We were supposed to get food from Indian Masala in Maplewood two weekends ago but winter struck early and we ended up huddling indoors like weenies. This past weekend was quite a bit warmer though and so we revived our plan of walking the loop trail at the Battle Creek Park (the part that has the dog park in it) and then picking up food to bring back to our deck to eat with our usual crew of excessive eaters. I am very happy to report that not only was this meal very good, it was one of the best Indian meals we’ve had so far in Minnesota. That may seem like damning with faint praise but these days it’s really not. As I’ve reported before, the Indian food scene in the Twin Cities metro has improved radically in recent years, keeping pace with the growing Indian population in the area. And as this growing population is both mostly South Indian and mostly in the suburbs, it’s to the suburbs you have to go and the South Indian dishes that you have to order to experience this shift in quality. The mainstream food media in the area remains focused on the North Indian standbys in the Cities proper—this is a shame as both the new(er) restaurants and local diners interested in Indian food need a brighter light shone on these developments than a minor blog like mine can manage.
I should tell you first that Indian Masala is in the south end of Maplewood, which is a very strangely shaped town indeed. It’s basically down by Woodbury. The restaurant sits on an unprepossessing stretch of Century Ave. The restaurant itself is not much to look at from the outside, looking as it does like a big cinder block in a large parking lot. What it looks like on the inside I cannot say as this is the rare Indian restaurant in the metro that has not yet opened to dining in. They are being very cautious indeed, which I think is a very good thing indeed. You order on the phone and pick up your food from a table that block the entrance to the restaurant.
What might that food comprise? Well, as at all Indian restaurants in the region—or for that matter in the US at large—the menu contains a lot of the North Indian curry house staples with which most Americans continue to associate Indian food. Indeed, a sign of the fact that Indian Masala—unlike Godavari or Kumar’s—is not a relatively new restaurant is the fact that these dishes are the center of the menu and that they don’t have quite as deep a selection of South Indian dishes. And not everything they have in that latter category is even on their printed menu—which is not an issue right now as you’ll be ordering on the phone off their online menu (there’s an online ordering system as well but it’s best to just call the restaurant directly). We, however, ordered almost entirely from the South Indian selections.
What did we get? Our order was not a million miles away from the South Indian meals we’ve got from other restaurants recently. We began with their Chicken 65 (in the drier Hyderabad style and very good), the Chicken Chinthamani (spicy and garlicky and excellent) and the Andhra kodi vepudu (another dish of stir-fried chicken with curry leaves, chillies, etc., also excellent). Mains included the following: goat sukka (a dry-style stir fry of goat that was just excellent); chicken Chettinadu (also excellent); kozhi varutha curry (another Tamil chicken prep and—you guessed it—also excellent); and Malabar fish curry (made with coconut milk and tamarind and very nicely balanced). They have no sambar or other South Indian dals on the menu and so we got an order of the dal tadka (decent). Their South Indian vegetable selection is also meagre (though I was told they hope to expand it once the pandemic ends) but the dish we got from it—the gongura subz (not on the printed menu)—was rather good. An order of their goat biryani (just decent) rounded out the adult section of the meal.
The boys as usual ate tandoori chicken and naan—both of which they pronounced very good. We adults mopped up our food with rice and one oor paratha each. These latter come two to an order and while good would have been much better eaten directly from the kitchen—it is, of course, no fault of the restaurant that we drove 45 minutes with the food before heating it up again.
To make up for the pick-up time mix-up they plied us—completely unasked and unexpected—with a few extras. These included a couple of orders of very good spicy buttermilk—which we drank in the car as we waited for the food; a couple of orders of kheer and mango pudding which closed out the lunch; and some samosas, which we heated up to eat with tea later that evening. The samosas were very good reheated in the toaster oven and I can only imagine they’d be excellent fresh. The desserts it pains me to say were ordinary at best.
Oh yes, I asked that everything that should be spicy be made properly spicy—and while the meal on the whole was not as hot as the Godavari lunch, everything was very nicely balanced and some of the dishes had a good bite indeed.
For a look at what we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and for my appraisal of where I’d rank them vis a vis the other Indian places we’ve enjoyed takeout from in the last year.
All of this—not counting the freebies—came to almost exactly $25/head for the adults, which included leftovers. If there had been enough of us to finish all the food it would have been more like $20/head. Which is very good value for the quality of what we ate. That quality—as I said up top—put this meal near the very top of our pandemic takeout Indian meals this year. Indeed, I’d say it was up there with our lunch from Godavari in September. I liked the food so much that I am even willing to go back and try an all-North Indian order. Many thanks to Mike McGuinness of the East Metro/St. Paul Foodies Facebook group who recommended them to me a long time ago. I’m kicking myself for taking so long to finally try them. That part of Maplewood is a bit out of our usual way but the good news is that there’s a Costco and an Indian grocery very close to the restaurant and so I should be able to justify a shopping + takeout run sometime relatively soon.
In the meantime I strongly urge anyone within reasonable range to give them a go. They are being very responsible in not opening up for dining in; however, this probably puts them at a disadvantage compared to the other Indian places in the suburbs. They therefore need all the takeout business they can get. And having come to them late I am selfishly asking you all to help make sure that they’re still around when this is all over. We drove 45 minutes each way for their food; surely you can manage at least 20 minutes each way? Do it.
Next up from our pandemic takeout adventures: I’m not sure exactly but it’ll probably be Southeast Asian food of one kind or the other.