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Jfood returns to Heartland (MSP) - Food a 10; Management/Owner a Zero

For his last meal in MSP this week Jfood decided, at the recommendation of an MSP hound, to re-visit Heartland. It has been over a year since his last visit but Jfood looked at the on-line menu and was excited about the offerings.

Of particular note to his tastebuds were two appetizers, the Grilled chicken-apple sausage with turnip-potato purée, roasted baby carrots and smoked crabapple jam $12 and the House-smoked Duroc pork ribs with wild mushroom-chestnut cornbread pudding and tart cherry-tomato catsup $14. The entrée that really caught his eye was the Midwestern cassoulet of Duroc pork, smoked wild boar, garlic lamb sausage, pork shoulder confit and Nebraska great northern white beans $19

He drove up to SP, found a great parking spot and entered the wine bar side. It was about half filled and the end seat at the bar was open…perfect. The server brought the menu and Jfood was glad to see the choices were all available. Since Jfood is allergic to nuts, he nixed the pork ribs and ordered the sausage and the cassoulet. The server filled the water glass, brought some bread and butter and a amuse bouche, comprised of garlic-pumpkin mousse and topped with a green tomato chutney. The amuse was fantastic. Jfood remember why he loved this place. The bread was not to Jfood's liking, a little too dense, a little too heavy in flavor, but that is purely personal choice.

Jfood was busy reading his McGee book when the appetizer arrived. He continued reading as he took a big first bite. Crunch!! Huh? He looked at the plate and was confused. The reason he did not order the ribs was the cornbread pudding because it contained nuts, and there staring back at him from the plate was none other than the mushroom-chestnut cornbread pudding. Oh crap. He called the server over and asked for the menu because he thought maybe he made a mistake, but nope, the wrong side was included. So Jfood could not stay for long as he would probably break out in hives in about 15 minutes. He told the server and asked to speak with the MOD. It was a while before she saw fit to speak with Jfood and he will return to that discussion below. But Jfood left, went for some Benadryl, and returned.

The server was so professional for the rest of the evening that he must commend her actions, her attitude, her caring about Jfood's health when he returned. She set up a spot at the bar and a new, and correctly prepared sausage dish was brought over. This was absolutely fantastic. The carrots were as Jfood remembered in his Meritage meal, the turnip-potato purée was beautiful and the smoked crabapple jam was divine and flavorful. Amazingly the sausage, which was great, was the weak link in the dish, only because the other flavors were over the top great.

After a short intermission a nice bowl of cassoulet was delivered. Jfood took his time as he savored each and every bite. The beans were perfectly cooked, the meats added different flavors and textures and the chef placed some breadcrumbs atop which added not only another flavor but a crunchiness to offset the smooth textures of the dish. This was one of the best cassoulets that Jfood has ever eaten.

Now back to the failure on the part of management.

Jfood asked to speak with the manager and the server told him she would be right out. She never came out so Jfood wandered over to the open kitchen and asked one of the chefs to please tell the MOD that Jfood needed to leave and wanted to speak with her. She finally came over to Jfood. Here is the conversation

J – I’ve been waiting for five minutes to speak with you
M – I was on the phone taking a reservation
[Jfood's blood pressure rises]
J – You have a customer who is about to have an allergic reaction and taking a reservation is more important?
M – I was on the phone with my husband who is the chef
J – You just told me you were on the phone taking a reservation
M – I had one phone on each ear
[Insert incredulous look]
J – You kitchen had a major screw up
M – They prepared the dish like we did last night. We expect the customer to tell us about all their allergies. We have served people with Celiac disease without any problems
J – I thought it was pretty safe ordering chicken sausage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and crabapples. It was your kitchen that screwed up.
M – We have never poisoned anyone in seven years
J – You just don’t care. I have to go and get some medicine.

Upon his return, the MOD /Owner showed a level of unprofessionalism that is beyond comprehension. She absolutely ignored Jfood. She did not come over to apologize, she did not come over to see if he was OK, she did not come over to see if the food was OK, she completely and totally ignored him. She walked by him as hje sat at the bar numerous times. Unbelieveable.

For this exchange, Jfood will add Heartland to the "Never Return To" list. It is one thing to make a mistake; it is another to act in such a condescending, uncaring and unprofessional manner, to the point of complete and total avoidance. Jfood will speak with his feet and take his money elsewhere. But he will not stoop to her level. The food at Heartland is fantastic, the female server this evening should be commended (she received a sizeable tip) and it is unfortunate that he will not return to enjoy this restaurant.

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    1. Now that was a prompt post deletion.

      Jfood, I'm sorry that you were served the wrong side dish, and that it contained an allergen. From reading past posts, your conscientiousness about checking the menu is well documented.

      I'm truly sorry that the Heartland management offered such a crap response when you brought it up.

      Here's some background, which makes that reaction all the more nonsensical:
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647969

      4 Replies
      1. re: KTFoley

        This is a bit disappointing to hear, especially since I so fervently defended Russo on that whole peanut thing. Common sense would dictate going the extra mile w/r/t all things nuts.

