I've lived in the Quad Cities for over 25 years and I've made a number of great friends during that time. One of the more well-known families in the area are the Kelly's whose patriarch Jerry Kelly was the long-time owner of one of the more popular watering holes in Davenport, the Circle Tap. I've known Leo and Bob Kelly for about 15 years working festival stages with them in their band Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls. From the friendship with the brothers, I've gotten to know their mother Nancy, as well as their other brothers Dan, Dave and Jerry, Jr. pretty well over the years, and I've met their sister Kate a handful of times. Unfortunately, I never really got the chance to know Jerry Kelly, Sr. as he passed away in 1999.
Two of the sons - Dan and Dave - followed their father into the restaurant business. Dave managed and owned restaurants in northeast Iowa before moving back to Davenport to help start Van's Pizza (click here to read the Road Tips entry on Van's) and Dan opened the family namesake restaurant - Kelly's Irish Pub - in 2006. Dan got hold of me sometime last year as he knew I had a blog and he wanted me to come in and try something new on his menu - the audaciously named Quad Cities Best Burger. I told him I would, but it was months later before I was able to make it in one evening to give it a try.
Dan Kelly was working in the Quad Cities not really knowing what he wanted to do in life when his wife Elizabeth landed a job in Dallas as a registered nurse. The Kelly's moved down to Texas and he found work in number of bars and restaurants including a barbecue restaurant that did about $5 million in annual sales. Dan learned from his father that if you do something that you really love, you'll never work another day in your life.
Pictured right - Dan Kelly. Photo courtesy Quad City Times.
Dan started to get the itch to run his own place and he and Elizabeth moved back to the Quad Cities around 2004. With the help of long-time friend Marc Van Severen - the "Van" in Van's Pizza, as well as the owner of a handful of other bar/restaurants around the Quad Cities - and a couple three silent investors, Dan was able to open Kelly's Irish Pub in August of 2006. Dan Kelly eventually bought out Van Severen and the silent investors and is the sole proprietor of Kelly's Irish Pub today.
Kelly's Circle Tap, as it was known when Jerry, Sr. ran the place for 21 years, was famous for their baby back ribs. The fall-off-the-bone ribs were the favorites of many people in the Quad Cities. Dan does the same ribs at Kelly's Irish Pub, but I don't particularly care for the way they prepare them. They either parboil or bake the ribs - possibly both - then they put them on an open fire grill to char the outsides before they slather them with a sweet smoky sauce and send them out to the masses. There's no smoker at Kelly's Irish Pub, nor is there one at the Circle Tap which continues to make the same style of ribs to this day. And both places continue to serve dozens of racks of ribs each week. (I will say that I do like the barbecue sauce that both Kelly's and the Circle Tap uses.) It's sort of like Quad City-style pizza - people who grew up in the Quad's like that style of pizza, just like people who grew up in the area like Kelly's and/or the Circle's ribs. Me? Well, let's just say I don't care for either.
Kelly's Irish Pub is also famous for the large party they throw on St. Patrick's Day. Carrying on the tradition of his father's place, Dan Kelly only does it on a bigger scale. He has large tents put up in the parking lot to house tables for people partying and enjoying corned beef and cabbage (they go through over a ton of corned beef over the St. Patrick's Day period), they have live bands in the tents, and they have skydiving leprechauns. Well, actually, they're skydivers who dress up in green suits, but it's still quite the sight. They'll easily have over 10,000 people at Kelly's on the day of the Grand Parade held the closest Saturday to St. Patrick's Day.
I had stopped into Kelly's Irish Pub a couple three days after St. Patrick's Day this year and I tried to order the Quad Cities Best Burger. But I was informed that Kelly's was still serving off of its St. Patrick's menu and the Quad Cities Best Burger wasn't available. I didn't stick around for corned beef and cabbage or a grilled pork tenderloin sandwich, but I did finally make it back after I got home from a recent three day trip. My wife had gone to an art exhibit in downtown Davenport with our neighbor, so I decided to head up to Kelly's on 53rd Ave. for dinner. (see map)
Kelly's Irish Pub is located in a strip mall and the space its in is spacious enough. However, my former neighbor - who is of deep Irish heritage - sniffed at Kelly's calling themselves an Irish Pub saying that putting up a couple Irish flags and serving Guinness on tap doesn't necessarily make a place an Irish bar. While I tend to agree with him, Kelly's is still a nice place on the inside. It features a large bar area, a couple of dining areas, and a number of flat screen televisions throughout the place that offers any number of sporting events. If I couldn't categorize Kelly's as an Irish bar, I'd call them an Irish/sports bar.
There weren't many people in Kelly's when I went in around 7 p.m. Dan Kelly is usually there, but he wasn't this evening - which sort of relieved me since I really just wanted to see how the kitchen would deal with a person coming in off the street ordering the Quad Cities Best Burger, rather than Dan overseeing the preparation. I saddled up at the bar and got a menu from one of the bartenders. The cover of Kelly's menu is drawn by Leo Kelly, who - in addition to being a very good guitar player - is an outstanding caricature artist who draws at events and festivals, and who has become the Sunday Editorial Page artist for the Quad City Times. The menu cover changes regularly and features caricatures of celebrities - both pop culture and local celebs - as well as some of the regulars of Kelly's and a few creatures from time to time.
The food served at Kelly's is your typical pub fare. In addition to their signature ribs, they also have a number of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, wraps and salads. It's nothing fancy and the food is all right. They have a good beer selection at Kelly's Irish Pub and I ordered up a large mug of Sam Adams OctoberFest.
I did order the Quad Cities Best Burger and I got a side of cole slaw to go along with it. The burger was presented to me with a steak knife sticking out of it - one of my largest pet peeves at a restaurant. If you need to keep the bun on top of the burger, do it with a long toothpick.
The burger was on a toasted bun topped with Swiss and American cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, red onions and pickles. The 1/2 pound patty was thick and chargrilled to a medium temperature.
And the burger was good, as in well above average good. The burger had a nice beefy taste, it was juicy and flavorful. The key to a good burger is the bun and the bun on the Quad Cities Best Burger was light, spongy and held up very well with all that was going on with the juiciness of the meat and the condiments on top. Could I call it the best burger in the Quad Cities? I would probably put it up over many other similar bar/pub burgers I've had in the area. But I'm not certain it's the best in the area.
I've been apprehensive doing a review on Kelly's Irish Pub as I'm a friend of the Kelly family, but Dan invited me in to try his Quad Cities Best Burger knowing that I'd give it a fair review. And the burger was good, probably not the best I've had in the Quad Cities, but it was still in the mix with some of the better ones I've tried. Kelly's Irish Pub is quickly becoming an iconic watering hole in the area, and with their annual St. Patrick's Day festivities it gains more popularity each year. Their food ranges from OK to good, service is always friendly and prompt, and it's a great place to meet up with friends.