Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Eating BIG in Rockford

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Eating and Exploring the Screw City

Other than the google search results you won’t find a bigger collection of Illinois restaurant reviews than you’ll find over here. I’ve covered countless spots from DeKalb to Carbondale and beyond. So you shouldn’t be too surprised with todays stop - Rockford. The Screw City aka Forest City aka Reaper City is the largest city in Illinois outside of the Chicagoland area and is the states fifth most populated overall. It’s not the first spot in the Land of Lincoln that you might think of visiting and it’s probably not the second or third spot either but it’s a compelling place with lots of history and some stuff worth seeing including the Anderson Japanese Gardens which many consider the best of its kind in the Midwest. Rockford's location on the Rock River along with over 4000 acres of public parks means there’s lots of outdoor activities on offer too. I’ve never actually spent the night in Rockford in part due to its proximity to Chicago (80 miles) but I’ve stopped thru there plenty of times on the way somewhere else and have also taken a few daytrips over the years. Todays post is a culmination of all of the times I’ve stopped in Rockford to explore the area through food and what not. The food scene reflects the city itself - it's nothing fancy and definitely not trendy but it is interesting.

Sights in Rockford 

Stockholm Inn

Our first stop is perhaps Rockford's most popular breakfast spot. If not the most popular it's certainly one if the most well known. The history of the Stockholm Inn is traced back to the 1940's when a husband and wife team with Swedish ancestry opened it under a different name. The people they sold it to kept the homestyle Swedish recipes and renamed it after Sweden's capital city. Decades later it brings alot of cultural and historical value to the people of Rockford. Locals pack the place on a daily basis. Many come for Swedish specialties like kroppkakor (potato dumplings), kaldomar (cabbage rolls), Swedish meatballs, salt herring, fruit soup, rice pudding and nut cake. Their most popular menu item are the Swedish pancakes which are a cross between a pancake and a crepe. They're thinner and lighter than their American counterparts due to the use of less flour and more butter when making them. It's common to eat these with a lingonberry sauce but I enjoy them as is with butter. 

Swedish Pancakes at Stockholm Inn

Behr Den

Rockford's oldest restaurant is tucked away in an industrial area near the river. Behr Den has been serving the people of Rockford since 1896. It's open to the public but its location directly across the street from Behr Iron & Metal makes it a regular stop for workers of the longtime manufacturing company. According to an article from a local Rockford station it started out as a pharmacy and candy shop before turning into a restaurant over 100 years ago. Not a ton seems to have changed in the last 50 years or so, even the radio sitting on top of the counter was from another era. The prices are too. I got a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for just $3.50 while my friend got the Denver omelet plate for $6.25. I've visited countless blue collar type dining spots over the years and none of them felt as industrial as the Behr Den. That goes for the food and the people on top of the atmosphere there.

Breakfast at the Behr Den 

The Norwegian 

At the time of it's opening The Norwegian was Rockford's most ambitious restaurant project. It's housed in a historic building that was bought by a local woman who grew up in the area and rehabbed it with the help of the local who donated more than $100,000 to a Kickstarter so that it could be cleared of asbestos and turned into a brunch pub and live music venue. They serve brunch with a Nordic twist with dishes like Æbleskiver. These delicious Danish pancake balls are made from a fried batter and basically a cross between a donut and a beignet. The Norwegian serves theirs with a fantastic made in-house raspberry jam and some maple syrup for dipping and I would highly recommend starting your meal with these or ending it with them. The Lyonnaise salad is a good option as far as starters go as is the gravlax Smørrebrød. They do a little Nordic twist on the smash burger called 'The Frikadeller' which is a smashed Danish meatball patty with Jarlsberg, sauerkraut, lingonberry bbq sauce and caramelized onion aioli on local baked rye. Definitely worth a stop. 

Brunch at The Norwegian

Meads Meat Market 

One of my favorite things about the food culture in the Midwest is the abundance of local butchers that are still around. There's not as many as thee used to be but it seems like most towns in the region still have a locally owned shop for meats and more. Meads is that spot in Rockford. The family owned butcher shop has been serving the community for nearly 85 years. They didn't have a ton of meat on offer when I went in there but they do a daily sandwich special which is what really seems to bring the customers in. The hot roast beef sandwich was the special on my visit. House roasted beef is placed atop onions, cheddar, and hot peppers served on a locally made Italian roll. Not bad at all. 

