Here is a loose handful of reasons why Modern Times Cafe is my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis: the handwritten menus printed on neon blue paper, their legitimately unpretentious but not at all bitter front of house, the sight of crust punks making small talk with their parents over brunch, and the wizard- and burger-themed sidewalk sign. But the one reason to rule them all? In this eater’s humble opinion, it’s their Thai Tempeh Burger ($6.50), a vegetarian (but not vegan!) soy burger that they make in house.
The dish, which Chef / Co-owner Dylan Alverson compares to a Thai fish cake, eschews the traditionally Tex-Mex bean burger formula for something a little more sprightly. It combines the flavor and textural beats of American Thai cuisine — that is, basil, cilantro, soy, cucumber, and hot pepper — with some quintessentially American packaging. Served deep-fried and on a traditional roll with basil veganaise, lettuce, red onion, and cucumber, the seemingly ragtag bunch of ingredients combines in a rhapsodic union that might even impress your Paleo friends.
Rather than fetishizing authenticity, Alverson’s approach to global flavor palettes is a more realistic, Kenny Shopsin-like philosophy. Shopsin, the chef and proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store in New York City, writes in his cookbook, “A lot of times when I name a dish for a certain country… it is not because the dish exists in that country, but because for me the dish has the telltales of that country’s cuisine.” As Shopsin describes it, his dishes “are one thing dressed up to look like another in a way that’s not really fooling anybody. They’re drag queen food.” Like some of the best drag queens, these dishes present an impressive aesthetic that is all their own.
Modern Times Cafe was kind enough to share their recipe with us.
Thai Tempeh Burger
Yields 10 burger patties
1 block of tempeh
½ bunch cilantro
½ bunch basil
2 tbsp minced garlic
½ red onion
8 oz. egg whites
3 c panko
¼ c tamari
1 ½ tsp salt
- Finely dice the cilantro, basil, red onion, and jalapenos.
- Crumble the tempeh and hand mix all ingredients (add egg whites last) in a bowl.
- Shape into loosely formed patties and deep fry until golden brown. Alternately, you can fry these in oil in a covered saute pan.
Modern Times Cafe, 3200 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis, MN; 612.886.3882