I’ve Been Everywhere, and Then I Had Dinner, Davenport
No, that is not my hat. It belongs to my father. He’s a man who goes on epic motorcycle trips, likes Loreena McKennitt, and stops at the gun factory on his way back to Kansas. (Side note, gun factory’s have really fancy spa-like lady’s restrooms. Weird, right? And Dad says it’s not a factory, but he’s not writing this story, so um yeah… it’s a factory.) It’s Friday morning, October 21, 2016 and we’re on the last day of our first road-trip together in well over a decade. I know I’m pushing the rules of my IBE&TIHD experiment because I have to eat either lunch or dinner in each of the cities, and we pull into Davenport around 10:00 a.m., which is dangerously in breakfast territory—but sometimes you’ve got to do the best with what you’ve got. Café d’Marie (614 W. 5th St, Davenport, IA) doesn’t open until 10:30, and since Dad has an innate compulsion that causes him to materialize anywhere early, we’ve got some time to kill. I’ve picked a restaurant for us based upon random Internet searches and a yelp review or two.
Mostly I picked it because in the picture, the building looks old and weird, like it’s covered in ivy and the building used to be a mill or something. Davenport’s on a river—a river that must flood often enough to be of immediate concern because there are sandbags that show up every couple of blocks. We drive around the historic district of the old downtown. Well we don’t drive as much as bump, because the brick streets in the historic district cover hills that make the car rock from side to side. Not nice gentle slopes either. Hills that make us say, “This would be terrible in the winter,” because they’re seventy-five degree inclines of terror. But the historic streets are neat and old and make you want to explore. There’s a mix of derelict property with massively gigantic Victorian houses with wrap-around porches, and shingled exterior walls that are pastel purple or pink or green. These were once the homes of bootleggers and politicians—back in my grandparent’s youth, but now I’m pretty sure there’s a guy who would come out with a shotgun from at least one or two of those places. The houses have windowpanes with weird old ripply ghost glass that was blown a billion years ago and makes it always look like it’s always raining outside. One out of every six houses is in good repair, some are livable but then next door you’ll find a boarded up shadow-of-a-place that surely comes with it’s own ghost. I wonder what it would be like to own a house like that. Start with something all broken and decrepit where you could dig through weird rooms and find old stuff and fancy bannisters. Dad says it’d bankrupt you and it’d be a ton of work.
After thirty minutes of bumping about Dad parks on the brick street in front of one of those crazy houses, but it’s one of the not- scary ones and it has ivy growing on the side. We’ve arrived at the IBE&TIHD part of the trip. Two guys are waiting out front on a miniscule square wooden porch. The neon open sign over the front door comes on, but the guys just stay outside chatting. I tell Dad, “Come on,” and we crowd onto the porch. Turns out the front door was just stuck, and after we pry it open everyone’s a gentlemen and my uterus gets me to the front of the line. I walk on polished wooden floors into the restaurant/house, past a staircase on the right and down a hall to enter the restaurant. The owner combined a drawing room and parlor into the dining space. The kitchen was opened up into the space and is full of people slicing and cleaning and prepping for the day’s business. When you go to the restroom there’s a sign to speak softly so you don’t wake the baby, and a kids’ playroom is around the corner. There’s a shower in the bathroom, and you know this really is somebody’s house. The floors are still wet from the morning mopping, and the owner tells us to sit in the front room because those floors are dry. Even though the entire place is empty she seats the two guys at the table directly next to us. Which is awkward because they’re so close we could touch them and Dad’s predisposed to talking to strangers, while my goal is to put as much space between me and a stranger as possible and heaven forbid I have to talk to them. Then Dad stands up to look at the room behind him. Grand archways neat woodwork, all the stuff that makes an old house cool and the lady tells him to sit down and it’s awkward because she seems bossy in a non-normal way for a proprietress. She brings over the menu and chats with dad while I notice her chiropractor degree on the wall because I’m sitting next to a big wooden desk, and there’s a printer on it, like this is the home office in the night, when all the tables are pushed into the corner.
I order a chai latte. Dad asks about cake, and it’s only 10:30 but we’re grown ups and if he wants to get cake for lunch all the power to him. The chocolate cake sits on the counter five tiers tall with fluffy smears of icing, but when she tells him there’s coffee in the icing Dad balks. She insists you can just eat the cake, leave the icing and I think my Dad may have a heart attack right there—complete madness cake without icing. So he orders the lemon cake instead, with a glass of milk. I order a chai latte-they’ve got about fifty kinds of tea. And I don’t remember what kind I got, maybe a rooibos and it comes out in a great big glass cup with an inch of foam on the top and it’s sweet and frothy and hot and the perfect we’re-just-on-this-side-of-autumn-drink. The cake arrives and is tall and yellow, and not as lemony as I prefer, but I am way more prone to lemon than the average individual, and Dad’s very pleased with it. I’m sitting in a patch of sunlight and dad’s lit up like some kind of divine painting, and it’s all going pretty well—but then we have to decide what to eat for reals.
What I really want is the grilled cheese Panini, it’s got a handful of delish cheeses that rock my face off—but grilled cheese is pretty hard to get wrong and I can get it almost anywhere so I look at the specialties and land on the quiche. The bacon, cheese, and spinach looks good. But then Marie has also added the cherry, goat cheese, and spinach option. (The special of the day was blueberry instead of cherry, but I learned from the time I made all-purple dinner to steer clear of putting blueberries in odd things because it can give the most appetizing of dishes a decidedly cadaverous hue.) Any one of those things individually, or even a combo of two of the three, and I’m a super fan, but there’s something about the idea of baking all three into an egg pie that’s too weird not to try it.
Now the proprietress spent quite a while telling us about her cream of Brussels sprouts and cream of asparagus soups. She says people who hate Brussels sprouts (i.e. my father) love her soup. She has had forty-one haters try it and forty-one of them told her they like her soup. I wonder if everyone has told her it was good because they’re scared of her, because she’s got this really authoritarian-don’t-challenge-me kind of vibe about her. I order a cup to go with my quiche, because while I’m not a proponent of Brussels sprouts I don’t abhor them (not like god-awful melons) and think I should check it out. When Dad orders a cup for himself I know it’s a sign of the apocalypse.
The restaurant starts filling up and the awkwardness of being six inches away from the men at the next table diminishes. Our food comes, and it looks pretty but as we’re eating neither Dad nor I can find quite the right words, and it’s a very quiet lunch. I offer Dad a bite of my cherry/goat cheese/spinach pie and oddly enough he’s not interested. The crust on the quiche is flaky and buttery and yummy. The texture of the eggs is almost too fluffy and I think that has to do with the goat cheese? I expected chunks of goat cheese so you could get a molten lava bite of goat cheese tang, but I think she folded it into the eggs somehow which gave it a weird weepy rubbery-ness. Then you come across a super sweet hot cherry and the green damp leaf of spinach and your mouth gets confused about what in the hell is happening. The soup is cream based with carrots and halves of Brussels sprouts, a thick greenish goo holding it all together. It was hot and nice, but nothing I can remember with any clarity four days later. Dad tells the lady “it was very good soup. Excellent. But, I wouldn’t order it again.” We get outside and I dig in my purse for some gum. Dad throws his hat on the dashboard and starts the engine. “So what’d you think?”
I ponder the cherry/goat cheese/spinach nonsense as we bump up the hill to get back to the highway and finally say, “You know just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
Dad laughed and we headed off to the gun factory, because it’d be a shame for us not to stop. After all it was right on the way home.