Deja Vu all over again: Modern Times

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So, this guy walks into a bar … goes the joke. But this guy—one Dylan Alverson, walks into a vacant restaurant space at 3200 Chicago Ave. S. and, three hours later, signs the lease. No joke. Talk about impulse purchases!

Modern Times
3200 Chicago Ave. S.
612-886-3882
Breakfast and lunch only,
Tuesday – Sunday

No market research, no bank proposal, no menu in the works, no chef’s whites to step into—but hey: Just don’t tell the gurus at the Carlson Business School, because … it’s working. Alverson and his two partners called a couple of artist friends to help in the site’s restoration in exchange for adjacent studio space, and, as they say in fantasy fiction, voila! Modern Times is back in business.

The iconic Midcentury Modern (Mid Mod) “Modern” sign came up from the basement, a neighborhood landmark since it served for Modern Cleaners, to be joined in the Seventies by “Times” when the site morphed into a café the first time around. And over all the years, its daring color scheme—a drop-dead gorgeous pairing of mango and lime green—has been dazzling passersby with false promises.

These days, it’s no mirage: C’mon in!

The interior is a bit more subdued—walls sporting a paler shade of lime sherbet, jazzed up by tabletops in rainbow rays painted by those starving artists to liven the Mid Mod glass-block window and lino floor. And the new diner counter? As they ads say, priceless.

But no bitter diner brew for the caffeine junkies on those stools, no sir! There’s a full-blown coffee menu, featuring every trendy twist you can think of. (Water, however, comes ice-less in Mason jars.)

The joint was jumpin’ when I sashayed in for a late-morning breakfast, filled with hipsters (and a few of their more staid grandpas) gulping their lattes and mochas to salsa music as hot as the sauce on their eggs. The wait staff—who, one presumes, are not rich Republican college kids from the exurbs, judging from the rich lode of piercings and tattoos that camouflage every part of their body that isn’t covered in black. They blend right in.

Andy brought me the lovely scramble of the day—a couple of organic eggs tossed with mighty shards of spinach, a bit of pesto (More, please, as Oliver might plead), and wondrous batons of super-sweet orange-hued tomatoes, clearly just off the vine. A couple of pieces of wheat toast, too (scrambles $6.50-8); choose vegan, vegetarian, or loaded down with yummy meat like bacon and chorizo. Just kidding, folks. Glad to have so many options. In fact, next time I’ll try the pancakes (vegan or buttermilk). Or the organic oatmeal—choose your milk source—abetted by brown sugar and banana. Or, well, maybe the croque monsieur, plump with ham and gruyere.

As the clock turns 12, the menu flips to lunch. And I flipped for the groovy beet salad, $7. It’s a dream dish composed of itty-bitty spinach leaves, tender as you please, tossed with sweet and juicy logs of roasted red beets and threads of red onions steeped in sweet balsamic vinegar, then assembled with a lovely, chunky, creamy blue cheese dressing. Yes!

And “Si” for the chorizo quesadillas, too ($8). Three crusty corn tortilla boats come heaped with nice and spicy chorizo (or choose t.v.p. chorizo), soothed by melted cheddar and a generous painting of poblano sour cream on top. They’re served with an unusual cabbage-tomato salsa that bears a haunting, almost sour note (but it works). Brown rice completes the pretty plate. And completes my expedition. Welcome back, Modern Times—a terrific addition to a neighborhood that clearly needed a clubhouse like this.