Hot Roast Beef at Meads Meat Market 


I once stopped at Lino's back in my college days riding to and from Madison. So I went ahead and got reacquainted as I was recently in the area. Lino's is Rockfords most popular pizzeria dating back to 1972. They shred their own cheese blend and the sausage is made on-site. Pizzas are cooked in an old Faulds Oven which is a defunct Chicago company, lots of local pizzerias still use them. They call this “Rockford style” as it’s thicker than cracker thin but still much thinner than deep dish. Actually it’s similar in girth to most thin crust spots in and around Chicagoland. It’s also a place of celebration as they cater and do banquets so lots of people in the area have a connection to the pizza and their house special salad with sausage. You can get a pizza, a salad, and a 2 liter of pop for $20 (takeout). I was most impressed with the sheer amount of people visiting be it for dine in or for takeout where they run a Chick-Fil-A type of ship getting customers in and out in an impressive amount of time.

Salad and Pizza at Lino's 

Olympic Tavern 

If you're riding through Rockford and looking for a sit-down type of spot for dinner you should check out the Olympic Tavern. It's a Rockford institution dating back to 1945. It's got a very Wisconsin tavern and supper club type of vibe as far as the food and the atmosphere goes. You don't see fried bluegill around too often so I like to get it when I have the chance to do so and Olympic Tavern has it available regularly so that was an easy decision for me on my visit. If you've never had bluegill it's similar to lake perch in flavor and texture so it's best served lightly breaded like those seen below. 

Blue Gill Filets at Olympic Tavern 

Lao Kitchen 

If you're a Chicagoan passing through Rockford and thinking about stopping for some food you might want to consider Lao Kitchen considering there's no Lao restaurants in Chicago (there's one ghost kitchen). To my knowledge there's a small Lao community in the Rockford area which could be due to its proximity to Wisconsin where there's a fairly large Lao presence. Lao food has slowly become one of my favorites going back to my college days in Madison which is where I was first introduced to the flavors before falling even further in love with the food while in Northern Thailand with whom Laos shares a border as well as many different ingredients and recipes. Since then Lao food has become pretty popular across the country with more and more spots identifying as Lao and not Thai. Lao Kitchen has a relatively small menu with mostly standard offerings including Lao sausage which might be my favorite encased meat these days (it's top 5 for sure). I love how Lao sausage packs all the wonderful flavors and aromas of Southeast Asia both in the link itself and also from the spicy and sour jeow sauce that it's typically served with. Add in some sticky rice and you got a meal in of itself but I also rec the Lard Na which is typically found on Thai menus but is traced back to Laos where Chinese people would cook stir fried noodles covered in gravy. Lao Kitchen makes a very good version. 

Lunch at Lao Kitchen 

Tortacos Soto

Rockford might not be Illinois' Second City when it comes to tacos, that's Aurora, but there's still lots of taco options. I came across Tortacos Soto while browsing the menus of local taquerias. They have a couple of guisada (stewed meats) offerings with chicken and I enjoyed both of them. 

Pollo en Rajas con Arroz at Tortacos Soto 


If you're passing through the area and looking for something quick well then I have to mention Beef-A-Roo bc this wouldn't be a proper Rockford food post without it. The regional fast food chain opened their first location in 1967 and now has seven locations in the Rockford area while currently being in the process of a rapid expansion to a handful of other states. Beef-A-Roo is known for roast beef sandwiches which are not to be confused with Italian beef. These are more like Arby's though it's fans will tell you it's so much better and they might be right but if we're being real they're pretty similar to me. Then again it was sold by the original founders a few years back so it's likely that things have changed. I'm not saying it's terrible but it's typical fast food as far as it's quality goes. 

Roast Beef and Fries at Beef -A-Roo 


I've been making summertime stops at Zammuto's for more than 20 years now. But its history goes back way further than that. It was opened as a grocery store in 1925 by a local Italian who may or may not have had a connection to the head of the Rockford mob family ran by a man with the same surname. The grocery was transported into a granita / ice cream stand at some point in the 50's or 60's and was later sold but the granita recipe lives on with the current owner. Granita is a product of Sicily, a cousin to Italian ice in that it's a semi frozen dessert made from fruit, water, and sugar. Zammuto's serves both granita and soft serve and they combine the two of them for their signature menu item - the "Unusual". They're so well liked that other dairy stands around town also serve them. 

