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Best of the Quad Cities 2003 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
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Tuesday, 17 February 2004 18:00
Welcome to the Best of the Quad Cities 2003! The River Cities’ Reader received nearly 300 valid ballots for our poll this year – more than ever before – and we’re proud to present the winners here.

We worked hard this year to pare down the ballot to make it less intimidating, and to craft categories that would prompt our readers to think before scribbling down their choices. Based on the number and quality of the ballots, we think we did a pretty good job. Some new faces pop up on our lists this year, and that makes us happy.

The top three finishers in each category are listed here. As he did last year, Brian Barkley provides the visual stimulation with his fun, vivid photographs of selected winners.

Thanks to all readers for participated in the poll, and congratulations to the Best of the Quad Cities 2003!

Best of the Quad Cities Hall of Fame

Alert readers – and some businesses – might have noticed some categories missing from this year’s Best of the Quad Cities ballot. That wasn’t an accident or a slight. We removed some categories for the simple reason that there was little drama left in them; we knew who was going to win, because they win every year.

Of course it’s not fair to punish multiple-year winners simply because they maintain such a high level of quality. So this year the River Cities’ Reader is starting the Best of the Quad Cities Hall of Fame, in which we enshrine Quad Cities institutions that have proven their staying power and popularity.

So without further ado, the members of the 2003 class of the Best of the Quad Cities Hall of Fame:

Best Record/CD Store: Co-op Records

Best Barbecue: Jim’s Rib Haven

Best Selection of Beer: Old Chicago

Best Hardware Store: K&K True Value

Major Awards

Best Damn Thing About the Quad Cities
1. People
2. Mississippi River
3. Cost of living

1. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
2. Texas Roadhouse
3. Iowa Machine Shed

Local Visual Artist
1. Julie Townsend
1. Kara Toal
1. Ralph Iaccarino

Although she studied art in college, Julie Townsend didn’t learn how to paint until after the birth of her daughter roughly 15 years ago. Since then, she’s fallen in love with painting with oils and acrylics, and she’s earned enough of a reputation to top this category, tying filmmaker Kara Toal and painter Ralph Iaccarino. Her work also caught the eye of the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, which commissioned her to do a 700-square-foot mural that illustrates 15 scenes, 10 from the Bible (including the Last Supper) and five from history. “I like to paint large, but I’ve never painted this large,” Townsend said. The artist is well-known for her floral works, and she balances her work between commissions and the personal. Lately, though, because of the mural project, “I haven’t had a lot of time for my own work.” Townsend can be reached by phone at (563)323-6838, by e-mail at ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), or at her Web site at (

Local Musical Act
1. Jim the Mule
2. Spatterdash
3. Wicked Liz & The Bellyswirls

Locally Owned Business
1. Ritzi Reruns
2. Iowa Machine Shed
3. Brew & View

Annual Event/Festival
1. Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival
2. Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
3. Quad City Arts Festival of Trees


Restaurant That Opened in 2003
1. Five
2. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
3. Bent River at North Park Mall

Dominic Rivera opened his “urban steakhouse” Five nine months ago with the goal of having a New York- or Chicago-style restaurant in the Quad Cities. “It’s energy to me,” said the executive chef and proprietor. “You just feel alive.” One component of that urban energy was locating Five in an existing downtown building, at 1624 Fifth Avenue in Moline. The menu, which changes every few months, and flair at Five might seem familiar to patrons of other Quad Cities fine-dining establishments; Rivera has been chef at Faithful Pilot and was a partner in Red Crow Grille. One thing Rivera still fights against, however, is how his restaurant is perceived. “I don’t want it to be intimidating,” he stressed. For reservations, call (309)764-5555. The restaurant also has a Web site at ( that includes its current menu.

