Rockford Casino: More than Just a Place to Gamble

Lurking inside Rockford’s latest attraction lie two premier restaurants that not only serve up premier cuisine but serve as an attraction in their own right.

Dishes like ribs and loaded fries are casual but elevated at the two restaurants inside Rockford Casino-A Hard Rock Opening Act. (Rockford Casino photos)

Great times and lasting memories can be had by those who visit the Rockford Casino–a Hard Rock Opening Act, even if they’re not a gambler.

In addition to 37,000 square feet of gambling space, the “Opening Act,” a temporary casino at 610 N. Bell School Road, is also home to two restaurants. Rock River Bar & Grill is a casual restaurant featuring USDA Prime steak, while Midway Bar is a sports-themed setting that also serves as a gathering place. This latter bar has more than 20 beers on tap, many of which are locally sourced.

“A lot of people who visit us don’t gamble, and they don’t have to,” says casino president Geno Iafrate. “You might just want to come out and have a beer and a burger and watch a football game.”

The two premier restaurants inside the Opening Act Casino might be in familiar locations for anyone who visited when this spot housed Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center. Midway Bar is located where Alchemy was, and Rock River Bar & Grill is where Legacy was situated.

It took just over three months to transform Giovanni’s into the casino and restaurants. The establishment is rapidly approaching its one-year anniversary in November.

Rock River Bar & Grill’s menu is simple, yet tasteful. Seafood lovers will enjoy the wood-fired Atlantic salmon served with artichoke and tomato stew or the surf and turf, which comes with cold water lobster tail, an 8-ounce filet mignon and mashed potatoes.

The Shellfish Fra Diavolo is a fan favorite served with shrimp, clams, mussels, a spicy tomato sauce and fettuccine.

Guests can also enjoy wood-fired filet mignon or New York strip steak. Wood-fired, sea salt-rubbed free-range chicken is also on the menu.

Come early on Sundays and enjoy brunch favorites like chicken and waffles or steak and eggs.
“Rock River Bar & Grill is upscale-casual,” Iafrate says. “You don’t have to get all dressed up to come here. You can wear jeans and Birkenstocks and get yourself a nice steak, some lobster and a bottle of wine.”

Midway Bar is more of a casual dining experience, with several wood-fired pizzas on the menu, including a pizza inspired by lasagna. This pizza has mozzarella and ricotta cheeses along with meatballs, sausage and tomato sauce. The Rock’n Vodka Pasta features sausage meatballs, ricotta cheese, spinach, vodka sauce and rigatoni.

“Midway Bar is more casual,” Iafrate says. “We have these great garage doors, and the whole front opens up. We have 10 or 11 TVs just in this restaurant, so it’s a great place to come watch sports. You can come in here with the TV volume up, full tables and a bunch of people sitting at the bar watching the game. It’s a pretty fun place.”

Iafrate says the Opening Act and the future permanent location of the Hard Rock Casino just down the street are entertainment destinations, so the fun goes beyond the gambling.

“In recent weeks, we’ve given away a Sea-Doo and a Harley Davidson motorcycle,” Iafrate says. “We’ve hosted dozens of musical events, we had Super Bowl parties and we have some new entertainment plans in the works as we approach our one-year anniversary this fall. Watch our website and social media or stop in to sign up for our Players’ Club and receive exclusive promotions, restaurant and entertainment previews.”

Rock River Bar & Grill is open Wed.-Sat. 5-10 p.m., with Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Midway Bar & Grill is open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. to 2 a.m.