The Unusual at Zammuto's 

More from Illinois

Click 'Illinois' under tags for more than 50 posts including...

Eating BIG in Peoria

See ya next time @chibbqking

Monday, August 21, 2023

Webster's Wine Bar

-Grubbing in Chicago  
European Wine Bar Vibes in Logan Square

I’m not the biggest wine guy which might be the reason I’d never visited Chicago's oldest wine bar until recently but at the same time I’ve been to as many restaurants in Chicago as anybody and Webster's Wine Bar is my neighbor so no excuses except I can't go everywhere, can I? It first opened in Lincoln Park across from Webster Place with which it shared a name and a street. They moved to Logan Square on it's 20th anniversary and it’s been a fixture in the neighborhood ever since then.

Locals Favorite in Logan Square 

Aside from its extensive selection of wine paired with some wonderful European vibes Webster's is also popular for its food. They have a knack for identifying the city’s best young chefs according to friend of da blog Kenny Zuckerberg (Kennetha222 on threads if you haven't already checked out over there). I didn’t know this until after we ate there but the people that help run Webster’s also run Rootstock and that makes a lot of sense. The kitchen is currently helmed by Chef Madalyn Durrant who was making great use of the summer bounty on our recent visit. We started out with the stuffed squash blossoms as those are always a favorite of ours. On our visit they came stuffed with sweet corn risotto, whipped chèvre, and a walnut romesco. As soon as I tried one I knew they weren’t bullshitting us when it comes to their seasonal menu claim. An order of Stracciatella (the cheese with origins in Puglia) was further proof. The rich and creamy cheese shared the plate with peaches, lima beans and more things I'm forgetting. The menu is so seasonal that some of it had switched within a week of our visit. An order of Cavatelli was served with sugar peas with asparagus with breadcrumbs on our visit but is now being made with a sungold tomato sauce, chanterelles, summer squash. 

Seasonally Inspired Plates at Webster's Wine Bar

She went with the striped bass for an entrée but I can’t remember exactly what was on the plate other than the fish but you can bet a very nice bottle of wine that it was seasonally inspired and fresh and very much enjoyed by my wife. I on the other hand decided to go with the one menu item that isn’t seasonal and that’s bc it’s always on the menu due to its popularity. I had heard good things about the Steak and Frites and I decided to get that since it had been a while since I had any type of steak outside of a tortilla. The steak part of the dish is an 8 oz grass fed and grain finished flatiron steak that’s cooked to a perfect medium rare. It comes pre sliced with a ramp chimichurri sitting on top and a cup of mustard cream on the side. The made in-house frites come underneath. I loved every component of this dish from the quality of the beef and the fries plus both of the sauces. Pricewise it’s a bit steeper than some other offerings around town but not by much so don't let that steer you away from one of the most satisfying plates of meat and potatoes in this real meat & potatoes type of town.

Steak and Frites 

Webster's Wine Bar
2601 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 292-9463

Monday, August 14, 2023

Omarcito's Latin Cafe

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Latin American Fare with Flair in Logan Square

There seems to be no sign of a slowdown as far as restaurant openings in Chicago. New spots are continuously popping up and it can be pretty hard to keep up with all of them. It can also be tough to choose which spots to check out when there’s so many options but you should really put Omarcito's Latin Cafe near the top of your list while the weather is still warm. The permanent food trailer can be found just off the 3800 block of Fullerton near the border of Logan Square and Hermosa.

Newly Opened in Logan Square 

Omarcito's is ran by Omar Cadena. He’s an incredibly kind and super engaging guy, a first generation American of Cuban and Ecuadorian descent. He named his place in honor of his grandpa whom he shares a name with. Chef Omar spent most of his childhood in Chicago growing up in Albany Park and at also at his grandpas Logan Square jewelry store which is still run by the family it was sold to. After making the rounds at different restaurants around town Omar was approached by a developer looking for a tenant for a permanent food trailer that’s part of a community complex. The looks and feel of it all remind me of similar developments in places like Denver and Austin but the setup itself feels like a spot you might come across in Miami. A colorful food trailer serving up creative takes on Latin American classics with a musical playlist that matches the menu.

