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Belgian Village a BIG hit

MOLINE -- Sometimes it's wisest to stick to what you know best.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Gary Krambeck

Loretta Ceurvorst, Shawn Manning, Denis Ceurvorst and Karen Manning run the Belgian Village on 7th Street in Moline, which is famous for its VandeReuben and VandeRaisin sandwiches. All sandwiches at the tavern are made on homemade bread.

Loretta and Denis Ceurvorst, both raised in Moline's Belgian neighborhood, didn't venture far from home when they opened their tavern at 560 17th Ave. 21 years ago.

``Denis and I always wanted to have a business of our own,'' Ms. Ceurvorst said. ``He was a union electrician, I was a nurse, and we had six young children at home. But we took the plunge.''

In 1977, Olde Towne's 7th Street had several thriving taverns, but few served food. ``There wasn't much going on downtown either,'' she said. ``I wanted to do something traditional, and Belgians are big bread-eaters. All the portions of food are large in Belgian homes, and I thought we should do something in big portions.''

Large loaves of bread still are home-delivered in Belgium, left on the wide window ledges by the deliveryman. ``It's the kind of bread my mother used to bake, and I thought we could serve ham sandwiches on homebaked traditional Belgian raisin bread,'' Ms. Ceurvorst said.

She started by baking about 18 oversized loaves of bread a day. Soon after, she added wheat bread. ``Then I got itchy and wanted to do more, so we started making homemade soups.''

Then came the VandeReuben. ``Reubens aren't Belgian, but we thought we could make it more traditional by blending ham, which Belgians eat a lot of, with the corned beef and swiss cheese,'' Ms. Ceurvorst said.

The Belgian Village's famous grilled sandwiches first were made on a charcoal grill with a piece of aluminum foil laid over one side. ``It worked for a short time, but it couldn't last. We had to expand the kitchen in the back.

``Then, in time, even that wasn't enough, so we opened the `factory,' just three blocks away, where the Belgian Village Drive Thru is located. We now bake about 150 loaves of raisin, wheat and rye a day. People don't realize that three-quarters of that building is kitchen.''

In 1996, the Ceurvorsts retired and sold their business to their daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Shawn Manning. They continue to work there part time.

Today, Belgian Village has a full menu, but the family still prides itself on making its own breads, salad dressings, soups and desserts. ``We have a baker who does our breads, and Karen and I alternate nights making the dressings, soups and desserts,'' Ms. Ceurvorst said.

The Belgian atmosphere of the restaurant still thrives, with Belgian cookie boards, authentic platters and historic photographs hanging on the walls.

``When we first opened, there were old Belgians lined up at the bar every day, and it was great for people visiting from Belgium to be able to speak in their own language and feel at home,'' she said. ``Now, most of those people are gone, but my dad still comes in to talk to any visitors from the old country.''

Many out-of-towners home for a visit come in for a carry-out, Mr. Manning said. ``We get requests for big boxes of sandwiches to take back to Texas or other parts of the country. Even when people move away, they want to take a little bit of their hometown back with them.

``It's nice to know we're a part of that tradition.''

-- By Lisa Mohr (February 2, 1998)

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