Hanging Out in Rockford: Curly’s and beyond—my dinner with DeCarlo

For those of you who enjoy my column, and the numbers seem considerable, and you just cannot get enough, I have an imitator. This imitator is my own son, who writes a daily report from Budapest. (My son will kill me for saying that he ever imitated me.) Of course, his column is more interesting because he lives In a more interesting place. If you would like to check it out, you can go online at http://continentaldrift.blogspot.com/. Sometimes I have had difficulty connecting with this site. If you experience that, try again on a different day. They seem to have some technical problems they are still working out. Meanwhile, back here in boring old Rockford, things are not so boring. The fall is finally upon us. The change in weather has been accepted, and the business in the bars and restaurants is picking up. Last weekend, it was nigh on impossible to get a reservation in any restaurant in the River District on Saturday night. That is good news for us in the business. Greg DeCarlo is sitting at my bar on the Saturday night in question. He is waxing poetic about the old days. He seems almost apologetic about not having seen me for some time. He lives in Machesney Park now. His local (pub) as my Irish relatives would say, is Curly’s. Somehow, we get on the subject of broken relationships. He makes the statement that when you get to a Sunday, and it no longer bothers you, you no longer feel alone, then you know you are over it. I personally have been waiting for that Sunday for more than a year now. I have the feeling it is coming soon. We talk about having dinner. He says we should do it after I go to see my son in Budapest. I push for sooner. We make a date for the following Wednesday. I am to pick him up at his house in Machesney Park right behind the mall. Wednesday night arrives, and I wend my way to Machesney Park. Wandering around behind the mall, I look for his street. All the streets have names like Pilot and Safe Landing. I suddenly realize that this is where Todd Shipley and I watched planes take off and land when I was a kid. Todd lived just across the highway. I used to ride my bike there after school. Todd had the coolest parents of anyone I knew. All the kids wanted to hang out at their house. Now he lives in Alaska, in Anchorage, I think. I find my way to Greg’s and open the unlocked front door to holler in. Greg is there with his lady, Karen. I ask whether she will accompany us, but she is taking the night to spend with her daughter. He gives me a tour of the house including the back yard, where there is a huge above-ground pool, and the basement where he has his own recording and performance space. Expensive guitars line the walls. I squat on the floor and encourage him to entertain me. Greg was part of the hard rock group Ript. They were very successful about the same time I owned the Old Rock River Cafe’. Greg is pretty much into jazz now. He plays a bit for me, and then we travel to Curly’s. I follow him out the back way to the connecting service drive. When we arrive at Curly’s, it is very homey. No wonder people like this place; it is so comfortable. It is so busy, however (on a Wednesday night), that we cannot sit in the dining room. We decide to sit at the bar, and I am delighted. I love to sit at the bar for dinner. Greg does, too; I know because he always sits at the bar when he has dinner at my place. We order the crab cakes and blackened shrimp for appetizers and then ribs and the New York special. The bartender, Aaron, offers us grated bleu cheese and fresh basil on our salads. Along the way, we have several glasses of Shiraz. I didn’t collect the name. Greg fills me in on all the old band members, some are very successful, some not. We talk about old times and old girlfriends. Then disaster strikes. My cook Jose calls from Rockton. The walk-in-cooler is making noises. “Brrrrt, brrrt,” Jose imitates. Then he takes the phone out by the compressor so I can hear for myself. Brrrt, brrrt. I wind up pretty quickly and drive up to Rockton. It is not as bad as I anticipated; the cooler is simply short-cycling, an indication of a refrigerant leak. Fortunately, it is quite cold out, and the cooler sits outside; everything will be OK until the following morning when I can get to it. Unfortunately, my trip to the market will have to he postponed for a day. When l get back to the Irish Rose, it is also packed. lt must have been a good night in the restaurant business. My friend, Elisha, is there. We hang out and have too many drinks. We talk about going to the Red Ball together; she has consented to be my date. The next morning is living hell, but I force myself to get up at 6:30 and throw the tools in my van. I stop at Pravda and have coffee. I see Elisha; she works at the Broadmoor Agency in the Rockford Trust Building. She is fine. It is a lot easier to recover when you are only 26. I drive very slowly, painfully, to Rockton to repair my cooler. 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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