Modern Market attempts chain change well enough 


click to enlarge Taste-wise, there's nothing not to like about caramelized apples and pears and maple syrup on a whole-grain waffle. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Taste-wise, there's nothing not to like about caramelized apples and pears and maple syrup on a whole-grain waffle.

Denver-based Modmarket settled a dispute with Seattle-based MOD Pizza last year, agreeing to change its name to Modern Market, which is what the new location in the Promenade Shops at Briargate opened as in January. It's the first in C. Springs and one of 13 in Colorado, including two at DIA, while Texas holds seven and Arizona and D.C. each hosts a location.

Apt for the name, each spot features a similar decor, something of a farmhouse contemporary industrial look, like a clothing boutique mated with Whole Foods' produce area. Here, dark wood tables and booths mix with light wood partitions (an unfinished series of open-framed studs and cross-braces) that climb to a warehouse-high ceiling. Suspended from it, a non-load-bearing skeleton of wood planks forms a dramatic V-shaped installation near the ordering counter, while mismatched pendant lights add to an abundance of bright daylight. Yellow metal chairs reflect off the tortoise-shell-black concrete floor. But countering that slickness, pastoral wall prints promote cage-free eggs and local greens, feeling a bit like agrarian propaganda which climaxes in Michael Pollan's advice to "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." — emblazoned on the stainless steel hood in the open kitchen. (Invoking the great food journalist has become the artisan-movement equivalent of yelling "Freebird!" at a concert.)

Before the pager I was given at the register could begin vibrating and flashing for me to come pick up my order — you also bus your own tables, so an optional, credit-card-friendly DipJar up front only asks a dollar — I couldn't help but wonder if MM is truly about the "farm-to-table American fare" it promotes. Or whether all the nutrition-savvy bling, including half-portions offered, and calories, fat, carbs and protein counts listed (obnoxiously) on receipts, would really just add up to one sexy greenwashing effort.

To its credit, eight salad options outnumber sandwich choices while matching the breadth of the pizza menu. And MM purports to use quality fats, natural sweeteners and some organic ingredients. Purchasing partners include legit outfits like Denver's Tender Belly (used by many of Denver's best chefs) for sustainably raised pork, and larger companies like Englewood's Red Bird for chicken needs. Local-mindedness continues with Colorado beer taps alongside Denver's Happy Leaf Kombucha, and Allegro Coffee from Thornton. But I saw no outreach evident to area producers like Arkansas Valley Organic Growers or other alternative ag organizations — like how each Whole Foods or Bon Appétit catering location meticulously seeks out local vendors in each marketplace, by company mandate. (Still, a Tender Belly spokesperson told me the company is thrilled to be in all MM locations, and that "it's great to work with restaurants that hold a high standard for product and care about how their food is sourced.")

The phrase "farm-to-table" has long been a bit hollow and misleading (even factory farms are technically farms), but we collectively seem to perceive the intent, so I'll give MM a passing grade here, because it's at least making an effort beyond the majority of chains (and even most independents) to purchase mindfully enough.

During a quiet breakfast service, Allegro's medium-roast coffee drinks more dark-roasted but fine with a splash of cream from a self-serve station while the non-flavored kombucha sips on the potent, vinegary side. A blown keg of Avery's White Rascal prevents us from sampling a beermosa, as the only other beers present risked being too bitter or dark for the right mix.

From the just-refreshed seasonal menu, the well-made sausage-kale scramble (more of an omelet) features the all-bad-stuff-free sausage with some red bell pepper dice and pepperjack under a white cheddar cap — country potatoes and hard multigrain toast slices from Louisville's Izzio Artisan Bakery jacking up the bill's carb count. Listing sugar content instead would be more useful when trying to quantify the impact of the caramelized apple and pear whole-grain Belgian waffle, which does taste like a sweet champ. Though if you require a calorie-shaming to understand that syrupy waffles aren't a health-conscious decision you probably aren't ready for Pollan's prose. Lastly, Tender Belly's bacon stars on the satisfying chipotle egg sandwich, with a folded fried egg and two tomato wheels plus a mildly spicy aioli on a soft Izzio's ciabatta bun.

That same bun helps compose the arugula mozzarella sandwich when we're in during a hectic lunch rush, with a basil aioli and balsamic splash completing the Caprese effect — a light simplicity hard not to like. By contrast, the sesame tofu plate exemplifies why tofu often gets a bad rap, flavorless despite a seasoning attempt, with lemon-maple vinaigrette dripping off before you can eat enough to matter. Side bacon Brussels and sweet potato mash save the plate. A seasonal fire-roasted corn and bacon whole-grain-dough pizza (yes, cross-use of many ingredients typifies the menu) goes white with a clever roasted garlic crème fraiche. It also finishes cooking, unlike the still-doughy Pepe pizza, a three-cheese tomato sauce construct featuring a potent, somewhat musky, all-bad-stuff-free Calabrian spicy salami from Italy, making for a grown-up's pepperoni pie. Our favorite flavors came out of the Thai coconut salad though, which picks up sweetness from dried coconut flecks and a grated sweet potato tangle, plus a lavish peanut-mango dressing, all of which tops mixed lettuces with moist chicken wedges.

Boylan fountain sodas are, of course, still diabetes drivers even if cane sugar sweetened, but MM also offers a better option via Spindrift seltzers out of Massachusetts; our lively grapefruit flavor has only 2 grams of natural sugar. Pre-packaged cookies, the only dessert option, are a total disconnect with long ingredient lists that include palm oil (goodbye rainforests), plus they're dry and substandard. So do Pollan proud and skip dessert, and instead enjoy the fresh items. If you are bound for chain grub, you could do way, way worse.

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