It was one of those breezy blue-sky days that make you wish fall would last forever.

Friends were visiting from California, and we spent the day walking around Bishop Hill, working up an appetite for the Swedish meatballs.

But the appetites outlasted the meatballs, so we decided by the time we left Henry County that we'd head to the Captain's Table. The restaurant on the Moline riverfront has long been one of my favorites and a go-to place for visiting friends. Its large windows along wood-bench booths invited the Mississippi River into the dining room.

Or, on days like the one after Bishop Hill, the outdoor patio gave us a perfect setting for cocktails and chops and salmon. We watched boaters come and go from the neighboring marina, and the California contingent remarked more than once how lucky we are to have such a place.

I sent the news west via email on Tuesday that the Captain's Table is no more and has been claimed by fire.

"OH N-O!!!! This is truly terrible news," came one reply.

In my cellphone, I found a picture of the four of us friends, which a stranger offered to take as we were leaving the restaurant that evening.

We are standing close, as people do, leaning into the photo. The river behind us has the pink halo of a sunset. I have a jacket over my shoulders, and I'm holding a Styrofoam container of leftovers. I checked the date: Oct. 19.

On Wednesday, I stood in the same spot, looking toward the restaurant. The familiar entrance with the drop-off turn-around was gone, and in its place was the frozen palace scene from "Dr. Zhivago."

"We were really pleased with the fact we had no injuries, no frostbite," Fire Chief Jeff Snyder said of the firefighters vs. Captain's Table battle that broke out late Monday. "We haven't put anybody in there, yet. With all the ice, I would bet no one will be in there until things thaw out."

Snyder and I talked about the last time we dined there. For him, it was before Christmas. He had lunch with friends.

"It'll be tough to replace it," he said, likening the Captain's Table fire to the closing of the Plantation Restaurant, where he once worked.

Many of us know the feeling.

But we should try to remember that it could be worse. No one was hurt or killed, and a new restaurant surely will be built in the same spot. It is one of our best riverfront locales, has plenty of parking and has the bike path and marina right there.

Also, though: Our memories didn't burn in that fire.

I remember when a dear man, Jeff Ryser, went to work as a new chef at the Captain's Table, easily a decade ago. A few of us got together and helped Jeff come up with the right menu descriptions for the dishes he was planning. It's an odd memory, but I value it, because Jeff is gone now, too.

We get to keep our memories of dates and anniversaries and impromptu meals and drinks after a day of boating.

And I have that picture from October of four friends, relishing in the good fortune of having such a place right here.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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