Hanging Out in Rockford: Friday—part one

It is 6:30 a.m. Friday morning, the Friday morning after Christmas. I haul my 58 year-old body out of bed and do a moneybox for the first shift and write checks for the beer and wine deliveries. Then it is downstairs to collect the lists of inventory needed by both my chefs. I can’t find the list for the Rockton restaurant, so I have to open the safe. There it is with the money from the smaller of my two restaurants. I take the money from the safe back up to my apartment and lock it in the big safe that has been there since Anderson Brothers Sand and Gravel occupied that space when my mother worked there in about 1950.

I pull out the Mercury Villager, bought from Fran Kral, the dealer across the street, and head east toward the tollway and Chicago. I stop at the Brewmasters for my customary large coffee with two shots of espresso. Dick Rawls, who owns O’Leary’s, isn’t here today, so I can’t waste any time shooting the bull with him. Oh, well, I have a tight schedule today. Heidi says he is in Florida. Back in my van, I swallow three ibuprofen and take a couple of swallows of coffee. Reaching back, I find my seat belt and snap it and then head for the city.

The traffic is light today. The left lane is moving about 80 miles per hour. I get in line and run with the traffic. On the way, I check my lists and call my suppliers. I have been having trouble getting good tenderloin tails. The beef market is high since the mad cow scare in Canada. We import about 18 percent of our beef from there. In addition, all my suppliers tell me that the hotels and restaurants are not booking parties the way they have in past years, so the finer restaurant steak supply houses are not cutting filets. No filets, no tenderloin tails. I puzzle over what to do.

I decide to be proactive. Instead of going to my regular supplier, Lima Foods, which buys tenderloin tails from the three or four finest Chicago steak suppliers, Allen Brothers, James H. Calveti, Chicago Stockyards or American, I decide to go direct. I call information and get the number of Allen Brothers (in my opinion the finest steak producer in the city). The salesperson agrees to sell me 30 pounds at a price $3 higher than I have been paying. I am happy to get it.

I mentally sort through both orders, making a few changes as I go. My phone is set up to voice dial most of my suppliers, so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road. I am balancing coffee, reading the lists and ordering over the telephone. I like to think of it as multi-tasking. I am careful to leave a lot of space between me and the vehicle in front of me. In addition, I am planning a party and increasing the orders appropriately. I remember that I need to buy salt and pepper shakers, and place a call to Royal Industries.

Upon arriving at the Chicago International Produce Market, I suddenly discover that I have forgotten my folding handcart. Oh, well, I will figure it out, and I do when Tom at City Wide says it is all right to borrow theirs. I run around buying things like tomatoes, leaf lettuce (which is right through the roof) and dried tart cherries for my mom’s recipe for dried cherry cheesecake. Then it’s back in the van to go to Nea Agora. No lambchops today ( they only sell lamb at Nea Agora, USDA choice lamb, and the line is right out the door because of the holiday) just lamb kidneys. I have called ahead, and Eddy has my order waiting. I push my way through to the head of the line, and Eddy hands me my kidneys. The 100 or so people waiting give me surly looks.

Then I head for Quality, my dry goods supplier and at the last minute remember we are out of kitchen roll towels. They turn out to be 25 percent cheaper than our Rockford supplier, and I make a mental note to start ordering more of this kind of merchandise from Quality. My regular strip loin supplier CG&S is closed for the day, so I have ordered all my meat supplies from Economy Packing. They have the Amity five and down Canadian loins I requested (Amity itself is closed today, I am lucky to get these) but they don’t have the 10 and down, one-by-one strip loin I wanted. Ron, the salesman, has tried to slip me a larger one, but I make him take it back and take it off the bill. It is now too late to get one anywhere else, and I resolve not to give Ron any more of my red meat business.

More next week.

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: www.IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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