Lime Slushie at Omarcito's 

While the setup gives off lots of Miami vibes you won’t find a Cuban sandwich on the menu even though Omar himself is half Cuban. The menu is made up of empanadas, sandwiches, and bowls plus a couple of specials along with Cuban coffee and some of the city’s best slushees. Sandwiches are broken down into breakfast and lunch options with offerings like the “Omarcito” there for the taking. It’s a toasted French roll spread with black beans topped with muenster cheese, avocado and tomatoes and served with a side of Salvadorian sour cream. You can add a scallion omelet to make it a complete meal in a bun. The breakfast sandwich is having a moment in Chicago right now thanks to options like this one.

The Omarcito at Omarcito's Latin Cafe 

Sandwiches come on French bread supplied by a local wholesale bakery or served up as a jibarito. The steak sandwich (or jibarito) is distinctly Chicago. Omar grew up eating at the original Cafeteria Marianao on Armitage where the steak sandwiches were so popular they basically became a thing around town as other restaurants in the neighborhood started making similar sandwiches to those from Marianao. The steak sandwiches at Omarcito's are lubed with olive oil bc that’s how his grandma made them when he was a kid. To this day the steak sandwich is Omar's favorite menu item but don’t sleep on his fish sandwich. It uses crispy cornmeal coated catfish as its base and that’s matched with a wonderful family recipe Ecuadorian salsa criolla (tomato, red onion, cilantro, lime juice) and a special green garlic sauce. It’s a top notch combination of texture and flavor and it’s available as a sandwich or can be served up on some greaseless discs of fried plantains. The latter of which is a delicious mess.

Fish Jibarito at Omarcito's Latin Cafe 

You’ll find a couple specials at the end of the menu. Both of them have a Mexican background and come from the sous chef who has roots in Guerrero. The tacos dorados con pollo are an old family recipe of his that Omar wanted to put on the menu and rightfully so. These might be the best flautas in town. They’re made to order and they come out crisp and hot bc of that and they come with some deeply flavorful chicken consommé. I already know these are going to be calling my name on the first day we feel Fall in the air. That said I hope it doesn’t happen to soon bc that would mean summer is over. But luckily for Chicago, Omarcito's is a year round business.

Tacos Dorados 

Omarcito's Latin Cafe
3801 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 698-6955

Monday, August 7, 2023


-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

Čálli is the latest project Chef Jonathon Zaragoza has jumped in on. The homegrown talent grew up in the kitchen of Birrieria Zaragoza on the city’s south side. He’s one of Chicagos brightest culinary minds and has offered his knowledge and skill to a handful of projects over the years so it’s not exactly clear to me whether or not he's part owner or if he’s just a tempory resident chef and or a consultant but for now his name is behind this restaurant which resides on the second floor of Soho House. Čálli means “home” in Nahuatl and while Zaragoza comes from Chicago his roots are in Mexico and the dishes he cooks at Čálli represent the flavors, the places, and the people that make it feel like a second home. 

Recently Opened in the West Loop

Chicago food media was quick to visit Čálli as is the case with all projects Jonathon Zaragoza works on. Michael Nagrant from ‘The Hunger’ substack asked if it was the best Mexican restaurant in Chicago which is about as high of praise as you can give it. John Kessler from Chicago Magazine called the enmolada the best dish he’s ate in a restaurant all year. Nick Kindelsperger at the Tribune was a bit less enthusiastic but not so much bc of the food but rather the setting and not knowing exactly how much Zaragoza is a part of the restaurant as he was not in the kitchen during Nick’s visits. He wasn’t there when we dined-in a few weeks ago but in truth I was not expecting to see him knowing how previous projects have gone. But I was expecting to eat some good food and that’s what happened. The menu is pretty small with around 12-15 dishes making up snacks, starters, mains, and dessert. Despite the limited options I wanted to try just about everything so it still has a lot to offer. For a snack we tried the Sikil Pak which is a pumpkin seed salsa with the consistency of hummus. It’s a product of the Yucatán and it’s a popular dish in Mexican restaurants these days especially here in Chicago where there’s a handful of spots that serve it. I thought the dip itself was on par with others I’ve tried around town - it was very good. But what I really liked was the extra crisp crudo and the made on site tostadas that came with it. Both were great delivery vehicles for the Sikil Pak. 

