I was so sad to see Heartland Cafe in Chicago's Rogers Park torn down. It's not that I ever particularly remember having great food there. Although it is the first place I tasted cilantro many years ago. I kept wondering why their salsa tasted like soap.
My sister Judi graduated from college and moved to Rogers Park in, I'm thinking, 1979. It was a tiny one bedroom apartment at the corner of Estes and Glenwood, in one of those classic Roger Park apartment buildings. I'd grown up in suburban Lisle, and to me it was the most exotic city-life kind of place I'd ever seen. There was a corner store still there at the time, and the fact that you could just trot down the back stairs right into the store amazed me. I went and visited periodically and one of the first places she took me was Heartland Cafe. It would have only been open a few years then, as I recall, it was still just in the one half of the building, but I'll admit it's hazy. The plants everywhere, the counter culture types, it was a whole new world.
Later, Ernie and I moved to Rogers Park (after Judi had left…Judi and I always had our timing wrong…same thing happened in Champaign and Ann Arbor) in the late 80's. We lived there about seven years before moving back to Champaign. I remember going for breakfast there the day we got back from our honeymoon in New Orleans….and meeting friends there. I remember getting kicked out of the dining room with Lisa Penelton and Ernie for drinking too many bottles of wine. They did let us sit outside in the outside bar though. The last time I was there was when we visited Van and Karin and walked over for breakfast after a show.
So while I won't really miss it as a restaurant, I will miss it as a Rogers Park institution. An institution that saw me go from high school pre punk-haircut Cynthia to the Cynthia that married her cute record store boyfriend and worked downtown, to the downstater who came up to Chicago to see shows. And, it held a little bit of my sister too. The big sister, who gave her younger sister her first fake ID and took her new places in the city.
Goodbye Heartland Cafe. Goodbye to the girl that Judi took there so long ago.