Retro-chic gastropub Vintage @ 501 does what America does best: snacks and beer.
If spacious leather booths and up-cycled record album menus augment Vintage @ 501’s cool mid-century style, then the actual, literal motorcycle that divides the dining room from the bar pushes the vibe to full-throttle, Fonzie-style “swell.” Behind the bar, which itself supports a number of seasonal and regular taps, a gigantic red, white and blue star mosaic stretches through the tile work. Vintage @ 501’s unique mingling of the patriotic and the hip would not work everywhere; fortunately for them, Rockford’s equally as uncommon Midwestern-urbanite night scene provides its perfect– and maybe only conceivable– setting.
Unfortunately, rather like most political candidates post-inauguration, many of the main dishes at this good ole’ bar and grill fall far flat of their flashy initial promises.
Words to the wise: when the waiter counters an innocent order of, “I’ll have the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich, please?” with a concerned, “You mean the Mixed Vegetable Sandwich ($7)?” one must regard his statement as a Paul Revere-type of moment and give serious consideration to what he warns is coming to the table. One deceptively paltry alteration in semantics and the sandwich that arrives (by land? by sea?) is not the expected soft, melty panini. On the contrary, a cold wheat bun piled high with raw cucumbers, lettuce, pickled red peppers and mushrooms bursts through the front lines. In true capitalist American spirit, cheese costs an extra $.50, and, though nothing is explicitly stated in the fine print, its inclusion is utterly mandatory. Pesto missing? Never fear: on either side of the napkin rack, the trusty Heinz twins stand tall and dependable in their glass bottles.
Spicy habanero pepper jack cheese and jalapeno peppers crank up the heat atop the Firehouse Burger’s ($10) otherwise average patty; nonetheless, customers may still want to consider ordering this filling grub, as Vintage @ 501 pledges right on their menu to donate $1 to the local fire company for every Firehouse Burger sold. No doubt the donation is a laudable venture on behalf of Vintage @ 501, though the shameful fact remains that, in this case, it seems philanthropy and gastronomy are not created equal.
For the most part, appetizers and sides offer more satisfaction than the main dishes. In a rare case wherein the absence of melty, fatty cheese actually proves acceptable, the Cheese-less Veggie Flatbread (Pizza without cheese? Is that even legal?) ($8) outshines other lighter selections, namely the bland White Bean Hummus ($8). One flatbread could satisfy as a full meal or, depending on how loudly their stomachs rumble, two or three peckish fellow citizens may consider splitting it.
For an additional George Washington, diners can choose to have an order of thin and crispy Sweet Potato Fries accompany any burger or sandwich. Realistically, the best course of action may be to nix the sandwich all together and order a giant pile of these salty-sweet sticks of snack food gold. Similarly, the Vintage Cheddar Ale Soup also costs diners a few extra bucks; however, when it arrives to the table piping hot and sprinkled with a generous smattering of bacon and chives, the vibrant juxtaposition of textures and tastes works to engage every sense until, all too soon, the bowl shines clean.
Is the food at Vintage @ 501 spectacular? No. It’s not– but dang it if guests won’t have fun while eating it. Worst comes to worst, crack another beer and talk it over with an old friend.
All in all, the relaxed atmosphere and tasty appetizers reap Vintage @ 501 a modest 6 out of 10 distinctly American stars.