        However, you did mention that the server adequately remedied the problem. If the kitchen made an honest mistake, and the server rectified it, was it necessary to immediately speak with the manager? Couldn't she have come by after the meal?

        1. re: kevin47

          Umm. The manager seemed like she was really rude, but I am sorry, I would think that a person with a severe peanut allergy would take the time to look down and see what he was eating! I have never (not-sorry for the double negative) looked down at what was placed in front of me before I have taken a bite! And I don't have an allergy! People make mistakes ALL the time. Sure they were wrong and the restaurant MOD was wrong, but come on, be careful next time!

          1. re: chloe4ever

            C

            Jfood is not off-loading all responsibility, and he absolutely accepts his responsibility for his failure to notice the switch. He is not a virgin in the woods on this one.

            But when brought to the attention of the MOD her reaction should have been, "I'm sorry is there anything I can do?" and not "I am on the phone with a reservation."

            Interesting in that the jfoods had the same discussion about a decline in the service industry over the last few months. So yes, he agrees 100% with your comment "be careful next time."

            BTW - a peanut is not a nut. and many like jfood has a nut allergy but eats peanuts all the time. There are many who are allergic to both. Likewise there are levels of allergies. In jfood's case it is thankfully not life-threatening but he breaks out in hives and looks likes me when i scratch behind the ears. A couple of Benadryl and it usually calms down plus the added side effect of a great night's sleep.

          2. re: kevin47

            Just to give you some information. No one can rectify when an allergen is injested, that needs to be medicated. So the Benadryl rectified the allergan and then the server rectified the dinner event.

            And YES, the manager should know about it immediately. Someone gets up and just leaves. What would you as a manager do? Ignore it? or go speak to the server to see what happened? And according to the manager (who jfood understands also happens to be the wife of the owner) it was the way the line cook thought the dish was to be served that night. So everyone who ordered it would get the wrongly prepared dish.

            And jfood asked to speak with the MOD as he was leaving so it was the end of the meal. It was not until he found and took the Benadryl that jfood decided to return for the meal.

        2. I'm with you on this one JFood. Without the nut allergy issues, I still do not enjoy my time at Heartland. Which is a shame.

          My wife and I were talking the other day when she observed that St. Paul does not have good neighborhood restaurants like she could find in Mpls (Grand Cafe, Alma, etc...). Outposts of fine dining in essentially residential neighborhoods. Heartland was about the only thing that came to mind and still, I'll drive west, across the border when I want fine dining.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JimGrinsfelder

            Jim, why don't you enjoy Heartland? I'm assuming you're saying it's more than just the food.

            And, I know this will sound odd, but I think Meritage totally meets the definition of fine neighborhood dining, in feel, except that the neighborhood is downtown. On evenings and weekends, downtown St. Paul absolutely feels like a neighborhood to me. But, still, it's in St. Paul! So, don't drive West, go to Meritage. And, of course, if you're a fan of Strip Club (which I am not), that's absolutely a fine dining restaurant in a neighborhood. In St. Paul.

            jfood, I'm sorry about the nut situation. I'm so glad you were able to take some Benadryl in time.

            ~TDQ

          2. For your sake, jfood, I hope a turnover in management happens soon so you can get to go to a place you actually enjoy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Fibber McGee

              Not to worry, there are plenty of places in the MSP are that jfood loves to go to.

            2. The manager's behavior was absolutely unacceptable and you were right to call her out. You probably scared the shit out of her calling her out like that, surely she's used to passive-aggressive Minnesotans that avoid conflict like it's H1N1. Well done.

              As you've mentioned your allergy often, I have been curious; do you make sure to notify your server of your allergy at the beginning of your meal, or do you presume there are no nut oils/etc in prepared dishes? You've accepted some culpability above, but as long as you're making your allergy known to your server immediately (as we see often when people have this sever a reaction), there shouldn't be any blame to share.

              Additionally, I'll not be eating at Heartland until some culpability/remorse is shared by the manager. Lenny watches boards like this for his name like an egomaniac, so I presume there will be an opportunity.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Foureyes137

                Jfood always informs the server at dessert time, as that is where the hidden nuts usually arrive. In 30 years and hundreds of meals there have been less than a handful of instances where the restaurant used nuts as a garnish and in each case it is pretty easy when noticed. When they are complex dishes, jfood always asks but he felt self in the ordering process here with sausage, starch and veggies. Nut oil has never had enough of the allergan to cause an issue, fortunately. Likewise jfood's is a "huge discomfort" reaction versus a go to the hospital reaction.

                He normally carries Benadryl in his car, but the car was replaced recently and Benadryl was not in the new one (it is now). BTW - Mrs jfood caught the mis-step on jfood's part on the phone, so that was covered. :-))

                If Lenny (jfood assumes that is the owner's name) wants to chat, jfood has no issue walking him through what happened so he can teach his staff how to react to an event like this. Jfood is big on mentoring and voice of the customer, just not going back until that conversation occurs and jfood is more than willing to post any positive results from that conversation, making sure he stays within the guidelines that CH has on not being known by the restaurant.