Hanging Out in Rockford: A good party

By Mike Leifheit


We aren’t selling a lot of gift certificates this year. We haven’t booked a lot of Christmas parties, either. The few we have, have bucked the trend. My friend John Gradick, a Rockford police officer, asks me what kind of deal I can offer him if he wants to throw a party for his fellow officers. I give him a really good price, since I don’t have anything else going on.

I work out the details, and give him an estimate. I knock off about 30 percent from my normal pricing because it is John and because it is the Rockford police coming to the party. John just keeps saying over and over that he thinks people just really need a good party right now.

I write the menu. We are going to serve roast beef, wood oven-herbed roast chicken, homemade lasagna (we even make the pasta from scratch), liver pâté, smoked salmon (in our wood oven, too), assorted focaccia (like pizza), grilled gray squash, blue cheese-stuffed mushrooms, ceviche and chips, barbecued pork chops, fresh green bean salad, an Italian salad we call Mike’s salad made with fresh oregano, potato salad with homemade jalapeno mayonnaise and chocolate mousse.

Sunday morning, I get up early to get my work done and go to the YMCA before the event. On the way, I notice that Brenda and Greg are open at the Sugar and Spice. (This should be the greatest place to have breakfast on a Sunday morning. One of the reasons I don’t like breakfast out in Rockford is all the food tastes the same. They all use that awful butter-flavored hydrogenated soybean oil to cook their eggs and potatoes, and everything winds up tasting the same. Greg only uses real butter for his eggs. It is better tasting and much more healthful. You need to know how bad hydrogenated soybean oil is for you.) I pull the Kia to the curb. I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks. I apologize for not coming to eat, but I find it difficult to go to the Y afterward. I usually just want to take a nap.

In our conversation, Greg observes that the present financial woes didn’t just start, that this economic downturn really started three or four years ago but that the press has lately blown it all out of proportion. As he is talking, I have a personal epiphany. He is absolutely right. I knew that all along. It has only really gotten bad since they began beating it to death. If the media would back off a bit, we could get back to some semblance of normalcy. It’s just like John said, we all need a really good party!

At the YMCA, in the locker room, a bunch of the guys are discussing the health insurance bill. Some senator has been bought out to get his cooperation for 60 votes. One of my fellow Y members is a doctor. He wants tort reform. He says that malpractice insurance in Indiana is about $100,000 cheaper in Indiana than it is in Illinois, because they have a board of experts that reviews malpractice suits. I say to him that he must favor more regulation (yeah, I know, but I just couldn’t help myself). He winces as I say this, and says “No.” I reply that a board of experts is regulation. (I cannot help but wonder if he plans on giving that savings back to his patients?) I think there are improvements that can be made, but malpractice reform would only produce about 10 percent overall, and we are 100 percent off the mark. We need to be pragmatic, not ideological.

After the Y, I drop in to Deli Italia. I need something to eat, and I don’t want to bother my people because they are too busy getting ready for the party. Tracy waits on me. It is her last day before leaving to have her baby boy. She is due Jan. 4. She is such a beautiful woman and an even lovelier mother. I tell her how good she looks, and she positively glows.

Back at the Rose, the party starts, and the place is full of cops. They are a good-looking bunch, our police department, both the officers and their spouses. My waitresses are checking out all the good-looking young men. John greets people at the door, and talks them through the food offering. Everyone seems to be having a really good time.

Afterward, when I finally let John buy me a drink, I congratulate him about how on the mark I think he was and is with this idea. We all need a good party. We need to get rid of the doom and gloom. Maybe the press will get bored with all the negative talk and decide things are getting better, and we all can just get on with life.

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 Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue

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