Susan sings—Part One

Susan sings—Part One

By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

My help at the Irish Rose River District is ready to have me assassinated. We just got through installing a new computer register system. Now I am going through the entire business turning everything upside down. I have been spending more time at the restaurant in Rockton, and things need attention downtown. I’m sure they all think it is just because I broke up with my girlfriend. Maybe they’re right.

I call my friend Izzy on Sunday, and surprise, this time she is not too busy for me. I go over to her house for the first time ever. Before, she was always at the Artery, and that is right across the street from the Irish Rose. All sorts of people would congregate there at all hours of the day and night. I used it as one of my breakaway places.

We hang out and talk about our situations. Sometimes it is hard to be a good listener when you have so much you want to say yourself. “Me, let’s talk about me.” But we are both going through things, and eventually we get it all in one way or another. We drink some wine and exchange back rubs.

We decide to go get something to eat. Originally, we were going to go for a ride on the motorcycle. I love to ride the motorcycle in the fall when it is nice and cool, but today it is a little cold, and we decide to ride it back to the Irish Rose, where we pick up my van. Then it is off to Chen’s for lunch.

We have a fabulous lunch at Chen’s. Byron is not behind the bar, so we sit at a table. We order the sliced pork appetizer and some fried wontons. The waiter brings us a really hot chili sauce that is very good. I think I like it the best of any chili sauce I have tasted in a Chinese restaurant. I would like to know exactly how they make it. There is just the right amount of oil, and the chili isn’t just hot, but has a lot of flavor.

After we get through the appetizers, we ask our waiter for suggestions. He says his favorite is the Hong Kong Steak, so we go with it. It turns out to be a great selection. He has it made with some fried noodles that are simply delicious. I remember that that is what Bill and Jan from the Ye Olde Pub had the day I saw them here. Jan said that it was her absolute favorite.

Izzy and I discuss going to Chicago. My waitress, Susan Hofer, has a gig there on the following Sunday night. It is at a place called Pops for Champaign on Sheffield just below Belmont. I say we can go to my favorite Indian restaurant in Chicago, the Moti Mahal. It is located on Belmont just a short distance from Sheffield.

I discovered the Moti Mahal a number of years ago. I used to be a big fan of O’Rourke’s, a bar on North Avenue not far from Clark. I patterned the Irish Rose after O’Rourke’s. They had the bigger-than-life black and white photos of the Irish writers, each with a quote, and about 20 or so years ago, I stole that idea. O’Rourke’s moved to North Halsted and eventually closed.

There was an Irish woman named Jillian who bartended at the North Avenue location. She was straight over from the old country. She loved Indian food. One day when I was at O’Rourke’s with a new girlfriend, someone broke the windows out of the car we were driving and stole our luggage. The weekend could have been a total disaster. It was saved by our visit to Moti Mahal. It was Jillian’s suggestion that we go there. I have always remained grateful. The restaurant is as good today as it was 20 years ago.

Izzy calls me and is worried about what I will write if I do an article about our visit to Chen’s. She says, “Don’t say anything about me being so emotional.” I tell her if I leave out emotion when I write about her, there will be nothing left to say. Anyone who knows her knows that. “Write about the food,” she says. I tell her that I already have.

Sunday comes and Izzy calls. We are definitely on. I tell her another waitress at the Irish Rose, Angela Weeks, has expressed an interest in going with us, and naturally, I invited her along. We are going to eat Indian food until we burst and then go see Susan Hofer sing jazz. I’ll tell you all about our trip, next week.

Chen’s Cantonese Chef, 4722 N. Second St., 877-9221; Pops For Champaign, 2934 N. Sheffield, Chicago, 773-472-1000; Moti Mahal, 1031 Belmont, ChIcago, 773-348-4392.

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

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