Triumph in the Heartland

Fine-dining northern lights open affordable annexes

There are a number of oft-changing deli salads in the case that will serve as appetizers, such as the one made with roasted beets, kale, and fennel in a balsamic vinaigrette. Or another of cubed apples, thick spinach leaves, carrots, and almonds in a mustard-apple-cider vinaigrette. (These salads cost $8.99 a pound; an appetizer portion costs about $2.)

Glasses of wine--a single white or a single red, frequently changing--are available for $4.95 or $5.95. The pastries are very good: A chocolate pot de crème was just sweet enough to be dessert, but just bitter enough to stay interesting through a whole cup of coffee. Individual apple-crumble pies and key lime tartlets are nothing short of adorable.

As a takeout bakery Lucia's Bakery has the works: crisp baguettes, intense sourdoughs, crumbly scones, and much more. With 24-hour notice they can even make whole chocolate cakes, pies, trays of bars, or dozens of cookies for you to try to pass off as your own at your next dinner party or school bake sale. (When I've been there, single pies in the case have run between $16.95 and $24.) In the evenings, whole roasted chickens can be ordered to take out for $10.

Attainable heights: Lucia Watson in her affordable new annex
Bill Kelley
Attainable heights: Lucia Watson in her affordable new annex

Location Info


Heartland Restaurant

1806 St. Clair Ave.
St Paul, MN 55105-1936

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Macalester/Groveland

The little place has one glaring flaw: It has only nine tables, so I'm reasonably convinced I'll never get in the door again. It's the perfect, perfect place when you've got half an hour to kill in Uptown before a movie, or you're solo and want something tastier than fast food, or if you're recovering from an overlong hair appointment. Actually, is that an alternate definition for living in Uptown these days, recovering from an overlong hair appointment?

Well, no matter. I know for a fact that for every Sunday in perpetuity the joint is going to be crammed with moist blondes in strollers, architects, attorneys, gardening consultants, and all the Uptown usual suspects, only a very few of whom will know or care that the squash soup they're sipping is more than a soup, but is actually the culmination of a once-radical way of relating to our political, economic, and cultural environment.


Luckily, there's always room in St. Paul. Well, except for maybe the magical hour between 6:30 and 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights. Did you know that in the rest of the country restaurateurs count on seating a table two or even three times in the course of an evening? Not here. Here, people want to eat at six or seven or not at all. I think maybe the babysitters are to blame. Possibly the babysitters' parents. Or maybe it's early cheerleading practice?

I digress. The point is that the original impetus for Lenny Russo, owner and chef of Heartland, to open a wine bar attached to his restaurant was to deal with those two weekend crunch hours and allow for overflow seating. Happily, the 30-seat bar, which opened three months ago, quickly evolved into something far more interesting. It's now the place to go in Minnesota if you want cutting-edge northern heartland fine cooking, but don't have the inclination, or budget, for a full sit-down blowout.

I base this evaluation on a truly head-turning series of snacks I had at the wine bar recently. I tried a Yorkshire pork and rabbit terrine wrapped in house-cured bacon, served in a black currant Cumberland sauce alongside house-made carrot pickle planks ($10). The terrine was pure, light, meatily sweet, and finely attuned to the weight and lilt tightrope that a terrine must navigate to succeed, while the sweet and tart black currant and port wine sauce supported it as elegantly as black velvet beneath jewelry.

A chicken liver and sage mousse ($10) was so silky, sensuous, and tautly arranged between the poles of grassy sage and irony liver that it practically vibrated on the tongue. The accompanying tiny, toasty wheat crackers and delicate relish of red pears, macerated raisins, and mustard only made the liver seem more plush and impossibly flavorful. Lest you think the wine bar here is simply a carnivore's playpen, I also tried an excellent white carrot soup inset with a spoonful of a rough-textured concoction of chopped hazelnuts, lavender, and maple syrup ($8). The earthy carrots were given amazing life and liveliness by their flowery, unusual counterpoint; it was an inspired dish.

Heartland's new pastry chef, Jack Fulton, is also doing some excellent work. He's been with the restaurant about six months, and his pumpkin-cream Napoleon with a jam made of wild strawberries and cranberries, a roasted Seckel pear half, pumpkin butter, a pear puree, and brown-sugar braised cranberries ($8) was one of those pastries that does so much work in four square inches it makes you appreciate the possibilities of pastry anew. It was playfully crisp and vanishingly light, yet perked up with side notes of tart and earth.

The wine list is a grab bag of interesting, critically well regarded but affordable wines by the glass from around the world. Most of the two dozen options are priced $6 to $10 a glass.

Still, let's get back to the carnivore's playpen angle, since it's there that the wine bar is doing the cutting-edge work. Other charcuterie options from the recent menu included smoked lamb ribs with blackberry catsup ($10) and a house-made Berkshire pork sausage with grilled sweet onions and a horseradish and duck demi-glace ($10). All this local charcuterie has arisen on the wine bar menu mainly because of Heartland's dedication to working with farmers and buying whole animals: Russo routinely does his own butchering of pork, lamb, poultry, and such, and after he pieces out the premium parts for his fine-dining restaurant customers, he has lots left.

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