Hanging out in Rockford: The Sunday before Valentines Day
By Mike Leifheit, Columnist
The Sunday before Valentines Day, I am sitting at my desk working when I get a call on my cell phone. Glancing at the caller ID, I am surprised to see the word Minglewood (on a Sunday). I am always glad to hear from Karen Elyea, and she has an idea. She wants to go to DeKalb to see a place called The House. She says that James is going and that she is also going to call Izzy. (She is moving and enlarging Minglewood, and a friend of hers has suggested that she look at the layout of this restaurant for ideas.) I tell her that I have some work to finish but to call me when they are ready to leave. She asks if I can drive if I do go, and I say yes.
I get my work done just on time. They all arrive at the Irish Rose. Jessica Gross (Jessi from my article last week) is with them; so is Madeline, Karens daughter. We all relax and have a couple of drinks (this is a fun trip as well as a working trip) and then pile in the Villager. Taking the wonderful new Charles Street to the southeast side, we cut through Cherry Valley to Annie Glidden Road. When we get to DeKalb, I turn too soon, and we drive through the campus of Northern Illinois University, right past the law school. It brings back memories of my short stay there. I have always wanted to be a lawyer. I have never gotten over it.
By the time we get to Lincoln Highway, we are all ravenous. Karen says that one of the reasons she wanted to come to DeKalb was to eat at Teddys, and it is OK if we go to have dinner first. The House is just a few doors away on Lincoln Highway. We walk in the door of Its Greek To Me, and we see Teds son Gus. He doesnt wait on us personally, but he assists. They are very busy; they have just seated a large number of tables. Ted is working in the kitchen.
The last time Karen and I were in DeKalb together, it was to see the North Mississippi All Stars at Ottos. That was before last years Block Five. The last time we were there, we were with her husband. Now we are there again, and now she is with James. Funny how things change, and things stay the same. We will always be friends.
We order food and wine. Gus selects a dry red for us. I order the cold plate, Greek olives, Feta cheese, Tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt sauce), Tarmosalata (mashed potatoes with fish roe and olive oil), and Skordalia (mashed potatoes with garlic and olive oil). We consume all of this with hard-crusted Greek bread. Izzy and I split Dolmades and a combination plate that includes all the standard Greek delicacies. James has lamb chops. Madeline has chicken strips and french fries. I dont notice what Karen or Jessi order; I am too busy eating.
After dinner, Ted sits with us for a while. After dinner, Teddy holds court. After dinner we walk over to The House. The foyer has a beautiful inlaid tile floor. I remember the artist was working on it the night we went to Ottos. I stopped and chatted with him. The House is having a wine dinner; it is $65 per person. They have a pretty good crowd for it in the back room. I would say there are 50 or more people. Izzy spots an old friend who happens to be working here. After dinner, we check out the place.
Then it is back on the road, with the tiredness of a full dinner settling in on us. In the car, Karen and James bring up the subject of going with me to the market. I say it would have to be on a Tuesday because that is the lighter load for the restaurant in Rockton. There would be room for everyone to sit in the Villager and still have enough room for the supplies. Then I dont think any more about it.
Tuesday morning I am walking out to my van to start it. James, Karen and Madeline are sitting in their car waiting for me. At first, I dont realize what they are doing, but then it suddenly becomes clear; they are here to go to the market. This is an unusual Tuesday because of the Valentines Day week, and the load will be much larger than usual, but I dont want to disappoint them, so I say nothing. Madeline winds up riding in the back with the merchandise. I accuse her of being a talking lamb chop.
After we do the market, we stop for hot dogs at an authentic Chicago-style hot dog shop with real french fries, potatoes that taste like potatoes. The guy behind the counter knows we are from out of town because of the way I order the hot dog Chicago style. Before we leave, he tells me next time to order it with everything.
Back at the Rose, I look out the window at the flag atop the Faust. It is blowing straight north again, but this time it brings snow. Everyone else sits and has coffee. I have work to finish and I go upstairs. When I come down again, they all have gone home.
Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheits 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.