Hanging out in Rockford: My little corner of the world

Friday night I am not planning on going to my little restaurant in Rockton. Jenny has said it is going to be the first night of football at Hononegah High, and we can probably expect a slow night. I am sitting at Cafe Greco putting dollar bills in the video game machine (We jokingly refer to it as Bernie’s retirement fund), and telling Bernie and Karen that I am going to take the night off. I have another glass of Chianti and play the video game some more.

But then when I get back to the Irish Rose where my friend Izzy is working lunch with Raymon, she reminds me that there is a new gallery opening in Rockton tonight right across the street from the restaurant. We have a lot of reservations, she says, and so I go up to my loft to catch a little catnap and get ready for the evening.

When I arrive in Rockton, people are literally spilling out the front door of Eau Gallie (Oh Golly), 101 W. Main St. The gallery was recently opened by John Hurley, the former Harlem School District superintendent. I wander across the street and push my way in through the crowd, find John and introduce myself. He seems pleased that I have stopped. I look forward to more happening in the neighborhood because this new gallery is here.

I decide to walk around the neighborhood and stick my head in the door of the new bookstore, Books on Main. It’s nice having a bookstore in the neighborhood, no long drive to Barnes and Noble. Besides, it is nice to spend your money with hometown people. The owner, Gwen, isn’t there, but I tell the woman and man who are working about the crowd at the Gallery, and they are excited and run out to look.

I continue west on Main Street. I want to check out the new store. The name of it is Sonrisa. there is a line under the O, I don’t know what that means. It is a “fair trade” store. What that means, according to their brochure, is that they buy products directly from producers in developing nations and developing parts of our own country. I meet the owner, Julie McKee, and guess what? She knows my world traveler son. She also owns a translation business, Pacolet International, and has negotiated with my fluent-in-Hungarian offspring. She says that she could see that he was too used to working for himself and would never settle down. She seems genuinely surprised when I tell her that he is working for KPMG in Budapest.

When I get back to the little Rose, I see Jimmy Julin and Dave Taylor at the gallery across the street and I wave to them and then go in. Jeannie Coe shows up and sits with her friend for a beer, then come two of the Rittenhouse girls (Cherry and Kristen) with their mom (who has art in the show). It’s almost like a River District art opening.

The following day, my friend, Tom Ogie-Kristianson, calls me on the telephone. “Do you know where I can get a small proof box?” he says. I happen to have one, and I tell him he can have it for the asking. “I’ll be there about 4:30,” he says, “and then I’ll follow you up to see your new restaurant and have dinner.” When he gets to the Rose, I am still in the shower. Tom sits at the bar and has a couple of beers. I have a glass of wine, and then we journey up to Rockton.

Tom used to own the Farmer’s Home Hotel in Galena. It was a 12-room bed and breakfast, and what a breakfast it was. They raised their own pigs, baked their own bread and canned their own preserves. They received Best Breakfast in the Midwest from Midwest magazine. (They got their bloody Mary recipe from us. I never let Tom forget that.) He was recently featured in both the Sun Times and the Tribune for his millet bread. You can buy it at the Treasure Island stores in Chicago.

When we get to Rockton, there is a run going on, and the street is blocked. I wave to Tom to take the only parking space and then drive around behind my store to park. I ask him to take a walk to see my neighborhood. We walk and I show him all of the afore-mentioned stores as well as the Daily Grind, the new coffeehouse that serves pastries and lunch. Tom keeps saying over and over, “what a nice town.” I sit with Tom while he has dinner at the bar (oysters Rockefeller, Caesar salad and filet mignon sauvignon). I am not hungry and do not eat. Then he leaves to go back to Chicago. I walk outside to show him how to get to the interstate.

When I walk back into the restaurant, my friend Megan has called. She is coming to dinner. I sit with her and cook especially for her (whitefish with a lemon basil sauce), but again, I do not eat. She leaves to go to Bacchus. She featured them in her restaurant show the previous morning, and she wants to put in an appearance. I head back to the Rose. I am finally hungry, and I wind up at my favorite late-night place to eat, the Taco Loco. My phone rings. It is Megan; she stopped to see me, but I am in the land of tongue and rice and beans.

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.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!