Ask, and ye shall receive.
Two weeks ago, I solicited articles for Best of Rockford and, lo and behold, here is one. I sent the writer of the article, Mary Mandzen, an inquiry concerning her bio, and she replied.
Well, I manage Skyrise Apartments, a senior citizen apartment complex. Kind of sorry I said we were NEAR senior citizens in my article because we feel so young! Rich and I both went to West High School and were high school sweethearts. Thus, weve been married forever, have three grown kids and five grandchildren. I cant really talk about myself without including Richhes retired from the Rockford Fire Department.
Were not typical meat and potato eaters. Love going to great restaurants that serve great food. Definitely prefer quality to quantity when it comes to food. Were very sociable and enjoy visiting with the owners, bartenders and other patrons.
I thought the article so much in the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish (although a little long for our formula, take note other contributors) that I decided to run it right away. Enjoy!
Food from a barstool perspective
By Mary Mandzen
Having been empty-nested several years ago and both still working full-time, my husband Rich and I have developed a repertoire of restaurants we enjoy. However, since we both love the social atmosphere of the bar area, generally our meals are enjoyed at the bar. Bars are more casual and chatty. Thus, we critique from a barstool perspective.
Being non-smokers and preferring the bar area, were eager for the 2008 smoking ban. Rich has a bad back and finds barstools more comfortable. Think it has anything to do with that vodka gimlet in his hand? Our favorite restaurants follow.
Angelos has a wonderful, homey, Italian atmosphere. Owners Cindy and Dennis are always hospitable and add to the comfort level. The bar includes a traditional bar plus bistro tables. We generally go to Angelos on Thursday nights because of Ang, the bartender. Shes outstanding; everyone loves her. When Ang is manning the bar, no one waits long or goes unattended. Our typical night at Angelos might include one of Angs special pear martinis (she even adds a pear garnish) and her recommended dish of half chicken and half sausage cacciatore. Its WONDERFUL and huge! Follow that with a complimentary homemade Italian cookie and buy an after-dinner drink of Limoncelloand youre in heaven. Limoncello is Danny DiVitos drink of choice. Remember his staggering appearance on The View after hed enjoyed a few too many? Angelos also has excellent pizza and features a Saturday night prime rib special. With a neighborhood clientele, Angelos bar has developed into a Cheers atmosphere, Where everybody knows your name.
Everyone in Rockford knows Michael Verace! His restaurant features classy but casual food selections and decor. Michael actually has two locations, but we prefer the South Alpine/Harrison Avenue restaurant. Rich and I tend to get hung up on the balsamic chicken and the blackened steak sandwich. Both are absolutely perfect. When surveying the menu, its hard for us to get past them. But dont forget about Michaels ever-famous linguine, dating back to his fathers restaurant at Five Points. Michaels also has a classic Chicago-style chopped salad with chicken thats very good.
In Roscoe, DiGiovannis is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. A really good appetizer selection is Italian Sausage with Peppers. We like to add onions and mushrooms. Start out with their delicious warm bread and olive oil, and youve got a meal. Our second favorite DiGiovannis menu item is Blackened Cajun Chicken Pasta. Its served with two boneless blackened chicken breasts over a bed of pasta. Its spicy, but every bite is wonderful (if you like spicy food)! DiGiovannis started out in downtown Rockford, evolved from father to son, and now includes a grandson. Quite an accomplishment in the restaurant business, I would assume.
Weve also been enjoying the new Five Forks restaurant, which offers a unique menu and features tapas. My understanding of tapas is food presented in smaller portions so you can enjoy a few different items. From our barstool vantage point, we can chat with the cook and watch the food preparation. Rich recently enjoyed a beautifully presented dish of mussels. He said they tasted as good as they looked. Ive enjoyed the hummus appetizer and the Five Forks Salad with chicken. Its fun to have something out of the ordinary in Rockford. The owner, Randy, is extremely personable and friendly.
Still in keeping with our bar and barstool preference, we enjoy Octanethey offer such a varied menu. I crave the Chicken Nachos. They also have, in our opinion, the best espresso martini in town! Its complete with the three health, wealth and happiness coffee beans. The atmosphere and clientele are very college town. I would call Octane eclectic. However, being near senior citizens (note, I said NEAR), we still feel very comfortable and welcome at Octane. We generally leave before 10 p.m. when the late-night crowd starts partying. Rich and I are both from Rockford, and love the downtown area.
Irish Rose Saloon
Last, but never least, is Irish Rose Saloon, which we love. It, too, has a downtown location and flair. Over the past few years, owner Mike Leifheit has developed an Adult Happy Meal menu that suits our barstool concept nicely. Friday nights, you can get an entire bottle of wine (red or white) served with bread and a plate of olive oil, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese for $10! Yes, $10! Its terrific. We usually follow it up with another appetizer or, if were really hungry, an entrée. Sunday nights, the Happy Meal is a half-pound cheeseburger with homemade fries for $3.95! Happy Meals require the purchase of one cocktailNOT a problem for us! If you prefer fine dining, you can skip the Happy Meal and opt for Irish Roses menu items. Everything is always market fresh and of excellent quality. Irish Rose has a chocolate mousse that truly is to die for. I wish I could get the recipe! Do I sound like a commercial? Add the friendly bartenders (and Mike) to the fine fare, and were just where we like to be…AND, of course, were on a barstool!
P.S.According to my husband, a requisite for a really good restaurant is one that has anchovy olives for his vodka gimlets. Blue cheese olives are acceptable, but it takes an anchovy olive to get his top rating! Youll find most of our favorites meet his olive expectations.
Where to go
Angelos Restaurant & Pizzeria, 2563 N. Mulford Road, Rockford, (815) 639-1200
Michaels Bar & Grill, 4578 Harrison, Rockford, (815) 229-6096
DiGiovannis Ristorante, 4866 Bluestem Road, Roscoe, (815) 623-2320
Five Forks Market, 6565 Lexus Drive, Rockford, (815) 229-5500
Octane, 124 N. Main St., Rockford, (815) 965-4012
Irish Rose Saloon, 519 E. State St., Rockford, (815) 964-0480
Mike Leifheits Best of Rockford reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. The column will appear the third week of every month in the Real Rockford section of Vibe Entertainment. Anyone with suggestions for this column should send them to Leifheit at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Rock River Times at email@example.com or (815) 964-9767.
from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue