"The market is probably the coolest thing in the state, but it doesn't generate enough revenue to justify its existence."
Chef Lenny Russo is talking about Heartland Farm Direct Market, the gem of a shopping experience adjacent to Lowertown's Heartland, where the same ingredients he uses in his own utter devotion to local product can be procured by the home cook.
In light of the new Saints ballpark coming to his neck of the woods next year, Russo is rethinking its use. More of a deli perhaps, because, well, "If there's a rain-out day at the ballpark, you're basically stepping into the market."
He says he would build out the basement for sausage production, transform the upstairs by taking out the produce case and replacing it with seating, and add some taps for beer and wine. He's waiting on financial transactions to take place before he can move ahead.
"We can't afford to redo the market on our own. If this [financial] deal doesn't work out and a partner doesn't materialize, we will have to look at a less involved transformation that would simply add some seating and make beer and wine available by the bottle and as glass pours. Sausage production would remain in our current facilities."
As he contemplates these things, he's testing the waters by rolling out a bar burger menu for the lounge, so the new bar menu will be split into "burgers and not burgers."
In addition to attracting the ballpark crowd (who tend to have beer, burgers, and dogs on the brain), the new venture will allow him to make complete use of all the whole animals he brings in.
"It's like Noah's Ark in here sometimes," he says, "but all the animals are dead."
And with that cheery thought, here's a rundown of the burger menu:
- "A regular cow burger" with house-made ketchup
- Limousin veal burger ("super juicy and delicious," says Russo) with mustard aioli and sherry-enriched mushrooms
- Pork burger making use of all the lovely heritage-breed hogs they bring in -- Mangalitsa, Red Wattle, and Duroc -- paired with Hook's cheddar and tomato jam
- Bison burger with buttermilk blue
Other ballpark-friendly bites will include a lamb burger when those cute little buggers come into season, smoked Kielbasa corn dogs, cheddar brats, catfish in cornmeal, pickled veggies, beef fat fries (vegetarian upon request), and ribs "because we have lots of ribs from all those little piggies."
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