La Cabana Restaurant–Part Two

La Cabana Restaurant–Part Two

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

Restaurant Critic

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Dining Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants.” These reviews are also available on his website: and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

Jon Agustsson of Edenfound, Izzy from the Artery, Tricia Davey, who owns the Green Quarter in Rockton, her man Wade, Jenny Geiger, who works for me at Irish Rose North, and I are at Marek Kosiba’s house in Beloit. We have been eating wonderful smoked salmon appetizers, drinking straight shots of ice-cold Polish vodka, and generally acting like degenerates. We have all gathered in the kitchen to talk.

Suddenly, someone decides that we should go to Mary Ann Green’s Turkish Imports Etc., so we all pile into cars and head to the west side of Beloit. From North Main Road, we head across the Shirland Avenue Bridge. It’s the street right across from the McDonald’s in South Beloit. Heading up the hill, we pass La Cabana Restaurant on the south side of the street. Turning left on Hackett Street, it is just a couple of blocks until you get to the Butler building that houses Turkish imports (208 S. Hackett).

When we walk through the door, it feels like we are in another world (not to say that we aren’t already after the afternoon at Marek’s). The walls are adorned with the most breathtaking collection of rugs and tapestries. There are wonderful pillows and throws everywhere. Mary Ann brings out a dazzling array of silver and semi-precious stone jewelry, most of it from Turkey. She goes there on buying trips. She has just returned with a whole new collection. She is open on Tuesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. Go there, it’s worth it.

Then, finally, it is all about food, and we head back to La Cabana. Now I have to be honest; this is one of those situations where further journalistic investigation was necessary. When I asked everyone about the food (not that day, but about a week later), no one could remember what he or she had. (This presents a serious problem for the reviewer.) Everyone did remember that the chips were really good, really crunchy, and that the salsa was good. Short review, hardly my style. Need to do more research.

On Holy Saturday, I am cooking at my restaurant in Rockton. Susie, my manager, tells me that a very beautiful woman is sitting at the bar and has asked for me by name. I love it when that happens; it just doesn’t happen very often. I manage to work my way out of the kitchen to talk to the beautiful woman. She is going to Chicago “all by herself” to spend Easter in the city. “I could take you,” I offer gallantly, and for awhile it almost seems we have made a connection. But then a recollection comes screaming through my mind, my column, my Rock River Times column! When will I write it? I back peddle in the guise of gentlemanly consideration. “Why don’t you think about it and call me tomorrow?” I offer, writing down my phone number. The next day she calls. She has decided to stick to her original plan of going by herself. The things we do in the name of journalistic endeavor. Will I ever get another date with you? You have my number.

Later that morning (after my dump call), I call Jon Agustsson. I talk him into helping me recover lost ground. We sing on the phone about being two lonely Easter guys. He comes over for coffee, then we get in my van and head north. We stop in Rockton to have a drink but everything is closed. We’re just two lonely Easter guys looking for a cocktail and something to eat. We wind up at Tilly’s Club Ballyhoo in Beloit. This was the place, when I went to Beloit College, where you could order food at 3 a.m. The French fries are the really crunchy kind, homemade, and the thin crust pizza is legendary. It comes with a really spicy sausage and American cheese, but it is really good. The special today is $1.25 Bloody Marys. We have a couple and then head over to La Cabana.

At La Cabana, the chips are indeed delicious. I think they fry them in lard, the best. The sauce, a Chile Arbol, is great, too. Jon and I are the only two Gringos in the room. The place is quite busy. I order the tongue in green sauce. Jon gets some chicken tacos, and rice and beans. The waitress comes back to say they are out of green sauce. This irritates me slightly, and I have trouble concealing my feelings, but I get it instead “La Mexicana.” When it arrives, my feelings change drastically. It is positively one of the finest dishes of tongue I have ever had, and I can’t help but tell Jon. When we leave, I ask the waitress for a menu. She looks at me strangely.

We turn right on North Main Road and head back to Rockford. The following Tuesday evening, I head up to Mary Ann Green’s again, for much the same journalistic purpose previously described. I do another tour of the place. It seems more wonderful this time. We share a glass of wine. Then I go crazy and buy a wonderful thing. I can’t help myself, it is too perfect. I think that glass of wine thing is a really good gig, Mary Ann!

On the way back, I stop at La Cabana. The same waitress looks at me wonderingly. This time I have salad and chicken mole. It is kick butt. No wonder this is the favorite Mexican restaurant of the Beloit College student body. The sauce is thick and rich and completely off my diet. I make up for it by leaving out the tortillas, but it hurts.

When I get back to the Irish Rose, it’s Taco Tuesday. The place is packed. Frank and the crew from The Rock River Times are here. I make the rounds, but cut it short. I have been going since 5:30 in the morning. I am very tired. I make my way upstairs and close the hatch to watch television. In 10 minutes, I am asleep.

La Cabana Restaurant, 524 Shirland Ave., Beloit, Wis. Hours and days of operation: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Telephone: (815) 389-5969

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