My brother in law Wayne used to sing the praises of a place called the Boatel that was located in Naples, Illinois along the Illinois River. I never got a chance to venture that way and enjoy the fabled catfish before this cultural icon suffered a blazing fire that it could not recover from. This past weekend though I was able to travel with my husband, daughter and grand children and sample the wonders of the new Evandy Boatel. We loved it, pure and simple.
The view is magical and the food was wonderful. The scenery in the area is quite picturesque although the port of Naples is now a sleepy town rather than the bustling stop between the Lawrence Sea Way and the Gulf of Mexico it was once built to serve. The first Naples Boatel that Wayne so loved according to the website, began, “…in 1958 when Paul Vannier and his wife Dorothy envisioned a welcome port for all boaters traveling between the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Gulf of Mexico. The Boatel was built by Mr. Vannier, a self taught carpenter, from wood salvaged from the old, abandoned Continental Grain Elevator on the same site that the old grain elevator once stood. During construction, Vannier and his family reportedly lived in four rooms above the restaurant while he worked to complete the restaurant, bar, and dining room.”
Finished in 1959, the first boatel was just that, a boat with “six sleeping rooms, a kitchen, dining room, a small bar and a large wraparound screened-in porch. The business boasted as a one stop shop on the Illinois River was just that. It was a motel, restaurant and gas station. Naples which was once the loading and unloading point for steamboat freight from New Orleans and St. Louis to Central Illinois now had a new “port” where automobile and boat travelers along the Illinois River, could enjoy a great catfish dinner, a cool drink, and hospitality with great views of passing barges and other river traffic.”
The boatel had a variety of owners until the horrific fire in 1991 that destroyed the restaurant. It was a group of locals that wanted to bring back the memories of sunsets on the River and Sunday dinners that the whole family could enjoy.
It was local farmer Eric Van Gundy in the spring of 2007 that brought the idea to friends Charlie and Nancy Evans. The three agreed and today the boatel is new again with an upscale look that says fine dining upstairs and a casual eat outside venue underneath the restaurant that offers panoramic views of the water.
Famous for the catfish, the new Evandy Boatel is still famous for its catfish and other great food as well. I enjoyed the crab cake while my daughter had to go with the fried chicken special. There were kid’s meals for the grandkids and the lunch was a success all around!
For details log onto the website at http://www.evandysboatel.com/index.html.