Hanging Out in Rockford: St. Patrick’s Day—part one

Before I start this article, I have to admit to a pretty terrible mistake. Last week’s edition of the Best of Rockford, “Where to go for barbecue: The Smoke House, Lord And Penix and Rib City Grill,” wasn’t written by Doug Halberstadt, it was written by Steve Vaughan. Vaughan has lived in Rockford for 12 years. Before coming to the Forest City, he lived in Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Texas, and Munich, Germany—all great places for good eating! When he isn’t working in his day job as a telecom sales consultant, he can often be found inside his newly-remodeled kitchen, or by the big barbecue smoker in his back yard, marinade and spatula in hand. I think he did a really nice job on the article. Doug Halberstadt, to whom I mistakenly attributed it, thinks so, too.

Now, on to this week’s article…

It’s St. Pat’s Day, another St. Pat’s Day in Rockford. I cannot help but think of the last St. Pat’s I spent on the East Coast and the first one I spent when I came back to Rockford 25 years ago. I remember that first one back in town was cold as hell. I remember that we went to CJ’s, and the place was packed.

But now is now, and today I have many things to do after I do the routine things I do every day, like settle the cash and put together a bank—the things my old friend Mike Reilly said must drive you nuts, especially after 25 years of doing them every day. But today is St. Pat’s, and I have things to do. First, I have to go to the County Board Chairman’s fund-raiser at the Lyran.

I contracted with Gene at Roma Bakery to make soda bread for the fund-raiser, so I take my new van, the new van I now affectionately refer to as the white whale, down to Marchesano to pick up the Irish soda bread for the event. I knew our kitchen wouldn’t have the time to make it on this St. Patrick’s Day. Troy is hip deep in 200 pounds of corned beef, not to mention the potatoes, cabbage and carrots, the steak and kidney pie and the Irish lamb stew. I don’t want to push him any further. I get lucky, and Gene’s son John has already delivered the bread. Good, I can walk to the event.

Back at the Rose, I set out south on Third/Kishwaukee, turning left at what used to be the Masonic temple but is now the Christian Missionary Center. I walk east past the old Charlotte’s Web, where we spent our youth in drunken revelry, down to Seventh Street. Turning south at Seventh, I notice the new fair trade store, the store that Stan built, the windows full of interesting pottery. I make a mental note to stop in on the way back.

As I walk farther on Seventh, I am struck suddenly by the renewal. These things kind of sneak up on you, even when you live down here. Across the street is Lindberg Appliance, where you can get almost anything fixed. They have been here forever, as has Rockford Mattress Company. But then there are all the new places. Las Trancas is a darn good Mexican restaurant, certainly better than any of those pretend places on the east side. Next to it is J.J. Fish, offering deep-fried fish and shrimp.

Then, I see the Nicholson Gift Shop building, and remember someone told me Kuma and Fred have bought it. I wonder what they are going to do with it? Guler Appliance has survived—and even prospered—in this day of big-box stores by offering appliances of quality to people who want the best. I walk by Lung Fung Chinese restaurant, and remember that the night Elisha and I went there, it was really good. I step in the door of Leonida’s Chocolate Shop and tell Vanessa how wonderfully I think the development of the street is going. Actually, I think I am talking to Daniella, whom I know, and only find out later that I talked to her sister. Their dad, Bob Shwabb, owned the Broadway Connection; now, he has moved to the Charles and Fairview area, where it is called Continental Antiques, and I still haven’t been there.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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