Guadalajara de Noche–bring your friends and enjoy!

Guadalajara de Noche–bring your friends and enjoy!

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

Restaurant Critic

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Norte (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit, reviews locally-owned restaurants who make it “from scratch.”

I came up with the idea that I should ask Izzy from The Artery to go to breakfast at The Guadalajara, and that way I could write about The Artery and the Guadalajara all in one article. I walked across the street to The Artery and proposed the idea to Izzy, and she asked if it would be all right if Marek Kosiba, her latest addition to the Gallery, came along. So our tentative plans were set to go on Sunday. Later in the week, I received a call from my ex-wife’s cousin Dawn Bachman, wondering what I was doing on Sunday, and I invited her along. This had all the earmarks of a wonderful time, and we were all looking forward to it, but it turned out better than any of us expected.

I used to go to the Guadalajara 20 years or so ago when Toby and Leo owned it. In those days, you could sit in the kitchen and eat. I used to take women there on a first date. I called it a test date. We would sit in the kitchen and eat and then go over to the Beacon tavern for a couple of rounds of pool. If they answered my next phone call, they were worth consideration. When Toby and Leo left town to go back to Mexico, they had a big shindig at the restaurant. Leo told me tearfully (after many tequilas) that I was the only gringo they ever let eat in the kitchen.

Sunday morning arrives, and I look out the window to check with my trusty little flag friend atop the Faust. He is still doing his job. The warm weather is still flowing up from the south. The local weathermen will have to continue to be frustrated for a few more days. If they don’t have bad weather to talk about, they don’t have anything to talk about. Oh, well, it’s going to be nice again, end of forecast. I would hate to earn my living emphasizing the negative.

I rush downstairs and pop open a bottle of Underaga Chardonnay and search the oyster and shrimp cooler, managing to come up with a dozen or more nice, large shrimp. About this time, Izzy and Marek show up, and we start drinking the Chardonnay, always a great way to start a Sunday. Cousin Dawn arrives, and we all do introductions and drink more wine. I open another bottle. This time it is Dave Homewood but still Chardonnay, and I tell a story about going to California and visiting David’s vineyard and eating burritos at a Mexican place he took us to. He brought chile with pork, but the Pinot Noir did go well with the Mexican food.

Izzy takes Dawn over to The Artery to show her Marek’s show. He is doing wonderful paintings with iridescent colors that look different under black light. They constructed a black light room at The Artery especially to show them to their best advantage. While the gals are over at the art gallery, Marek and I just hang and talk. Lucinda Williams’ “Essence” plays on the Irish Rose stereo. Then they are back, and it is off to the Guadalajara.

We get to the restaurant, and Susie, Minnie’s daughter, is there. She gets beers for Marek and me, and margaritas for the ladies, and starts to take our order. We are all talking and laughing and ordering. I suggest that she just order for us, and everybody agrees immediately. I love people who know how to eat and have fun. Susie is cool with it also, and I love that most. It is so much fun to go out with people who know how, and it is even more fun when the restaurant knows how to take care of you.

Susie brings a shrimp ceviche. It is more like a cocktail de cameron, in my opinion. The sauce is a tomato base. Along with it, she brings some whole fried tortillas to put it on. Although it is different than any other ceviche I have ever had, it is quite delicious, and we make fairly short work of it. Next, she brings a delightful guacamole, and everybody oohs and ahs.

Then the real food starts to come. There is a great dish she calls El Mariachi Fortachon. The description on the menu includes shrimp, ham, bacon, steak, onions and green pepper, simmered together and topped with cheese. Then she brings a skirt steak with a cheese enchilada that is cut into four pieces and lasts about as many seconds. And finally, enchiladas with chicken filling and mole sauce. The mole has the nice semi-bitter flavor of a homemade mole, not the sweet taste of a commercial one. Of course, we can’t get through all of this without several more rounds of drinks, and as the afternoon escalates, we think we are funnier and funnier, and so it goes.

Someone, I don’t remember who, suggests (for some unknown reason) at this point that we inflict ourselves on Jon Agustsson. This sounds like a most wonderful idea, so we all pile into the Villager for the trip to the other side of the tracks at Haight Village. We pile out of the car in front of Jon’s old mansion and ring the

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doorbell. Jon is glad to have the company, and we do tours of the grounds and then the house. I am sitting in the drawing room by myself while everyone is touring the upstairs. I hear peals of laughter from upstairs, but I am content to just sit and wait for everyone to come back. I am sitting in a beautiful drawing room that could be part of a royal estate in England, only the walls aren’t painted.

Upstairs, Cousin Dawn tells Jon that he ought to clean his house. Later, she asks me if I think that he didn’t like her for saying that. I assure her that Jon has a tough hide. Jon’s house is a work in progress. I love the beautiful antiques and the potential. The attic especially. Jon keeps asking me if I have seen the attic. I keep assuring him that I have.

Then we all decide to go back to the Irish Rose. It has been some time since we have had wine, and our batteries need recharging. We sit at the bar, and I bartend as I only do for social gatherings or funerals. I put out two plates of chocolate mousse and a half dozen spoons, brew some strong coffee and pour some more Chardonnay. We all sit talking and joking and eating chocolate mousse, drinking coffee and wine and talking and laughing some more. Dawn tells some stories. Dawn can tell a good story. Then she gives Jon a backrub; she is a massage therapist, and Jon is in heaven. He sits up straight for the first time of the evening.

Marek looks me in the eye and shakes my hand. “I am so glad I have gotten to know you better,” he says. A tear forms itself in the corner of my eye. I feel it, too. What a terrific way to spend a Sunday with friends like this. I feel sorry for people who think you can’t have fun in Rockford.

Izzy and Marek leave. So does Cousin Dawn, leaving Jon and me alone. I ask him if he wants to go somewhere for a drink, and he agrees immediately. We aren’t ready to stop having fun. As we get into my van, I look up at the top of the Faust. The little flag is still pointing north.

The Guadalajara is located at 1116 S. Main St. Hours and days of operation: Closed Mondays; Open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Telephone: 968-5549.

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