Restaurant Review Modern General
“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.”