elaborate ballroom before the place was turned into what was believed to be a gambling hall in the late 1800's. The upstairs ballroom was eventually replaced by two apartments which remained in place before a complete remodel of the Valley Inn took place in 2012.
When Prohibition took hold in 1919, it was rumored that the Valley Inn became a speakeasy and hangout for organized crime members. Al Capone was said to have frequented the Valley Inn before he was convicted on income tax evasion in 1931.
The Valley Inn has undergone a number of owners over the years. After serving in the army in World War II, Ambrose Carlin came home and bought the Valley Inn in 1948. He ran the place for 30 years before he retired and his daughter Frances Devlin took over. She ran it until 2007 when the Blaum family bought the place. Curtis Blaum, who is also a partner in Hot Shots Nuclear Medicine, is listed as the owner.
We pulled up to the Valley Inn on Valley Dr. on a Saturday evening. (see map) The place was full of people and it was a nice enough night that a number of other people were on the patio out back. The age mix of people in the place ranged from their early 20's into their 70's. The interior of the place was very nice and very fresh. The 2012 total renovation gave the place - what we were told - a very needed face-lift including a new kitchen and bar area.
We ended up sitting at the end of the bar and ordered up something to drink. Murray and I got beers - they have a pretty good beer list with around a dozen and a half beers on tap - and Cindy got a amaretto sour. We were told that a wait for a table would be about 30 minutes, but Cindy said that she was fine eating at the bar that night. Our bartender gave us menus to look through and figure out what we wanted that night.
We befriended a fun older couple next to us who were getting food, too. They got an order of the fried mushrooms. Cindy doesn't care for mushrooms or we would have gotten an order ourselves for an appetizer. The man was very friendly to us and he let us try a couple of the mushrooms to try. I'll have to say they were very good - the batter was excellent.
Most of the items on the menu are appetizers, salads, sandwiches and burgers. They did have a fish and chips as well as entrees such as a sirloin steak, mahi mahi, a barbecued pork chop and pineapple chicken that featured two marinated chicken breasts, grilled and topped with a pineapple salsa.
The man next to us got the grilled pork tenderloin sandwich. The guy was gracious when I asked if I could take a picture. Murray, who was sort of the ring leader of fun that evening, told the guy as I was taking the picture, "Hey, he's got a famous blog! You're gonna be famous!" The grilled tenderloin was pounded flat, covered with two slices of American cheese and a dollop of grilled onions. I almost went with that because it looked pretty damned good.
Murray ended up getting the shrimp basket - about a dozen battered shrimp that were deep fried and served with fries and a housemade cole slaw. I'm not big on fried shrimp but Murray thought they were delicious.
For some reason I ended up ordering the Ale House meatloaf. It laid on a slice of sourdough bread and with their Ale House barbecue sauce and onion straws. The combination of the meatloaf and the onions straws as it was described on the menu is what got me. It was grilled before serving and came with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli - neither of which I was very interested in, but Cindy was. She was happy that I got the broccoli as it pretty much met her daily nutritional allowance of vegetables. The meatloaf was actually pretty good. And I really liked the onion straws with the barbecue sauce.
Cindy got the black and blue cheeseburger - a 1/3 pound patty seasoned with black peppercorns and topped with crumbled blue cheese. She got a side salad with the dinner and eagerly took the bulk of my steamed broccoli. The burger had a bit of pink in the middle and was pretty juicy. I had a bite and the combination of the black peppercorn and the blue cheese was a nice compliment to the beef. The bun held together well and she really liked the burger.
Here is a happy Murray giving the "thumbs up" after his shrimp dinner at the Valley Inn Ale House. I promised him that I'd give him face time in the blog at some point. Your 15 minutes of fame is now over, Murray.
Not long after this picture was taken, a party bus came in and the place suddenly got packed with a bunch of 30-somethings out having a good time. On the bus was Chad Pregracke, the man behind Living Lands and Waters, the non-profit environmental group based out of the Quad Cities and CNN's Hero of the Year for 2013. I've known Chad for a number of years through his co-sponsorship of River Roots Live and he stood near the bar and talked to us while Murray entertained a handful of young women who were laughing at Murray's charming repartee. Or maybe they were just laughing at Murray for trying to put the make on them. He did have me take a picture of him and the girls, but a strategically placed hand by one of the participants pretty much ruled out a reprint on this blog.
Since that night, Cindy and I have been back on a couple of occasions and I have to say that both times were disappointing. Slow service, overcooked burgers, salty appetizers - both times it wasn't close to the experience of our first visit. While we liked the ambiance of the place, we were turned off by the lack of consistency at the Valley Inn Ale House. It will be sometime before we make it back, but we'll still be back at some point.