Rockford’s newest eatery delivers more than an inventive menu of fresh, organic and locally sourced cuisine — it also brings together two local favorites in an exciting approach to dining.
Franchesco’s Ristorante in Rockford has long been known for its swank interior and culinary artistry and its evening entertainment. Now, this local favorite is stepping up to the breakfast and lunch tables with a new venture, Fresco at the Gardens, which opened this July.
Set inside the visitor center at Anderson Japanese Gardens, 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, Fresco combines Franchesco’s dedication to quality with a focus on fresh, organic, locally sourced ingredients in scratch-made dishes.
“Local and organic meals are trending topics around the nation and the world,” says Jake Ziegler, restaurant manager. “We’ve designed our menu around the freshest ingredients possible, whether they’re locally sourced or organic.”
The fresh produce comes mainly from area farms; other ingredients hail from familiar companies: Mary’s Market provides fresh-baked bread and Rockford Roasting Co. supplies fresh coffee.
Breakfast and lunch menus are crafted by head chef Robert Phillips, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who’s spent a few decades cooking throughout America. His breakfast creations add a flavorful spin to the morning meal. The Green Eggs and Ham omelet, for example, combines pesto, Asiago cheese, pancetta and eggs.
The lunch menu is similarly filled with flavor-packed dishes such as the Chicken Corn Chowder, a Caprese flatbread, the Fresco burger (made from grass-fed or Kobe beef), and the crab cake BLT: wild-caught blue crab topped with bacon, arugula, tomato and garlic aioli. French fries and chips are handmade.
In-and-out diners can pick up coffee or FrescoFit Healthy Thirst Quenchers. These homemade smoothies include strawberry orange juice and The Hulk, a blend of kale, mint, honeydew and Granny Smith apples.
Expect the menu to evolve this fall, as locally available produce changes with the season. The restaurant is open year-round and its floor-to-ceiling windows offer a prime glimpse into one of the highest-rated Japanese gardens in North America.
When David Anderson, part of the gardens’ founding family, first approached Franchesco’s owner Benny Salamone and his daughter Michelle LaMay about filling the then-vacant gathering space, the restaurateurs saw potential.
“We’ve been expanding our brand by expanding our off-site caterings,” says general manager LaMay. “I think this is the perfect time and location to venture into the local, organic scene.”
Anderson finds that the new restaurant has been a big benefit to walk-in visitors, nearly 40,000 of whom visit each year.
“We find that 70 percent of walk-in garden guests come from outside the Rockford area and Winnebago County,” says Anderson. “Fresco enhances their visit because now they can get breakfast or lunch while they’re here. We saw in the Salamone family someone who mirrors the reputation for excellence that we maintain.”
Excited by Fresco’s cuisine, Salamone says diners can soon expect more organic, locally sourced dishes on the menu at Franchesco’s, too. Although Franchesco’s is not open for daily lunch, it does accommodate breakfast and lunch for larger or corporate events, says Salamone.
In one corner of Fresco, the Java Café provides a coffeehouse-style atmosphere where coffee and other drinks are served at the bar. “It has that Starbucks feel, but we go way beyond that, because if you want a full breakfast, we can offer that as well,” says Salamone.
Fresco has received a warm welcome from local diners and has sparked new relationships, including one with health-conscious Peak Sports Club, which has labeled healthy dishes on the menu.
“This collaboration between the Andersons and ourselves is a must-visit, because of the natural beauty of the location and the culinary experience that we offer,” says LaMay.
Fresco is open Mon.-Fri. from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Franchesco’s Ristorante is open daily at 4 p.m.