It's only been a few weeks since chef Lenny Russo announced that he was moving his Heartland (1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul, www.heartland restaurant.com) from its Mac-Groveland home to Lowertown, and already the Heartland space has been snapped up.
The Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (www.blueplaterestaurantcompany.com), which operates Three Squares in Maple Grove, the Edina Grill in Edina, the Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis and the Highland Grill and the Groveland Tap (just a block west of Heartland) in St. Paul, just signed a lease on the space.
"We've been friends with Lenny for years, and when he announced he was leaving, we worked out a pretty quick deal," said Blue Plate co-owner David Burley. The paperwork may have been fast, but Burley and his partners Stephanie Shimp and Luke Shimp have been kicking around the idea of a casual, affordable pizza-focused Italian operation for about three years.
The plan is to do a little remodeling and redecorating. "We're not going to mess with it all that much," said Burley. "Lenny built the kitchen and it's great, and there's that cute wine bar that the neighborhood supports, so we're not going to change that." Except they'll be adding a wine dispenser. "It'll be the opposite of the Groveland Tap, which has two wines and 36 beers on tap," said Burley. "Instead, we'll offer two tap beers and 24 wines on tap. It'll be a place for wine geeks."
Along with pizza, Burley said the menu will focus on meant-to-be-shared plates -- focusing on pastas, meats and fish -- and a bevy of side dishes that will replace the traditional appetizer-salad-entree plan, with prices starting at $9.95.
No name yet, but Burley is hoping for a September opening. The company is also working on a project in Eden Prairie. Nothing's final yet, "But if I had to wager if it's going to happen, I'd say it's going to happen," said Burley. Look for another breakfast-lunch-dinner-cocktails format, "what Blue Plate has been doing for the last 18 years," said Burley. If all goes as planned, the yet-to-be-named Eden Prairie restaurant should open in March 2011.Raise your glass
Wine bars are popping up like tulips. Nectar Wine Bar & Bistro is up and running in Osseo (204 Central Av., 763-657-7231, www.nectarbistro.com), as is Swirl (3291 S. St. Croix Trail, Afton, 651-436-2010, www.swirlmywine.com), a hybrid wine shop/wine bar/cafe that's a part of the Afton House Inn.On the calendar
Cooqi, St. Paul's exceptional gluten-free bakery, has closed its doors. But owner Judy Malmon isn't leaving the business entirely; look for her gluten-free baking mixes to appear soon at a retailer near you. In addition, Cooqi's popular gluten-free pizza crusts will continue to be available at Pizza Lucé (www.pizzaluce.com) and a few other pizzerias around town.
Take advantage of morel season with a five-course all-morel feast on Sunday evening at Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, www.meritage-stpaul.com). Reservations $95 per person (wine pairing $35), call 651-222-5670.
Chef Jim Kyndberg, who made morels an annual extravaganza at his former Bayport Cookery, is taking his multi-course morel celebration to the Afton House Inn's Hudson Cruise Line on the St. Croix River. The boat boards Friday evening at 6 p.m. at 500 1st St. in Hudson. Reservations $75 per person, call 651-436-8883.