Chicken, cold-smoked, then brined in buttermilk before frying.
I’d been thinking about how that would taste since the team behind Modine talked about developing it for their new Southern spot with a Low Country accent in Asbury Park.
Truth be told, last week I tried the Festival Chicken at Marcus BP in Newark, a restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson. It was dry through and through, from coating to white meat to dark meat, with no discernible flavor to either the too-tough crust or the cottony-textured meat. The dish from the celebrated chef left me wanting.
Maybe I was destined to find true fried chicken love at Modine. The perfectly crisped-crunch of the coating, the way the skin seemed nonexistent, somehow melting into both the crust and the meat of every piece of chicken, the beguiling taste of the meat itself, which was soft, smooth and—could this be chicken?—silky to the bite.
Fortunately, we ordered the whole-chicken platter, which comes with hot honey, a couple of sides and a couple of biscuits. So I got to try drumstick, breast and thigh. I think, if I was by myself, I’d still order a whole fried chicken at Modine.
But before we talk about anything else, you need to hear about the biscuits, which are both flaky and tenderly fluffy. Was the butter not only chilled, but grated, to better integrate into the flour? I’d wondered that as I ate the Col. Newsome’s Country Ham Biscuits as an opening snack, a pure-happiness-producing mini sandwich that’s also got a layer of Cheddar and a spirited slap of sweet-and-spicy pepper jelly. (I want these for Super Bowl-watching in a few weeks.)
By the time I got to the biscuits on the fried chicken platter, they weren’t optimally hot (after all, I’d spent quite a bit of time analyzing the chicken itself), but darned if they still didn’t taste terrific.
This fried chicken-biscuit business should be enough motivation to get you to Modine this winter, before the crowds descend on the city at the Shore when the weather warms. But there are other items of note at this brand-new spot that’s a collaboration between two couples, Shanti and Steve Mignogna, who own the nearby Talula’s, Jill Meerpohl and Chris Davin, as well as Andrew Rasizer.
For (literal) starters, there are deviled eggs, with a savory, velvety filling topped by snippets of fresh chives; puffy hush puppies made with diver scallops fished off our very own coast; and smoky, coarsely ground andouille sausage with a spicy kick that partnered splendidly with Modine’s spot-on mashed potatoes and gravy.
There’s a “little wedge” salad that’s part retro, part cutting-edge, with hunks of crisped pork belly and a blue cheese dressing that gets its soul from smoking, and another salad of spigarello kale tossed with carrots and celery root and given a sprinkling of a lemony dressing.
By the way, if you’re a fan of the Low Country classic shrimp-and-grits, there’s a rollicking one here, complete with head-on Florida pink shrimp and Antebellum Grits.
There’s also an entree of medallions of beef tenderloin, plated with beets boosted by bone marrow and fingerlings and, for those who shun animal products in their diet, a vegan “chicken” platter pumped by spicy agave.
My first favorite side at Modine is the collards cooked in a coconut curry. Talk about updating a classic: This is the intersection of good thinking and good cooking. I’ll take another look at the mac-and-cheese, which didn’t ring my chimes.
I want to take another crack, too, at the coconut layer cake, which I denuded of its frosting but recoiled at the dry cake, and got a kick out of the ambrosia, which is less sweet than the typical fruit-plus-marshmallow-plus-whipped topping. Modine sets fruits mixed with toasted coconut atop a cloud of cream and tops it all not with old-school maraschino cherries, but rum-macerated ones.
For a spanking-new restaurant, Modine is operating at a high level. Its style is seductive, with inviting dark-green leather booths and a bar backed by concentric circle mirrors. The wine list focuses on natural wines, the brews are well selected and the cocktails well made.
And more is on tap and in the works. But what a start!
Modine, 601 Mattison Avenue, Asbury Park, 732-893-5300; modineasburypark.com. Open daily, except Wednesdays.