Asian Restaurant
1. Exotic Thai
2. Le Mekong
3. Royal Wok

As you step into the Exotic Thai restaurant, the inviting ambiance of plants, tapestries, statues, and the colorful theme greet you just slightly before the host or hostess does. Owner Kevin Zhang is proud of that great service, and of the food and pleasant atmosphere that made Exotic Thai our readers’ selection as Best Asian Restaurant in this year’s Best of the Quad Cities poll. Many unique and authentic dishes from Thailand highlight the menu; among the favorites are chicken satay appetizers and many of the basil-flavored entrees. There are daily lunch and dinner specials available and reservations are accepted. Call (563)344-0909 to make yours. You can also visit Exotic Thai online at (

– Rick Martin

Italian Restaurant
1. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
2. Trattoria Tiramisu
3. Olive Garden

Mexican Restaurant
1. Rudy’s Tacos
2. Azteca
3. Jalapeno’s

Fine Dining
1. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
2. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
3. Steventon’s

Best Fine Dining, Best Atmosphere

Heart of America Restaurants & Inns is known for its distinctive restaurants, and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse in the John Deere Commons is no exception. As the restaurant’s Web site accurately notes, Johnny’s “is reminiscent of the traditional ’40s-style supper clubs where everybody went for a good time and great food.” (But later eras are also invoked, with plenty of Rat Pack images.) The restaurant opened in the Quad Cities in December 2002 and won two categories in our 2003 poll – for fine dining and atmosphere – as well as being runner-up in several others. Johnny’s signature dishes include Steak DeBurgo and Filet Medallion Trio, but there’s also plenty on the menu for people interested in something other than beef. For reservations, call (309) 736-0100.

Store or Restaurant for Health/Vegetarian Food
1. Greatest Grains
2. Hy-Vee
3. Heritage Natural Foods

1. Hungry Hobo
2. Arthur’s Garden Deli
3. Waterfront Delicatessen

One of my favorite places to eat is Hungry Hobo. The locally owned chain specializes in made-to-order sandwiches, fresh baked potatoes, and a variety of soups and salads, making it hard to choose. Jason Arbolena, manager of the Hungry Hobo on East Kimberly Road in the Old Town Shopping Center, says that the most popular items are their taco baked potatoes and their number-11 sandwich, topped with ham, cappicola, salami, pepperoni, and provolone. Hungry Hobo is also convenient, with 11 locations in the Quad Cities. If you’re hungry, go to Hobo!

– Cheryl Phoun

1. Harris Pizza
2. Happy Joe’s
3. Nancy’s

1. Panera Bread
2. Daltons
3. Pickerman’s

Best Bakery/Breads, Best Soup

The smell of fresh-baked bread and a charming atmosphere greet you as soon as you walk in the door of Panera Bread, but it is the bread that keeps people coming back. The winner of two categories, best bakery/breads and best soup, Panera Bread is sure on a roll. Tom Brooke, general manager of the Panera in Davenport, let me know that their breads, danish, and bagels are baked fresh daily with no preservatives and with the highest quality ingredients. And the stores help our community; what is left over at the end of the day gets donated to charitable organizations. Panera also offers a variety of different soups that rotates daily but always includes specialties broccoli cheddar, chicken noodle, and French onion. Why not start your weekend at Panera, listening to relaxing music, enjoying a cup of coffee, and eating some of the finest bread in the world?

– Cheryl Phoun

1. Panera Bread
2. Great Harves Bread Co.
3. Hy-Vee

1. Red Lobster
2. Thunder Bay Grille
3. The Dock

1. Texas Roadhouse
2. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
3. Outback Steakhouse

1. Boozie’s
2. Culver’s
2. Hardee’s

Coffee Shop
1. Theo’s Java Club/Java Hut
2. Fireworks
3. Coffee Hound
3. Dead Poet’s Espresso

1. Village Inn
2. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
3. Whitey’s

Bar Food
1. Rookies
2. Boozie’s
3. Blue Cat Brew Pub

1. Village Inn
2. Iowa Machine Shed
3. Harlan’s Fine Foods

1. Blue Cat Brew Pub
2. Bent River Brewing Company
3. Front Street Brewery

Sunday Brunch
1. Thunder Bay Grille
2. The Lodge
3. Pat McGuire’s
3. The Dock

Business Lunch
1. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
2. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
3. Bennigan’s

