The front door of Modern Times is bulging with people wrapped in late-winter jackets, a human mass that eventually unfurls outside. It’s a crowd dressed for Saturday night, the room dotted with smooth leather jackets and printed sweaters, earrings wobbling on lobes.
Soft sounds from a stereo in the kitchen set a mellow tone, and the room fills with conversation. The wait is a gentle process. People greet neighbors and friends, and from the kitchen emerges a beaming woman in a bright-yellow dress, who walks toward the line bearing a tray with bites of cake and cups of sorrel—a red hibiscus drink, sweet and bright, which I sip as the kids behind me in line enjoy bits of banana cake.
This is Ingridients—a Trinidad-inspired, soul-rooted pop-up enriched by chef Ingrid Richards' nostalgic cravings and beloved flavors.
Richards has been a Minneapolis resident for over 30 years, after moving here from her island home of Trinidad. The eldest of nine children, she learned to cook for her family when she was young, standing on a stool next to her grandmother’s stove. Hers was a family of culinary brilliance: “My aunt was a master chef; she would make incredible ice creams with tropical fruits. She just had enormous skill,” she recalls. Her grandfather was an expert gardener and herbalist.
When she arrived in Minnesota in 1980, she took culinary classes at Minneapolis Technical Institute and began working in professional kitchens, always dreaming of one day opening her own restaurant. The first time she cooked her own food for the public was at the request of her daughter, the respected artist and author Junauda Petrus (and the host in yellow at the pop-up). She wanted to serve food as part of a performance piece at Pillsbury House in 2015 and reached out to her mother to make doubles, a Trinidadian street food of flat fried bread filled with curried chickpeas.
“We ran out of food because people kept taking two portions; they’d have one and go back for another!” Richards remembers. That same year, the Whittier Farmers Market—which was just starting up—asked Richards if she wanted to cook.
For the first market, she made doubles and Bailey’s Irish Cream cupcakes with fresh berries, quickly selling out. Each week, she made more food, and every time, she’d sell out. She’s been operating at the market every week since. Then, late last year, Modern Times owner Dylan Alverson offered to house her pop-up two Saturdays a month during March, April, and May.
The response has been overwhelming, with lines out the door of the south Minneapolis restaurant each night. “People have been really excited about being in the space at night and eating some really amazing food,” says Alverson. “Sharing this space with their family at an exciting time in their growth is very rewarding.”
And it really is exciting. Back in line, I finally reach the counter and place a to-go order for a Caribbean entree, doubles, and a ginger beer, rushing them home in a blink. When I crack the container, a deep coo leaves my lips. The stewed chicken is nestled next to a spoonful of macaroni pie and a pool of red beans, slices of fried plantains tucked on the side. The beans are slightly sweet and practically melted with their own richness; the macaroni pie is masterful, with pert noodles held in a rich cheese sauce. I use forkfuls of the pasta to mop up the beans, an absolute luxury. The stewed chicken has been cooked until smooth, the sauce richly spiced. It quickly disappears. The plantains, incredibly savory nuggets, were slightly smashed while fried.
Richards has a level of quality to her food that’s recognizable to anyone who loves to cook. “If you saw the way she cupped the chicken and drizzled the gravy on each plate, she is very thoughtful,” says Petrus. “If things that she has cooked aren’t up to her standards, she won’t let them go out.” She holds close the Trinidadian flavors of her childhood while expanding her repertoire, consistently including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options in her rotating menu. And nearly all the ingredients that inform her cooking are local and organic: “I don’t want to be poisoning my community,” she says. “The main ingredient is love. I want my food to be nourishing, and don’t want to use the cheapest ingredient just to make profit.”
The doubles are a beloved Caribbean dish: soft bara bread filled with a lentil and chickpea mixture, with a sweet tamarind sauce sloshed on top. The flavors are rooted in India, from the indentured servants brought to the islands during colonial rule. The bread tastes of cumin and coriander, and the dueling textures from the soft lentils and chewy chickpeas melt well. Without my own Caribbean heritage, it still tastes somehow familiar, the lentils providing a sloppy-joe texture and the tamarind sauce similar to ketchup’s sweetness. A kitchen-table familiarity, with more complex flavors.
And the ginger beer deserves its own paragraph. As a ginger fanatic who eats raw slices of the stuff to cure everything from upset stomach to melancholy, I’m frequently disappointed by ginger beers and sodas, which are often heavy with sugar syrup and lack even a scant bite of ginger heat. Ingridients’ ginger beer is a kick in the pants; I’d like to dive into a swimming pool-sized vat and drink every drop.
As I wait at the counter, I joke with the woman beside me that the food must be good if the lines are long and no one is mad about waiting. “It’s about support,” she responds. “Showing up for your community.” Richards and her family put their whole heart into creating a warm space for everyone who walks through the door, and it shows in the packed dining rooms and relaxed customers.
Richards recently quit her full time job to focus all of her energy on running Ingridients, and will continue popping up at the Whittier Farmers Market this year while offering catering (meaning that ginger beer can be bought by the gallon).
“I believe in what my mom does as a chef,” says Petrus, but she also noted that the reality of Minneapolis gentrification affects their ability to plan for the future. The lack of African American-owned businesses on the South Side, though the community’s roots in the area are deep, make the realities of being able to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant daunting.
Regardless of the challenges, Richards continues working toward the dream she’s maintained for 30 years. “I’ve always had another job, and now this is what I am doing. I am excited to give it my all.”
Ingridients will be at Modern Times (3200 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis) on May 4 and May 18 from 8 to 10 p.m., and at the Whittier Farmers Market on Saturdays from June 22 to August 24.