La Cabana Restaurant

La Cabana Restaurant

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.

I am coming back from the Chicago market on a Tuesday. I haven’t seen Marek Kosiba for some time. I call Izzy at the Artery and ask for his home number. She gives it to me, and I call his house. I get one of those mechanical answering machine messages, the kind you get when you buy the machine and never record your own message. I leave a message.

“Marek, I want to see you. I want to come up and see your place; how about Sunday? Call me.” A while later, my phone beeps. I have a message; it is Marek. I wish I could remember the exact message, but it is very Polish and not unfriendly, but almost curt. But the net effect is that yes, it would be all right and that I should call him. I do. We finally talk. He says, “Fine, come up.” I say, “I want to bring some people.” That seems OK. I have some people in mind that I want to invite. Marek says that the menu will be “Salmon—vodka—and coffee. Anything else you want—you bring.”

I talk to Susie Kaufman. Suzanne is the former head of the art department at Rock Valley College. I want Suzanne and Marek to meet. Unfortunately, she has been sick with a terrible cold all week. She doesn’t think she will feel well enough to go by Sunday. I have a notion; I stop and pick up a couple of chickens. When I get back to the Irish Rose, I make chicken soup with fresh Greek oregano. Then I drive over to Suzanne’s. She comes to the door in her robe. I give her the chicken soup, but she almost grabs it from the sides. It is in a stainless steel container; it will be too hot. I show her how to hold it from the top. The next day, she sends me a thank-you note.

I also ask Dawn Smolinski. Dawn is the most talented Rockford artist I know. I want her to see Marek’s place. I have heard that it is really cool. He makes his living entirely as an artist. Dawn needs to see that. But unfortunately, she has plans to go to the Art Institute with Craig, one of our customers at the Irish Rose. Then I ask Jon Agustsson, and he is non-committal and evasive. I am batting 1,000.

But I know I can count on Izzy (who runs the Artery across the street from the Irish Rose). We have already discussed the fact that it might be just us. Fortunately, we can have a great time, just the three of us. I tell her about the “Salmon, vodka and coffee; anything else you want, you bring,” and she says, “I know, I’m familiar with the menu.” Sunday comes, and then everybody starts to decide that it is a really good idea. Jon Agustsson has a change of mind. Tricia Davey is suddenly coming. (Tricia has a landscaping company and store in Rockton called The Green Quarter.) I ask her if Wade is coming, and she says no, but that changes later, too. Then I hear that Jenny Geiger, who works for me occasionally at Irish Rose in Rockton, is also coming, and all of a sudden we have a crew.

Sunday arrives, and I get up early. Marek wants us there around noon. I want to stop and get some really good cheese. I wonder if the 320 store is open. I have some trouble settling my books. But around noon it starts to come together, and Izzy and I touch bases by phone. Jon calls and says that he is in Rockton and will meet us there. Tricia is there, too, so Izzy and I try to load some of Marek’s work that needs to go to his house into my van, but it will not fit, so finally we are ready to go. We head up North Main Street to Rockton. Jon calls, and we decide to meet him at Fibs, what used to be Avery’s. It is right across the street from Irish Rose North.

We get there, and after a few cocktails, we are all being so smart and sophisticated. Marek is probably wondering at this point, where the hell we are! But we are being smart, sophisticated and so funny! The bartender thinks we are a hoot. I say that we are having such a good time that we should go to a restaurant later, and then I can tie it into an article. We’re wondering where the rest of the convoy is when Tricia shows up. Let’s go, I say, but then I find out that Tricia is taking her own car, and that it is OK. She has been to Marek’s before and knows the way, and I am left scratching my head about why we were waiting for her in the first place.

But then finally we are on our way to Marek’s. Marek lives in this really modern subdivision, quite unusual for an artist. He comes to greet us through the garage. There is art everywhere. Marek is prolific, to say the least. We start with cocktails (ice cold shots of really good Polish vodka). He has some wonderful homemade smoked salmon on tiny pieces of pumpernickel, and then, of course, there is coffee. I inhale major portions of salmon. I am ravenous. Izzy sits carving off more salmon and putting it on the little breads.

We wander all over his wonderful house that is more wonderful, in that it is an artist’s residence. We see his computer room; we see the photography he has in progress. Right here in the subdivision, he paints in the living, or what some architect envisioned as the living room. I like it much better the way Marek did it. He parties there, too; it works. After a while, we all wind up in the kitchen. Isn’t it funny how that always happens?

More next week.

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