When Lenny Russo and his wife Mega Hoen first opened Heartland in its original sleepy location in Mac/Groveland, the idea of year round, locally sourced menu in Minnesota seemed like insanity. In 2002, this was a remarkable way to operate. Now this is common practice. After fourteen years and six James Beard Award nominations, they have made the decision to shutter Heartland Restaurant and Wine Bar.
It was 2010 when Heartland moved into a massive, historic building in St. Paul’s burgeoning Lowertown neighborhood. They wisely bought the space and soon opened an extended market serving second-to-none butchered goods, some of the same products that the chef and his crew used to build the beautiful plates in the restaurant.
The restaurant also continued to write ever-changing menus based on the ingredients available that day. The tasting menus continued to be a touchstone for those seeking culinary refinement and unapologetic seasonality. The vegetarian “fauna” menu alone was consistently extraordinary.
While the neighborhood grew up around the restaurant, including the recent addition of CHS Field nearby, the restaurant’s attendance seemed to wane and the large, open room began to feel a bit cavernous. As Russo told Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune, “Our clientele isn’t going to the ballpark. They’re going to the opera.”
Monday, the staff was informed of the decision to sell the building to an undisclosed buyer and close the restaurant on December 31, 2016. Russo has made the decision to step away, he told Nelson, “The restaurant is closing because we’re done, and we want to do other things. I’m 58. I don’t have any peers my age. They’re all much younger than me. It’s time.”
His impact and the impact of Heartland will continue to be felt in area restaurants that choose to make their own charcuterie, use foraged foods and enter into the crazy idea that fresh, local ingredients bought from farm partners are just more delicious.