Regional Dining Guide

Lydia’s: A Bistro With a Neighborhood Feel

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Tucked inside a small neighborhood shopping center, this popular cafe is has received some fresh updates. See what awaits inside this familiar lunch and breakfast destination.

Terri and Michael Hallstrom

Sometimes, the best restaurants can be found right around the corner. Lydia’s is an intimate café located at 1710 Rural St., Rockford, tucked between a barber shop and a cupcake shop. Hungry locals drop in from all over town to enjoy a varied breakfast and lunch menu, primarily American fare.

“It truly is a neighborhood, casual dining place,” says Michael Hallstrom, who co-owns the eatery with wife Terri. “From the beginning, what has helped us to succeed is that customers appreciate the fact that they have a local place to call their own. Our customers have been very supportive.”

The Hallstroms opened their business 14 years ago, and Terri manages the day-to-day operations. Over the years, all three of their children have worked at Lydia’s, and two continue to provide input, having graduated from culinary schools, one in Portland, Ore., the other in Chicago.

The creative menu is Midwest-inspired. In addition to staples such as eggs Benedict, homemade corned beef hash and mammoth pancakes, Lydia’s now offers a wider selection of omelets, burgers and sandwiches, many named after local landmarks and streets. For lunch, try the Overlook burger (with pesto mayo, tomato and mozzarella) or the Calvin Park (turkey, avocado, tomato, bacon and honey Dijon on ciabatta). There are homemade soups every day, too, like eggplant parmesan, carrot bisque, chicken noodle and Tuscan white bean, to name a few.

For breakfast, there’s The Symbol, a grilled portabella mushroom topped with bleu cheese, fresh spinach, tomato and two eggs, served with hash browns and toast. New south-of-the-border dishes include breakfast tacos and Chillaquiles: fried tortilla strips beneath three eggs, bacon, salsa verde and pepper jack cheese.

“It’s all about Rockford,” Terri says. “It’s important to us that we tie Lydia’s into the neighborhood.”
The restaurant recently expanded by 800 square feet, which allowed for a larger dining room and kitchen, plus new, handicap-accessible restrooms.

The renovated dining room seats 70 and has a bistro atmosphere, with urban-inspired chandeliers. The neutral color scheme is an excellent backdrop for paintings by local artist Jane Weis Proudfoot, whose work may be purchased.

The Hallstroms opened Lydia’s in 1999, after coming across their current location. “We loved the space and the area,” says Michael. “We discussed it and decided it looked like something to entrepreneur, a way for us to be our own boss and make an impact in the community we’ve lived in all our lives. So we said, ‘Let’s do it.” The family named the restaurant in honor of Terri’s mother.

Rockford resident Mark Engelen discovered Lydia’s five years ago, when he and a group of friends were looking for a weekend gathering place. These days, Engelen visits at least two or three times a week for breakfast and lunch.

“Lydia’s is a very friendly place,” he says. “We see people there we know from all over town. They did a great job on the renovation, and the new menu is wonderful.”

With renovations complete, future plans include expanding hours of operation and obtaining a liquor license for the sale of regional beer, wine and brunch-friendly cocktails. But carefully managed growth is important to the Hallstroms.

“We want to perfect what we have,” Michael says. “We’re still working on tweaking a lot of things. Every week we’re moving a table here or there. It’s always a work in progress.”

Despite changes at Lydia’s, one thing remains constant: high-quality food. “I think that’s why we have people who continue to return after five, 10 years,” says Terri. “And we hope that new customers will become familiar customers in no time.”

Lydia’s is open Tues.-Fri. 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-1 p.m., and Sun. 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

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