Regional Dining Guide

Abreo: A Downtown Trailblazer, by Coincidence

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Chef Paul Sletten likes to keep things simple, even as his popular businesses keep on growing. Meet this passionate chef and find out how his eateries continue to blaze new trails.

The newly remodeled bar at Abreo is just one of four dining areas in the restaurant. Guests also enjoy the private dining room, a wine cellar, and the outdoor patio.

The newly remodeled bar at Abreo is just one of four dining areas in the restaurant. Guests also enjoy the private dining room, a wine cellar, and the outdoor patio.

Twelve years ago, Paul Sletten took a gamble on himself, and to a lesser extent, on downtown Rockford.

The self-proclaimed “food dork” opened Abreo, 515 E. State St., in the former home of Bacchus, at a time when downtown Rockford wasn’t a destination spot.

Now, more than a decade later, Sletten and Abreo are flourishing, right in line with the growth of the Forest City’s urban hub. And along with his restaurant, Sletten also owns Social, 509 E. State St., and is a partner in Rockford’s newest downtown eatery, Taco Betty’s. Abreo is the exclusive caterer for The Standard, a reception venue which is adjacent to Taco Betty’s and is the newest riverside destination for weddings, birthdays and corporate events.

Sletten’s success didn’t grow from some master business plan. He’s not that complicated.

“I didn’t start a business because I had a good grasp on research and development,” the chef says. “I just wanted to keep cooking. I wanted a place to keep doing it, and downtown was the only place I could imagine doing it, because everything else seemed boring to me. It was where I hung out and was what I liked.”

He also takes that same simplistic attitude when it comes to operating his restaurant.

“We don’t talk about what everybody else is doing or how can we stay ahead of trends,” he says. “We just talk about what we like, and it gives us the freedom to work with blinders on and focus on ourselves.

“Our industry is hospitality,” he adds. “When you come in, it’s our job to make you feel comfortable, make you have an enjoyable time, and forget everything else outside this building.”

And, of course, provide a great meal. That’s where Abreo sets itself apart.

The fluid menu can change on a daily basis because of Sletten’s focus on cooking with locally grown products and ingredients.

“We don’t have any regular format as to when we change the menu,” Sletten says, adding that following Abreo on Facebook is the best way to keep up. “When it’s peak growing season from April to November, that’s when things are really starting to hit the market and it’s more a case that you know what’s coming and when.

“But you don’t always know when certain things will be ready,” he adds. “It might be Sept. 1, or Sept. 16, or Oct. 3. So, our menu will change sporadically. A number of times we’ve gone through a menu change twice a week, just because things are popping up, like morel mushrooms, ramp and other wild things. Somebody might knock on the back door and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got these,’ and we’re like, ‘Boom!’ Menu change that day.”

Sletten is up to 12 local suppliers, including Harrison Market Gardens in Winnebago, Ill., Chestnut Cliff Farm in Freeport, Raines Honey Farm in Davis, Ill., McKenna Farms and Van Laar’s in Capron, Ill., Anderson Organics in Caledonia, Ill., Crust & Crumbles Bakery in Rockford, and Hazzard Free Farms in Pecatonica.

“Once you taste the quality, make a relationship and physically go out there and see the product, literally from farm to table and everywhere in between, you can’t go back,” Sletten says.

Abreo has four unique dining areas including a newly remodeled bar, a private dining room, an outdoor garden patio for open-air dining, and a private wine cellar.

Reservations are not required, but they are recommended. Hours are Monday through Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight.

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