JT’s Bourbon Street offers taste of New Orleans

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503166036331.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Helberg’, ‘While patrons of the old Bourbon Street may find the old wooden bar familiar, food is now the focus at JT’s Bourbon Street Grille. Menu includes everything from Homemade Chili to Southern Fried Catfish Sandwiches to JT’s Award-Winning Barbecue Chicken, Pulled Pork and Rib dinner entrées. Music is also a focus, as local bands and other artists perform almost every night.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503166378558.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Helberg’, ‘Anthony Foreman opened JT’s Bourbon Street Grille at 1407 N. Main St. on Good Friday, April 14. On the table in front of Foreman is his Aunt Estelle’s Caramel Cake, of which he said, “I always look at this as coming from heaven.”’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503167144496.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Helberg’, ‘Along with the tastes and sounds of New Orleans come the sights. JT’s Bourbon Street Grille’s walls are painted to mimic the streets of New Orleans, with storefronts including signs that say “‘Voodoo’ Tobacco,” “Tarot Card Readings (The Teller Is In),” “Clark’s Fish,” “Pat O’Brien’s” and “Anthony’s ‘Café Du Mundo’ FINE FOOD.” Fake trees with white holiday lights are spread throughout the restaurant, and all of the tables are arranged in a C around a dance floor and stage.’);

Restaurant in search of participants for Battle of the Bands with $1,000 first prize

Although he often works more than 15 hours a day, Anthony Foreman, 45, said he considers himself retired.

On Good Friday, April 14, Foreman, a retired 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps, opened JT’s Bourbon Street Grille at 1407 N. Main St., bringing the sights, sounds, smells and, most importantly, tastes of New Orleans to Rockford.

With a menu that includes JT’s Signature Salad (with a special blend of tomatoes, bacon, eggs and cheese), Homemade Chili, Southern Fried Catfish Fingers, Grilled or Cajun Blackened Chicken Breast Sandwich, Memphis Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich (featuring national award-winning barbecue sauce), Rib Sandwich, Southern Fried Catfish Sandwich (billed as “The Best Catfish East of the Mississippi”), Homemade Caramel Cake and JT’s Award-Winning Barbecue Chicken, Pulled Pork and Rib dinner entrées served with cole slaw and cornbread, Foreman insists food is the focus.

“That’s the reason I’m doing this, is the food,” Foreman said.

Foreman said his earliest memory of cooking is his father, J.T. Foreman, teaching him to cook catfish.

“When it comes to cooking, my father told my mother how to cook,” said Foreman, who named his business JT’s Bourbon Street Grille in his father’s honor.

J.T. Foreman of Rockford passed away about three years ago. Besides cooking, fishing was J.T.’s other favorite hobby. J.T. had made the trip from Rockford to Richmond, Va., where Anthony lives near a lake, to go fishing and spend time with his son. The night J.T. arrived in Richmond, which Anthony remembers as a Wednesday, J.T. passed away in his sleep.

“He was happy because he was looking forward to going fishing,” Anthony Foreman said of his father.

A 1978 graduate of Rockford East High School, Anthony Foreman entered the Marine Corps at 18, went to boot camp in San Diego and then traveled the world. After spending six months with the Marine Corps in Peru, Foreman said the area along the Amazon River was the most beautiful place he had ever seen.

Foreman said Good Friday was “kind of sentimental” to him because he opened his first restaurant—a carryout business in Washington, D.C.—on Good Friday. After spending months getting the business prepared, he said the landlord required too much, so he sold the carryout and moved to Richmond, Va., where he has lived for five years.

Once in Richmond, it didn’t take long for the food bug to bite again. Foreman joined with a business partner to purchase Potter’s Pub & Grille, which had been in business for about 20 years.

Serving as head cook at Potter’s, Foreman said he “learned to cook something of everything,” as he attempted to meet the varied tastes of the customers on the East Coast. While at Potter’s, Foreman entered his barbecue chicken in Richmond’s “Memphis In May” contest, taking first place. He uses the same recipe today at JT’s Bourbon Street Grille.

June 3, 2005, after three years in business, Foreman said his business partner was diagnosed with lymphoma, and prices in Richmond “skyrocketed.” So Foreman and his business partner sold Potter’s, and Foreman began looking for a place to open a restaurant in his hometown of Rockford. “I always wanted a place in Rockford,” he said.