Sikil Pak at Čálli

Moving onto the starters we decided to try the Caesar Salad in part bc I was interested in Zaragoza’s version knowing he regularly visits Tijuana where the salad originated. For those that didn’t know it’s said to have come from Caesar’s Restaurant at the Hotel Caesar in TJ. The version served at Čálli starts with baby romaine mixed with charred serrano dressing, pepita crunch, and boquerones. It was a very nice rendition of the classic in that it doesn’t sway too far from the original Caesar Salad. 

Caesar Salad

Pescado Zarandeado is another regional Mexican dish that caught my eye. It comes from the Nayarit but it’s also popular in Baja California as well as Southern California. It’s made by butterflying a whole fish which is typically rubbed with a wet marinade that varies by recipe but usually includes achiote paste, soy sauce and mayo among other things. Pescado Zarandeado just might be my favorite regional fish dish so I pretty much always get it it when I see it on the menu. This one was a must get since they grill the catch of the day over charcoal. I enjoyed the version at Čálli in big part bc of this. I also loved the addition of mint giving it a bit of a Turkish vibe when chunks of the smoky sea bass were wrapped in made on site flour tortillas while the spicy avocado salsa reminds you it's distinctly Mexican. 

Pescado Zarandeado at Čálli

Last up is the enmolada that Fooditor’s Mike Gebert, among others, gave high praise. A mushroom guisado is wrapped up in a made on site corn tortilla and then covered in a rich and complex mole poblano mole and queso fresco. I will reiterate what others have said - it’s really good. I very much suspect it’ll end up on my end of the year list of the best things I ate in 2023. I’m not sure what the future holds for Čálli and or Zaragoza but for now he still seems to have a hand in it and even if not it’s totally possible the restaurant can be just as good without him as it is with him in the picture as he was not in the house during our visit but I was still very happy with everything.


113-125 N Green St
Chicago, IL 60607 
(No phone number listed)

Thursday, August 3, 2023


-Grubbing in Chicago  
Nordic Inpired Brews and Bites in Humboldt Park 

The brewery scene in Chicago has exploded over the last decade and the city is now commonly mentioned among the country’s best for beer. There was a time when Goose Island on Clybourn was a new and exciting place where you could try beer that wasn’t available at your local liquor store but these days the city is home to what seems like a countless number of breweries and the liquor stores carry many of their products. There’s so many breweries I sometimes forget todays stop exists. Ørkenoy opened in 2020 which might be another reason I forget about it as that wasn't a good time time for breweries or anywhere that depends on crowds. But Humboldt Park’s first brewery has managed to survive the headaches and the setbacks that most spots have faced since the pandemic.

Locals Favorite in Humboldt Park 

Ørkenoy’s location inside in the Kimball Arts Center right off the 606 trail gives it a good feel as do the sunny and colorful Nordic vibes on the inside. It’s a good place to day-drink even though they don’t have a patio. If you’re in the area or walking along the 606 and looking for a place to grab a beer and or a bite it’s a good spot to stop. They brew farmhouse style beers while serving up Scandinavian style Smørrebrød plus small bites and shareable plates. Smørrebrød are small open faced sandwiches made with ingredients like smoked salmon, cucumbers and capers. The options are endless as the creations at Ørkenoy suggest. I loved the “Fry Life” which is High Life battered whitefish with cabbage and remoulade. The fish was perfectly fried and would make for a great lead in a Friday Fish Fry, something this city lacks. Both the potato pancakes and the beet pickled eggs made for great bar snacks with the pancakes being just as well fried as the fish and dressed for success with a dill crema and roe. The pickled eggs are painted with chili oil which makes everything better. I’m not well versed enough in beer to tell you this is one of the city’s best breweries as I tend to like them all as much for the good vibes as the beer itself. But I was impressed with the food for a brewery as there’s no burgers or fried chicken sandwiches on the menu. Ørkenoy also serves up tiki drinks made with Nordic ingredients which is another good reason to head over this time of the year.

Smørrebrød, Potato Pancakes, Pickled Eggs 

1757 N Kimball Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 929-4024


Related Posts with Thumbnails