DULUTH — About five years ago, a restaurant opened in Omaha, Neb., that to this day is still my favorite of all time. Buckle up: This column is pretty much a love letter to it.
New York City native Isa Chandra Moskowitz chose a most unlikely place to gamble on her first restaurant. The Beef State’s motto is no joke. Every town has a steakhouse nearby — or as Minnesotans call them, “supper clubs,” but with gigantic cuts of steak, instant potatoes and mini-plastic bottles of wine — and everyone in Nebraska has their favorite steakhouse.
Moskowitz’s entrepreneurial goal was questionable because her restaurant, Modern Love, serves an all-vegan menu. You can’t get dairy or meat there if you try. To put it in perspective, my husband, who loves all kinds of meat, made all different ways, absolutely loves this place.
Modern Love was an instant hit and soon had a second location in Brooklyn. The small Omaha restaurant, which has relocated since I lived in the area, is usually packed, and celebrities visiting the city often dine there. On any given night, you can see tables of families, 20-somethings and retirees, and groups of teens all dolled up for prom. It’s pricey, swanky-but-cool, and worth every penny.
Omaha is more than 500 miles from Duluth, and since most of my family lives in the Upper Midwest, I’m not likely going to get down there soon. That’s where Moskowitz’s cookbooks and online recipes have to fill the void. Sure, you can drool over her mushroom potato chimichanga, buffalo mac and ‘shews, and smoked rosemary seitan drumsticks on Instagram, but maybe you could try to make them yourself.
Moskowitz, who started her career in New York with a community access TV show, “Post-Punk Kitchen,” has released many cookbooks since then. I somehow only own one. In my attempt to incorporate more vegan food into my life, my household has started tackling some recipes by Moskowitz and other chefs who’ve published not-terrible vegan cookbooks (there are many terrible vegan cookbooks).
My husband, Derrick, executed an insanely fantastic recipe of Moskowitz’s broccoli mac and cheese. For those of you who haven’t tried it, vegan cheese made out of cashews is fantastic. Does it taste just like dairy cheese? Not at all, but it’s just as good.
Over the weekend, I decided to take Derrick’s challenge to make Moskowitz’s two-part recipe of scalloped potatoes and eggplant bacon. She describes it as a play on the casserole (or “hotdish,” if you know what’s up) of scalloped potatoes and ham doused in cream of celery soup and browned on top.
I was WAY over my head on this one. In her recipe, Moskowitz advises cooks to plan for an extra 30 minutes if they’re also making the eggplant bacon. I blew way past that. It called for a fairly short baking time, with a flip halfway through. It took four times longer than the directions stated. The eggplant came out of the oven as stringy, with an odd, shoe leather-like consistency.
Moving on to the main dish, it calls for three “large potatoes,” whatever that means. I decided mine weren’t “large” and sliced five. I may as well have sliced 15; there were that many left over.
Three hours later — at least 45 minutes in there was for an unexpected work thing that interrupted the process — it was done. It looked terrible — a sad, brownish rectangle with sad dots of color from chopped parsley.
But it tasted amazing.
The moral of this short story, folks, is to just jump in and pretend you know what you’re doing. Or, leave it to the professionals.
Katie Rohman is managing editor of the News Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com or 218-723-5334.