Foreman purchased the 1407 N. Main St. location Nov. 17, 2005, and quickly enlisted his family in getting the restaurant ready for business.

Anthony’s oldest brother, Kelvin Foreman, said when Anthony approached his family to ask for their help in getting the establishment ready for business by April 14, “When they got started, we didn’t think they’d get done by April 14—we thought he was crazy.” But, Kelvin Foreman said, “I don’t turn my back on my brothers.”

JT’s Bourbon Street Grille, from the name of the establishment to the recipes and operation of the business, is a family affair. Anthony’s sister is general manager, and his daughter works as a waitress. All of the recipes used to compose the menu are Foreman family traditions, from the catfish Anthony first learned from his father to the Caramel Cake prepared fresh by his cousin from his Aunt Estelle’s recipe.

“We couldn’t have gotten this far this fast without family helping,” Anthony Foreman said.

Anthony’s sister even joked that the restaurant was close to opening without carpet as the carpet arrived the day it opened.

When Anthony Foreman served a piece of his Aunt Estelle’s Homemade Caramel Cake, his face lit up, and he said, “I always look at this as coming from heaven.”

Foreman said he was about 35 at the time of his Aunt Estelle’s death—the first time he had ever experienced a traumatic death.

“I always felt that I was real lucky because I never had anybody close to me who had passed,” he said.

But Anthony said every time he has a piece of his Aunt Estelle’s Caramel Cake, he gets the feeling she sent it down from heaven just for him.

Indeed, the caramel cake does taste heavenly. A thick white cake, with fresh melted caramel in the middle and on top and then chilled, is the perfect ending to some of the spicy dishes on the menu.

June 1’s special, Seafood Gumbo, was a mix of fresh shrimp, ham sausage, pulled pork and chicken in a spicy sauce served on a bed of white rice with homemade cornbread. The gumbo was spicy, but not so spicy it burned your taste buds off—and intensified the more you ate—just the way it should. An appetizer of catfish fried in cornmeal was served with hot sauce for dipping. The catfish was fresh and tender, while the cornmeal accented it with a crispy, mild taste. Most importantly, the catfish didn’t taste fishy, and the breading did not overwhelm, making for a perfect combination of flavors.

Patrons of the old Bourbon Street, which closed a number of years ago and was located in the same space, will recognize the old wooden bar and some of the decorations, although Anthony and his family have added their own touch to the décor.

Music is another main attraction. Anthony’s goal is to get some of Rockford’s top performers to make regular appearances, and music is on the schedule almost every night. This week’s performers include Jimmy Z (acoustic guitar), Wednesday, June 14; the Rockford Steppers, Inc., with DJ Ebony D, Thursday, June 15; Dave Weld & the Imperial Flames, Friday, June 16; DJ Sonny Crudup & DJ Tony Ton, Saturday, June 17; karaoke with DJ April, Monday, June 19; and Amateur Bands Night, Tuesday, June 20.

To help cultivate some of Rockford’s top performers, Anthony is organizing a Battle of the Bands with a $1,000 top prize offered to the winner, and tentative second- and third-place prizes of $250 and $150 gift certificates, respectively. The battle is set to begin July 12, and Foreman said he hopes to have at least 18 bands in the competition. Eight had already joined the roster as of June 1.

According to the Battle of the Bands Registration Form, the contest will be a process of elimination and cover several weeks. Three to four bands will perform per night, from 8 p.m. to midnight, with two moving on to the next round. Bands will have about an hour to perform their set, and judging is expected to include the following: stage presence, audience participation, vocals and/or instrumental arrangement, physical performance and originality. Foreman said he hoped to assemble a panel of celebrity judges or judges with knowledge of the Rockford music scene. He insisted no one from JT’s Bourbon Street would be involved in the judging.

For more about Battle of the Bands, contact Anthony or Vivian Foreman at 964-4400. Battle of the Bands is co-sponsored by The Rock River Times, and registration forms are available at The Rock River Times office.

Near the end of our conversation, Foreman offered a copy of an article that included “Important Guidelines in Life.” No. 6 on the list is, “You should not confuse your career with your life.” Considering JT’s hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday, Foreman was asked whether he struggles with this
guideline. “I think about it,” he said. “Right now, I look at it as being retired. This is my last restaurant.”

JT’s Bourbon Street Grille, 1407 N. Main St., is open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday. The restaurant also offers carryout. For more information, call 964-4400.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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