Nikki Bolka, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this Thai chicken chop chop salad during a recent visit to Garrett’s in Rockford, Ill. The salad, served with two dressings on the side, features carrots, cabbage, jicama, green onion, cucumber, chicken, avocado and peanuts.


On the recommendations of friends and family, we made the short drive to Garrett’s in Rockford.

This area of the city has really been built up over the last few years. Garrett’s, which opened in 2000, has grown from a small establishment to a very popular location complete with a banquet room and The Golf Shack’s driving range in the backyard.

When we arrived, the large, contemporary bar area was crowded, and many people were enjoying one of the season’s first opportunities to relax on the outdoor patio. We were seated near a wall of windows in one of the two dining spaces and had a great view of the patio and driving range—lush, green and pleasing to the eye.

To start, we looked over the drink menu. There are 16 beers on tap (more than half are craft-brewed) and a large wine list. The nightly drink special was a $5 Moscow Mule, which is one of Jennifer’s favorites. Ice cold, refreshing and served in the traditional copper mug, the drink was delicious.

I wanted The Dude ($7), which was a coffee whiskey and salted caramel liquor mix. While it sounds more like a nice dessert, the dark coffee and strong whiskey kept it from being too sweet.

I was jealous of Helene’s Ocho 15 ($9), which uses a blanco tequila and aloe liqueur. This was a “dry” drink with fresh grapefruit juice and a few sprigs of basil to add a bit of ballast to the alcohol.

Garrett’s features several tempting appetizers from bacon-wrapped dates to prosciutto and goat cheese bruschetta. We hadn’t had crab cakes ($12.99) in a while, so we decided to split an order.

Three meaty cakes, lightly crusted without a lot of breading, were melt-in-your-mouth soft. They are baked, and Jennifer would have preferred a more crispy texture from either deep frying or broiling. However, they were served with a fabulously creamy lemon-butter sauce and a colorful sprinkling of paprika, making them wonderfully flavorful.

I’m a sucker for smoked pork, so picking my entree was easy. My sandwich ($12.99) was loaded with house-smoked (for 10 hours) pork on a brioche bun. Garrett’s makes its own barbecue sauce and offer four choices: tangy, habanero, brown sugar bourbon and garlic barbecue. I went with the brown sugar bourbon sauce and loved it. The plate was heaped with crispy seasoned fries, which we all nibbled on.

Nikki was craving vegetables, so she ordered a salad. The Thai chicken chop chop ($11.99/small, $13.99/regular) had julienned carrots, cabbage, jicama, green onion and cucumber, accompanied by small chunks of chicken breast, a sliced avocado and peanuts. The salad was garnished with crispy rice noodles and wonton strips and came with two dressings on the side: lime cilantro and peanut sauce. When tossed together, the flavors all combined to create a crunchy, tangy, fresh dish.

Helene found the wild mushroom ravioli ($19.99) appealing. Six large ravioli came in a marsala sauce that was both savory and delicious. Several shrimp and plenty of mushrooms were topped with bits of tomato, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Surprisingly, she finished her portion and used my french fries to sop up the rest of the sauce, which was too good to go to waste.

Helene’s meal also included a choice of soup or salad, and she chose the salad with blue cheese dressing. After she demolished her entrée, she had to box up the salad, which featured red and green leaf lettuce, ripe tomatoes and crunchy carrot sticks. She mentioned it was very good the next day.

For her entree, Jennifer selected the bruschetta and spinach quesadilla ($13.99), a Garrett’s original since 2002. For an additional $4, she added sauteed shrimp.

A large, lightly browned flour tortilla was stuffed with fresh chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil and baby spinach. Oozing with melted Monterey Jack cheese and served with both salsa and sour cream, it was evident the freshest vegetables were used in preparing her dish. The plump shrimp gave it that extra punch, and she welcomed the rich, full-bodied taste they provided.

To round out our night, we shared dessert. When we see house-made creme brulee ($7) on a menu, we say “bring four spoons, please.” The sound and feel of breaking that caramel crust is so satisfying, and the rich, creamy custard base with hints of vanilla was divine.

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