Jessy, Tracy and me
By Mike Leifheit, Columnist
My waitress Jessy is a pistol. She came to work at the Irish Rose through my good friend Karen Elyea, who owns Minglewood. She is only 19, but except for braces, looks like she is 23 or 24. Karen and I have discussed why her father made her get braces, and we dont think it had anything to do with crooked teeth. We think he is a smart man.
Jessy had a little problem with the law that needed resolving. I told her that when it was over, I would buy her a celebratory lunch. I also invited her best girlfriend Tracy, who works at Little Italy. I have almost forgotten about the promise when I get back from the market on Thursday, but Jessy reminds me. I rush upstairs to do the settlements from the day before and get cash boxes ready for both restaurants.
We had discussed going to Café Patou. Tracy arrives, and I tell her to call and see if they are open all afternoon, but they are not. Disappointed, we set out to go to Café Greco. One of the really nice things about Café Greco is that they stay open all afternoon, and you can count on them. You dont have to wonder if they are going to be there. I dont understand why other restaurants dont get it.
We are going across the Morgan Street Bridge when Jessy says she likes Chinese, and that causes me to have an idea. I ask the girls if they would like Laotian food. They seem totally game, so I set sail for the Sixth and Broadway area, where all the good Indo-Chinese restaurants are. I cant make up my mind between taking them to Phainam and Lanexang, but we pull up in front of Lanexang, and Jessy says it is cute, so we go right in.
We order the whole world. We start with the spicy sausage, sticky rice, chicken satay, and pot stickers, and that is just for appetizers. Then I get a beef meatball Pho, Tracy gets a dish with Chinese broccoli noodles and eggs, and Jessy gets one with beef and Chinese broccoli. From the moment we get our appetizers, we are quiet in the manner of people who are really hungry and eating food that they think is really good. The only thing I forget is the coffee, and we order the iced Lao coffee, which drips out of the little pot into our glasses of sweetened and condensed milk … delicious.
The coffee is a holdover from the French occupation of Indo-China. It is very strong like espresso, but they do not for the most part have dairy in Laos; ergo, the condensed milk. It is a nice example of how cultures affect each other and result in new tastes that are combinations of cultural dishes. I show the girls how to use their palms like a plunger to hurry the coffee along and then to stir the hot coffee into the condensed milk before they add the ice, ensuring that the sugar in the milk will dissolve.
Tracy demonstrates how she can count to 10 in Laotian. Her mothers best friend was Lao and used to take care of her when she was a little girl. I tell the girls how the lady who originally started this restaurant was a friend of mine. Her name is Doungsey Veravong, and she used to own the Savon Oriental grocery store, just a couple of doors away. She is the person who originally taught me the Chicago market. Tracy says her mothers friend owned a grocery store on Seventh Street, near Tenth Avenue. I say that is where we are, and at that moment we realize it could be the same person. Small world.
After lunch, we have a lot of food left over, and I put it all into a carryout container for the girls. I tell them it will make a great snack at 2 or 3 in the morning, and they giggle because they know I have their number. We go back to the Rose, and I drop them by their car because I have work to finish.
The next evening, I see the two of them at Little Italy, and they say how much fun they had. I tell Tracy to find out her mothers friends name, so that I can be sure it was Doungsey before I write the article, and she promises that she will. That following evening, I am at Little Italy again, and Tracy says that it wasnt the same person; her mothers friends name is Pathammavong, and that they owned the store across the street from the pawn shop. Oh, well, no six degrees of separation, but at least it was a nice story while it lasted.
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.