If all goes as planned, Heartland will relocate from its intimate Mac-Groveland location to what many food lovers consider the heart of the capital city: the St. Paul Farmers Market.
Across the street, anyway. Should all the financing fall into place this week, chef/co-owner Lenny Russo will be taking over much of the first two floors of the Market House (289 E. 5th St.), a 108-year-old red-brick beauty and former shoe factory that was converted to condominiums in the 1980s.
It's a huge project: An 80- to 90-seat dining room will overlook the farmers market. Russo plans to draw in market shoppers by serving weekend brunch. In addition, an 80- to 90-seat lounge and an exhibition kitchen -- equipped with several chef's tables -- will wrap around the building's dramatic atrium and several adjacent rooms will contain tech-savvy banquet space for up to 200 people.
The facility also will include a watch-them-work butcher shop that will specialize in house-made charcuterie. A prime corner space will be devoted to a market, where shoppers will be able to purchase locally raised foods, along with prepared products and grab-and-go lunch items produced in the Heartland kitchens.
"It's going to be a constant exchange of labor," explained Russo. "The market will act as a larder for the restaurant, and the restaurant will act as a production facility to create value-added product for the market. "
Any way you look at it, Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market is an ambitious undertaking (the square footage alone is roughly five times Heartland's current size), and represents an enormous step forward for both Russo and the local foods movement.
"I want this to reflect how fortunate we are to live in a region with such great farmers and producers and artisans," Russo said. "I hope people will have a real connection to the food when they see it. It won't be like walking into a restaurant. It will be like walking into a food emporium, like a market house, which is why that name is so fitting."
Russo and his new business partner, Kris Maritz, go way back. Russo worked for Maritz, now a nonprofit business consultant, when she was the co-owner of the ahead-of-its-time Blackberry Creek Market in Minneapolis in the early 1990s.
Why Lowertown? "We think Lowertown is a gem," Russo said. "We see what we're doing as a complement to the farmers market. If I had to think of one place in the Twin Cities that reminds me of Soho [in New York City], Lowertown would be it. We had opportunities to do some stuff in Minneapolis, but we wanted to stay in St. Paul."
Nothing's for certain (small-business financing remains as tight as a well-sealed Mason jar), but don't be surprised if a group of high-profile St. Paul restaurateurs snap up the soon-to-be-vacant Mac-Groveland Heartland space. Russo's plan is to close the original Heartland (1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul, www.heartlandrestaurant.com) on June 13, and reopen in Lowertown on July 15.Condolences
Our deep sympathies to the family, friends, colleagues and customers of Jonathan Radle. The Grand Cafe (3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., www.grandcafempls.com) chef died last week. A memorial mass will be today, April 22, at 11 a.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Lake St. Croix Beach.