“I went to a general store but they wouldn’t let me buy anything specific.”
While nay-sayers may regard New Mexico as an anachronism–stuck in a time warp somewhere between Victorian times and the Happy Days of the Fonz and Richie Cunningham–there are artifacts of the “good old days” for which I wax nostalgic. Among those artifacts is a real general store, a concept largely relegated to history in this age of instant gratification through internet shopping. In small villages, general stores were not only stocked with such necessities as groceries, dry goods and hardware, they were quite literally the social center of the community. Some of my happiest memories as a gangling teen in Peñasco emanate from my time working at the circa 1955 sheet metal Quonset hut which still houses Sahd’s General Store.
It’s likely many new happy memories will be created at Modern General, a mercantile-cum-restaurant slash juice bar slash bakery inspired by the classic general store. Modern General was conceived by the indefatigable Erin Wade, the perspicacious whirling dervish behind Vinaigrette. Modern General’s mission is “to bring beauty, health, and delight into our customers’ every day lives. We offer food that is delicious and nourishing, design that uplifts and inspires, service that is kind and compassionate, and retail products that spark joy.” Though Sahd’s didn’t have an expressly stated mission statement, its day-to-day operational model accomplished much of what Modern general aspires to do. That’s true of many general stores of yore. That’s why I miss them.
Modern General doesn’t just have a mission statement. It’s got operating principles–a strict code when deciding to bring something into the store–based on ten commandments. Though you won’t find any “thees” and “thous” in this decalogue, for shoppers, these commandments make great sense. For example: all objects have a useful function; only things our customers really need; simple, beautiful design; the best of its kind that we can find. Curated wares and implements aren’t only useful, they’re incorporated into the pristine space’s simple, minimalist design. Hanging on one wall under the heading “tools for a better life” are…you guessed it, tools for the kitchen, garden and household. Shelves lined with books adorn the rear wall while select foodstuffs are available near the entrance. Then there’s the small drool-inspiring display case on the counter in which you’ll espy baked goods and pastries.
To be clear, you’re not going to find everything you need to grow an acre of crops or frame a house. Modern General, the mercantile side, doesn’t stock more than one of every item and there isn’t some backroom or warehouse to replenish stock quickly. Fortunately the same can’t be said about the cafe and juice bar. Modern’s website boasts of: “immune-boosting (and addictive!) juices, smoothies and invigorating shots, energizing creative breakfast, lunch and snacks.” The website waxes a bit scientific, too: “Our menu and Modcakes celebrate whole grains, a delicious, fiber-rich form of energy and an important part of a healthy, aligned diet. Our bodies are out of sync with modern processed foods—including hybridized, commercially milled white flour. Our fresh, stoneground flour has life force in it (who knows how old that sack of flour from the store is!) and is free of inflammatory chemicals and full of pre-biotic fiber that helps restore healthy gut biota.” If it all sounds too biochemical to be good, fear not. You’re going to find something you’ll love!
Modern General is located in a 2,000 square-foot space within the L-shaped building that previously housed 35 Degrees North Coffee and taproom Draft Station, both of which closed in 2017. It faces Central Avenue while its sister restaurant The Feel Good (review pending), another Erin Wade enterprise, faces west. Both are within easy walking distance of Vinaigrette in the burgeoning area somewhere between downtown and Old Town. Immediately east, essentially separated only by a patio, are established Albuquerque favorites Amore and Five Star Burgers. Not that very long ago, this area offered very few dining opportunities. Now it’s become a dining destination.
At Sahd’s General Store, my very favorite job was cutting Longhorn Cheddar cheese from a wheel as big as a tricycle’s rear tire. That’s about as gourmet as it got in Peñasco. Modern General’s menu is much more diverse and truly gourmet if the accepted definition of gourmet is food of the highest quality and flavor. The menu is also very breakfast-centric (albeit sans Captain Crunch). That’s certainly not a bad thing. In fact, cognoscenti believe we are entering a golden age of breakfast. Breakfast-centric restaurants such as Modern General are ascendant across the fruited plain, offering dishes just as compelling and delicious as those available during lunch or dinner.
The term “hot off the griddle” probably conjures up images of a stack of flat, golden orbs dripping with butter and slathered in maple syrup dripping down onto the plate. Most Americans are predisposed to think of pancakes as vehicles for sweet syrup and maybe some fruit. If we think of savory pancakes at all, it’s likely potato pancakes which come to mind. Modern General may forever change the way you think of pancakes. An entire section of the menu is called” Modcakes” and it’s subtitled “not your average flapjack.” Modcakes are available as “Savorycakes” and “Sweetcakes.” There are four of each.
11 October 2018: Listed first among the Savorycakes are Red Pepper Sonoracakes (bright red, subtly smoky roasted pepper flapjacks topped with Scottish lox, chive sour cream and finished with sweet pepper syrup), as intriguing a dish as has crossed my path in quite a while. By modern American pancake standards (orbs as big as manhole covers), the Sonoracakes are a bit on the small side, but there are three of them stacked beautifully…and they are beautiful. Tinged with a pinkish-reddish hue and an even brighter sweet pepper syrup, they’re a revelation of the potential of savory pancakes when a little creativity is applied. Sure, you’ve had lox with capers, but it’s not likely you’ve had them done the Modern General way. For adventurous diners, each bite is a wow moment.
11 October 2018: Though it pains me to credit fast food monolith McDonald’s with anything but being a harbinger for heartburn and lethargy, there’s no denying Mickey D’s popularized the breakfast sandwich with its 1972 introduction of the iconic Egg McMuffin. Today virtually every restaurant serving breakfast and brunch has a version of a breakfast sandwich. Few breakfast sandwiches are more indulgently delicious than one constructed on a fluffy, crumbly biscuit. Starting the day with a breakfast sandwich on a biscuit has long been the Southern way. Having lived in Mississippi for nearly eight years, we certainly had our share of “catheads” (so called because of their size–“about as big as a cat’s head,” biscuits stuffed with sundry ingredients.
