By Mike Leifheit
After going to the market, I am really tired and take a nap before going downstairs. When I emerge into the bar area, Jim Vitale, Philippe and the beautiful blonde (very quiet, whose name I have probably been told but cannot remember) woman Philippe dates are sitting at the end of the bar. I try some of my sausages out on them. There is a beer-and-sausage dinner going on in the back room. The Polish I have made is OK, but the bratwurst is truly outstanding. Jim is visibly impressed. I tell him I am going to make some Italian the following day, and that if I go up to my Rockton location, I will drop some off for him to try.
The next day, I do indeed make Italian sausage. I am psyched and totally confident in my new, more rustic, sausage. Since I do have to go up to my restaurant building in Rockton, I wrap up about 10 pounds of the sausage and put it in a carry-out bag. I’m pretty much through for the day, so when I get to Cliffbreakers, I order an Irish whiskey and sit back to wait for Jimmy.
The bartender comes back to say Jimmy is not in the house. Actually, I suspect he has snuck off for a nap as I often do before the evening’s business. Mark shows up and takes the sausages and puts them in Jim’s personal refrigerator. I go to Rockton, and then back to the Rose. Later that evening, I call Philippe’s cell number because I am curious to know if they tried the sausages and what they thought of them. Philippe tells me they cooked them and gave them as an appetizer to the Rockford Area Economic Development Council and that they gave me credit for them.
A day or so later, there is a different-looking envelope in my mail. Curious, I open it first. Jimmy, or his secretary, has copied pages from a meat book from the ’30s concerning sausages. It is assembled in booklet form. Attached is a Post-it note: “It’s a whacky world where an Irishman makes great Italian sausage. Jimmy.”
Meantime, we are selling a lot of sausage. José jumps my butt about the need to make more Italian. I want to experiment, so this time I decide to make 10 pounds of bangers, the Irish or English breakfast sausage. I want to give some to Larry down at the Red Lion. I search for the spices in Chicago, but cannot find the one spice that sets bangers apart—in addition to the addition of chicken stock and bread crumbs—mace. I talk to Tom Cornille about it, and he tells me that it is the web-like material that surrounds the allspice berry and that he can obtain it with a week’s notice, but this isn’t going to work for me time-wise, as I have to make Italian, or we will run out.
I walk down to the Red Lion and talk to Larry’s son in the event that he has a source for the unusual spice. He says he has looked for it, but had no success. I stop at Cru and ask Damien, and he suggests Logli’s on East State. I call Logli’s and, lo and behold, they have it in very small jars in the spice section. When I get to Logli’s before I go to get the spice, I look up Ronnie, the manager of the meat department. I want to know if he read my column about the old Logli store on Broadway, and he has. He tells me a hilarious story about Don Faggerstrom, one of the butchers in the old store, and how he backed into his knife and cut his butt and how no one would put a Band-Aid on it for him.
Wednesday, when I make the new batch of Italian, I separate out 10 pounds of fresh ground pork to dedicate to bangers. It is the combination of bread crumbs and chicken stock that gives this sausage its name. The bread crumbs hold the chicken stock in suspension while cooking, and then the juice explodes into your mouth when you bite through the casing, making a popping sound. Thus, the name bangers.
Thursday after the market, I have wrapped the bangers three to a package, about a pound each, and I walk around the neighborhood giving them to all my friends. Later that evening, Larry comes to the Rose to thank me. I ask how he liked them, and he tells me they are cooking them at this very moment. I walk down to the Red Lion because I want to know their opinion. Larry buys me an Irish whiskey, and I sit at the bar waiting, but to no avail, because the one whiskey makes me extremely tired.
I excuse myself, saying I cannot keep it together. I wander back to the Rose. I’ve been working on putting my Rockton location back into shape to sell and burning the candle at both ends for a couple of weeks. I am pooped. I go right upstairs to bed, falling asleep almost immediately. I still don’t know if Larry liked the sausages.
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 October 14-20, 2009 issue