By Bob Sacks |
Now for something completely different. Modine, in Asbury Park, serves food you didn’t even know you were craving until you eat it. The theme is Low Country Cuisine; local fare from South Carolina and the Georgia coast, which is similar to New Orleans/ Cajun but with its own special twist. Sweet and spicy, crispy fried textures, and lots of seafood make up the unique menu offerings.
For one starter we picked Boiled Peanut Hummus ($8); a spicy, less oily take on chunky peanut butter; served up with large triangles of tasty homemade flatbread, which would have been better if served crispy, not limp. Barnegat Bay Oysters are offered two ways: broiled with bourbon chipotle butter ($12/4) or raw on the half shell ($14/6). I chose raw in order to taste these local oysters by themselves, and was rewarded with a half dozen sparkling fresh, plump, sweet mollusks, with a slightly saline flavor which was very refreshing.
More area seafood was sourced for the Local Diver Scallop Hush Puppies ($11). The round, deep-fried balls of cornmeal were light and creamy, not at all greasy. For dipping, a small dish of Comeback Sauce was provided. Similar to remoulade, this tangy blend of mayonnaise, chili, ketchup, lemon juice, paprika, Worcestershire and hot sauce, made for a nice counterpoint to the mild cornbread flavor.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Shrimp Toasts ($9), but was pleasantly surprised by thick triangular puffs of bread coated with chopped shrimp instead of the usual thin paste, Szechuan spice, scallions, and topped with white sesame seeds, making for great textural interest and pronounced shrimp flavor. One of the dishes of the night.
Monticello Salad ($10) was another tasty starter. Frisee greens, large slices of pink smoked trout, pecans, and benne seed (sesame) dressing, was a welcome change from the usual green salad. The smoked trout was notable for its lack of excessive saltiness and succulent juiciness.
One of the Signature dishes of Modine is the Smoked Fried Chicken ($22/half or $36/whole); we saw it on many of the surrounding tables. Buttermilk-brined, cold smoked, and then fried to perfection with a thick, but light, crunchy crust which seemed to render the skin almost nonexistent, it was perfectly moist and tender. Garnished with curls of fried pickles, it’s served with two biscuits and choice of two sides. We opted for cornbread served in a mini-skillet, and a ramekin of Sweet Potato and Turnip Gratin with melted cheese on top. I requested the accompanying hot honey drizzle be served on the side, rather than over the chicken, in order to preserve its crispness. This dish is worthy of a visit, as it is a cut above most of the commercial versions available elsewhere.
Pan Seared Sea Trout ($28); a strip of pink fish, served medium rare as requested, was plated with a bouquet of roasted baby carrots, cubes of pickled Hakurei turnips and brown butter.
An interesting presentation of cold smoked Local Berkshire Pork Chop ($34) combined mildly salty sauerkraut and sweet fried apples, making for an enjoyable contrast of flavors.
Modine has an extensive list of cocktails, beers and spirits, as well as wines by the glass or bottle. The restaurant allows corkage; and as we were curious to pair two of our own special wines with this unusual cuisine, we brought in a white: 2010 Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet La Boudriotte, a lovely white burgundy with plenty of acid and a mineral spine, which complemented the hummus, oysters, smoked trout, and hush pup- pies. Our red, a 1997 Montevetrano, an Italian blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Aglianico, had a nose of black fruits and spices, and was assertive enough to stand up to the Fried Chicken and Pork Chop without overwhelming them.
Service was knowledgeable, warm and friendly with only one glitch. Although the restaurant was not full, we had barely finished swallowing our appetizers when the entrees arrived unbidden. There had been no sense of being rushed before or after this point, so perhaps it was a simple timing error by the kitchen.
From a choice of four tempting homemade desserts, sanity prevailed and we ordered just one to share – Black Bottom Pie ($8). A crispy crust served as base for a rich and creamy ganache-like dark chocolate, a layer of banana custard, and a thick mound of whipped cream on top. Best shared.
If you have not yet experienced Low Country Cuisine, Modine is a good choice to introduce you to the foods and flavors of the South served up in a cool, hip setting. You may discover some dishes that you never knew, but now are on your list of favorites; I did.
601 Mattison Ave.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
This article was first published in the Feb. 22-March 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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