We just celebrated our 21st anniversary recently and since it was in the middle of the week we decided to go to some place around the Quad Cities for dinner that evening. A place that we've been wanting to try for quite awhile but have just never gotten around to going to is Barley & Rye Bistro over in Moline. We made the trip across the river to downtown Moline on our anniversary evening.
Actually, my wife went to Barley & Rye with a friend one evening not long after it opened because they heard they had a burger special on the menu. It turned out the burger special was only available during the day. I believe they ended up just getting a drink and going somewhere else for dinner. But I'd heard enough good things about the place from friends, especially our friend Andrea who had eaten at Barley & Rye a number of times and couldn't stop raving about the place.
Owner/chef Jared Linn is a native of the Quad Cities who got his start in the restaurant business at an early age. He ended up heading to Boulder, CO to learn at the Culinary School of the Rockies - now known as the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. From there, Linn worked at an auberge in Southern France. (An auberge is the French equivalent of a "farm-to-fork" restaurant, only with supposedly tighter restrictions on the locally grown or sourced foods they serve.) He would buy fresh produce at local markets on a daily basis for the restaurant and after his three-month externship in France he moved back to the U.S.
Linn ended up back in the Quad Cities area and he worked at a handful of restaurants including the now-closed Symposium Cafe in Davenport, as well as working for the Wagner family at both The Blue Iguana and at the somewhat upscale Steventon's, both out in Le Claire. All along, Jared was looking to open his own place with a menu that focused on serving fresh ingredients that were raised and sourced locally. In 2012, he heard about a developer who was taking a 100-year-old building in downtown Moline and turning the upstairs space into lofts while looking for a business to occupy the ground floor. The building had been a furniture store for years, then it was an antique/small store mall for a number of years before becoming storage space for the building's then-owner since the late 1980's. Working with the developer, Linn and his fiancee, Lauren, fashioned a restaurant on the site, and in November of 2013 - about a month after the Linn's were married - Barley & Rye opened their doors.
Pictured at right - Jared Linn (Photo courtesy Quad City Times)
The first two years of business for the Linn's has been successful, so much so that they were able to make another business leap a little over a year ago. The Linn's acquired the former Belgian Village Drive-Thru that had closed a couple years earlier and put their baking operation into the building. Lauren Linn said that all along their goal was to bake their own breads, croissants, rolls and pastries, and space was becoming an issue in the kitchen at the Barley & Rye. The opportunity to take over the old drive-thru was one they couldn't pass up, given that the original ovens and much of the bread baking equipment from the Belgian Village was still in the building. The bakery - which features 16 different types of breads - has a sit down area where people can enjoy rolls and pastries with coffee, and they also supply a handful of other coffee houses around the Quad Cities with pastries. While Lauren Linn oversees the bakery, the head baker is Derek Wing, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy.
After parking in the lot on the west side of the building, we went into the front door of Barley & Rye on W. 5th Street in downtown Moline. (see map) We had made dinner reservations for 7 p.m. because we had been told that even through the week Barley & Rye could be difficult to get into. But it turned out that the restaurant was - maybe - 1/3 full that evening and we would have been able to easily get seated right away without reservations.
We were seated at a corner table near the bar. Barn-board paneling was on the walls throughout the place. Reclaimed glass bottles - they looked like they varied from old milk bottles, old wine bottles and old glass jugs - were used as lighting fixtures with Edison light bulbs inside them. The bar was stocked with over 100 different varieties of bourbons and whiskies - a passion of sorts for Jared Linn.
Along one wall of the restaurant is a wonderful mural by local artist Blake Ross. The mural depicts Linn's hometown of Moline with local landmarks and family members incorporated into the painting. The police officer directing traffic in the mural is a nod to Linn's father, Randy, who was a longtime cop.