Late-Night Cheap Eats
1. Ross’
2. Taco Bell
3. Wendy’s

Some things just say Quad Cities, and one of them is Ross’ Restaurant at 430 14th Street in Bettendorf. The family-owned business, around since 1940 and at its current location since 1963, is an attraction for longtime residents and one-time visitors. “We get people straight from the airport,” said Melissa Freidhof, the restaurant’s chief operating officer and the third generation of her family to be involved in the business. And then there are the celebrities, among them Jackson Browne and Bette Midler. What they must have heard, and what most Quad Citians already know, is that Ross’ is the place to go for a good meal at a reasonable price, 24 hours a day. The Magic Mountain is a classic, but the restaurant keeps adding new items, such as wraps, soups, and entrée salads. Freidhof said one thing that distinguishes the restaurant is “our commitment to quality.” She noted that Ross’ has used Oscar Mayer meats for its entire 64-year history.

Family Dining Value
1. Iowa Machine Shed
2. Hickory Gardens
3. Harlan’s Fine Foods

1. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
2. Five
3. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano

Most Hospitable Restaurant
1. Iowa Machine Shed
2. Hickory Garden
3. Harlan’s Fine Foods


Most Honest Auto-Repair Mechanic
1. Ben Hopkins at Emeis Automotive
2. Dittmer’s Service
2. Mike Lund at Lund’s 66

Alternative Health-Care Provider
1. Dr. Dennis Hagemann
2. Dr. James Hogg
3. Palmer Chiropractic Clinics

When people are in pain in the Quad Cities, they know where to go: Dr. Dennis Hagemann, a chiropractor for 25 years and a two-time winner in this category. Hagemann is one of only five doctors in the state of Iowa board-certified in chiropractic neurology. Trained in advanced chiropractic procedures, he gives special examinations to correct what is wrong with his patients. Dr. Hagemann also gives his patients consultations on nutrition and exercises when needed. His office is located at 2906 West Central Park in Davenport, just west of Hickory Grove Road. He can be reached at (563) 388-0842.

– Cheryl Phoun

Fitness Club
2. Golds Gym
3. Ultimate Fitness

It’s the time of year when those who have resolved to lose the extra pounds from the holidays and the winter season in general have either quit altogether or are progressing along nicely within their regimens and are on their way to slimmer selves. For the latter, Quad Citians’ fitness club of choice is the YMCA, or the Young Men’s Christian Association. Founded in 1844 in London by George Williams to combat the unhealthy social conditions arising in larger cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution, there are now more than 2,400 YMCAs in the United States, with six in the Quad Cities area alone. Each one offers unique programs and events, from fitness facilities to childcare to job training. Together the nation’s YMCAs are the largest not-for-profit community-service organization in America, working to meet the health and social-service needs of 18.9 million men, women, and children in 10,000 communities in the United States. To find out more about the local YMCAs, visit (

– Tom Swanson

1. Hy-Vee
2. Green Thumbers
3. K’nees

Most Unique Household Furnishings/Accessories
1. Pier 1
2. Bed, Bath, & Beyond
2. Calla
2. Gordmans

Liquor/Beer/Wine Store
1. Regal Liquors
2. Gendler’s
3. Cork & Brie

Place to Pamper Yourself
1. William Wesley Salon & Day Spa
2. Spa at Five Star Salon
2. John Taylor Salon & Day Spa

With age comes wisdom – and customers. William Wesley Salon & Day Spa has been around the Quad Cities for a decade, and its owner, William Keck, has been in the spa business for 30 years. “We were the first spa in the area,” he said. Other spas have popped up in the Quad Cities in the past few years, but William Wesley, at 5450 Corporate Park Drive in Davenport, had a head start. Professional development is a key component of the spa’s philosophy, Keck said, and he has brought in massage therapists from as far away as Europe who are “so advanced that they can read your body like a healer.” In addition, the spa’s home, open for less than two years, is a “free-standing building designed to be a spa,” he said. William Wesley performed 29,000 services last year, including massages, facials, water therapies, and body treatments. In recent weeks, the salon has added spa suites for more privacy, ideal for couples. Keck added that he believes his spa must continue improving: “It’s never good enough. It’s got to get better.”

