Insider Guide: Chef Lenny Russo

Lenny Russo, Executive Chef and Owner of Heartland, was a 2009 James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest. He shares his love of food, plus some of his favorite spots to eat in Minneapolis.

What’s makes Heartland different from other restaurants in the area?
Heartland is the only truly Midwestern Regional Cuisine restaurant in the Twin Cities. Almost all of our ingredients are sourced from small family farms and artisan producers that are located with a 200 mile radius of the restaurant and that practice traditional and sustainable farming. Also, the menus change on a daily basis based upon what those farmers bring us and includes two fixed price options (Fauna & Flora). We also pride ourselves on cooking for people with special dietary constraints including vegans and lactose and gluten intolerant individuals.

Our wine list is extensive and represents from 250 to 300 different labels. We are fond of saying that every night at Heartland is half price wine night since the prices are consistent with a retail wine shop as opposed to typical restaurant pricing.

Furthermore, as a business we are dedicated to fair trade practices as well as providing living wages.

Favorite place in Minneapolis:

To Get a Drink: The bar at La Belle Vie for something creative; the bar at the Lexington for something retro; and the bar on the patio at W.A. Frost for something alfresco.

For a Menu Item (anywhere!): Any of the noodle dishes at Tanpopo or slowly braised pork at Sapor.

To Have a Romantic Meal: I usually take care of that at home, but in lieu of that I suppose that Dakota or La Belle Vie would be high on our list.

To Get Take Out (or Eat Sans-Frills):
 Broder’s, Tanpopo, True Thai, Rainbow Chinese, Saigon or Origami.

And, some non-food related questions:

Where’s your favorite outdoor spot in Minneapolis? Why?
That would be my backyard since I have a native plant woodland garden planted there, but in lieu of that I would have to say the U of MN Landscape Arboretum.

What’s your ideal night-in-Minneapolis Saint Paul Itinerary?
My ideal itinerary would be a visit to one of our great museums followed by dinner and a show at one of our terrific regional theaters or a live show at one of our music venues. A trip to the Dakota covers two of those things. 

What’s the area’s best-kept secret? 

I think the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum and the Weisman Museum are pretty much a toss up in the Best Kept Secret Category.

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