Hanging Out In Rockford: Curly’s and beyond the Red Ball

The big weekend has arrived, the weekend everyone has been waiting for, the Artscene, Red Ball weekend. Business will be good in the River District. The Symphony Orchestra has a pops concert featuring nationally celebrated local resident Randy Sabien. The restaurants and bars in the River District are booked solid for the second weekend in a row. The servers and bartenders all anticipate making wonderful tips. Thursday night I spend at home recovering from my Wednesday night adventures with Elisha. I start my Friday by going to the market in Chicago. A downed cooler has prevented my regular Thursday trip. Strong business has wiped out the fish stock at the downtown Rose. Supplies are needed to serve the throngs of artscene and symphony addicts. Troy, our new kitchen manager and chef, spends long hours prepping for the onslaught. On the way back from Chicago, I get a phone call from my ex-wife and partner, Robin. An old friend of ours, John Berry, has returned to Rockford to take part in the Artscene, and he needs a place to hang a few pieces of his work. I call my friend Sandi Kohn at Medicine Man to see if she can help out. When I get back to the Irish Rose, Sandi is there with John, and she has cleared a space in the atrium for him to show his work. Not having learned my lesson from Wednesday night, I hang out with my friend Elisha again. I can’t help it, we always have such a good time together. I call and ask her if she wants to go to the Artscene with me. We start at Medicine Man Studios, where we see works by Dawn Smolinski’s sister Susan as well as the works by my friend John. Then we walk to 317 Market St. and head right upstairs to Deb’s Studio, where we hang out to talk to Deb and Joe. On the way back, we stop at Bennie’s Cleaners, where they have two rooms devoted to art and I run into Wanie Reeverts. I haven’t seen Wanie since the old Gallery Ten days. From Bennie’s Cleaners, we walk to the Carlyle Brewing Company. We run into Chris from Kryptonite sitting at the bar and entertaining friends. I have a couple of glasses of wine, and Elisha has one of the cream stouts and then one of the wheat beers. Then we walk back and turn into Little Italy for a drink. Then it is back to the Irish Rose, where all sorts of Art Scene people are hanging out. Troy tries out two of his new dishes on us. Seared duck breast with garlic potatoes laced with truffle oil and shrimp skewered with fresh lemon and basil grilled over the wood fire. We plan to start featuring these dishes next week, along with fresh potato gnocchi with porcine mushrooms. The following morning, I wake at 6:30. I have to go to pick up my tux for the Red Ball. Elisha is supposed to go with me, but I don’t want to call her before she wakes, so instead of going right away, I use the time to do the settlements for both restaurants. About noon we speak, and she tells me that she is going with her roommate Sarah to try on a dress. I go to the rental place and try on the shirt for my tux in the fitting room. The collar is too tight, and after I fasten it, I cannot unfasten it, so I have to walk out on the floor and yell at the poor attendant to get help. I try on the jacket and the vest, and they seem allright. I neglect to try on my shoes. The shoes they had me try the day I was fitted were perfect and I don’t think about these being different. Shoes are always different. When it is time to go to the ball, I start to put on my tuxedo. Everything goes allright until I get to the shoes. The left shoe is so tight I know I will be miserable. I try to call the rental place, but they close at 5. I will just have to tough it out. When I pick up Elisha, I tell her that it is her fault because if she had gone with me, she would have made me try on everything. “They tell you try on everything,” she says to me, “What do you suppose that means?” We get to the Red Ball at the Rockford Country Club and hang out with Randy Green from Lorden Distributing. He seems delighted when Elisha orders a Miller Lite and knows that it is less carbs than a Bud Lite. I hobble around in my too-tight shoe and try to be pleasant. Then we sit with Sandi and Jenn from Medicine Man and have halibut and filet. The Moonlight Jazz orchestra plays in the background. Elisha and I leave the party early. We want to stop at Raw Art Studio. Russ is having a show. We get there after everyone has gone home. Two beautiful Harleys sit in the middle of the gallery. Then it is over to Elisha’s so she can get out of the gown and then back to the Rose so I can do the same. The offending shoe lies on the floor of my little apartment, I am back in jeans. We sit with Sarah and Ryan, and another friend of theirs, Justin, and drink cabernet and eat chocolate. Sunday morning I fire up the Yamaha to go to the North End for coffee. The sun is just right. The Yamaha purrs. What a wonderful fall weekend in Rockford. I have almost forgotten to be lonely. Almost. 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 the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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