337 13th Ave NE
Never mind that the calendar says winter. For lovers of Nordeast, the hibernation is over. Time to clamber out from the quilts and head back to the True North of our dining compass, the site of the longtime Modern Café. It’s reopened as The Sheridan Room, dishing up hearty comfort food like it’s 1976. (Well, not quite: What did they know about grilled kale back then?)
The setting’s a bit bleak. Its high-backed, unpadded booths reminded my companion of going to confession, not dinner. Private, yes, but sacrificing the sociability of smiling at fellow diners, with only the brave flicker of a votive candle to combat the penitential setting.
But the menu is amiable, indeed, both in price and set-up. It’s designed to allow one to choose the sides and sauces to accompany your protein (beef, chicken, pork, fish), all included in the $20–$35 price. It reminds me (and this is a high compliment) of those blue-collar “meat and three” diners of the South, bringing that easygoing eating style to the tundra.
I opted for the beer can chicken—the barbecue technique they don’t teach you at the Cordon Bleu. The finer points involve standing the bird (now mercifully deceased) upon an open can of beer, whose mission is to impart moisture and flavor as the liquid steams. If so, it worked: the chicken proved tender and juicy indeed, and came accompanied by a beer-can full of grandma-style chicken gravy.
My pal’s bone-in pork chop was another indication that all is well in Nordeast again—a hefty, full-flavored (if a bit dry) hunk set off by a deliciously tart and tangy applesauce. He chose the red wine/shallot butter as his primo sauce—nice but understated. I went with the mustard cream, and a fine rendition it is, both sharp and silky. (Our first choice, and clearly everyone else’s—the béarnaise—was sold out.)
The real fun comes in choosing your side dishes, so generously portioned that doggie bags must be a major line item in the café’s budget. I gobbled away at a mountain of exuberantly caramelized Brussels sprouts and an acre of gently grilled kale, bright with the slightly salty spritz of anchovies and the pickle-y punch of capers. (Who knew health food could taste so good?) My friend’s mini-mountain of mac and cheese was the stuff of dreams. However, the bread stuffing option proved merely ho-hum. Next time: the chilled beets with dill and crème fraiche. The mashed potatoes. The wild rice crouton infused with gruyere (sold out tonight, so probably a winner)—all made from scratch.
I’ll return to try the intriguing, under-the-radar tweaks on classic sandwiches, too—for instance, the Iron Range porketta, here accompanied by fennel, garlic and green-apple slaw. And the grilled cheese of Prairie Breeze Cheddar, dolled up with sweet potato, green apples and bitter greens. Okay, the burger too—a blend of chuck and brisket topped with gruyere, caramelized onions and Dijon sauce ($10-13). Nice beer list and cocktails in the single digits—all delivered by a friendly, well-schooled server, which also made up happy the lights are back on.