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During a recent trip to Baci’s Kitchen in Rockford, Illinois, The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes ordered this plate of bruschetta. The dish featured red and yellow heirloom tomatoes on crostini surrounding a mound of burrata cheese, all drizzled with balsamic.

ROCKFORD, ILL.

Recently, I’ve had several people mention the food at Baci’s Kitchen to me. Since we never pass up a good recommendation, we took the short 35-minute drive to see for ourselves what this Rockford restaurant was all about.

The location on busy Perryville Road was easy to spot, but if you see it while on Perryville, you’ve passed the entrance and will have to go back around the block. Be sure to turn on Olde Creek Road.

After making our way across the big parking lot to the entrance, we saw a sign advertising happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. every night. With a quick check of the time, we realized we had arrived just under the wire.

We were enchanted with the idea of dining alfresco, so we opted to sit outside on the patio. It seemed like a good idea at first, but the Thursday evening traffic noise was somewhat distracting. And a little later, it got a bit chilly.

As we were seated, we asked the host to send the server out immediately so we could take advantage of the happy hour specials. Bottles of wine were $15 each, specialty coffees were $1 off and the appetizers were half-price. We didn’t bother to look at the beer selections—they had us at $15 bottles of wine.

We ordered quickly and were pleased with our choices. Helene and I split a bottle of the house merlot ($15) while Nikki got a caramel macchiato ($2.50), and we shared a plate of bruschetta ($4.50) around the table.

The bruschetta was beautiful with red and yellow heirloom tomatoes on crostini surrounding a mound of burrata cheese, all drizzled with balsamic. The buffalo milk mozzarella cheese was wonderful with its creamy center. Chopped basil and balsamic vinaigrette added to the visual appeal and flavor, but we were slightly disappointed by the crostini base, which was not very crispy.

Still, we would order it again just for that fabulous burrata cheese!

When the wind picked up, I got a little cold and “hangry” and made the mistake of adding loaded fries ($3.50) to our order. The fries were fries, but the “loaded” part was just cheese and bacon. It needed something lively, and we felt guilty about filling up on it.

For entrees, I knew I would be going for the dish that had garnered rave reviews from friends: the fried goat cheese salad ($10). It was pretty, colorful and healthy with kale, greens, strawberries and fried goat cheese. The mango citrus dressing was particularly nice. All in all, I would say it was worth the rave.

Helene knew she wanted salmon. She was torn between the ‘stacked’ salmon, which was a salmon filet topped with radishes, carrots, tomatoes and orange slices (how does that sound!), and the salmon protein bowl ($14), but she ended up going with the latter.

A lovely presentation with sesame seeds strewn on top of the salmon, this centerpiece was neatly surrounded by shredded carrots, edamame, sautéed spinach, a slice of avocado and a dollop of avocado paste/dip. Maybe Helene was supposed to mix it all together to mash up all the flavors, but she opted instead to enjoy the flavors individually. It was a great, healthy meal.

Nikki was tempted by the salmon Benedict ($14), which was the evening’s special, but she ended up ordering one of Baci’s pizzas. The offerings include such classic pizzas as Italian meat lovers and sausage and pepperoni, as well as a build-your-own option.

Baci’s margherita sounded good, so she went with that. The pizzas come in four sizes, and gluten-free crusts are available. As Nikki deliberated on which size to order, our server helpfully suggested a medium ($16) if we wanted any leftovers. That was a good call.

The crust was thin and crisp, topped with a simple blend of fresh roasted tomatoes, strips of basil and mozzarella. It was baked just slightly past Nikki’s preference, with pretty dark edges, but the overall taste was light and fresh.

We almost passed on dessert, but on our way out, we thought we should at least take a peek. We were glad we did because we found out Baci’s makes its own gelato. The flavor of the day was pistachio, and we ordered a cup to share on the ride back to Janesville. With its sublime color, the gelato was subtle and wonderful.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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