Antiques/Collectible/Thrift Store
1. Ritzi Reruns
2. Goodwill
3. Doodads

Place to Buy Unique Gifts
1. Iowa Machine Shed
2. Ritzi Reruns
3. Village of East Davenport

Clothing Store
1. Von Maur
2. Kohl’s
2. Ritzi Reruns

Adult Store
1. T R Video
2. Lion’s Den
3. Centennial Book Store

Sporting-Goods/Outdoors/Camping Store
1. Gander Mountain
2. Dick’s Sporting Goods
3. Kunkels

Our readers didn’t look at this as a category for footballs, basketballs, and baseballs. They saw this as a place for the real outdoors folks: the hunters, fishers, and campers. Hence, Gander Mountain takes the prize. The store, open at 3940 Elmore Avenue in Davenport since the fall of 2001, has dedicated a quarter of its store to hunting and has a full-time gunsmith. It also features a large clothing department, which includes outdoor gear for women. The retail chain has 65 stores nationwide and has been around since the 1960s. “There’s nobody [else in the Quad Cities] that specializes in what we specialize in,” said Kevin Nyberg, the store’s manager.

Tattoo/Piercing Shop
1. O’Tool Design
2. Scorpions Den
2. Zodiac Studios

Ron O’Tool, owner of O’Tool Design, knows he got into the tattoo business at just the right time – just as everybody decided they wanted to get inked. He got his start as an artist nine years ago, and he opened his own shop at 4010 18th Avenue in Rock Island in June 1999. Business has been booming. “I picked a perfect time to get into it,” he said. O’Tool has four full-time tattoo artists and one full-time piercer. Even though O’Tool has basically added an artist a year, “we’re swamped.” He said that his shop stresses a clean, professional, and up-to-code environment, and he noted that O’Tool is the only bilingual shop in the Quad Cities, with one Spanish-speaking artist. “It’s grown into something quite big,” he said.

Civics & Media

Best-Kept Quad Cities Secret
1. Brew & View
3. Boozie’s
3. Channel Cat
3. Metrolites
3. River Cities’ Reader

Devin Hansen, proprietor of the Brew & View in The District of Rock Island, describes his suds-and-movies business as “not too popular, but popular enough to stay in business.” That sounds like a good definition of a well-kept secret. “We’ve got a hardcore group of regulars that keep us going,” Hansen said. Still, word-of-mouth has been good to the Brew & View. “Each week we get new people,” he said. Although he’s tried booking second-run big movies such as Terminator 3, the theatre’s success has been built on quirky comedies such as School of Rock and Bad Santa and independent movies that you can’t see anywhere else in the Quad Cities, including Oscar nominees such as The Cooler and Pieces of April. But the turning point for the business came last winter, when the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine did bang-up box office for the Brew & View. “Michael Moore is the reason we’re still in business,” Hansen joked. In reality, he said, “the customers keep it going.” But the Brew & View is more than movies; it’s a nonsmoking environment, it hosts local bands regularly, and it does interesting events, such as silent movies scored by local experimental group INTENSITY!

Local Philanthropist
1. Bob Vogelbaugh
1. Chad Pregracke
3. Deere & Company

Community-Service Organization
1. John Lewis Community Services
2. Big Brothers/Big Sisters
3. Gilda’s Club
3. United Way

Although it’s currently embroiled with the Taylor Heights Neighborhood Coalition over the Cobblestone Terrace low-income housing project, John Lewis Community Services got kudos from our readers for its dedication to its main mission. “Our primary focus is the homeless,” said Kris Clements, director of property services for John Lewis. The organization opened its new shelter in July, and it can accommodate 72 people a night – 10 to 15 more than the old shelter. In addition, visitors now have bunks to sleep on instead of resting on pads on the floor. The building is also handicapped accessible, has more showers, and now provides shelter for single women. The new facility has “made a huge difference,” Clements said, describing it as a “safe, clean, dignified space.” John Lewis also served 43,000 meals last year and assisted 3,000 people with its food pantry. In addition, it offers transitional-housing services for up to two years.

Most Honest Elected Local Official
1. Charlie Brooke
1. Jim VanFossen
3. Lane Evans

Local Official You Love to Hate
1. Charlie Brooke
2. Keith Meyer
3. Stan Leach

Use of Public Funds
1. Downtown Davenport revitalization/River Renaissance
2. Education/schools
3. Bridge construction/repairs

Waste of Public Funds
1. Locust Street widening
2. Davenport skybridge
3. Bridge construction

Local Controversy
1. Bridge construction/repairs
2. New I-74 Bridge location
2. Davenport skybridge

Urban-Renewal Project
1. Downtown Davenport revitalization/River Renaissance
2. District of Rock Island
2. John O’Donnell Stadium

Local TV-News Anchor/Reporter
1. Paula Sands, KWQC
2. Miranda Kahn, WQAD
3. Charles King, KWQC
3. Ed Lewis, KWQC
3. Sharon DeRycke, KWQC

Local TV-News Station
1. KWQC Channel 6
2. WQAD Channel 8
3. WHBF Channel 4

When it comes to covering the Quad Cities, nobody does it like NBC affiliate KWQC Channel 6, according to our readers. “We try to serve the community we live in and offer different alternatives,” said Doug Retherford, the station’s news director for more than 14 years. One thing that distinguishes the station is the volume of news; KWQC has news programming Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and noon when its competitors don’t, and it also offers the popular Paula Sands Live weekdays at 4:30 p.m. The station is also involved in the community in other ways, for example with the women’s lifestyle fair in the spring. But Retherford offers another explanation for his station’s success: “Our people are good.” In addition, “we make a concerted effort to cover the whole area,” he said.

TV Hairdo
1. Paula Sands, KWQC
2. Sharon DeRycke, KWQC
3. Miranda Kahn, WQAD

Radio Station
1. KORB 93.5 FM
2. KCQQ 106.5 FM
3. WLLR 103.7 FM

Local Radio Personality
1. Dwyer & Michaels, KCQQ 106.5 FM
2. Wicked Liz Townsend, WXLP 97X FM
3. Dave Levora, KORB 93.5 FM

Arts, Culture, & Leisure

Local Theatre Organization
1. Circa ‘21
2. ComedySportz
3. Quad City Music Guild

You might normally think of the phrase “one-stop shop” as applying mostly to big department or grocery stories, but Brett Hitchcock uses it to describe Circa ’21, the area’s only dinner theatre. Hitchcock, the director of marketing for Circa, noted that offering dinner and a show makes Circa convenient. It helps that Circa brings in professional actors, directors, and crew members for its shows – “finding the greatest talent to come in,” he said. Circa certainly has its core audience, but recent shows The Sound of Music and Annie have brought new people through the door, too. The theatre organization’s current production, Smokey Joe’s Café, runs through March 20, followed by Hello, Dolly! (March 24 through May 29) and Showboat (June 9 through July 31).

Local Literary Artist
1. Max Allan Collins
2. Sean Leary
3. Shellie Guy

Local Filmmaker
1. Kara Toal
2. Phil Dingeldein
3. Blue Box Limited

Local Blues Band
1. Ellis Kell
2. Shane Johnson’s Blue Train
3. Whatever Blues Band

Even though the Ellis Kell Band has been together for 14 years, Quad Citians have been listening to the bandleader/guitarist perform for more than a quarter-century. Formed in 1990, the band in addition to Kell includes members John Burchett, Rick Stoneking, “Detroit Larry” Davison, Terry Hanson, and Nate Nicholson. The band has opened for such notable entertainers as B.B. King, Robert Cray, Edgar Winter, Little Feat, and Johnny Winter. The group is also hoping to open for Delbert McClinton on March 26 at the Col Ballroom in Davenport. Closer to the present, you can see Kell and his band entertaining at the Rock Island Red Sox fundraiser on February 28 at Town & Country Lanes in Rock Island. Known primarily for the blues, the Ellis Kell Band also enjoys playing authentic country, jazz, folk, and rock music. The outfit performs 20 to 30 gigs each year, and has played at the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest and River Rockin’ Rib Fest. Kell said the group is looking forward to the in-the-planning-stages American Roots Music Festival, which is sponsored by the new River Music Experience.

