Hanging Out in Rockford: That’s Italian

The front door of the Irish Rose is falling apart. Not the one on State Street, the one we use as the main entrance on the parking lot side. I have been gluing it back together for a few months now, but it isn’t going to take. This is the third door in 20 years. Not so bad. I finally break down and go out to Menard’s to order another one. Naturally, as soon as I do, the door starts to disintegrate even further. Friday, when I am receiving beer deliveries, it almost falls apart. That’s all I would need on a busy Friday night.
I race downstairs for my portable drill, some hex head screws and a mending plate. I raise the broken part into place, put a large clamp across the body of the door to hold it together, and quickly screw the plate on the bottom inside of the door. While I am doing this, one of the liquor delivery guys decides he is not going to wait for me. He has, in his words, other customers to take care of. But I am in the doorway screwing on the plate, and I am not going to move for him. Two other delivery drivers, meanwhile, wait very patiently for me to screw the door back together. Only the one driver is a jerk. I feel sorry for people like him. The whole operation takes three minutes tops.

I drive over to Nicholson and buy a bunch of mending plates and put them on all parts of the now fairly-demolished door. Friday is one of those days when one thing follows another. Every time something is fixed, something else breaks. The final straw is the Internet going down. We are installing an ATM, and evidently the service man from AT&T picked up our DSL line for the new phone service. After a series of things like this, I make an initial decision to blow off the dining service. I am going to just stay home and get up early to install the new door, which has now arrived at Menard’s.

Then, Crissy calls, or maybe I call her, but she has tickets to an Italian Expo at Navy Pier Saturday. At first, I say I have to install my new door, but then while we are talking, I make a decision. It is only summer so long, Crissy is very beautiful, I like Chicago, and the door is screwed together well enough that there won’t be a problem. Why the hell not? It proves to be a wise choice. After I get off the phone with Crissy, I actually do spend some time in my business, but then I walk down the street

Block 5 is lively tonight. I decide to have some cheese and wine at Cru. Tonia picks me beautiful Stilton and a red wine I love (but don’t take the time to identify). I’m not a wine snob, but I do like to drink good wine. Afterward, I am still hungry, so I walk a little farther to the Red Lion, where I sit at the bar and order the baked cod special. Larry (the manager) stops by to talk to me, and we talk about our upcoming Block 5 party (Aug. 15).

Saturday, I have things to do in the morning, and I work until noon. One of the things I do is to pick up the new door. Right around 12:15, I head over to Crissy’s. She is hungry and has tickets to the Kiwanis Brat Day, so we stop at Logli’s to get her a brat on the way out of town. Crossing to the brat tent, we bump into Mike LaMonica Sr. I think Mike is one of the wonderful gentlemen left in this world.

We head into Chicago, and I decide to take Crissy to Rodity’s because it is one of my favorite places. Laura, the beautiful Lithuanian bartender, isn’t there, but I order Crissy an octopus appetizer with olive oil and lemon. Then, we drive down to near the Pier, park, and catch a cab the final half-dozen blocks. Navy Pier is packed. We have to detour upstairs to avoid the crowds. Finally, we work our way to the Italian Expo.

The event is really upscale. There are four top-notch restaurants serving food at very economical prices. Unfortunately, Luigi (from Batagglia), who gave Crissy the tickets, has already left. We wander about looking at all the fancy Italian motorbikes and cars on display (Crissy decides on a white Lamborghini convertible), sample wonderful cheeses and wines, and then decide to move on to an old haunt of mine, The Twisted Spoke. At the Spoke, Crissy buys not one but two T-shirts. She promises to wear one Monday at Café Greco.

After the Spoke, we drive down the street to La Luce (Ogden and Lake), an Italian restaurant in a beautifully restored three-story building from the late 1800s. The owner has been in my restaurant and told my employees he was from La Luce. Until now, I have never met him. We meet him and his son, Mike, and get the grand tour, including the new bar and dining room addition. The whole operation is very similar to the Irish Rose. We sit at the bar and have wine, and Mike sends us some stuffed peppers his dad made. Simply delicious!

From there, we head back to Rockford. We stop at The Great Wall for something to eat. I give May our leftover octopus, and she really seems to enjoy it. Alex snags a bite, too. When I get back to the Rose, I sneak up to my apartment to give Crissy a call. We both decide it was just the best day, and it was a really good idea to get out of town.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the July 22-28, 2009, issue

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