I can only find one Chicago restaurant that is claiming to be preservative free. I think we are way ahead of the crowd. When I started my first restaurant business at the corner of State and Madison streets, around thirty-five years ago, I just wanted to have a little downtown restaurant that served good food. I was working for Coca Cola in New York when I got fired one day. I asked for an exit interview and emerged from that interview still having my job. Then I walked back to my office in the corner of the Conran building in New Rochelle, NY and called my old buddy Jim Hughes to get his help buying my first restaurant, the Old Rock River Cafe. I told him that I was going through with it. Then I made a commitment via phone with Dick Brynteson, VP of First National Bank which owned the building through the First Rockford Community Development Association.
That night I went to a Chinese restaurant in Scarsdale. I asked the waiter about the pink sauce on my plate, what gave it the color? He leaned over to me and whispered “Catsup”. The ladies at the table next to me asked what line of work I was in that I knew so much about food? and I said “I own a restaurant”. I did (for at least a few hours already).
I’ve written about this a number of times before so forgive me if I am being repetitive, its only for the people who didn’t read my old column. Seeing Frank in the hospital has brought back a bunch of memories of the old place. I think having my seventy-first birthday this week has also caused me to be introspective. Lately I have been reviewing my life and thinking about things that happened and my part in all of this that is Rockford, downtown and in the year 2016 soon to be 2017.
I stop by the new Rockford Public Library on the East Side. The old man in me has to go to Coumadin Clinic for my monthly visit so I line up a chiropractor appointment to coincide so that I do not waste a trip to the East Side without accomplishing as many things as possible. I would rather drive to Chicago than the East Side of Rockford. That’s because there is so little I want over there. The buildings are ugly and there isn’t anywhere I really want to go. All the restaurants are chain-like or at least all the food is.
But not Katie’s Pie Shop and Record Store in the Library. She was in a few months ago talking meat loaf sandwiches. I love meat loaf sandwiches. Today I am going to have a meat loaf sandwich. I tell Veronica and Christine as I leave the Chiropractic office that they should be jealous because I am going to have a meatloaf sandwich. I find my way into the library and the finally find the entrance to the pie shop.
Katy, who Frank Schier trained as a bartender in the Irish Rose in the old days asks me if I know how Frank is doing. We discuss his health and the upcoming fund-raiser being run by Stephanie at the Magpie, but then I am all business and I am asking for my meatloaf sandwich, but to no avail. She doesn’t have meatloaf sandwiches anymore. I am late by a couple of weeks. I love meat loaf sandwiches. When I was young, my mother being from the old country, didn’t know or appreciate cold cuts. Everything was made from the most basic ingredients like it was in Kilrush when she was growing up.
When I was in high school I would often eat right from the refrigerator. That’s why I still enjoy cold food to this day. That is where I learned to love cold meatloaf sandwiches, preferably with onions and mayonnaise. In the summer a thick slice of tomato would turn this into a gourmet delicacy. I still love this combination today but I am definitely not going to get that in Katie’s Pie Shop. Katie tells me that she doesn’t get a big lunch crowd, her business is mostly folks having a pie urge that come in all day long. So much so that she has decided to concentrate on pie. Pick something and do it well. I can relate to that. Instead I order one of her chicken pasties and a hot chocolate and stand there talking to her while I eat it.
Dave Taylor who is a professor of law at NIU (I took Procedure from him when I attended twenty years ago) says that he enjoys the idea of us all getting older together down here but I don’t think he or I really had an idea of how many friends we were going to lose along the way. We started a rogue’s gallery above the bar for our lost friends. Jack, Jimmy, Mike, George and Elisha. Where’s poor ‘Tom? (Sandi?) Life goes by so fast.
We are all born and surely we will all die. They say after a certain point in time that they will be able to put our personality on a computer. (No thanks. I remember the eight days I spent on my back after my heart attack. If they had not moved me up to a regular room and removed all the tubes and electrodes from my body I think I would have gone nuts. I was thinking about who could I ask to bring me a gun.) 71, it’s a big number. I never thought I would make it this far. What I wouldn’t give for a good cold meatloaf sandwich. Maybe that’s what I should serve as a special for lunch at the Rose? I’ll let you know.
Having written the above I decide to give Frank a call because everyone is asking about how he is doing. To my surprise he tells me that he is in his office getting this week’s edition out. I reflect on the day I had my heart attack. We were doing the annual meeting of the River District and before I had Jen Bunjan drive me to the hospital, I made sure everything was right for the event to go off without a hitch. Guess we are pretty much alike when it comes to our passions. Hopefully Frank will be as lucky as I was with his recovery.