We were greeted by our server for the evening, Travis, a young guy who was energetic, but seemed a little rough around the edges when it came to experience. Not so much in his mannerisms, but in that he seemed to be rushing us from right off the bat. We did get him calmed down enough to get a couple of drinks for us - I took a Goose Island Green Line pale ale that they had on tap and Cindy got an amaretto sour. After two Goose Island Green Line pale ales, I ordered a third one when my entree was delivered to the table. But I was told that they had drained the keg and I ended up getting an American Pale Ale they were trying out. I believe it was from the BrickStone brewery in Bourbonnais, IL. It was all right.
The food served at Barley & Rye is all sourced locally, or as locally as they can get it. The menu changes invariably due to the availability of the meats, fish and produce. On one of the two blackboards on the wall near the bar is a list of local farms and butcher shops that Barley & Rye sources their food from. All the farms are within a 20 to 30 mile drive from the restaurant and Jared Linn has a relationship with each of the farmers and butchers assuring that he knows the quality of the products he's buying. We recognized a number of the farms listed from the Downtown Davenport Farmers Market that we go to weekly in the summertime.
Looking through the dinner menu that evening, we found a number of interesting items to choose from. Main entrees included a grass fed ribeye steak, pan-seared trout, buttermilk-battered fried chicken, and a number of sandwiches that included a smoked pork and Cajun sausage Cuban sandwich, a muffuletta sandwich, and a smoked bacon ground steak burger that was topped with a fried egg and a poutine topping that featured whisky marinated cheese curds mixed with Boetje's mustard. Now, THAT sounded awesome, but I was looking for something a little more than a burger that night.
We started off with the fried calamari appetizer that was, well, interesting. It featured calamari mixed in with Italian ham, pepperoncinis, chopped olives and tomatoes, topped with feta cheese and drizzled with a thick balsamic vinegar. This was not your typical deep-fried calamari served at an old-style Italian restaurant. There were a lot of tastes going on with the appetizer. We think we liked it, once we got past the notion that this wasn't like any calamari that we'd gotten in the past.
Along with the calamari, we were served some of the bread that Barley & Rye bakes up the hill in Moline. One was sort of a gingerbread spice bread, the other type was a cranberry bread. The bread was served with some olive oil and it was very good.
For salads, we both got a mixed greens plate that came with a tomato wedge, shaved radishes and julienne carrots. And they also came with the largest croutons I've ever seen on a salad. Half the plate had these enormous croutons fully covering the greens.
Cindy got the zesty vinaigrette dressing with her salad and I got the creamy black pepper dressing with mine. The salads were crisp and fresh, and while I liked the dressing I got, the vinaigrette dressing that Cindy had was outstanding. I dipped a couple of my croutons into her dressing savoring the taste of the dressing with the house-made croutons.
I was at a complete loss as to what to get for dinner that evening. I didn't really want to get a steak, but I didn't want just chicken or sandwich. I ended up going for the smoked brisket. It was served in a house-made barbecue sauce and was mixed with fried jalapeños and feta cheese. A side of pepper jack cheese potatoes came with the brisket. The brisket was once again interesting. The beef was tender and pulled apart easily. It had a bit of spicy taste from the sauce and the fried jalapeños. But I felt it was a little underwhelming in the overall taste. It sort of reminded me of my late grandmother's Swiss steak - a staple from her kitchen for birthday dinners when I was a teenager. She served Swiss steak so many times over a three to five year period that it became a never ending family joke. I thought the vinegar/tomato-based sauce sort of detracted from the taste of the brisket.
For her entree, Cindy got the marinated scallops - they took three large sea scallops and marinated them in white wine in a sealed package for 24 to 36 hours. They were pan-seared and set on a plate and covered with a lemon, butter and wine reduction sauce. Cindy got a side of the smoked gouda pasta to go along with her scallops. She also got a glass of an Italian pinot grigio - the Stellina di Notte that she found on Barley & Rye's somewhat impressive white wine list. She thought the scallops were scrumptious. I had a bite and I immediately liked them better than my brisket. Her smoked gouda macaroni side dish was also better than my pepper jack cheese potatoes.
As I said from almost the beginning of our time at Barley & Rye, we felt we were getting rushed by our server, Travis. He was a friendly guy and an efficient server, but he seemed to be pushing us along all night long. We weren't in any hurry. After he took our plates after finishing the main entree, he brought over our check for the evening. I was like, "Whoa! Wait a minute! Are you guys trying to get rid of us?"
He sort of looked at me funny and said, "Excuse me?"
Cindy said, "Don't you guys have a dessert menu? I mean, I would like to see what you have for desserts." Travis apologized and got us a menu with the desserts on it. We just thought it was really strange that desserts weren't offered, especially considering desserts are a nice profit center for restaurants. We decided that Travis must have been pretty new to serving at Barley & Rye.
The creme brûlée immediately jumped out at us on the dessert menu. But there was something else that I wanted to try that caught my attention - fried bread pudding topped with a salted caramel sauce. We decided to splurge and get one of each, even though we probably wouldn't finish both desserts.
The creme brûlée was very good - the vanilla custard was flavorful under the hard cap of caramelized sugar. But the fried bread pudding...
It was one of the most decadently delicious desserts I've ever had. The fried bread pudding balls were thick and chewy with forward tastes of vanilla, cinnamon and sugar all mixed in with each bite. Add to all that the salted caramel sauce they poured on the top of the bowl of fried bread pudding. It was rich and filling and so damned good. We had Travis box up what we didn't finish of the bread pudding. Actually, warmed up in the microwave a day or two later, it was still very good.
I really wanted to get back to Barley & Rye to try one of their burgers and we did that just recently. This time our server was Kody, a very good waiter who gave us room and in no way hurried us through dinner. The overall experience was much more enjoyable on this visit.
I had the smoked bacon/poutine steak burger - ground steak flat-grilled and topped with in-house smoked bacon, a fried sunny-side-up egg, and finished off with French fries with a Boetje's mustard/cheese curd poutine. I also got a side of the smoke gouda mac and cheese - something that I really wanted to try on our first visit. These were much better than the pepper jack cheese potatoes I got with my brisket.
The burger was very good. It was cooked to a perfect medium with a hint of pink in the middle. The burger had a great consistency and was extremely messy. With all that was going on, I could still taste the beef very easily with each bite. Nothing really overpowered the taste of the beef.
Cindy thought about getting a burger, but then she got the grilled chicken sandwich. We were seated near the kitchen on this visit and I saw this huge sandwich come up under the heating lamp. I didn't know what it was, but Kody brought it to our table and it was Cindy's grilled chicken sandwich. She looked at it as he sat it in front of her and she said, "Oh, my!"
"Oh, my!" was the correct phrase for the grilled chicken sandwich. It was topped with a salty and spicy capicola ham, Swiss cheese, crushed avocado, an aioli sauce, and finished off with housemade pickles, an onion slice, an orange heirloom tomato slice and lettuce leaves. The first thing she did was take off the top bun and began to eat it as a regular meal. She thought the grilled chicken sandwich was outstanding.
While I had sort of mixed feelings about our initial visit to Barley & Rye, we felt much better about our second visit. We felt hurried by our server on our first visit, ultimately not even being offered a dessert menu at the end of our meal or asking if we wanted an after-dinner Scotch or bourbon from Barley & Rye's extensive whiskey collection. The server we had on our second visit was much more laid back and allowed us our space. I fully appreciate the "farm-to-fork" philosophy owner/chef Jared Linn employs, and the space the restaurant is in is comfortable and interesting. On our first visit, I was sort of underwhelmed with my brisket entree, but my wife really enjoyed the marinated pan-seared scallops. But on our second visit, the smoked bacon/poutine steak burger was outstanding, as was my wife's grilled chicken sandwich. The desserts on our first visit - once we were able to order them - ranged from very good with the creme brûlée to absolutely outstanding with the fried bread pudding with the salted caramel sauce. We'll definitely go there for dinner again at some point. The rest of the menu is just too interesting to pass up even with the brisket being somewhat of a let down.