Hanging Out in Rockford: A market trip with friends

I am in my apartment on a Saturday night. Kelly, who bartends for me sometimes, and her friend CJ are sitting with me at my desk. We are drinking Chardonnay. We are drinking a lot of Chardonnay. We are drinking and talking. CJ wanders around my place to look at the art. She tells me that she knows which pieces are the best. “Which ones?” I challenge her. She reels them off from best down, and amazingly, she is pretty much correct.

She starts with the piece in the back room by Dawn Smolinski, the one of her old boyfriend, Jason. Then she includes the other two pieces by Dawn. Then she hops to the oil of John Berry’s family, and then finally, a self-portrait by my friend and former waitress Jesse. I pretty much agree.

Somehow we get on the subject of my going to the market. I really don’t know what brought it up, but we are talking, and then we are all deciding to go to the market together. I say a Thursday would be best and that we can do lunch in Chicago as part of the trip. They go downstairs committed to continuing their partying, and I close the hatch and pretty much forget all about what we have discussed.

Monday comes, pork chop night at the Rose, and I am sitting at my little bar surveying the little kingdom as I am wont to do. Suddenly, CJ walks up and asks if we are still going on Thursday. I really didn’t even recognize her until she did. She is having dinner with a man friend. I had forgotten until she said something, but I say, “Ya, sure,” and start looking forward to the day at the market with company. I love taking people to the market.

I spend most of the week working on the cooler from hell, the cooler that cannot be repaired, the cooler that defies all logic, the cooler that now has no used parts but the box itself and does still not work. The cooler that Troy suggests we should blow up. I am seriously thinking about this suggestion, but Wednesday night comes, and I get a phone call from Kelly; they are still planning to come along. Can they bring another person? they ask. “No,” I say, “There has to be room for product” (that is why we go).

The next morning, I get up a little early so I can be ready to leave when they get here. We have an uneventful drive to the city listening to NPR and talking. The girls have been up all night and they doze along the way. We start at the international produce market. The two ladies are especially fascinated by S&M, the market that specializes in unusual produce. Freddie, one of the partners, explains all sorts of unusual items.

When we get to Randolph Street, I take them to Grazziano, where they try the aged provolone cheese. We stop at Isaacson and Stein to get a cod with roe for my neighbor in Rockton. I learn how to distinguish a female cod from a male from the fishmonger (the female has the prized roe). CJ buys some fresh fish. Then we finish-up the market chores and decide to go to lunch before going to pick up the fish for the restaurant at Wabash Seafood. I whip into the parking lot across the street form Rodity’s and abandon my car as I usually do. George, the attendant, waves to me as I cross the street with the girls.

I ask if they want to sit at a table or at the bar. They reply the bar, and I am really glad because I always like to sit at the bar here. We are waited on by a woman with an accent who I assume to be Greek. Wrong, she turns out to be Lithuanian, and with attitude. My two friends think she should be a dominatrix. But after we talk to her for a while, she warms to us. We order together so we can share different things. I always like to order this way here.

We order a bottle of dry red wine. The Lithuanian dominatrix deigns to offer us a sample. Then we order skordalia (cold olive oil, lemon and garlic mashed potatoes), octopus salad, chicken stuffed with spinach and topped with egg lemon sauce and the mixed vegetable platter (okra, green beans, zucchini and eggplant). Afterward, we have Greek coffee, medium sweet, and top it off with Ouzo on the rocks.

I sit there swirling my milky Ouzo. I sit there contented and satisfied. I sit there with the wonderful company that understood and appreciated my art. I am pretty happy. The Lithuanian girl is even nice to us. Then we pick up the fish and drive back to Rockford. It is only 4 o’clock. The second shift is starting. I have work to do. The cooler from hell is still waiting. I leave the two girls sitting at the bar and go upstairs to enter checks into the checkbook. When I come back down, the two of them have left, and we didn’t get to say goodbye.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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