Heartland Cafe is more a lifestyle than simply a restaurant, bar or music venue: Entering this haven of color, cornbread and community spirit feels like taking a trip to Berkeley for the price of an L ride north to Rogers Park.
The mostly vegetarian breakfast, lunch and dinner menu features an entourage of warm and filling comfort foods. Highlights include scrambled tofu (feel free to request the tasty kale if the vegetable of the day doesn't entice your taste buds), hearty vegetarian burrito grande with cornbread stuffing, the lentil burger and the Heartland Salad Supreme, topped with cheese, avocado, sprouts, sunflower seeds, raisins and a whole lot more. Pescatarians and even full-on meat eaters who don't have a problem with veggie inundation will find equally savory selections like organic catfish, tamari maple chicken, cheese steak and chicken fajitas. Sides of cornbread and sweet potato fries are must-haves, and the seasonal specials are always worth a second look.
Heartland excels beyond the kitchen. The restaurant constantly hosts live music performances in the main dining room, from acoustic folk artists to rock, jazz, Latin and even open mic poetry sessions on occasion. Every Saturday morning from 9-10 a.m., independent radio streams live from the Heartland on WLUW 88.7 to discuss issues of social justice, local politics and art. The cafe also frequently hosts events honoring nonprofit organizations, like an annual Valentines Day salsa party raising money for Nicaraguan solidarity and bake sales for MoveOn.org.
Besides hanging out at the bar that shares the entryway to the dining room, patrons can peruse through edible and wearable goods at the general store. Browsing among Kiss My Face lotions, fruit popsicles, jars of honey, woven purses, posters, toys, umbrellas with animal ears, chili pepper Christmas lights and a magazine rack full of local and indie publications, you'll have no problem waiting for your less than punctual brunch bunch.
Around the corner from the front doors is the entrance to the Heartland's studio theater space. A small sign is (usually) hanging over the door. It's among the most intimate spaces in the city, with a hankerchief of a lobby and metal folding chairs. To use the restroom, you must exit and go back around to the cafe. Though small, some really interested theater has been produced there, including Pyewacket's adaptation of the Stephen King novel "Misery." On the plus side, if you want to catch a bite the cafe is right there, and there's also a cozy little dive bar next door.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Jessica Herman