By Mike Leifheit
As I arrive at The Stone Eagle Bar, the construction area is blocked off by a chain-link fence, and I have to drive around to the west side to enter. There is a new gazebo on the west side of the building. Two antique copper cupolas adorn what used to be simple sloping roofs atop the building. They fit in with the dimensions of the former Cheddar’s, and change the look of the building dramatically. The biggest change, however, is a stone archway in front of the entrance with two huge stone eagles at its peak. It looks like something off the Reichstag. Two more gigantic eagles are going to flank it. They sit in the parking lot, quietly awaiting their new perches, which the stone masons are busily erecting.
Inside, I discover Philippe hard at work. He takes a few minutes to show me around, before hooking me up with Jimmy, who then gives me the grand tour. When we go back out front to look at the arch, I tell Jimmy how much I admire him for tackling this project. (I do, it’s high time the chains on the east side have some first-rate hometown competition. My only regret is that we couldn’t persuade him to come downtown.)
Back inside, there are stone eagles everywhere you look. One dominates the entrance way. Immediately to the right is the oyster bar, reminiscent of the one at Shaw’s Crabhouse in downtown Chicago. Behind the oyster bar is a real wood-fired stone pizza oven. I ask Jim, and he says this is a two-person station, someone shucking oysters and a bartender who will also cook pizzas.
Across the way, there is going to be another bar, this one with a beautiful antique back bar. Jimmy is famous for this. Anyone who has been to any of his other places knows what I am talking about. He said he had one that would fit perfectly into the space. The main dining area is along the east side of the building, where it was when it was Cheddar’s, but Jimmy has cut the overall number of seats in the building from 290 to 240 to provide more comfort in dining. He tells me he will have 100 menu items ranging from $6.95 to $12.95.
Down the center middle of the building there are four separate private dining rooms that can be used individually or together. Another unique feature is the drive-up window. I questioned this, as I couldn’t see why he would want to mess with it, and he said he had never had pizza before, and he wanted to see what it would do. He also said trends in the business were leading in that direction.
I don’t want to keep Philippe and Jim from their work, so I am trying to get out of the way, but they get me to follow them back into the bar, where Jim is unpacking some antique pots and pans. They are solid copper, with a lining I guess to be pewter. Jim says he bought them from Susie Kaufman. I try to tell them the story about Susie, but it gets side-tracked. Jim tells me he is going to have an opening by special invitation, and that I will be invited and that Susie Kaufman will get an invitation also. I say I will bring Susie as my date.
On the way back, on the way to have some lunch at the Café Greco, I call Susie on the cell phone to ask her if she will be my date to Jim’s special opening. She says she will. I tell her about the copper pots, and she says she sold some copper pots to Jim. I say, “Were they lined with pewter?” And she says they were. Susie says I should drop by beforehand and have a glass of wine. I promise I will. I ask her if she has talked to Doug Busch, and say that if she does, to remember me to him. I sit there in the gravel parking lot talking to Susie on the cell phone, and then I say I have an appointment for lunch and that I have to go in. Before I get of the phone, she tells me—with a voice that indicates a twinkle in her eye—that she has a hat for me to fix.
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 November 25-December 1, 2009 issue