Tag Archives: Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Modern Love

December 3, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
If there’s any question about whether Omaha is ready for a new all-vegan restaurant, the first couple month’s of Modern Love’s dinner service seems like a definitive answer.

“We are packed nightly,” says co-owner Isa Chandra Moskowitz. “For the first month we were basically booked every night. So yes, apparently Omaha is receptive to vegan food. It’s awesome.”

The city has been buzzing about vegan food since Moskowitz announced last year she’d be opening a restaurant somewhere in the city—the biggest local news in vegan food since popular lunch spot Daily Grub closed in 2011.

Moskowitz, a Brooklyn native, co-creator of the Post-Punk Kitchen web series and website (with frequent collaborator Terry Hope Romero), and author of eight vegan cookbooks—her most recent, Isa Does It, was released in October 2013—relocated to Omaha a few years ago to be with her boyfriend. After consulting in Omaha’s dining scene, she engineered a meatless Monday menu at the Benson Brewery last year.

A venture of her own seemed inevitable.

“There isn’t a vegan restaurant here, or even really a vegetable-focused restaurant,” Moskowitz adds, “and it feels important to create something like that right in the middle of the country.”

Moskowitz leased the space on South 50th Street next to O’Leaver’s Pub in August 2013. She partnered with Krug Park owners Jim Johnson, Dustin Bushon, Marc Leibowitz, and Jonathan Tvrdik. She then brought on chef Michaela Maxwell, and started renovating.

“I’m still working on the décor,” Moskowitz said after her first month in operation. “I thought it would be better to start with simplicity and build on things when we saw how the restaurant actually looked and functioned once filled with people.”

And the name “Modern Love?”

“The plain truth behind the name was that I couldn’t decide on a name,” Moskowitz says. “As I drove to scout out a restaurant location a few years ago, the song “Modern Romance” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. And I was like, ‘That’s a great name!’ But friends thought that was a bit much, and it became Modern Love.”

And with Modern Love’s menu of “swanky vegan comfort food,” it makes sense, Moskowitz says.

“It’s comfort food with a modern twist, made with love.”

Some of those modern takes on familiar fare include—for now, as the menu will change every few months—stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms with a zucchini slaw and grilled summer squashes; a modern nicoise salad with chickpea salad and devilled potatoes standing in for the traditional eggs alongside green beans, tomatoes, and olives; a marsala entrée that puts seitan (aka wheat gluten) at the forefront with a root vegetable mash, herbs, and greens; and desserts including pies and non-dairy ice creams.

“The Mac & Shews is far and away the most popular menu item,” Moskowitz said. “It’s our cashew-based mac and cheese sauce, pecan-crusted tofu, barbecue cauliflower and the most amazing sautéed garlicky kale and okra in the world in a tomato vinaigrette. Michaela did a really bang-up job
with that dish.”

For the first month, seating at the restaurant was by-reservation-only, Nice problem for a business owner to have. In order to encourage walk-ins, Moskowitz recently updated her online reservation system so the restaurant is only half-booked on any given day.

“I am not the type of person who’s going to give a speech to convince anyone that vegetables are delicious—which is good,” she says, “because people are just coming in and finding out for themselves.”

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If Hearing Is Believing

February 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you hear what Angie and Andrew Norman hear?

If so, that’s the symphony of the Cornhusker state’s stacked arsenal of music makers. And if you don’t hear it now, you will, because they’re working to ensure that everyone recognizes these sweet (or punk, or country, or polka) sounds.

The Normans co-founded Hear Nebraska in 2010 as a “nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates the state’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community.”

Both were longtime students of regional culture; Andrew even worked at local newsweelies. When he needed a master’s project at Michigan State, Angie pitched the idea of a publication covering Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes as one. The concept stuck and blossomed into an even larger 
project: a nonprofit.

“We realized Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes were both super strong and great bands in both cities weren’t getting as much attention as they warranted nationally,” says Andrew. “We wanted to include Omaha, Lincoln, and Nebraska in general. It was just all these scattered voices, so we tried to gather them and speak through one confident, strong voice.”

And that voice is being heard, in Nebraska and beyond. A full 40 percent of HN’s website traffic comes from outside of Nebraska and seven percent of traffic is international. “Our mission is to make Nebraska an internationally known cultural destination,” says Andrew, “so I think that statistic really indicates that we’re doing something to reach that goal.”

Angie adds that “HN has received shout-outs from Garrison Keillor and has been featured on Al-Jazeera English.”

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“We want to tie the broader creative to HN, because we want to promote people making cool stuff in Nebraska,” Andrew says. “To support the musicians, the venues, the businesses involved—it all fits and works together. Around here all of these entities support each other.”

Andrew says that’s what makes Nebraska such an attractive location.

“There’s a sense that people want to collaborate. It’s such a good environment to be in when you’re trying to create art,” he says.

HN is known for executing unique, imaginative events that merge music and community. Angie’s favorites were the “An Evening” series of fundraisers, featuring meals from famed vegan chef and Omaha transplant Isa Chandra Moskowitz and music from such local heavies as Simon Joyner and The Mynabirds.