By Southern standards, Modern’s biscuits would probably be classified as “kittenheads.” They’re not much bigger than “whomp” biscuits (the term coined by comedian Jerry Clower to describe the “whomp” sound biscuit cans make when struck on the kitchen counter), but they’re so much better. First, they’re housemade from scratch, not puffed up when set free from a pressurized can. They’re real buttermilk biscuits the way a Southern mom would make them, only smaller. Modern’s Breakfast Biscuit (egg, Cheddar and bacon) is big on flavor and that’s where it counts. The biscuits are made with house organic stone-ground flour. The quality is telling.
11 October 2018: There’s usually not much levity in the nightly news (unless you call the silly banter between the meteorologist and millennial anchor “levity”). Viewers are seemingly subjected to a never-ending parade of woe, despair and misery. You’d be excused, however, if you laughed a little when during a 2005 newscast the anchor recounted the tale of a thief who broke into his mother’s home and absconded with a pot of homemade posole. He didn’t take anything else, just the pot of posole. The anchor didn’t relate whether or not the ravenous rapscallion burst out into a Pavarotti-like rendition of “posole mio.”
Modern General’s unique take on posole, a sort of New Mexico meets Asia cultural fusion, might have you break out in song, too. It’s called “pho-sole,” an obvious portmanteau of “pho,” the hearty Vietnamese elixir and “posole,” a beloved New Mexican staple. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s a best of both worlds blend: bone broth, shredded chicken and hominy served with cilantro, scallions, jalapeño, Sriaracha and lime. For me, the pho-sole exemplifies the comfort food qualities of both pho and posole. Though both Sriracha and jalapeño are no substitutes for New Mexico chile, they impart a little heat and personality.
30 June 2019: Just how integral is rice to the Japanese culture? It takes only three words to answer that question: asagohan, hirugohan and bangohan. Asagohan translates to “morning rice,” hirugohan to “lunch rice” and bangohan to “dinner rice.” The citizenry of the Land of the Rising Sun call each meal “gohan” which usually indicates steamed rice. Japanese don’t eschew fried rice, but the expressed favorite is definitely steamed rice. When we saw the adjective “fried” in front of the term “morning rice” on Modern General’s menu, we knew we’d really enjoy it.
Modern General’s fried morning rice (organic rice fried with spinach, mushrooms, jalapeno, cilantro and scallions, sriracha, topped with a sunny egg) is on par with the transformative Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty as the best fried rice in Albuquerque. Serious Eats contends that “perfect fried rice is all about texture“…”distinct grains, each with a slightly chewy fried exterior and a tender bite.” By that definition, this is a perfect fried rice, though Modern General improves on perfection with complementary ingredients that pop and evoke terms of appreciation.
30 June 2019: Charles Dickens described biscuits as “wily fellows” which “leap in like sugary ninjas.” It’s his way of justifying the consumption of five biscuits when he wasn’t paying attention. That excuse never worked with my mom. Nor does it work with my Kim. Only my dear “third grandmother” Patty Sahd could get away with sneaking a biscuit or three before grace. That’s the way it is with a large family. Biscuits become a treasured commodity, valued as highly as rain on a dry New Mexico date. My mom could never keep up with the demand.
It made me very sad to peruse the “Biscuits & Toast” section of the menu and see “Biscuit and Jam.” That’s biscuit singular as in only one, as in just getting started. As with the Lays Potato Chip commercials of the 80s, you can’t eat just one biscuit! Worse, my Kim and I had half a biscuit each. There’s only one thing worse in the universe and that’s no biscuits at all. Modern General’s biscuits are terrific, not so crumbly that they fall apart and you can’t spread warm, melted butter or preserves; not so dense and stiff that they taste like floury bricks. These biscuits are tailor-made for housemade apricot and raspberry preserves, some of the most fruity and delicious in the city.
30 June 2019: Why is it granola is perceived as some holdover from the hippie culture of the 70s? Kid Rock may have expressed this sentiment best: “I just wasn’t raised a granola eating, peace love hippie type person.” Neither were a lot of us, but we love granola nonetheless and it doesn’t make us feel counter-cultural in the least. Granola has become establishment. Modern General’s granola (homemade spiced granola and strained yogurt, macerated strawberries and blueberries, local honey) is so good even a stodgy Victorian would enjoy it.
30 June 2019: “Tart, light and fluffy, layered with zippy lemon curd and smothered with humble blueberry compote and and a drizzle of labne buttercream.” That’s how the menu describes Modern General’s lemoncakes (not pictured). Only the lemon ricotta pancakes at the transformative Sophia’s rate with these golden orbs. If fault could be ascribed to these paragons of deliciousness, it’s that they’re rather on the small (maybe four-inches around). New Mexicans are used to pancakes the size of a semi-truck tire. In terms of flavor, however, these mini-mites would kick syrup all over the face of much larger pancakes. They’re outstanding!
Years, maybe decades, have passed since the notion of “being cool” mattered at all to me. Still, some small part of me wondered if I was cool enough to frequent this trendy new hot spot which I expected to be frequented by a phalanx of selfie stick-wielding, Snapchat-sharing people half my age. It surprised me therefore to see just as many people even older than me enjoying the food and the sense of community inspired by the general store.
1720 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2019
1st VISIT: 11 October 2018
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Red Pepper Sonoracakes, Pho-Sole, Breakfast Biscuit with Sausage, Fried Morning Rice,