15 Dec DOWNTOWN DINING: HUCKLEBERRY’S
By Tracy Jacks
Eatery has filled downtown streets with alluring Italian aromas for 25 years.
Downtown Rock Island just wouldn’t be downtown without the alluring smell of Italian cuisine in the air, and you can trace it straight to the iconic pizza shop on 18th Street For 25 years now, Huckleberry’s has been keeping bellies full and mouths smiling as an essential Downtown eatery.
For owner Jon Keim, it’s a dream that started when he was young. “I grew up in the family kitchen, cooking with my mom,” he explains. “She was a great cook. I remember her letting me be on my own at a young age while she was caring for my younger siblings. I naturally enjoyed cooking and stretching recipes creatively to my palate.”
It wasn’t long before Jon realized he wanted to turn his love for food into a career. “I was always entrepreneurial with energy to spend,” he explains. “I knew I was going to provide for myself later in life, so I started working in restaurants when I was 16.” When Keim decided to open his own restaurant, he knew exactly where he wanted it to be.
“I was drawn to downtown organically,” Keim says. “I have fond memories of exploring the downtown shops and businesses when I was younger. There’s something special about the personalized service of locally owned businesses.”
“As an adult, travelling led me to bigger cities with vibrant downtowns. I saw older neighborhoods with a culture of commerce, service, and delicious food. It seemed very comfortable and natural for folks to be able to walk, use mass transit, or bike to areas that are explorable and discoverable with warm, inviting, ethnic food choices.”
“I just had a strong conviction of being tied to our downtown with the central location on the Mississippi River close to Iowa. We found our location and dug in.” Keim’s conviction to the downtown is more than simply “business owner.” He lives upstairs. “I had reached a moment in life where I needed to adjust,” Keim explains. “I needed more time, freedom, and energy to keep pursuing my dreams. So, living above Huckleberry’s gave me a lot of options and flexibility while carving out a new path. It was a great decision!”
“Living and working in the District led me to new perspectives and value of the neighborhood. There is vitality, connection, and unending potential in so many dimensions and directions.”
Keim’s multi-dimensional approach is echoed in Huckleberry’s menu, which features a wide variety of pizza, calzones, pasta, sandwiches, and salads.
“We try to be very organic and delicious,” Keim says. “Our menu is like following my journeys in life.”
That includes Huckleberry’s specialty, the Mississippi Calzone, where layers of pepperoni, salami, sausage, ground beef, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers get tucked into a pastry shell oozing with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Each calzone is served with a hearty side of Huckleberry’s spicy red gravy. It’s a flavor smorgasbord that’s become synonymous with life in downtown Rock Island. “We love to hear from our guests how they crave our delicious food,” says Keim with a smile.
“Some have come time and again for 25 years now to order the same thing. That says a lot for how and what we do to prepare, cook, and serve our great customers.”
Downtown Rock Island is a constantly evolving ecosystem. If Keim has his way, Huckleberry’s will always be a part of it. “Our downtown is walkable, bikeable, explorable, and enjoyable. We’ve got layers of history and eras of adventure at our riverfront. We’re linked by bridges, waterways, rails, streets, and bike paths. It’s like a fabric to many parts of our communities and neighbors. This fabric is the largest potential we have for growth. ”Heck, we just like the food.
The Original Huckleberry’s Great Pizza and Calzones is open Wed- Thurs., 11:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Fridays from 11:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 4:00-9:30 p.m. For more information, visit their website at huckleberryspizza.com.