“It combines food, music, and community in an intimate setting,” says Angie. “The environment is amazing, and they are just such special shows.”

Andrew’s favorite was the NET-televised “HN Live at the 1200 Club” with Digital Leather, Big Harp, and Kill County.

“It was amazing,” Andrew says. “The state of the art [Holland Performing Arts Center] room, three amazing bands on stage, teaming with Omaha Performing Arts and NET, two absolute top-tier organizations in the state who represent what we strive to become…it was extremely flattering, encouraging, 
and motivating.”

Andrew described watching the sound check and imagined a kid from rural Nebraska watching the program and thinking, “This is possible. You can go for it and make your own sound.”

The Normans want HN to “grow smart.” They’re working to “focus on the foundation to make sure that we continue to grow and last,” says Andrew.

Five years from now the Normans hope HN will host regular showcases across the state featuring Nebraska music. Other goals include a physical space, more paid contributors, residencies, being one of the premier music websites in the country, and, as Andrew puts it, for everyone in the state to have a favorite Nebraska band “in the same way they love Husker football.”

In December HN released its second compilation on vinyl accompanied by a digital download. Such notables as Tim Kasher, McCarthy Trenching, Simon Joyner, Universe Contest, and Conchance are a few of the artists highlighting the eclectic collection.

They’re relaunching the HN site in 2014 and are at work on HN Radio, a web app/music player to feature Nebraska music, interviews, reviews, and other content. The effort is funded in part by the Nebraska Arts Council and Omaha Venture Group.

As Omaha invests in the young nonprofit, the Normans continue to invest in Omaha.

“We want to be an example of people who enjoy living here and cultivate a beautiful life here,” says Angie. “We hope that more people will look here and see opportunities.”

“We moved back and bought a house here,” says Andrew of the Benson home the couple shares with their adorable pup, Polly. “A large goal of Hear Nebraska is to stop the brain drain. I think Omaha, and Nebraska, in general, is just a really great place to start something.”

And on the topic of “starting something,” the couple is now awaiting their most ambitious of projects: a baby Norman due in 
early 2014.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz

November 4, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a lot on her plate right now (yes, that was a cheap pun. Moving on). She’s just released her eighth vegan cookbook, Isa Does It, she’s wrapped filming an online video cooking series produced by Zero Point Zero, Inc., she designs the Meatless Mondays menu at Benson Brewery, and she’s opening her own vegan restaurant in Midtown Omaha next spring.

It’s all a part of keeping up with the growing momentum of the vegan lifestyle in the Midwest. “I think things are happening really fast,” Moskowitz says. “If I just look at my life here in Omaha for the past three years, things have progressed so fast. I think in five years, everything will be Portland. In terms of vegan, not in terms of fixies.” That’s a fixed-gear bicycle, for the non-hipsters among us.

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Welcome to the dry humor that is Moskowitz. Isa Does It is full of her quips, making the book not only an unintimidating introduction to vegan cooking but also a darn fun read.

The Brooklyn transplant went vegetarian as a teen of the ’80s for no huge reason other than that she likes animals. “As soon as I realized, oh, I can cook without meat, it just worked,” she says. Her mother and sister went along for the ride. “It was kind of the reverse of what a lot of people experience,” Moskowitz recalls. “You go vegetarian, your family disowns you, you can’t eat together. My mom came home with a stack of cookbooks and said, okay, let’s do this, and we all just started cooking together.”

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Moskowitz transitioned to veganism shortly thereafter. She tried things out for herself, checked out how her friends cooked, watched The Food Network, and learned from the chefs at the restaurants where she served.

After admittedly being a little spoiled by the wide variety of ethnic food available in New York, Moskowitz moved to Omaha in 2010 to be with her boyfriend, John McDevitt. “You know, just like every other girl who’s not from here originally. Must be a lot of great Midwest guys here.”

It seems she’s settled in, as she lists her favorite places in town for vegan food: Kitchen Table, Block 16, Amsterdam Falafel, and Crystal Jade. If you order off the Crystal Jade vegan menu, look for the Isa Noodle. “I always went in and ordered a specific noodle with all these changes, so they finally just put it on the menu,” Moskowitz says. “They were like, we’re not dealing with you anymore. It’s seitan, cilantro, broccoli…it’s a noodle dish that’s kind of sweet and spicy and herby.”

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Though she experiments with food from all over the world, her own heritage influences the finished dish. “There’s always a Jewish-grandmother feel to everything I do, even if it’s curry,” she says.

Expect to see this unique style of comfort food on the menu at Moskowitz’s debut restaurant at 50th and Saddle Creek. “We’re going to do brunch and dinner,” she says, “no lunch. I’m going to keep the hours manageable.” Due to her commitments with cookbooks and shows, Moskowitz says she’s not going for a high-volume, high-turnover restaurant. “I want this to be a cozy retreat, like they’re in my kitchen.”

She’s still searching for the perfect partners for the restaurant. “I want my chef, even if they’re not vegan, to just love food,” she says. “I want them to love experimenting, with no pretension. I’d rather have someone who can grill tofu really well over someone who’s like, hey, I can create foam out of flax and banana. Someone who loves feeding people and cooks from the heart.”