The Quad Cities straddle Iowa and Illinois and include Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. On the Illinois side there’s Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline. (What’s that? There are actually five cities that make up the Quad Cities? Well, yes. But let’s move on.) David and I have family in the Quad Cities, and so we find ourselves there with some regularity. Whenever we go, we have a few restaurants that we like to hit. None of these restaurants are vegetarian or vegan; however, they do make some delicious plant-based food.
Crust in Bettendorf, Iowa:
On Vegan Pizza Day this year, I wrote about my favorite pizzas from the last year, and Crust in Bettendorf, Iowa was on the list. The flour for their pizza is imported from Italy along with the tomatoes for the sauce, and the pizzas are cooked for 90 seconds in a stone oven. The thin pizza with pillowy edges comes out crisp with fire-licked edges. The smokiness sears the crust, making for a truly delicious pizza. It’s a real Naples-style pizza that takes me back to our honeymoon in Italy.
It would be more convenient if Crust listed out their vegetable topping options on their menu. However, a quick look through their pizzas and appetizers reveals the possibilities. I know a cheeseless pizza is an option at any pizza joint, but the toppings at Crust take them to the next level. With options like wild mushrooms, pine nuts, kalamata olives, asparagus, fresh basil, garlic, and potato, this isn’t your typical Friday night pitcher of beer-variety pizza. (Although, they do have a lengthy beer list.)
To round out the meal, they have an oven roasted olive appetizer that’s a delightful start. The dessert options rotate but are occasionally vegan, like this raspberry sorbet. It was topped with basil and a balsamic reduction for a savory/sweet contrast that was a refreshing finish to the meal.
Exotic Thai in Davenport, Iowa:
Another favorite choice in the Quad Cities is Exotic Thai in Davenport. (They also have a location in Moline and a sister restaurant called LemonGrass in Moline.) The lengthy menu has asterisks next to the items that can be made vegetarian. From there, you’ll need to ask if it can be made vegan. Requests of no fish sauce, no oyster sauce, and no egg are no problem. In addition to the option of adding tofu to any dish, they also have veggie chicken, which is toothsome and juicy. Many times when I’ve ordered it, the server has told me that it’s their favorite “protein” option as well, regardless of if or if not the server is vegetarian.
My favorite menu item (shown above) is the Spicy Basil Noodles made with stir-fried flat rice noodles, bell pepper, chilies, and onion with fresh basil leaves. It typically comes with egg as well, and so I ask them to omit it. I order it with the veggie chicken.
David’s favorite item on the menu is the Tropical Curry made with carrots, tomatoes, mango, pineapple, and basil in a coconut milk sauce with tofu. The Shiitake Asparagus, Drunken Noodles, and Pad Thai are also quite good (while again being sure to ask that they be made without animal products).
But perhaps the best part of the Exotic Thai experience is the hot sauce tray brought to the table upon request. The hot sauces are made in house, and the slices of crisp jalapeño peppers are especially good. Soaking in a bath of vinegar, they maintain all of their crunch, as they haven’t been cooked and didn’t come out of a jar. The last time I was there, the server told me she’d just made the hot sauces that day.
Olive Tree Café in Bettendorf, Iowa:
Finally, for a quick and casual order-at-the counter option, Olive Tree Café in Bettendorf has lots of options for vegans. (They share the same parking lot as the aforementioned Crust.) Some of the menu options require a simple request of no cheese, tzatziki, or aioli. If in doubt, the staff has been more than happy in the past to confirm with the kitchen which items don’t include animal products.
Here we have the Marrakesh Salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, roasted peppers, onions, cilantro, and a very mild hummus.
This is the Grilled Veggie Flatbread pizza with mushrooms, tomatoes, red onions, and olives ordered without cheese.
This is one of their Pick Three options with falafel, smoky baba ganoush, and stuffed grape leaves.
If you need to pick up provisions for the road, there is a natural food store in Davenport called Greatest Grains. Their produce doesn’t always look the freshest, but they have a large variety of packaged food & specialty items. For something of the quick casual variety, there is also a location of the chain Noodles & Company in Davenport. (Update: Mantra Indian Restaurant & Cuisine in Davenport also offers lots of vegan options. You can read my full review of Mantra here.)