Restaurant Reviews

Modern Café, Again

Twenty years later, this founding member of Nordeast’s Eat Street gets better with age.

Bowl of pasta, sauce and crumbles of cheese. Bowl sitting on a table.
Photo by Katherine Harris

When Jim Grell opened the Modern Café back in 1994, I wonder if he thought it would still be kicking almost 20 years later? Well kick it does, especially as one of the founding members of Nordeast’s Eat Street. The ’hood has grown up around it, and the Modern just keeps getting better. Last year it added real booze and cocktails to the menu (the Lost in Translation is delish), and this year there’s a new chef behind the line.

While Grell remains the force in the kitchen, new chef Taelyn Lang is having an interesting impact on the menu. Having spent time in the kitchens of Muffuletta and Corner Table, he’s well suited for this place. “He’s our new kitchen czar,” notes Grell. “Taelyn’s got a great and simple way of cooking that brings us back to some really elemental, subtle flavors.”

Indeed, the rejiggered menu has some new dishes that are playful but honest, as with the pan-roasted chicken, which comes atop a brick of chorizo stuffing on a silken sauce soubise. It all comes together in this vegetal, earthy, and rich way that is both homey and elegant. Carbonara is laced with pork belly and appropriately held together with a sticky egg and cheese situation, all to a not overly rich end. The toothy rigatoni (pictured here) with olives and hunks of fresh, creamy feta was amped up with a sprinkling of fennel seeds. Lunch was more playful with a tender housemade hot dog topped with chunky, rustic kimchi, and an open-faced grilled taleggio and onion jam sandwich using cornbread. The play between sweet and tangy, and nutty and buttery, was nearly a game of bites until it was suddenly gone.

Don’t worry, the meatloaf and pot roast are still there, but it’s nice to see an old favorite actually staying modern. 337 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-378-9882,