Four Stars: A tip for road warriors on I-90

Chef-ower Josef Schwaiger and German chef Mirko Reeh at Josef Barbados Steakhouse and Oyster Bar in Rockford, Ill. The sailfish is one tip-off that this is an unusually good restaurant.

Today's a casserole day for me — a hotdish of leftover items I've been meaning to get into Four Stars for a while.

Speaking of hotdish, I'll have a column on the Four Stars of Hotdishnext month. Three new places in the area — Crooked Pint and Cowboy Jack's in Rochester and Oliver's Wine Bar in Red Wing — have tater tot hotdish and other casseroles on the menu, which just proves that comfort food never goes out of style, even in summer.

That column will be in 507 on Aug. 13

Foodie stop for I-90 travelers

If you're headed home from Chicago and hoping to find something more than a truck stop for dinner, I'll bet Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar in Rockford, Ill., is as good as any you'll find within a few miles of Interstate 90.


Though it's a steakhouse, with dry-aged black Angus steaks, it's especially memorable for the oyster bar and seafood. The raw bar includes plump and briny Beau Soleils from New Brunswick, Canada, presented on a colossal dish of ice with all the fixings. There are crabcake-sized diver scallops ($30), a saffron bouillabaise with salmon and whitefish ($28), a lobster thermidor ($42) that's served on the half-shell, as well as a one-pound rock lobster tail, definitely for two people ($72).

If you're in a hurry to get back on the road, the appetizer list is full of fresh seafood, as well as more typical fare.

It's a museum-quality dining room — actually, a series of rooms, full of art, some of it by people whose names you'll recognize (Dali and Christo) and some by one of the co-owners, Cherri Rittenhouse-Schwaiger, an art professor at Rock Valley College. Her husband, Josef Schwaiger, is an Austrian-born chef who has three restaurants in Barbados as well as another in Rockford. At Josef Barbados, he calls in some island-tinted flavors and ingredients, but for the most part, it's classic European cuisine, from pommes frites to haricots verts.

Back to the steaks: We paid a few extra bucks for the dry-aged bone-in New York steak, and for taste and texture, you'll note the difference.

Though we hit a detour the night we checked out Josef's, presumably that's fixed and it's otherwise a quick shot off the highway. Take the Business Highway 20 exit off of I-90 and follow your GPS after that; I'll link to directions online . Call 815-282-3400 if you get lost, or for reservations.

Josef's is an elegant, white tablecloth experience, but they can move you along fairly quickly if you're in a hurry. If you have time to linger, take a table on the Barbados-themed patio.

More on Downtown Kitchen

Four Stars reader Jeri Sehlsent a note a while back about my column bidding farewell to Downtown Kitchen , the excellent restaurant that closed in March when it lost its lease. The adjacent Tap House pub expanded into the former restaurant space.


"I wanted to tell you I was pleased to see your review of the Downtown Kitchen in the April 2 edition of 507," Jeri wrote. "That place was one of our favorite places to go, and we went about once a month. We very much appreciated the small, quiet relaxing atmosphere. No TVs on every wall. No music blaring. Best of all, no crowds of people all yelling at the top of their lungs at each other in order to be heard. Some nights when we went with friends, we were there for two hours, enjoying the leisurely pace and each others company.

"Last night I went with four friends to a place in the same area. It was so crowded and loud we could barely hear each other even sitting next to or across the table from one another. Is this the future of new dining experiences here in Rochester? How many more places do we need with 500 beers and liquors on the menu?

"I'm hoping that Kevin Maddenand company will be able to find another place like the DK was. It can't come too soon!"

Last I checked, Kevin had no plans to begin again elsewhere downtown, but I'll let you know if I hear more.

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