Hanging Out in Rockford: ‘Rose Confidential’

I first heard of Anthony Bourdain from my son, Drew. He sent me a Web connection for a voice article, which I was able to download and listen to. Then my downtown Irish Rose chef, Troy, let me borrow his copy of “Kitchen Confidential.” I read it in several sittings. Actually I couldn’t put it down. He understands the restaurant business. He talks the way we really talk. He tells the truth. Then I started to write like him. I do that. When I am reading a particular author, I tend to imitate his or her style. This Valentine’s Day reminded me of this. We were a page out of the book.

Saturday morning I arise at 7 o’clock and switch on my phone to check for messages. Stephanie, my new chef manager in Rockton, had left a message at 12:30 the night before. She is at Vicar’s, and they won’t let her in without her ID. She wants to know if I am awake. That ship had sailed. I went to bed early because I knew the next day was going to be a killer. I was supposed to hook up with Dawn, but even that possibility was not enough to keep me going. I call Dawn’s number and leave an apologetic message for not keeping our appointment.

There is always a lot to do on Saturday morning, and I get right to it. A little before 9 my phone rings. It is Stephanie calling from the Irish Rose North. “What are you doing in Rockton at 9 o’clock?” I ask. “I couldn’t sleep,” she replies. “I was having a dream about someone asking for White Zin, and they said we were out, but we weren’t, and then I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to come down here to prep.”

“You’ve been there all night?” “Yes, but I can go home and get some sleep now. I’ll be fresh for tonight. I just want to get this restaurant going.”

I finish the settlements and the payrolls, and then I go downstairs to get some coffee. Troy is there early also, to prep. We have more than 100 reservations for dinner and we are starting to say walk-ins only on the phone. After 9 o’clock, we say. People don’t want to hear that; they have waited too long to get a reservation, and they hang up abruptly. I leave to get some lunch. I drive down south to Café Greco.

Bernie is working in the kitchen. He comes to the door and tells me that his telephone line is not working. He has had someone come to look at it, and Bernie told him it was the phones but he doesn’t believe it. I offer to help and follow the lines to a connection box. Wiggling the wires, I manage to make it not work at all. Great, but at least we know it is not the phones. Bernie says it doesn’t matter because he can’t take any more reservations anyway. I go back around the other side of the bar and try to stay out of further trouble. I sit and eat my Atkin’s Cheeseburger (without the bun or chips with a side of cottage cheese). Miraculously, by the time I finish my burger, the phone resets and works perfectly. It starts to ring off the wall with people still trying to get reservations. I tell Bernie that I am going to tell everyone that I fixed it for him.

At 5 I am leaving to go to the restaurant in Rockton. Troy asks me whether the Chateau special is on the register. I am slightly cross with him because I don’t like last-minute surprises. But really I am wrong. I feel bad on the way to Rockton, and I call him and say, “let’s kick a–.” He laughs. Then Stephanie calls me. She is not getting cooperation from the staff on preparing the Chateau special. I ask for Jose, and when he answers I ask him to help Stephanie. By the time I get there, all that is needed is to clean the tenderloin and I go at it. Stephanie goes back to the dining room. We have our biggest night in a year.

Afterward, I stop at the Brick House. I take Adela and Fawn a piece of French silk torte with raspberry sauce. They are both on the Atkin’s Diet, and it takes some arm twisting to get them to taste it, but when they do, it is with approving smiles. On the way back to Rockford, I call Gerlinde on the phone. She was filled to capacity, too. It seems like everyone is having record business. It’s like that when Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. I drive to the Rose to get a bottle of wine. Troy talks to me through the van window. Everything went smoothly, he says, no complaints. We could have accepted more reservations, but we will know that next time. The kitchen is so much more efficient under Troy than it used to be. We have to learn our new limits.

Then I drive to Gerlinde’s. Gerlinde is so tired she can hardly move. I offer to clean the grill, and she gratefully accepts. Then Brian, Randy, Gerlinde and I sit and have one glass of wine. We tell our war stories of the evening. Back at the Rose, Dawn stops to see me. We sit and talk for a while; then I send her downstairs and close the hatch. Another day in the restaurant business. Looking out the window, the little flag atop the Faust is blowing south. Good weather is still a way off.

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 WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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