Res­tau­rant Re­view Mod­ern Gen­eral

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Lau­rel Glad­den

“Noth­ing you don’t need” is the clever dou­ble-neg­a­tive slo­gan at Mod­ern Gen­eral, the new mar­ket-café on Don Cubero Al­ley. It’s brought to us by Erin Wade, also owner of Mod­ern Gen­eral’s neigh­bor­ing salad mecca, Vinai­grette. The shop sells house­hold goods and gar­den­ing tools along with other sun­dries, and tucked at the back of the light-filled room is a kitchen prof­fer­ing smooth­ies, juices, tea, cof­fee, sand­wiches, sweet treats, and good things in bowls. While I’m not sure $20 gar­den spades and $11 jars of flake sea salt are things all of us need, af­ter sam­pling what comes out of the kitchen, I can say there’s not much here you wouldn’t want.

The space has a slightly rus­tic loft-like feel (“It’s very Bush­wick,” my din­ing com­pan­ion ob­served). You can sit at one of the sunny win­dow ta­bles, with white bucket chairs and bright-yel­low banco cush­ions; at the con­crete-topped bar; or along­side fel­low cit­i­zens at the blonde wood com­mu­nity ta­ble. This is a clas­sic counter-ser­vice sys­tem — you fetch your own wa­ter, flat­ware, and nap­kins, and some­one in the kitchen calls out your or­der when it’s ready. Em­ploy­ees are sweet, po­lite, and pa­tient.

Many of the smooth­ies and juices are cre­ative, re­fresh­ing, and packed with nu­tri­ents (the Pur­ple Rus­sian, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes cab­bage and fen­nel juice along with pineap­ple and ginger). You can set­tle into your seat with a cup of hot or cold cof­fee, tea, or even a cup of broth. Ko­laches are Mod­ern Gen­eral’s sig­na­ture nosh. Re­port­edly made us­ing Wade’s grand­mother’s recipe, these tawny disks of in­cred­i­bly ten­der yeasted dough have pleas­ingly tangy fruit fill­ing nes­tled in their cen­ters.

The menu is short and sim­ple. Var­i­ous toasts are of­fered, in­clud­ing house-made peanut but­ter and jelly and trendy av­o­cado toast. “Na­ture’s but­ter” is spack­led on thin slices of Mod­ern Gen­eral’s sig­na­ture bread (baked by Al­bu­querque’s Fano Bread Com­pany from grains milled in-house at Mod­ern Gen­eral) and driz­zled with olive oil and served with lime. It’s glo­ri­ously silky, rich, and sat­is­fy­ing.

Two sand­wiches are of­fered each day — one ori­ented for break­fast and one de­signed to be served all day. Com­bi­na­tions change — from egg with kale and a ginger-gar­lic-le­mon aioli to scram­bled egg, ba­con, arugula, tomato and pro­volone or from ham, Brie, and creamy mus­tard to pro­sciutto, roasted red pep­pers, arugula, pesto, and pro­volone. Egg- and chicken-salad sand­wiches are avail­able as well; the lat­ter has a vaguely spicy cur­ried base and is topped with a pleas­antly crunchy car­rot-cab­bage slaw. Each sand­wich is ac­com­pa­nied by a cup of jewel-like mixed fruit.

Mod­ern Gen­eral also sells warm things in bowls, be­gin­ning with its spin on oat­meal — lightly sweet pur­ple bar­ley served with banana and al­monds. If you pre­fer to start the day the sa­vory way, there’s the punny “pho-sole” break­fast soup — not quite pho, not quite posole, but def­i­nitely one of the best chicken soups around. For the base, a per­fectly salted rus­set-brown bone broth is la­dled over posole and ten­der pulled chicken; fresh cilantro, green onion, jalapeño coins, sliced radishes, a lime wedge, and a spoon­ful of Sriracha are served on the side, for you to add as you wish. This soup epit­o­mizes the word nour­ish­ing.

There’s also the sim­ple-sound­ing — but not sim­ple-tast­ing — “brothy greens,” a pile of for­est-green leaves in a sea of broth; a well-poached golden-yolked egg adds a pro­tein punch. The kale and quinoa salad is cool and re­fresh­ing, some­thing like a su­per­food tab­bouleh, with tomato, cu­cum­ber, le­mon juice, and a dust­ing of tangy, snow-white feta. Strata — which Mod­ern Gen­eral calls “the Amer­i­can quiche” — is another ro­tat­ing op­tion. We de­voured our mush­room-ba­con-as­para­gus-ched­dar wedge along with a lovely arugula side salad in a light, sprightly dress­ing.

Prices are re­mark­ably rea­son­able, par­tic­u­larly for food so well thought out and in­gre­di­ents so care­fully cho­sen. Por­tions ad­here to the Goldilocks prin­ci­ple and seem “just right.” The main snag seems to be that the kitchen runs out of items quickly. One morn­ing at around 11, there was no pho-sole to be had. On another mid­morn­ing visit, ko­laches were nowhere to be found, and the kitchen had al­ready sold out of strata, with no sug­ges­tion that more of ei­ther would be avail­able.

As prob­lems go, though, that’s one a busi­ness doesn’t mind hav­ing: Your food is so solid and well-liked that you sell out. It re­minds me of another pithy line, this one from Yogi Berra, that might soon be said about Mod­ern Gen­eral: “No­body goes there any­more. It’s too crowded.”

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