Alibi V.27 No.44 • Nov 1-7, 2018 

Restaurant Review

I Want to Live at Modern General

New Erin Wade restaurant serves diner food with modern touch

MG’s slick exterior
MG’s slick exterior
Eric Williams Photography
Since Vinaigrette is one of my favorite restaurants in Albuquerque—and since breakfast is hands-down my favorite meal of the day—I definitely walked into Modern General with high expectations. The new breakfast-all-day restaurant in West Downtown is the latest project of Erin Wade, the restaurateur behind the ever-expanding Vinaigrette franchise, which opened a Modern General up in Santa Fe back in 2015. You can feel the similarities the moment you set foot in the place—a clean, sunny aesthetic and a menu focused on healthy, filling dishes.

The design choices in Modern General were expertly made, too. The building at 1720 Central, which previously housed Draft Station, has been greatly brightened up by the removal of a dividing wall and the addition of a west-facing window. Lots of ceiling lighting and whitewashed walls add to this brightness, as well as the unfinished blonde wood floors and tables. This restaurant feels lighthearted, cheery—an old Spoon album was spinning and the smell of fresh bread filled the place when I first visited. It’s hard not to feel right at home with all that going on.

I was a little worried that the menu of an all-breakfast restaurant might be a little heavy on the sweets and low on the savory. Not so, thankfully. Although pancakes, grain bowls and granola make up a good portion of the menu, there are tasty-sounding savory dishes that fall under each of these categories: a kale and sweet potato hash ($11), green chile cilantro corncakes with a fried egg and cilantro-lime crema on top ($9) and lime avocado chia pudding ($7), which is one of those dishes that sounds odd and simultaneously like somebody should have thought of it sooner. They all sound like things that I would make at home. You know, if I were more ambitious and better at cooking.

The sunshine bowl
The sunshine bowl
Eric Williams Photography

The beverage list extends the definition of “breakfast” to include alcohol, which I have no complaints about. There are a couple of beers on tap and a brief wine list as well as, of course, mimosas. You can get coffee or whatever kind of espresso concoction you desire, all courtesy of local roaster Prismatic Coffee. There’s also a whole host of fresh juices, smoothies and health shots that will probably fix whatever is wrong with you. I will certainly be trying the ginger shot with apple and honey garnish ($4) when I get my first winter cold.

On my first visit to Modern General I ordered a cup of drip coffee ($3) and the sunshine bowl ($9): a hearty bowl of pearl barley with baked mushrooms, Swiss chard, onion and a fried egg on top, accompanied by sourdough toast from MG’s own in-house bakery. Just listing those things makes my mouth water. The barley was perfectly cooked and tender, and the mushrooms add an earthiness to the dish that’s super satisfying. I loved the buttery sourdough toast, which—unlike a lot of New Mexico sourdoughs I’ve encountered—is actually sour, with a fermenty tang that reminds me of San Francisco sourdoughs. All this comes served in a cast iron skillet on top of a wood plank for mega rustic effect.

On another visit, I was distinctly in a pancake mood. I ordered the supercakes ($8), which resemble those buttermilk flapjacks from diners of yore in form only. Packed with kale, cabbage, flax, dashi and scallions, these thin, savory griddle cakes pack a hell of a punch of fiber and antioxidants. These bad boys are topped with a housemade aioli and okonomi sauce (that sweet and salty sauce that accompanies Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes) and fresh scallions. They make for a satisfying breakfast (or lunch) that I’ll certainly be going back for again.

While you’re waiting for your meal, you’ll find your eye drawn to the one-wall curated bookshop in Modern General. They stock plenty of cookbooks and books on food, of course. But there’s also some books on agriculture, architecture, biology and any number of subjects that can be traced back to the Erin Wade ethos. I saw The One Straw Revolution in there, for one, and Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, for another. Along this wall are also plateware, kitchen tools and other little lifestyle goods that let you take home a little piece of the MG aesthetic. It’s all very tempting stuff.

For a change of pace from coffee, try one of MG’s special warm elixirs—hot chocolate with reishi, turmeric golden milk or the London defogger ($4.25 sm/$5 lg): an earl grey tea from tea.o.graphy mixed with milk, lavender, vanilla and powdered lion’s mane, a type of mushroom that has been found to increase cognitive performance and lower the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. Thankfully, it does not make this mellow tea drink taste like mushrooms. Most of the drinks on the MG menu feature some kind of supplement or powdered superfood compound, catering to the health-conscious—or at least the health trend conscious. I don’t mean that as shade, either—the whole menu at MG acknowledges both the modern science of what’s healthy (turmeric! Cordyceps and reishi mushrooms!) and some more old-fashioned health principles: If it makes you feel good, it’s probably good for you. The diner-style food that they serve up is just as satisfying as the good old days, but the subtle tweaks make all the difference: protein-rich teff flour in the pancakes, housemade yogurt with live cultures, fresh herbs on top of everything.

This overall vibe that Modern General has going on definitely has a lot to do with its appeal. It would be disappointing if the food didn’t stand up to the appearance, the “source local” ethics and the obviously huge sums of money that were poured into building and designing the place. Thankfully, the food is as lovely and satisfying as the restaurant itself.

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1720 Central Ave. SW
moderngeneralabq.com
242-6928

Hours: Mon-Sun: Kitchen 7:30am-3pm; juice/coffee bar 7:30am-5pm
Vibe: Warm and homey, in a kind of minimalist way.
Alibi Recommends: Sunshine bowl, London defogger, sourdough bread