Hanging Out In Rockford: Really real Rockford

On a Monday night I am at the Irish Rose with Matt Provenzano, Larry Morrissey and Jim Thacker. We are talking about campaign commercials for Larry. I am in a bragging mood, so I declare that I can make a better commercial for Larry than the agency. I state that that was my major in college and that my commercials at Cablevision have always been applauded by the staff there. I offer to show Matt examples of my previous work. I say that I feel like I am auditioning.

Larry, always in charge, does not cut the agency loose, but then I never expected him to. But he says that he would like to do some shooting on Sunday about the real Rockford. Curiously, I have seen that phrase before. I remember when Molly’s dad Tom used it for some articles he wrote about our town. I must say I agreed with him whole-heartedly. Much of our town goes unappreciated, and most of that is the real part.

We make plans to go on Sunday. Eileen, Larry’s sister, calls and says that she is going along. I am secretly relieved. At least there will be someone to bounce ideas off. I call my friend CJ, she has agreed to video Larry’s campaign. We both want to work on a video project. This could be the perfect thing. We all agree to meet at 1 o’clock on Sunday at the Irish Rose.

Sunday comes, and I do the usual things. I do the money, but it takes about four or five hours because all my staff seems to have been on drugs. The settlement that could have taken 45 minutes extends into five hours before I finally solve it. As a result, I have not eaten. Around 12, all three of my cohorts call; nobody has eaten a thing. I take a shower and then go downstairs. I turn on the Sirius Jazz station and open a bottle of Rex Goliath Merlot. I find some cheese that Jim Thacker sent in a Christmas basket and get some whole wheat toasts from the pan in the waitress room. I am all-cool waiting for my guests.

Eileen arrives first, I talk her into having a glass, of wine. Then CJ shows up. She has a glass too. Larry comes, but he wants coffee. I brew a fresh pot. We sit and talk about what it is we are to do. Basically, we are going to wing it. We are in effect going to go looking for ideas. We are going to look for inspiration. Our intent will guide us.

We start at Tortacos Soto. We talk to Pepe and Rosa’s daughter. She is the translator. We give her the full low-down. It’s OK, she is used to this. She writes down all the information. We order some Huaraches, it’s kind of like Mexican Pizza (at least that is the way Rosa explains it). We also order some rice-water to drink. Larry orders a special Tostada. He’s hungry. They bring the entrees with five different bowls of condiments. Chile Arbol, Chile Verde, jalapenos, and a couple more. I wax rhapsodic on the quality of the red and green sauces, but nobody notices. However, everybody is really serious about consuming them, along with the food.

We shoot our visit. Rosa comes out of the kitchen and talks to Larry. Then it is time to go, and we get in our vehicles to go to Lanxang restaurant on Seventh Street. It is in the old Stop and Go shopping center south of Tenth Avenue. My friend, Doungsey Vooravong, started it a number of years ago. It is the oldest successful Laotian restaurant in the city. Most of Rockford has never been there.

Our reception there is wonderful. This is a family enterprise with the children working as servers. Eileen finds a connection between one of the daughters and her adopted daughter at school. We order a couple of items off the menu, Pho and Pad Thai. We also order some Lao coffees and a Lao tea (for Larry). We sit and share the camaraderie and the food.

For the second time today, the food is really good. Larry tells a story about a restaurant he went to in Madison. The restaurant was really beautiful, but the food didn’t match up to what we had today. I say that you have a better chance of getting real ethnic food in Rockford than you do in Madison because the food in Madison is all dumbed down for the college population. (They don’t tell you that in the Money magazine survey.)

After we leave Lanxang, we go to the Guadalajara on South Main Street. Minnie sits with us, and we agree to a Saturday night when Larry will come to the restaurant and bar to meet voters. Later, Eileen and I sit at the Irish Rose and talk about what a successful day it has been. We enlisted a couple of ethnic restaurants for Larry’s Around The World event on Feb. 2 at Giovanni’s, we had a great meal, and we got to see some of real Rockford.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

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