Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine // Feasting on the Bounty of the Upper Midwest
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SARAH MCGEE / HEAVY TABLE
This story originally appeared in the June 17 edition of Heavy Table’s Churn newsletter. Back the Heavy Table on Patreon to subscribe to exclusive food and drink content.
A kitchen leader with a remarkable dish pit-to-executive chef life story. A raucous street celebration that also bootstraps up-and-coming food businesses. Masterful ice cream with a 114-year-old pedigree. Legitimately tasty pizza you can’t really get anywhere else. And two of the best tacos I’ve had in years.
That’s a partial roll call of my trip last weekend down to the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. I didn’t know the place at all before visiting, but it’s earned a place in my heart now that I’ve dined my way through its (many) city centers.
There are approximately 28 different communities recognized as being part of Iowa’s Quad Cities, so there’s no need to take the name too literally. This metro area of about 385,000 people began its winding sprawl along both banks of the Mississippi River with the forced ceding to the United States of six million acres of Sauk and Meskwaki land at the 1832 conclusion of the Black Hawk War, and it has continued growing, evolving, and developing its identity ever since.
The five communities of Davenport and Bettendorf in southeastern Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in northwestern Illinois are the bedrock of this place – “Quint Cities” never caught on, go figure. But if you visit the area, you’ll find yourself constantly bopping back and forth across the river and from one settlement to the next as you make your way through the region.
If you are, as I am, easily confused by tangled geography, my key piece of advice is this: Give up early and let the GPS do the work. The sheer profusion of quaint little downtowns, riverfront parkways, industrial zones, modern strip-mall sprawl, and old-school bars and restaurants is dazzling and needs months to properly unravel, not a weekend.
Our three-day visit hit about a dozen spots, and we were pleasantly surprised that even our native Quad Cities friends weren’t familiar with all of them; there are gems to uncover here, even if you’re local.
Visit Quad Cities invited us down to tour the region and taste its food, so our trip was partially developed and supported by their resources – they provided our hotel rooms and comped some of our food. In most cases, the food tour that follows is reflective of a typical visitor’s experience, but in a few cases we got to see behind the scenes or got flooded with a table full of styled-to-photograph eats.
The 20,000-foot survey of food and drink in the Quad Cities is this: There’s a lot of remarkably good stuff happening. Although the region is accessible from Chicago by a 2 1/2 hour drive, it’s otherwise fairly distant from major metro areas – Minneapolis is a bit more than 5 hours away, and St. Louis is nearly 4. That’s bad news if you’re living in the Quad Cities and want to go shopping in a major city. It’s good news for visiting food fanatics. If you’re trying to establish a food scene with its own worldview and distinct flavors, a little isolation can lead to a lot of innovation.
UNDERCOVER PIZZA AND TIMELESS ICE CREAM
Partly because we were looking for the taste of the Quad Cities specifically, we didn’t eat the statewide Iowa standards – no loose meat sandwiches (although we’ve had them before) or pork tenderloin sandwiches as big as a plate.
But we did visit FRANK’S PIZZERIA in Silvis, Illinois. While you normally have to hit New York or New Jersey to find pizza spots with serious pedigrees, Frank’s opened in 1955, and it has that unfakeable, stripped-down pizzeria patina that makes you hungry the second you set foot in the door. It’s a temple of the Quad Cities style of pizza, and it’s a regular stop for visitors and locals alike.
The small deluxe Frank’s pizza that we ordered ($20.30) arrived cut into pie wedges, not scissor strips, which was a betrayal of the Quad Cities Pizza Code of Conduct. But otherwise the pizza was right on the money: malted crust offering a toasty kind of sweetness, cornmeal on the bottom, toppings under the cheese, and a distinctive and lean housemade fennel sausage.
When we tried Quad Cities-style pizza in Minnesota, we found it claggy, greasy, and over-cheesed and we worried that it was typical of the species. But at Frank’s, the pizza was surprisingly light – its tiny clumps of fennel sausage were numerous but delicate and not particularly greasy. We could have happily put down three or four slices, and would’ve if we weren’t headed to an ice cream parlor immediately afterwards.
Frank’s also does fried chicken ($10 for a half bird), and it’s worth the distraction from the pizza. A hard-fried (but not burnt!) exterior offers aggressive and flavorful crunch, and the interior of each piece was properly brined and remarkably juicy and tender.
Now, about that ice cream: Proximity to the countryside has seemingly turned the Quad Cities into a hotbed of ice cream connoisseurs. A resident, upon seeing our Minnesota-plated car pull into a gas station, rolled down her car’s window and said: “Hey! You’re from Minnesota, right?” We nodded in response. “You’ve gotta try WHITEY’S while you’re here, it’s amazing!”
We’d tried Whitey’s the night before, and so we could agree with her with the hoped-for level of enthusiasm. I tried their Chocolate Ice Cream Soda ($4.50-7.85 depending on size) not knowing what I was going to get. What I got was a housemade chocolate egg cream, a drink I grew up on, plus a scoop of remarkably rich and tasty vanilla ice cream.
A bite of my photographer’s Mint Cookie Crunch ($3.15) confirmed that Whitey’s provides a seriously rich and tasty product. Half the appeal of Whitey’s is the product, and the other half is the atmosphere. Service consists of a team of teenaged (some possibly barely teenaged?) soda jerks running determined circles around a spacious behind-the-counter ice cream zone to prepare and serve up orders to a constantly jostling crowd of hungry patrons.
Spirits seemed high, the ice cream was great, the public was literally accosting strangers to try to sell the product. Life appears to be good for the Whitey’s franchise, which boasts eight locations in the Quad Cities area.
But if you asked me about the best ice cream I ate in Iowa, Whitey’s has to console itself with a warm and sincere second place. LAGOMARCINO’S, a spot that’s been in business for 114 years, takes the prize.
The location we visited in Moline is not merely an ice cream parlor – it’s THE ice cream parlor that all other ice cream parlors we’ve visited are trying to be, the platonic ideal of a soda fountain / confectionary, a living, breathing museum to the apogee of American sweets. (They won an America’s Classic James Beard Award in 2006, so we’re not the first people to notice that they’re doing several things quite well.)
Newly in love with the whole chocolate soda concept thanks to Whitey’s, we decided to try one at Lagomarcino’s ($5.45). It was – somehow, and very improbably – even richer, fuller, and more thoroughly chocolatey than the one we’d had the night before.
And the restaurant’s Hot Fudge Sundae, ridiculously affordable at $5.45, was a summer afternoon’s dream: housemade hot fudge that was thinner than we expected but also far richer, served on the side to be poured in a molten blast whenever we cared to have our ice cream goo-ily melted and blended with chocolate delight.
The ice cream itself was terrific in this dish, as it was in the Door County Cherry Crisp ($6) a deluxe production featuring ice cream, oat crisp, whipped cream, and a sweet-tart Montmorency cherry topping.
Two more things to say about Lagomarcino’s, a spot that probably deserves a book: one, there’s an excellent chocolate shop in the front of the restaurant, with truffles, caramels, beautifully-made chocolate dinosaurs (I bought each of my kids one, $8 price tag be damned), and more. The dark chocolate caramels we bought ($14.50/pound) were impeccable, surprisingly tender, fresh-tasting, and elegant.
Two, the space itself at the Moline location is remarkable: wood paneling, mirrors everywhere, tiled floors, and a hilarious-but-practical accounting office carved out in a little hobbit niche up a ladder and over the staircase leading to the downstairs chocolate production floor. The opportunity to bring my wife and kids here is almost enough to sell me on the trip by itself.
Frank’s Pizzeria, 711 1st Ave, Silvis, IL, 309.755.0625, SUN-THU 11am-9pm, FRI-SAT 11am-10pm
Whitey’s Ice Cream, eight Quad Cities locations, hours vary by locations but are typically 10am-10pm
Lagomarcino’s, 1422 5th Ave., Moline, IL, 309.704.1814, DAILY 10am-5:30pm, (additional location in Davenport, IA)
A FIESTA ON 5TH AVENUE
The crowd: well over a thousand people.
The music: live, and loud. A lot of brass and Mexican guitars.
The food: tortillas pressed and grilled to order before being stuffed with taco meats, hot griddles topped with mounds of asada and carnitas, huge plastic jugs of aguas frescas, big old gaudy mangonadas and micheladas.
The vibe: A celebratory and largely Spanish-speaking group of people singing, dancing, eating, and carefully threading their way through the crowd while balancing a beverage (or two). From the stage during and between songs, shout-outs to Mexican cities and states that resonate with the crowd.
MERCADO ON FIFTH (the event) is an every-Friday-in-the-summer street festival and market that turns a couple blocks of Moline, Illinois into a raucous, joyful, absurdly delicious spectacle of music and food. It’s been running since 2016 and last year averaged about 2,000 attendees per Friday. If we’ve got anything like it in Minnesota, I haven’t been to it, and I’d like to go.
Mercado on Fifth (the organization) puts together the event, but it also works as an incubator to help English and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Later this year in Moline, they’ll roll out a 6,300 square foot indoor space with 5,000 square feet of patio for year-round programming and events.
The scale of the market is astounding for a weekly affair – between the sheer variety of vendors, the ambition of the made-to-order food, and the quality of the musical performances, it has the feel of a once-a-quarter or once-a-year kind of thing.
Stuffed full of Ethiopian food from earlier in the evening, we pushed ourselves to try a few things from the vendors, starting with an elote en vaso ($4) that was leaned heavily toward the mayo-and-cotija cheese realm but was absolutely redeemed by the sweet brightness of the corn.
Some “wow, that’s basically just juice, but it’s stellar” aguas frescas, including watermelon and mango.
And two asada tacos ($2.50 each), served on the aforementioned pressed-and-griddled-to-order tortillas that rank among the best we’ve had anywhere. Sure, it might have partially been the happy chaos of the crowd or the pulsing sound of brass pushing its way outward from the stage, but the richness and “beef”-ness of the asada was notable and delectable.
Mercado on Fifth, 5th Avenue and 12th Street, Moline, IL, FRI 5-10pm, May 27-September 30, 2022
OK, yes, the headline up there references drinking, and we’ll get to that. But first: more food. The chef at TWIN SPAN BREWING is Juan Hernandez. His personal story starts with a childhood in Mexico, then a cooking career that began in the dish pits of Chicago before he worked his way up to cooking fine dining food. Before moving to the Quad Cities, he and his team opened a Weber Grill restaurant, and that experience deeply informs the grill-driven menu at Twin Span. The result is food that is several degrees more developed and accomplished than you could reasonably expect at a brewpub just about anywhere.
Twin Span’s Campechano tacos ($14) are absurdly good. We’ve eaten at more than 70 Minnesota taquerias, and this declaration of “absurdly good” takes all of them into account – we’re not grading these on a curve. The corn tortillas, selected with deliberate care and brought in from Chicago by Hernandez, were noticeably fuller in flavor and texture than the typical get-the-job-done mild-mannered circles you encounter in even finer taquerias that know their trade. And the tacos’ mix of carne asada, chorizo, buffalo mozzarella, and avocado salsa was remarkably rich and deep in flavor without being greasy or out-of-balance with the tortillas. Would we consider driving five hours just to taste them again? We would.
“It’s a very popular dish,” says Hernandez, “and what the name means is a mix of the meats the taco guy has.” You can find them all over Mexico, he adds, including his hometown of Toluca, located just outside of Mexico City.
Equally striking were the restaurant’s TSB Hot Waffles ($15). This is a typical fried chicken-and-waffle situation (although the Nashville-level heat is, Hernandez says, toned down to suit local tastes), with a couple of important twists. One is a scoop of spice-forward cinnamon chipotle butter that adds remarkable richness and interest to the dish. “We use Irish butter, pure cane brown sugar from Mexico, chipotle peppers, and Mexican cinnamon,” says Hernandez, who provided similarly detailed breakdowns for most of the food that hits our table.
The other key to the dish is a syrup made from cooked down concentrated Steel Beam Stout. Is it sweet? Oh, it certainly is. But it’s also a malty, complex, fascinating flavor that marries tremendously well with the crisp waffle and the spicy, crunchy chicken. “We reduce it for three hours and add agave nectar to it,” says Hernandez. If they’d sold that syrup by the bottle, I would’ve brought some home.
The restaurant’s Beets and Cheese Flatbread ($15, or $17.50 with cauliflower crust) is a salad-meets-pizza situation, and there’s a lot to like about it. Roasted beets are naturally good friends with goat cheese, and the crispy cauliflower crust on our pizza was light and delicate without being structurally unsound. Crispy sage and bacon added additional contrast and interest, making a dish suitable for the gluten-averse that was tasty enough for the gluten-obsessed.
Other food worked, too: the massive BTYF Pretzel ($12; “Bigger Than Your Face”) came with beer cheese and locally made Boetje’s Mustard. The pretzel itself was great – nice chewy, substantial crust, pleasantly tender, stretchy interior – and the mustard in particular was a joyful classic mustard, by which I mean it sort of melts your face off and clears your sinuses in a way that you’ve gotta respect.
Blistered Shisitos ($11) tasted snappy and bold, and came with a well-matched creamy Twin Span sauce. Both mahi mahi-based Moho Tacos ($14) and Adobo Chicken Tacos ($13) were elegant and tasty, but it’s no slight to say that they didn’t reach the heights of the Campechanos.
We sampled (and drank) our way through the Twin Span beer menu and tasted some solid beers – the Juan Solo, named to honor the chef’s difficult fight to keep the kitchen open during the pandemic, was a really nicely turned Mexican lager. It’s blended with enough pineapple and jalapeños to give the beer additional complexity and depth without overwhelming the refreshing nature of the base product. It’s easy to go too heavy on the adjuncts on a beer like this, but Twin Span pulls this one off.
The brewery’s (very) malty Maibock tasted less boozy than its 7.7% ABV, and had less bite than its 42 IBU might initially suggest – it was ultimately a mellow, caramel-forward sipper that offered drinkers a bit of spice without upsetting the overall flavor applecart. And while we didn’t care for the Rockem Sockem English barleywine (which had a fusel thing going on), we dug the restraint of the Berry Kate and Ashley sour ale, which brought together strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and hibiscus without introducing too much harsh vinegar bite or any syrupy sweetness.
Rarely have we visited a cocktail room with as wide a range as MISSISSIPPI RIVER DISTILLERY, a LeClaire, Iowa-based grain-to-glass distillery that sources 100% of its grain within 50 miles. I’m grateful that the cocktail room makes sampling so easy to do ($5 gets you four pours of your choosing from a list approaching 30 varieties, refundable upon purchase of a bottle), because after trying at least a dozen different spirits we tasted everything from the drab to the downright delicious.
The trend seemed to be this: some of the unadulterated spirits (such as the Cody Road Bourbon and Iowish Whiskey) tasted underdeveloped and non-compelling, a common problem when you’re putting your relatively untested product against the multigenerational masters of the mid-South.
But many of the flavored spirits (the Cody Road Honey Bourbon, the Salted Caramel Iowish Cream) were smartly balanced and right on the money, ready to mix into pleasing cocktails or drink neat. We also liked River Rose Gin, which tasted light, bright, and mellow, going easy on the juniper burn that marks many of its colleagues. Citrus, lavender, and cucumber are more prominent – it still tastes like gin, but it’s a gentle-sipping cousin of the spirit’s typical incarnation. We bought a bottle of it to take home to Minneapolis.
We tried two of the many cocktails on offer at the cocktail room. The Buzzed Pear ($9) brings together River Pilot Vodka, pear nectar, vanilla jasmine green tea, lemon, lime, and “electric dust,” a blue glittery alkaloid substance derived from buzz button flowers that is meant to stimulate your salivary glands and turn you into a supertaster. We tried the drink pre- and post-dust and it tasted like a pleasant hard lemonade.
Much better (and, even considering the dust, far more interesting) was the Spiritual Hops ($9), which looks like a glass of beer, but is a cocktail comprised of River Rose Gin, vermouth, sage syrup, aquafaba foam, bitters, and an IPA reduction. It boasted a silken texture and a flavor somewhere between iced tea, a martini, and an IPA, a mysterious zone we’ve never before visited. It was delicious on a slightly rainy day in the cocktail room, but it would have been a gorgeous knock-out punch on the patio under the summer sun. I would say that someone in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro needs to deconstruct this and market a local equivalent, but I suspect the alchemy to duplicate something this weird and well-balanced would be formidable.
Twin Span Brewing, 6776 Championship Dr, Bettendorf, IA, 563.526.4677, TUE-SUN 11am-10pm, MON CLOSED
Mississippi River Distilling, 303 North Cody Road, LeClaire, IA, 563.484.4342, SUN-WED Noon-8pm, THU-SAT Noon-10pm
Located right on the river, TASTE OF ETHIOPIA is the culinary expression of the marriage of Genet and George Moraetes, both of whom work together to run the restaurant. You can read more about their remarkable story elsewhere if you’re curious – it’s a tale of war, peril, love, and old-fashioned grit and hard work – we’ll focus on the food, which is equally noteworthy.
We ordered the meat dinner for two (two meats, four sides, $27.50) including doro kay wot (spiced chicken), spicy tibs (stir-fried beef), green beans and carrots, potatoes and carrots, shiro (chickpea stew) and split peas. The kitchen sent out an additional plate including two varieties of lentils, collard greens, and kay wot (beef stew), meaning that our meal covered much of the restaurant’s core menu.
