From Arsenal Island to Whitey’s Ice Cream: Day 4 in the Quad Cities

It was a happy Friday in the Quad Cities. I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked but did wake up hungry. It was a good thing since I was excited about breakfast today. We began Tuesday in Iowa’s Bettendorf for dinner at Verde and would be returning to this special town for morning goodness. 

FoodAffair Bistro serves up delicious global cuisine. Many items are “GF” on the menu, including bread. Score! The bistro is new to town and has ample space in a relaxed, open atmosphere. I immediately thought of Slappy Cakes in Maui as far as the decor. 

My French toast and omelet were delicious. As I’ve mentioned for several of the restaurants I visited, FoodAffair will certainly be a highlight in my guide to gluten-free in the Quad Cities. 

Touring Arsenal Island

Next up was a tour of Rock Island Arsenal Island. Those who know me know I’m not a military person, so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. It turned out to be an incredible history lesson with exclusive sneak peeks to their renovated museum set to reopen in 2023. 

Our in-depth tour was led by museum director, Patrick Allie. Patrick served as our Encyclopedia for learning all about Arsenal Island and parts of our tour were wild. As we walked through dark hallways and into storage rooms, all I could think of was Stranger Things. I could feel the history within these walls and wondered if ghosts were among us. It was very “trippy” and some of the artifacts were literally out of a time warp. 

Arsenal Island is the largest island in the upper Mississippi River. They have played a major role in manufacturing supplies for troops since the Civil War. Although some might think it’s merely an attraction for visitors now, they are still a working base. As we drove by homes on the island I learned that they still have a population of just under 100. 

Over at the Mississippi River Visitor’s Center, we got to see an actual lock and dam. But, not just any. Lock and Dam 15 is the biggest roller dam in the world. Inside the center, there was an array of insightful information and fun activities for kids. 

Visiting Colonel Davenport’s Home

Our last stop on Arsenal Island was at Colonel Davenport’s home. It’s no surprise that the city of Davenport, Iowa, is named after him. George Davenport was an early settler, entrepreneur, and one of the founders of the region. His family’s house was like stepping back in time. It was rather eerie to be standing where the Colonel also died. On the fourth of July while his family was out celebrating, robbers broke into their home. They shot Davenport and he subsequently passed due to injuries sustained. His murderers were caught and hung in the local square. 

The home is beautiful and has a gorgeous view of the river. It’s easy to see why settlers would find solace here. 

A Taste of Ethiopia and Chocolate Making

After nearly three hours on the island, we were ready for lunch. Our feast today would be at Taste of Ethiopia. I’m familiar with Ethiopian food but had not had it in many years. The cafe was colorful, open, and inviting. Several locals were among us which seemed to prove it’s a favorite in town. 

Most plates are gluten-free with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Our host was the owner, Genet Moretes. Genet is incredibly warm and has great pride in her restaurant and menu. The best part? Their signature bread, Injera, can be prepared gluten-free.

After getting our Ethiopian on, it was time for two dessert stops. First up was Chocolate Manor, a family-operated shop specializing in artisan chocolates and truffles. Randall Mohr, who has taken over managing the shop for her parents, greeted us warmly. Just like every other local I’ve met, Randall was so generous and welcoming to us. 

Our tour began with trying their famous English toffee followed by a truffle of our choice. The large variety behind the case made this a tough decision. I almost went with tiger butter but decided on a signature rosemary truffle. Why not go a bit more exotic and unique, am I right? I love rosemary as an herb, but in chocolate? It turned out to be rich, creamy, and mouth-watering. Randall next took us to the shop’s kitchen where the magic happens. Stay tuned for more about our fun chocolate demonstration and even making our own. 

Whitey’s Ice Cream

We next traveled back to the Illinois side to Moline for very important business. We toured Whitey’s Ice Cream Factory. Before this trip, I had not heard of Whitey’s. The popular ice cream began in 1935 with one shop and has grown to eight locations throughout the Quad Cities. Local grocery stores also carry pints of Whitey’s Our tour was led by Whitey’s vice president, Annika Tunberg, who walked us through the Whitey’s factory and explained how their process goes. 

Inevitably, we ended up at the Moline shop and invited to try a cone or some samples. Whitey’s is known for several original flavors and usually has one to two dairy-free options available. I was stuffed from lunch and chocolate, so I tried samples of their fruit delight (vegan) and the flavor I’d had on my mind since before the trip. Gummy bear. It was creamy and tasted very much like the classic candy. I’m known to love the “odd” flavors (my favorite is bubble gum) so, naturally, I was in my element with this one. 

Mercado on Fifth is a beautiful labor of love. (c) Mary Farah

Mercado on Fifth

Are you still with me? I hope since we still need to check out Mercado on Fifth. This is an incredible project that shows once again how important celebrating all and being inclusive is in the Quad Cities. We’d had the pleasure of dining with Maria Ontiveros and her partner, Jack Cullen, at Los Charros. Maria and her grandfather, Bob, founded the non-profit in 2016 and she gave us a wonderful tour of the unique space. 

Mercado on Fifth was born when the Ontiveros saw an increase for minority-owned businesses in the Quad Cities to be showcased. It’s become a weekly hub during the summer months for aspiring small businesses. Since they launched, Mercado on Fifth has helped provide a platform for over 30 minority-owned businesses. It was moving when Maria told us many young people who would once be ashamed to wear attire representing their heritage now proudly do so at the events. 

Since we were just five minutes from the Axis, it was now time to take a BREAK. I know I’ve said this before, but tonight’s dinner would be yet another reason I knew I needed to apply for this press trip. We would be dining at the home of Chef Keys. 

Blessed at Chef Keys. (c) Mary Farah
Chef Keys in her element. (c) Mary Farah

Dining with Chef Keys

Chef Keys (aka K.C. Ross) is a powerhouse changing the way chefs cater and host events. She recognizes that the relaxing dinner out is a lost art. To combat that, she launched Cook and Cuffs. Which invites people to her dining room and she will prepare a knock-out multi-course meal. 

We returned to Rock Island to the Chef’s residence. I wondered if it would feel odd to be pulling up to a stranger’s home for dinner. As soon as I saw her house and met Chef Keys, it felt like we were at an old friend’s. I will have more details shortly on this one-of-a-kind experience. 

After a day of history, culture, dessert, and remarkable cuisine, it was time to get some shut-eye. As I get ready to conk off I feel bittersweet that we have reached our final day in the Quad Cities. Farmer’s market, a riverboat cruise, and more great food are on the agenda for Saturday. Talk to you soon. xo