Hanging Out in Rockford: Friday—part two

I am in Chicago on one of my weekly buying trips the day after Christmas. I have just finished filling my order at Economy Packing. Back in the van, I head for Maloney’s. John, the owner, has my tiny order waiting; it is just a case of olive oil. I ask if it is still the same price, and he replies no, that it is $2 higher. I say that I cannot complain when I compare it to how everything else I buy has increased. We commiserate about how every single item each of us handles has increased markedly over the last year. We talk about the Bush administration and its claim that there is no inflation. Every one in the office laughs at that.

I head back up Grand Avenue to where it joins with Milwaukee, the former location of Royal Industries. Royal burned down, and they now do business through my friend Buddy. He is related to the owners of Royal. He has set up shop with General Office Supply. They are right across the street from where Royal used to stand. The owner of the office supply, a good-looking blonde woman, comes out from behind her desk to chat. We talk about the economy. I tell her that a customer of mine said there were only two businesses on my side of the river that have Christmas lights—the Irish Rose and Ken’s Hideaway. She knows Rockford; she used to drive stock cars at Rockford Speedway, and she is surprised to know that Ken’s Hideaway is still in business. She agrees about the Bush economy.

On the way to Wabash Seafood, Troy, my River District chef, calls and says that he has a stomach flu and cannot come to work. I tell him to stay home and not worry about it. We have a deep staff at the Irish Rose downtown. I call Trisha Peters in Rockton and tell her not to expect me in Rockton tonight, that I am going to stay close to downtown in case it gets really busy. We are starting our new manager in Rockton tonight, and I really wanted to be there, but I can’t. Sometimes the restaurant business is like that. A lot of the time the restaurant business is like that.

I get back to Rockford, and I do all the settlements, ready the cash boxes and do all the other things that I need to do to set up for the second shift. Then I grab a bottle of Homewood Chardonnay and walk down to Gerlinde’s Water Street Café. Izzy, her man friend, is there, and we share the bottle of Chardonnay, chasing it with strong black coffee. Izzy and Gerlinde leave for a movie. I go back to the Rose and hide out upstairs waiting for the dinner crowd so that I can work the tables and help in the kitchen if necessary. But the dining scene is light, and my help is not needed.

I walk down to Little Italy for a glass of wine. I tell Debbie and Ritchie a couple of stories about myself and one of my old girlfriends (in the old days at the Rock River Café). I pretty much have them in stitches. Later when I return, Ximena informs me that a man was looking for me. There is a message on my phone. I return the call, and it turns out to be Scott Shipley, the brother of one of my very best friends in high school. He is in town because his father, Ralph, is in the hospital. It sounds like everything is going to be OK.

I walk over to the first booth to tell the customers sitting there about our new policy of staying open until midnight, six days a week. I have made it a personal mission to visit every table and talk about this until we get the word out. As I am talking to the table, I notice the little flag atop the Faust Landmark. It is pointing straight north. I say that this indicates that it will be warmer, since the predominant wind is coming from the south. The lady guest has seen the weather report and says that it is going to be unseasonably warm. She remarks that she has never thought about watching the wind direction for her weather information.

I don’t want to drink any more, so after I work all the tables, I head up the little stairway and close the hatch. It is about midnight. The bar is enormously busy, and the crowd noise keeps me from falling asleep before 2 a.m. But I am happy here in my little loft apartment, in Rockford, in the River District, in 2003, soon to be 2004 with the wind blowing up from Mexico.

A side note: Christmas Eve, unable to find anything open and wanting something to eat, I had a sudden impulse to check out Vinnie’s on Broadway. Vince is part of the Little Italy family. Iggy was his dad. It was one of the best pizzas I have ever had in Rockford. I find the best thing is to let Vince order it for you. He understands what makes a good pizza. I especially recommend the thin crust and get it extra well done.

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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