Gluten-free Guide to the Quad Cities

It’s been a while since some gluten-free travel research. During my week in the Quad Cities, I was in luck as everywhere I went had a great gluten-free or friendly selection. The Quad Cities are a group of communities in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River. I was fortunate to spend time in Moline, LeClaire, Rock Island, Davenport, and Bettendorf.

Gluten-free in the Quad Cities

I’ll admit that I assumed the Midwest would be a bunch of small and quaint towns. Maybe a stop or two would have a few gluten-free options, but I was prepared to think quickly if it wasn’t the “norm.” Turns out, I was wrong. Nearly every stop had terrific selections. Read on for the skinny on dining gluten-friendly/free in the Quad Cities.

Verde, Bettendorf, Iowa

When my first dinner in town is at a gluten and soy-free facility, I know I’m in good hands. Verde is an intimate space serving progressive Mexican cuisine. Given the allergen-friendly menu, it’s not a surprise that Verde sources local, fresh ingredients. Their appetizers offer fresh and modern takes on classics like rice and beans and ceviche.

The entrees include pork shoulder inspired by al pastor and salmon with house mole. I chose the latter and it was cooked perfectly. It also paired nicely with their seasonal cocktail, a watermelon Paloma. The house mole is smoky with a hint of bitterness. Since mole isn’t always gluten-free, it’s always a happy day when I can partake.

Cavort, Davenport, Iowa

Over in Davenport, Cavort wears many hats. The tiki-inspired restaurant and bar serve up a dynamic menu that blends Tropical with comfort foods. For a classic dish to go with a mai tai, there’s a tuna poke bowl or Yucatan poke nachos. To go a bit more unique, don’t overlook the chicken picatta or mac and cheese. I decided on the poke bowl but had some foodie “envy” as I saw those comfort plates go by.

The staff at Cavort are very knowledgeable about gluten-free items. Their menu lists several “GF” symbols. My poke was excellent and now I know it’s not just a “California” thing! We had the pleasure of meeting Cavort’s Chef, Rhea Vrana. She was recently named as one of 40 Women to Watch in Hospitality by the Iowa Restaurant Association. After dining at Cavort, it’s easy to see why.

FoodAffair Bistro, Bettendorf, Iowa

If I could have a FoodAffair Bistro open locally for me, I would be ecstatic. Our breakfast here was outstanding. I was so impressed at the gluten-free choices. The ample bistro recently opened in Bettendorf and has a fun, laid-back atmosphere as soon as I walked in. In addition to table dining, they also have a full bar.

One of the highlights on the menu is breakfast toasts. Best part? Gluten-free bread is available. I chose the Texas toast along with a veggie omelet. Meals are served a la carte so I highly recommend ordering a few things to get the “experience.” Both plates were well portioned and it felt great to have a hearty breakfast once again. I had not in a while (more like a banana in between Mabel duties) and FoodAffair delivered.

Gluten-free Pizza Around the Quad Cities

I enjoyed such a fun luncheon catered by an array of local pizzerias. Quad Cities is known for its very own style of pizza that separates itself from New York or Chicago. I’ll be honest that it’s hard to recreate on a gluten-free crust, but their unique toppings still get a chance to shine. One famous pie around the cities is the taco pizza from Happy Joe’s. They have a small gluten-free crust available.

Other local pizza spots for gluten-free crusts include Pagalo’s and QC Pizza Company. Just like Happy Joe’s has their signature taco pizza, QC has its famous Sour Pig. I think we’re all familiar with Hawaiian pizza, but at QC, they substitute the pineapple for sauerkraut. It sounded absolutely not good, but it was a case of don’t knock it until you try it.

Twin Span Brewing, Bettendorf, Iowa

Had I had more free time in town, I would have loved to visit Twin Span. I was introduced to the local brewing company during our pizza lunch. They provided some of their gluten-removed beers which were exceptional. Some gluten-free folks cannot take the risk with gluten-removed beers, but I’ve never had an issue. I prefer them when possible since I feel I’m getting a “real” beer.

Their Uncle Juicy pilsner paired so well with my pizza. The humorous name somehow fits the beer’s sweet and tangy notes. Their menu offers a wide variety of classic brewery eats with most sans gluten. Many are also vegetarian.

Taste of Ethiopia, Davenport, Iowa

Before visiting this lovely cafe, I was not too familiar with Ethiopian food. The menu offers a good assortment of dishes with an impressive mix of vegetarian, vegan, and meat. In addition to meals I had never heard of, they keep it “real” with favorites like chicken strips and French fries. Many plates are gluten-free or can be adjusted.

I decided to go traditional and try the Ye’Doro Kay Wat. It consisted of a chicken thigh simmered in a spicy sauce and seasoned with a blend of spices and a hard-boiled egg on top. For my sides, I chose spicy lentils and fries. They serve Injera bread with all entrees. I was happy to discover it can be made gluten-free. It’s unlike any bread I’d had before. It’s sour with a sponge-like texture and made for soaking up the sauces on your plate.

I laughed at myself for being such a “white girl” and getting fries as a side. But, I wanted a plan in case Ethiopian food turned out to not be for me.

The verdict? I enjoyed it and ate a good portion. But, alas, I would not race back for more. Nevertheless, if you appreciate Ethiopian food, check it out. It’s a wonderful cafe and the owners, Genet and George, are so sweet and hospitable.

Chef Keys Home, Rock Island, Illinois

This was one of the most unique dining experiences I’ve ever had. I plan to share a more in-depth story on our dinner by Chef Keys (K.C. Ross). To bring back the lost art of a relaxing, not rushed dinner out, Chef Keys invites you into her Rock Island home for a catered evening in her dining room. Given her flexibility and diner’s specific requests, she can prepare an entirely gluten-free meal if desired.

I enjoyed this night in a group of seven. She can easily accommodate smaller parties for a special night out. It was such a terrific change-up from a restaurant. Which is all I ever dine in when I eat out!

The Crane and Pelican, LeClaire, Iowa

The Crane and Pelican is an adorable bistro in LeClaire. Don’t take my word for it, even LoveFood chose them as the Most Adorable Restaurant in Iowa. As soon as I walked in I could see why. The Crane and Pelican is a converted old home once owned by a river boat captain. Similar to arriving at Chef Keys home, I loved being able to dine in a house once again.

The menu features many comfort foods, classic American plates, and sandwiches. The dining room was bustling and felt very communal. They have a designated gluten-free menu that includes bread and pasta available. Given the wide selection, it felt great to not feel “limited.” I decided to order off of the supper menu and devoured my pecan crusted salmon. Should I ever return, I think the lobster mac and cheese will be calling my name.

Heritage Natural Foods, Moline, Illinois

More of an “honorable mention,” I was so happy to see a health food store within walking distance of my hotel. Any thoughts of napping were gone as soon as I checked in. It was time to walk the streets of Downtown Moline and check out Heritage Natural Foods.

The grocery end is excellent for those of “us” traveling with health-conscious foods on our minds. They also have a good-sized supplement and beauty department had I needed any vitamins or forgotten lotions.

I was very excited (maybe too excited) when I approached the juice bar. I was eager to order an acai bowl but informed they actually don’t make bowls anymore. Drats. Up since two AM and hardly eaten. An acai bowl sounded like heaven. Next up, decided on an old reliable and ordered a celery juice. Nope. Supply and demand are too rough at the moment. I finally ended up with a cacao and almond butter smoothie of sorts and it turned out to be just what I needed. I do hope they take the time to update the wall menu so fellow health-conscious folks don’t get let down.