Let’s just get it out of the way: we all miss the dearly departed Modern Cafe. Like King Tut and his pet cat, The Modern has been entombed with its pot roast, forever gilded and glorified in the annals of Minneapolis restaurant lore, never to rise again. Let the dead lie. Mourn the Modern if you must, but just as it’s unfair for me to suddenly mix metaphors, it’s equally unfair to saddle Grandpa’s new, younger girlfriend with our collective memories of beloved Grandma, isn’t it? Even if she can’t cook like Grandma could. Even if she wears too much perfume. Even if she shares racist political memes on Facebook.
Easier said than done.
At The Sheridan Room — named for the Northeast neighborhood in which it’s located — new and shiny replaces old and funky. Gone is the worn, lived-in, deco-diner feel of the old Modern space (giant marlin and all), paved over with lots of new wood, and tile, tile, tile! Seriously, there’s enough subway tile to create a supply crisis for every backsplash installation in every new condo unit in Minneapolis. It’s handsome enough, but also really aurally reflective. The lingering come-hither smell of off-gassing polyurethane finish and curing grout says Hey, I’m new! Forget about that fusty joint you used to love. Give me a chance. High-backed booths make a wooden maze of the dining room, giving it a segregated feel — the restaurant version of a cubicle farm. It’s not an inviting space. The lighting is harsh and too bright, destroying any romanticism the cloistered booth might offer. Nostalgia aside, the old openness of the Modern was vastly superior from a feng shui perspective.
The bar area of The Sheridan Room, however, pleases us. Separated from the dining room by a Trump-sized booth wall, the bar is dimly lit, full of booze (duh), and the best spot for taking in the pleasures of the elaborate analog hi-fi stereo system that’s been installed there. Vacuum tubes glow warmly as the staff spins a fine selection of vinyl records and plays percussion with their cocktail shakers. Let the people with the yowling kids stay tucked away in the dining room. We’ll enjoy our bourbon with Johnny Cash, Bowie, and Neil Young, thankyouverymuch.
There are a few cocktails on tap in addition to those made to order, a trend we like in principle. Nothing we tried knocked us out — the Barrel Aged Old Fashioned wasn’t a showstopper, but the classic elements were delivered well, supported with an understated maple twist. The Amaretto Stone Sour lacked focus, and was way too sweet — it could really use a brine or some heat for balance. We’d like to come back to try more, perhaps after they’ve had some time to dial everything in a bit better. There are no beers on tap, but the can selection is wide ranging and full of excellent local choices from the neighborhood and beyond.
And the food? The food is … good! Sometimes really good! The Sheridan Room’s pitch is scratch-made comfort food using local ingredients and local beer. The menu is simple, with staples aplenty, and the execution is solid. At times, we experienced under promising and over delivering, which is always delightful. Details appeared in spots that were greatly appreciated, like the perfectly seared, shatter-crisp skin of a lovingly cooked piece of salmon. Or the sublime texture and seasoning of a velvety, warming potato soup. Or the unctuous, deep purr of corned beef made by someone who really cares.
The lunch / dinner menu sets you up with a choice of protein: beer-can chicken, a pork chop, a New York strip steak, and a market fish (currently that excellent salmon). Each comes with two sides of your choice, along with two sauces. Each of these is served on a wooden cutting board, and is big enough for sharing. We found the beer-can chicken to be excellent ($20 for a half and the aforementioned sides / sauces; $30 for a whole). Moist, perfectly seasoned, and simple in the best way, it arrived with a can of Bauhaus Wonderstuff filled not with lager, but with a simple gravy made from it. The chicken was so tasty on its own that the gravy was mostly left alone, but the presentation was charming. Equally delicious — and maybe unexpected — was the salmon ($31) we mentioned previously. Oh, salmon — you’re on every menu in every restaurant in the world, and so often done no justice. Not so at The Sheridan Room. We were served a giant, beautifully prepared fillet, plenty for two (justifying the price tag), and proudly unadorned on its wooden cutting board. The skin was fully rendered and cracker-crisp, giving way to meltingly mid-rare flesh at the center. Along with a mustard cream sauce and a tarragony bearnaise, the technical proficiency of the dish made us very happy indeed.
Sides are large, filling, and either very tasty or just fine in a perfunctory sort of way. The chilled beets with creme fraiche and dill were topped with crispy shoestring sweet potatoes, and hit all the right notes in a very simple fashion. The mac and cheese left us wanting — it lacked distinct cheese flavor and tasted a bit like someone scorched the roux while prepping the bechamel. Brussels sprouts were Brussels sprouts. A wild rice crouton with mirepoix and Gruyere was an odd sighting on the sides list, but turned out to be pretty damn good — sort of a strange open-faced wild rice sandwich with a satisfying chew and plenty of the rice’s nutty perfume working well with the cheese.
On the sandwich menu, there’s an assortment of the usual suspects. We enjoyed The Sheridan Room Burger just fine ($13, with fries) — it came out overcooked, but stayed juicy and didn’t suffer too much as a result. The pretzel roll was too dense, so we had some architectural issues with the burger contents squirting out, which is no fun. Good flavor with the caramelized onions, dijonnaise, and Gruyere — if they make this sucker a cohesive whole, and cook it mid-rare when requested, there might be a burger here worth paying $13 for. The fries were unimpeachably tasty — crispy and hot. The Reuben ($12), was excellent. The house-made corned beef and kraut shone through delectably, and fulfilled all of our Reubenesque desires.
Thus far, in its infancy, The Sheridan Room does well for itself — not an easy thing to achieve in the long shadow of The Modern. It’s serving simple food, but doing so with the care it deserves. The biggest victory here is that something like a Potbelly didn’t swoop in and destroy the funky character of this weird and wonderful block of Northeast. Almost as significant? They serve breakfast every day at 8 a.m., in addition to brunch on weekends! This is a big deal for this neighborhood. Other than second-wave coffee shop breakfast fare down at Maeve’s, and weekend-only brunch at The Northeast Social, there hasn’t been a good early-morning breakfast spot in the neighborhood for a long time. Even the Modern didn’t fill that niche. The Sheridan Room has a great opportunity to build something special here, and we look forward to coming back to try more of the menu.
The Sheridan Room
Scratch-made comfort food in Northeast Minneapolis
337 13th Ave NE
OWNER: Jon Oulman
Tue-Thu 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 8 a.m.-midnight
Sunday 8 a.m.-10.p.m.
BAR: Full bar
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes