March 30, 2014

Illinois’s Quad Cities: Belgian Influence = Fun, Fabulous Food and Christine DeSmet

The first Belgian sleuth since Hercule Poirot—Ava Oosterling, is the main character in my new Fudge Shop Mystery Series.

My series is set in Door County, Wisconsin, with this country’s biggest rural population of Belgians. I was born in Moline, Illinois, to one of our country’s biggest urban Belgian enclaves.

Moline is on the Mississippi River, part of the Quad Cities of East Moline, Rock Island, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa.

I asked my three aunts in the Quad Cities where to find the best food, fun, and Belgian stuff—like chocolates!

Aunt Cheryl said, “You have to visit Lagomarcino’s. Lots of family traditions run by the fourth generation. Décor is from the 1920s and 1930s. Soda fountain and homemade chocolates.”

  Aunt Janet D. added, “They make Green Rivers, which I remember as a kid.”
Green River is a lime drink that became famous soon after the place opened in 1908. Check out Lagomarcino’s yummy menu.
Janet L. said Whitey’s Ice Cream shop is another “must.” Established in 1933, it makes upside-down (thick!) malts. Since my Fudge Shop Series is set in Door County, Wisconsin, a leading producer of cherries, I searched the menu at Lagomarcino’s and found black cherry and cherry bonbon malts, plus a black cherry sundae.

Belgians love sausages, or les tripes. The family-owned Harris Pizza uses Wisconsin cheese (of course!), but the sausages are homemade locally.

For a classic, family-owned supper club, it’s Bud’s Skyline Inn near the airport, where catfish is what you order. Kids will like looking at the airplane decor.

The whole family will also enjoy a dinner cruise on the paddle wheeler Celebration Belle. Cruises start April 1.

For a great river view with fantastic seafood, head to The Captain’s Table on River Drive in Moline.

Also on River Drive in Moline, home of John Deere, is the John Deere Pavilion—filled with antique tractors and new machinery for kids of every age. My character, Ava, was raised on a farm so this interests her.

Don’t miss the Mississippi Visitors Center in Rock Island. Watch barges go through the lock and dam. During January my Aunt Cheryl saw hundreds of eagles diving for food.

For serious Belgian culture, visit 7th Street in Moline—“Old Towne.” The Belgian Museum and the Center for Belgian Culture have demos of lace making and more.
In my books you’ll attend a Belgian fall harvest festival known as the Kermiss. Moline offers Fall Flemish Fest where you’ll learn about pigeon racing. Enjoy Belgian beer and pies. (Or try the pies with no calories by reading about them in my series. Belgian pie plates are 12.5 inches wide!)

The Flemish Fest website includes a fun video of the Belgian horses clip-clopping on parade.

One of my aunts is in despair that the Belgian Village Restaurant closed because it served a great sandwich—the VandeRaisin. That’s a grilled ham and cheese made with raisin bread. It’s served with brown, stone ground Boetje’s mustard which has been made in Rock Island since 1889. Belgians love mustard.

Visit the Quad Cities for a taste of Belgium through my novels. Drop by the pages of my books where Ava and Grandpa Gil operate Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge & Beer.

Christine DeSmet is the author of mystery bestseller First-Degree Fudge, and the new June release, Hot Fudge Frame-Up (Penguin Random House). She teaches writing at University of Wisconsin-Madison  where she’ll be part of the 25th Writers’ Institute April 4-6. She’s also attending the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD, May 2-4.

You’ll find info on her latest, more interesting facts about Door County and easy contact information.

(All photos provided by author)


  1. Christine,

    I've never connected Illinois and Belgium. Very interesting! My son who travels everywhere for his job loved the food there. Your novel sounds like one I'd like to read. Best wishes.

  2. Is anyone else hungry reading this?? I'm really looking forward to reading your book! Thanks for the wonderful tour!

  3. A lot of food is represented here. First, I'd have to make a list if I were to visit. Topping the list would be anything chocolate, then I'd work my way through the rest. Your area sounds like a great place to sample lots of different foods. Your books might be actual travel guides for the taste-tester. The books sound woven into the fabric of the area.

  4. Oh my gosh! Now I HAVE to go eat some chocolate! Wow, your books, your heritage and your area sound wonderful! Mmmm!

  5. Oh, how fun. I'll have to pass this on to my reading club.

  6. I live in a Chicago suburb and used to have to drive 3 hours west every other Friday when I worked for a sales firm with a branch office in Bettendorf. I didn't spend much time in Moline, but I went to college with a friend from there, and drove her home a few times. It's really interesting just how different the rest of Illinois is from the Chicagoland area. Almost like 2 different states! No wonder our politicians are so confused...they can't cater to the whole state without contradicting themselves!

  7. Thank you, everybody, for the wonderful comments. Yes, Illinois is like two states. You can say the same for Wisconsin and its Door County. Once you enter Door County, and the settings in my book--which are mostly real--you feel like you're in a different state and land. No fast food places are allowed in upper Door County, and there's almost no neon. It's a lovely place, as is Moline. Moline is quite hilly, and thus doesn't earn the "Illinois flatlander" usual moniker. Moline has lovely parks and the area has many wildlife sorts of areas, too, and of course the Mississippi is right there. I'm glad you enjoyed the post about Moline! --Christine DeSmet

  8. Whoop! Whoop! for the QC. I lived in East Moline for awhile 200 hundred yards from UTHS where my parents graduated. Whitey's, baby! I even set a few of my scenes from Beta in the QC. Nice to meet another from the area.


Follow 50 Authors from 50 States blog for the latest