Dec 03, 2014 08:00AM
By Lindsey Anne Baker
“We are packed nightly,” says co-owner Isa Chandra Moskowitz. “For the first month we were basically booked every night. So yes, apparently Omaha is receptive to vegan food. It’s awesome.”
The city has been buzzing about vegan food since Moskowitz announced last year she’d be opening a restaurant somewhere in the city—the biggest local news in vegan food since popular lunch spot Daily Grub closed in 2011.
Moskowitz, a Brooklyn native, co-creator of the Post-Punk Kitchen web series and website (with frequent collaborator Terry Hope Romero), and author of eight vegan cookbooks—her most recent, Isa Does It, was released in October 2013—relocated to Omaha a few years ago to be with her boyfriend. After consulting in Omaha’s dining scene, she engineered a meatless Monday menu at the Benson Brewery last year.
A venture of her own seemed inevitable.
“There isn’t a vegan restaurant here, or even really a vegetable-focused restaurant,” Moskowitz adds, “and it feels important to create something like that right in the middle of the country.”
Moskowitz leased the space on South 50th Street next to O’Leaver’s Pub in August 2013. She partnered with Krug Park owners Jim Johnson, Dustin Bushon, Marc Leibowitz, and Jonathan Tvrdik. She then brought on chef Michaela Maxwell, and started renovating.
“I’m still working on the décor,” Moskowitz said after her first month in operation. “I thought it would be better to start with simplicity and build on things when we saw how the restaurant actually looked and functioned once filled with people.”
And the name “Modern Love?”
“The plain truth behind the name was that I couldn’t decide on a name,” Moskowitz says. “As I drove to scout out a restaurant location a few years ago, the song “Modern Romance” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. And I was like, ‘That’s a great name!’ But friends thought that was a bit much, and it became Modern Love.”
And with Modern Love’s menu of “swanky vegan comfort food,” it makes sense, Moskowitz says.
“It’s comfort food with a modern twist, made with love.”
Some of those modern takes on familiar fare include—for now, as the menu will change every few months—stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms with a zucchini slaw and grilled summer squashes; a modern nicoise salad with chickpea salad and devilled potatoes standing in for the traditional eggs alongside green beans, tomatoes, and olives; a marsala entrée that puts seitan (aka wheat gluten) at the forefront with a root vegetable mash, herbs, and greens; and desserts including pies and non-dairy ice creams.
“The Mac & Shews is far and away the most popular menu item,” Moskowitz said. “It’s our cashew-based mac and cheese sauce, pecan-crusted tofu, barbecue cauliflower and the most amazing sautéed garlicky kale and okra in the world in a tomato vinaigrette. Michaela did a really bang-up job with that dish.”
For the first month, seating at the restaurant was by-reservation-only, Nice problem for a business owner to have. In order to encourage walk-ins, Moskowitz recently updated her online reservation system so the restaurant is only half-booked on any given day.“I am not the type of person who's going to give a speech to convince anyone that vegetables are delicious—which is good,” she says, “because people are just coming in and finding out for themselves.”