Food, family and Italian ambiance are some of the reasons why people return to this popular restaurant on Rockford’s east side. Find out why the food at this Italian eatery is filled with love and passion.
Though Rose Mary Leggio wants her food to taste good, it has to look even better.
“Everything that comes out of here is on me,” she says. “It’s not on the cook or the waitress; it’s on me, and if it doesn’t look right, I don’t want it to be served. I don’t sit there and say people won’t notice.”
Leggio opened Cucina di Rosa, which means “Rose’s Kitchen,” in 2016 at 1620 N. Bell School Road, Rockford, after eight years away from the restaurant business.
“The way we cook here is the way I cook at home for my family,” she says. “The dishes I have here are what I like to make at home.”
A native of Sicily, Leggio started her restaurant career in 2006 by selling her popular cannoli, which comes from a recipe that’s been passed down from generation to generation. They were the inspiration behind her first restaurant, the Cannoli Cafe, which she opened in Rockford.
“The cannoli recipe that I use was my grandma’s, and she got it from a friend who had a bakery in Sicily about 100 years ago,” Leggio says. “I make them from scratch, and I make them one by one. I may make 1,000 of them to get 300 looking good. If they’re not bubbly, or they’re too thin or flat, I don’t use them.”
Cannoli Cafe stayed open until 2008, when Leggio decided to put more effort into her travel business, Around The World Tours, which is something she’s run since 1991.
“I escort groups through Italy and Sicily, and it’s something I still do,” Leggio says. But, she missed the restaurant business. When she first opened Cucina di Rosa, she only had paninis, a few salads and arancini on the menu, with lasagna and chicken parmesan as occasional specials. More and more people wanted the Italian dishes, so Leggio expanded her menu.
Today, she still carries paninis, but she also serves salads, soups and entrees such as veal, chicken and eggplant parmigiana; tortellini; ravioli; and a Sicilian-style, award-winning lasagna, which has hard-boiled eggs and peas.
She prides herself on using Italian-imported ingredients whenever possible.
“Everything except the bread is homemade,” she says. “My menu has continued to expand, and I want it to, because people like the things we come up with.”
Her desert menu features cannoli, cannoli cake, cannoli cupcakes, cream puffs, homemade gelato, biscotti and an array of Italian cookies. She says she’s the only gelato chef in town.
To complement dessert, Cucina di Rosa also has a large coffee selection, ranging from espressos and lattes to mocha and mint chocolate-flavored selections.
“In Italy, coffee is very important,” Leggio says. “You can’t serve good dessert without having good coffee, and we sell it by the pound. Our coffee is smooth, and people love it.”
The restaurant also serves craft beers and Italian wines that mainly come from Italy and Sicily.
The cozy interior echoes the ambience of Italy. The tidy space has bistro-sized black tables, each with four neatly placed chairs. Sunlight filters through large windows upon pictures of Italy and a display of homemade gelato at the end of an oversized bar. Leggio pays tribute to her family by displaying photos of her grandmother and other family members.
“This place has always been about family,” Leggio says, wiping tears from her eyes. “Sicilians show their love and passion for their friends and family through their food. We’re all about family, passion and coming together.”
Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 8 a.m.-10 p.m.