– Rick Martin

Local Country Band
1. Jim the Mule
1. Dani Lynn Howe Band
3. A Fifth of Country

Local Jazz Band
1. Josh Duffee & His Orchestra
2. Manny Lopez Trio

At the tender age of 21, Josh Duffee became a bandleader. The drummer started his professional career three years ago by presenting a tribute to Gene Krupa, and his band has evolved into one of the few groups playing music from the 1920s and ’30s. These days, Josh Duffee & His Orchestra mimics Jean Goldkette’s, a band that, significantly, included Quad Cities music legend Bix Beiderbecke. “There were no groups playing music from the ’20s or ’30s around here,” said Duffee, now 24. The music of that era is not “big band”; it has fewer horns and adds a xylophone and violin. Those changes “give it that novelty sound,” Duffee said. “It’s just like they were back 80 years ago.” Josh Duffee & His Orchestra played eight shows last year and already has 10 booked for 2004. His long-term plans include “being at the Bix fest every year playing the music” – akin to being the Bix house band. Duffee also wants the group to expand its touring a little outside of the Midwest – a challenge, considering the members of his 20-person orchestra perform music as a hobby rather than a profession.

Local Rock Band
1. Jim the Mule
2. Spatterdash
3. Wicked Liz & the Bellyswirls

Local Metal Band
1. From the Wreckage
2. Spatterdash
3. Circle 7
3. Katalina
3. Oratory

Local Folk/Acoustic Band/Performer
1. Fry Daddies
2. Seth Knappen
3. Jim the Mule

Local Hip-Hop/MC/Rap Act
1. Commandiz Freez
2. Tommy T
3. Circle 7
3. E-Two
3. Robot USA

Annual Family Event/Festival
1. Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival
2. Quad City Arts Festival of Trees
3. Mississippi Valley Blues Festival

Place to See or Buy Art
1. Beaux Arts Fair
2. Quad City Arts
3. Davenport Museum of Art

1. Putnam Museum & IMAX Theatre
2. Family Museum of Arts & Science
3. Davenport Museum of Art

2003 Concert
1. KISS/Aerosmith
2. Toby Keith
3. Dixie Chicks
3. Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Place to Dance
1. Kai’s
2. Col Ballroom
3. Thirsty Beaver

Bar to Watch Sporting Events
1. Rookie’s
2. Sports Fans
3. Carriage Haus

Bar for Conversation
1. Copia
2. Bier Stube
3. Blue Cat Brew Pub
3. Mac’s Tavern

Happy Hour
1. Rookies
2. Old Chicago
3. Lucky’s

1. Rusty Nail
2. Bucky’s
3. The Hat

GLBT Gathering Place
1. Fusion
1. Mary’s on Second
3. JR’s
3. Liquid

Local Landmark
1. Arsenal Island
2. Mississippi River
3. Centennial Bridge

Local Getaway (Within a Half-Hour Drive)
1. Scott County Park
2. Geneseo
3. LeClaire

Weekend Getaway (Within a Three-Hour Drive)
1. Chicago
2. Galena
3. Dubuque

1. Vander Veer Park
2. Scott County Park
3. Black Hawk State Park

Golf Course
1. Emeis
2. TPC at Deere Run
3. Duck Creek

Open Mic Night
2. Bier Stube
3. Daltons

Public Pool/Waterpark
1. Wacky Waters
2. Splash Landing
3. Whitewater Junction

Local Sports Team
1. Mallards
2. Steamwheelers
3. River Bandits
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