Hanging Out In Rockford:

Hanging Out In Rockford:

By By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

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 website: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330

I come down from my apartment because Raymon says that there is someone to see me. It is a beautiful young woman. I always like it when that happens. Her name is Megan Gallagher, and she Is organizing a food and wine event in Davis Park. It is to be a fundraiser for SIDS of Northern Illinois. There are going to be a number of small boutique brewers, winemakers and restaurants represented, and she wants to know if the Irish Rose could be a part of the event.

I don’t exactly tell her no, but in my mind I am thinking definitely no. I have too much going on. That is the weekend before my cousin Elizabeth arrives from Ireland, and I have much to do to prepare for her visit. I want to be able to spend some time with her and her husband Pat. I haven’t seen Elizabeth or Liz since I was 12 years old. That was the summer my mother and I spent in Ireland because she was thinking of moving back there to live.

We stayed in the family home on Moor Street in Kilrush. My grandmother had a small grocery store in the front of the main floor. The family kitchen occupied the back portion. There was no central heat, and when you wanted to use the bathroom, you had to go out to the back shed where there was a flush toilet. The row house was three stories, and Uncle Jack and his wife lived on the top floor with their children Tommy, Maire, and Elizabeth. Tommy was the oldest, Elizabeth was the youngest. I think she was eight or nine at the time. She was full of life and the darling of the family.

Some of my earliest memories of food are associated with that summer. The Irish food was so real and unrefined in comparison to the American fare I was used to. The ham was salty and strong flavored. You had to boil it with cabbage to make it palatable, but then it was especially good. The cream was unlike any I have had since, thick and rich with strong flavor. It was delivered daily by a man they called Mano. He brought it on a horse-drawn wagon, not refrigerated, and it was actually his dog that came in for the milk pail. Gripping the wooden handle in his teeth, he would take the pail out to the wagon, where Mano would fill it, and then the dog would return it to its resting-place in the tiny icebox. Everyone knew Mano’s dog. Everyone called him Mano’s dog. I don’t know if he had any other name.

For bread, we went next door to Maire Nagel’s Bakery. The bread was much like what we serve at the Irish Rose, white bread with thick crust. They baked it in a wood-fired brick oven much like the one we have at Irish Rose Norte (Norte means north in Spanish; my cook Marco named it). My mother and I would bring it home hot and put gobs of thick Irish butter on it. My grandmother would always yell at us about eating that “hot bread.” She thought it was bad for your stomach. Maybe it was, but it tasted so good.

Megan Gallagher doesn’t care that my cousin is coming from Ireland; my cousin I haven’t seen for more than 30 years. Megan Gallagher is a persistent Irish woman herself. She shows up at the Irish Rose again, and again. Each time wearing me down a little bit more until finally I cave in. She is sitting at the bar with her boyfriend, Shawn Cremer, having appetizers and cocktails. I am in an especially good mood. I make an impetuous decision, and run to the kitchen to make an omelet. I serve it to them. They seem pleased. “That’s what I am going to do at Uncorked,” I say.

A couple of days later, Megan Gallagher shows up with a contract for me to sign. I’m in a funk because of some business things and feeling under a great deal of pressure at this particular moment, but Megan Gallagher is unflappable. She puts the contract in front of me. I scribble my name at the bottom. The die is cast.

So now we are committed to Uncorked. We are cooking omelets. I decide on asparagus with Romano and Hollandaise for one selection, and shrimp with Pico de Gallo with a jalapeno aioli for the other. Tune in next week for more on the event.

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 website: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330

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