The food, with a startling degree of uniformity, was excellent – bold but with carefully calibrated use of spice, delicate textures, bright colors, and careful plating. We all had our favorites (my personal picks were the doro kay wot, the shiro, and the spicy lentils) but every item shone with joyous intensity and surfing through the various textures and cleanly wrought flavors was a real pleasure.
Taste of Ethiopia provides neatly cut rolls of serviceable injera for easy-to-operate tearing and snacking, and the foods themselves ride atop a carpet of the teff-based bread that can itself be torn up and used as a utensil.
Sambusas ($6.50 for three) were stuffed with tasty, well-spiced fillings of either steak or lentils and onions but made with somewhat disappointing wrappers, closer to a fried wonton than the thicker, more pyramidal sambusas you’ll typically see at a Minnesotan Somali or Ethiopian restaurant.
Coffee ($3) is a major component of Ethiopian cuisine, and the coffee at Taste of Ethiopia does it justice, with house-roasted beans and gorgeous carafes for pouring tiny, potent shots of the stuff tableside. Dessert for us was four slices of himbasha, a slightly sweet raised bread enjoyed with honey, and spiced tea ($3).
If this spot was in Minneapolis or St. Paul, it’d crush. As it is, it seems to be doing a lively trade in Davenport, where the combination of warm hospitality, clean and comfy decor and impeccable food is rapidly making converts.
Taste of Ethiopia, 102 S. Harrison St., Davenport, IA, 563.424.1848, WED-THU 5-8pm, FRI-SUN 11am-2pm and 5-9pm, MON-TUE CLOSED
The New Orleans-style iced coffee from REDBAND COFFEE COMPANY was what you’d hope for a chipper little drive-through spot that roasts its own beans – a skillful balance of dairy, sugar sweetness, chicory, and the bite of good coffee. We would probably pound one of these most mornings if we lived within driving distance, particularly during hot weather.
CASEY’S gas stations are probably most recognizable for their bold red logo and the fact that they’re nearly omnipresent. Headquartered (and numerous) in Iowa, the company has 2,146 locations, and – as it turns out – one of the best breakfast deals on the planet. For $3, you can buy a slice of sausage or bacon breakfast pizza – a thin crust slice, sans sauce, with cheese, meat, and lightly browned nuggets of scrambled eggs. It’s nothing elaborate, mind you – but it’s surprisingly balanced, not particularly greasy, and I’ve never before encountered anything quite like it. It’s also a tasty reminder that not everything needs to be a hand-ground artisan masterpiece to really scratch a food-related itch. Road breakfasts will never be the same.
A more ambitious morning option is THE MACHINE SHED, a 1978-founded Davenport-based, four state-located chain of 6 restaurants that either borrowed liberally from the success of the 1969-founded Cracker Barrel chain, or evolved very much in parallel. The decor is calculatedly cornpone – think hanging feed sacks, planters made from old agricultural equipment, and a store in the front of the restaurant vending everything from Iowa cutting boards, to decorative dish towels, to whimsical signs alluding to functional alcoholism. Waitstaff wear overalls, and everyone we saw in action on a Saturday morning was exceedingly professional, combining a charming gift of gab with brutal operational efficiency.
Food at The Machine Shed varied in quality from “decent” to “mediocre” while temperatures varied from “melt off your skin” to “room.” Our cheesy hashbrown casserole side tasted distinctly of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and was no warmer than the air surrounding it; our mega-sized cinnamon roll ($6) was hot enough to roast a marshmallow over. Grilled kielbasa, room temp. Syrup for the waffle? Straight-outta the microwave searing.
Our Giant Homemade Waffle with Apple ($10) was, speaking frankly, absolutely average in size, and fairly lightweight, lacking some of the buttery crispness that we’ve come to love at places like the Original Pancake House. But it wasn’t bad, and the apples and syrup that accompanied it were a happy marriage.
Our Shed Omelet was small for $12.50, but it was ably prepared and pretty skillfully stuffed with ham and Colby – enough for the protein to make a flavor impact, but not so much that it overwhelmed the eggs. The side of biscuits was nothing to write home about but also nothing to complain about, with two bread-like biscuits wearing a heavy, competently seasoned gravy.
The breakfast at QC COFFEE AND PANCAKE HOUSE was more to our liking. This sprawling local shop offers a remarkably deep and ambitious menu for a breakfast joint, and the amount of creativity and effort that they muster starting at 6 in the morning will be either inspiring or depressing depending upon your own outlook on life.
