Hanging Out in Rockford: Wine and downtown

Friday evening I am getting my head straight for the dinner rush. Fresh from a shower, I rattle down the stairs and walk around barking at the help. It’s Ok, they are used to this. Nobody takes me too seriously. They run around looking busy to placate me. Then my phone rings. It is Megan Gallagher. She is conducting the Rock Valley wine appreciation class at the Irish Rose tonight. She is a little panicky about her level of preparation for the class. Her new job selling print is going so well that it leaves little time for anything else.

I suggest that she call Tony Artalli to see if he will help. Tony is the single most knowledgeable person when it comes to wine, in the city of Rockford. I tell her to use my name and say that I would consider it a special favor to me. I hang up and call Judge & Dolph. I ask for Tony, but he isn’t there. I tell the woman who answers the phone about the situation. She promises to get in touch with Tony and let him know about our predicament.

In the meantime, Megan says that there will be only four students for this first class. I am relieved as it is Friday night, and I think we will be very busy. The 18 or so students we had prepared for would be a drag on the operation of the entire restaurant. I have Troy cut back the amount of appetizers and breathe a sigh of relief. I go upstairs to meditate. At 6, Troy comes up to say that more than 20 students have shown up for the class. It seems that there was some kind of mix-up at the college regarding the number that had signed up. The good news is that Tony is here with Megan.

Fortunately, the restaurant is slow as molasses. God seems to know these things and take a hand in them. I sit in on the wine class and learn a lot. Troy breaks his neck in the kitchen and whips out some focaccias. Enough to add to the 18 tutuma squashes stuffed with shrimp mousse. and the platter of prociutto, salami, and olives we had planned to get us through the event. We sample four wonderful French wines, but more importantly Tony and Megan give us a word tour of the different regions and grapes that make up French wine. I personally learn a lot.

Afterward, Tony, Megan and I sit and have dinner. Filet mignon, organic salmon in chives and dill, and Troy’s new dish, scallops crusted in walnuts with a beautiful sauce served with fettuccini tossed with garlic and tahinni. Meanwhile, the dam has burst, and we have gotten busy as hell. Just in time. By the end of the evening, we have a normal Friday. We drink a couple of bottles of wine with dinner. Then we decide to walk next door to Bacchus for an after-dinner drink.

As we sit in Bacchus, a wine event is letting out. Bryan Lynch is the center of attention. He has set-up and run this event. He has his daughter with him. There were more than sixty people for this wine tasting. He stops at our table to visit with Tony. I hook him up with Megan to assist at one of the other sessions. Tony remarks that between the two events, more than 80 people have come to the River District to learn about wine. This is a far cry from what wine used to be in Rockford.

Saturday night we are packed. I work the tables to insure that all my customers are happy. Troy is a gem in the kitchen. We feed everyone, even the late walk-ins, in time to make the Legal Follies. Then I walk down to Little Italy with a friend to have a drink. I check my cell phone for messages. My new manager in Rockton, the one I was so proud of, has abruptly walked out on a busy Saturday night. Old friends have stepped in to help, and Trisha Peters assures me that everything is all right. By Sunday we have hired a new person to fill that slot. That’s the way it goes, (if you are lucky), this is a turnover business.

The following Friday the class is about Italian wines. Through the generosity of my friend Jen Bunjen we are able to move the class to Medicine Man Studios across the street. Tony has returned. This is really interesting as he was born in Sicily and still speaks with an Italian accent. He brings some wines that would retail for $50 or more. The class is knocked out by the wine. Next week is about German wines, and Tony will make a final appearance. You can still sign up by calling Rock Valley College. Afterward, we are going to Table Thirteen, where his son works, for dinner. I will write about our visit.

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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