On the sandy banks of the Illinois River, in the tiny village of Naples (pop. 124), sits an establishment that folks near and far eagerly awaited. Evandy’s Boatel opened in November 2012, but the story doesn’t begin there.
Folks from the area fondly remember The Boatel, which sat on the same spot but closed after a disastrous fire in 1991. The Boatel derived its name because you could pull your boat up to the dock and get a bite to eat and a room for the night. It was well-known for its food, and patrons were devastated when it was destroyed. Almost 20 years later, they were filled with anticipation when word spread that the old vacant site had been purchased by local residents Eric Van Gundy and Charlie and Nancy Evans.
Van Gundy says he would be approached by residents, from as far away as Jacksonville, asking if he was going to resurrect The Boatel. “There was nothing here except covered up ruins and a bunch of brush,” he explains. “Everyone was just dying to have the restaurant back. I talked to Charlie and Nancy about it, and they told me to go for it.”
It was a long process to get the required permits to build. “We found out it was a one-shot deal,” says Van Gundy. “The permit was filed on Dec. 19 and was almost rejected because the law changed on Jan. 1. We didn’t know that had we waited a few short weeks, it would have been thrown away, and this would be nothing but a pile of dirt.
“It was made adamantly clear to us that we had one chance to build and no changes could be made later,” Van Gundy recalls. “They told us we had better get what we wanted the first time because we couldn’t enlarge it later. Luckily, we had gone large on the square footage on the application.”
Evandy’s Boatel is almost twice as big as the original and was designed with large windows to enable diners to have a view of the river from almost any table in the restaurant. As you enter the restaurant, you are drawn in by the view of the river and the magnificent double-sided stone fireplace that sits in the center of the dining room. It runs from the floor to the high, peaked ceiling, and all supporting columns around the room feature the same stone. Booths on the back side of the dining room are elevated slightly to help diners take advantage of the view.
The restaurant sits high above the river, which was one of the requirements for the new construction. The rebuild required the approval of many federal and state agencies just to construct it on the river side of the levee. The floor of the structure had to be above the 100-year flood plain which required it to be built on 27 steel pilings, 14 inches in diameter driven 50 feet into the ground. Even with that elevation, floods in the past couple of years got high enough to cover the patio and parking lots, but not enter the building.
Restaurant manager Jim West says when he first saw the restaurant he was blown away by the attention to detail. “I think it’s a premiere place in Illinois,” he remarks.
About 50 percent of their employees have been with Evandy’s since it opened its doors. Van Gundy says that he had two guys that were extremely talented in the kitchen and helped experiment with recipes and develop their own blend of seasonings, one which is used on the steaks. The blend on the fish is unique as well. “We didn’t want to copy anyone,” he explains. “You’ll find things that are familiar to you, but maybe with just a little bit different flavor or twist on it.”
Evandy’s menu has some of the old Boatel favorites including hush puppies and catfish fritters. The original hush puppy recipe was obtained from an earlier owner and is still one of the most popular items. The crunchy golden-brown coating gives way to a soft bready interior with a light onion flavor.
Additionally, catfish and buffalo remain their most popular items, which makes sense considering their vicinity to the river. “Fish on the river seems to be the big thing,” says Van Gundy. “Our catfish fritters are our best seller, but we are becoming well-known for our steaks as well.”
Van Gundy hand-cuts the 12-ounce ribeyes and New York strips, along with the 6- or 10-ounce filets, from 150 to 200 pounds of high quality beef each week, and each is seasoned and grilled to perfection. “We know if the person driving all the way out here doesn’t get a good steak, they’re not going to be in any hurry to come back, but they’ll be back if it’s good,” he remarks. “Some folks come from as far as Peoria, Springfield and St. Louis.”
Almost everything at Evandy’s is made from scratch from their well-known hush puppies and catfish or buffalo fritters to the clam chowder, crab cakes, frog legs and lobster mac and cheese.”
Lunch includes such items as a prime rib steak sandwich or catfish fritters for $8, burgers or horseshoes that range from $7-$11, and soups or salads. At dinner, steaks range from $19 for a ribeye to $27 for the 10-ounce filet, a golden-brown whole catfish for $16, two French-cut pork chops for $16, and with a variety of other seafood, pasta and chicken. The kid’s menu varies from $3-$5 and includes catfish tenders, chicken tenders and other kid-friendly foods.
From May to October, you can find entertainment on the patio that features bands from as far as St. Louis. Special weekends may include a memorial motorcycle ride or car cruise. “As long as the water stays off our patio, we are busy every Saturday and Sunday during the summertime,” Van Gundy points out.
Whether you are taking a lazy Sunday drive or cruising down the Illinois River, make a stop into Evandy’s, you’ll be glad you did.
CORRECTION: We inadvertently printed the wrong address for Gallagher’s last month. The correct street address is 114 W. Mill, Waterloo. We apologize for any confusion.