“We’ve been here for nine years,” said co-owner Sarah Zepeda, “when we got here, it was very different, it was an old diner.” Zepeda credits work by her husband, Chef Jose Zepeda, and her whole family for improving and expanding the spot into the breakfast mainstay it has become. “Our son helps back in the kitchen, he’s a busser today, and our daughter as well – it’s a whole family affair,” she says. Three years ago, the restaurant took over a neighboring space to expand, and now the restaurant seats about 200, with weekend waits that can exceed an hour during the busiest times.
Take the photos that accompany this section with a grain of salt: the Zepedas flooded us with photo-ready entrees that were in some cases scaled up for visual appeal. (Example: the Cinnamon Roll pancakes, $12.89 with meat or eggs, which are about 30-40% the size of the gargantuan Instagrammable stack depicted above.)
Size aside, the flavors are the flavors, and the cinnamon roll pancakes are surprisingly balanced – the icing is less sweet than it looks, and the cinnamon is joyously aggressive, making for a pancake that is properly balanced and consequently delicious.
Chef’s Homemade Carnitas Hash ($15.29) united carnitas, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, salsa, and sour cream. This dish is one of our favorite things: a choose-your-own-adventure where you can steer every bite in a different direction, or keep recreating your favorite combination of textures and flavors every single time until the plate is clean. Chef Jose Zepeda’s mastery of both carnitas and breakfast really pays off with this one; we’d come back weekly for some of this stuff.
And while we don’t generally go in for burgers before noon, the Brunch Burger ($13.69) is worth making an exception for – cheddar cheese, bacon, lots of delicate crispy hash browns, and a rich fried egg top a carefully seasoned and ably cooked patty on a serious brioche bun, making for a substantial start to any burger lover’s day.
We liked the rest of what we ate, too: comforting, simple, earthy Corned Beef Hash ($13.89), a substantial and flavorful house-made corned beef Reuben ($11.89), an incredibly fruit-studded Triple Berry Waffle ($16.29, above, with meat or eggs and complimentary wine or beer), a not-overly sweet and nuanced Key Lime French Toast ($18.89 with complimentary wine or beer and choice of meat or eggs) and underseasoned but nicely demi-glaced oven-roasted lamb chops ($43.89 with two eggs, hashbrowns or fruit, toast or pancakes and a complimentary wine or beer.)
Redband Coffee Company, Two locations in Davenport at 329 E. 4th St. and 110 W. 13th St., 6:30am-2pm MON-SAT (329 E. 4th St., Davenport open SUN as well)
Casey’s, 2,300 Locations in 16 states
Machine Shed, Six Locations in four states, 7250 Northwest Boulevard, Davenport, 563.391.2427, IA, SUN-THU 7am-9pm, FRI-SAT 7am-10pm
QC Coffee and Pancake House, 1831 3rd Avenue Rock Island, IL, 309.788.9589, 6am-3pm DAILY
We honestly didn’t do a lot other than eat in the Quad Cities, but we should shout out a couple of notable non-food stops. The JOHN DEERE PAVILION is an unusual opportunity to see truly massive and breathtaking pieces of farm machinery live and in person. (Yes, it’s a bit redundant with the Minnesota State Fair, but there are some nice photo opps to be had.)
More significantly, perhaps, is the incredibly large and well stocked gift shop adjacent to the pavilion. If you’re shopping for kids, the combination of wearable gear, adorable farm-related toy trucks and animals, and other miscellany is pretty irresistible.
The Quad Cities also have a CHANNEL CAT WATER TAXI service that boops around four major stops in town over the course of about an hour. Much of the riverfront is undeveloped or dominated by large industrial operations, but the ride is smooth and pleasant, the ticket price ($8) is affordable, and the views of the bridges over the river are excellent.
We emerged bearing a few different local products including Boetje’s mustard and Mississippi River Distillery gin (mentioned above) plus Kitchen Cooked Classic potato chips (made about 90 minutes from the QC in Farmington, Illinois) and Smokin’ Mike’s “Meanwhile in Iowa” Carolina Reaper hot sauce.
The chips are about as straight-down-the-middle as you can imagine – classic, light, crispy, elegant potato chips, no twist. The hot sauce is hot enough to provoke a panicked cough or two of pain, but it’s not insane – with the right metering, it made a great addition to Football Pizza’s patented green sauce while eating a slice of their gyro pizza.
John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Drive, Moline, IL, MON 1-5pm, TUE-SAT 9am-5pm, SUN CLOSED, Gift shop opens at 10am
Channel Cat Water Taxi, four stops throughout the Quad Cities, daily
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