Let joy be unconfined: the Twin Cities metro’s greatest lunch deal is back! Yes, I refer to the weekday lunch thali at Kabob’s Indian Grill in Bloomington. I have reported previously on these excellent thalis that I first ate in 2019 (see here and here). In late 2020 it was still available in to-go format (which I duly took advantage of). But then it went away. And even when in-person dining returned to Kabob’s last year, the weekday thali did not—though it was replaced by a new weekend thali served on banana leaves. I don’t mean to suggest that this was the worst restaurant-related development during the pandemic but it certainly was the one that impacted my life the most. Imagine my excitement then on seeing the restaurant announce on its Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that the weekday lunch thali was returning. I showed up as soon as I could to eat one and then again a week later. Here is my brief report on those meals.
The restaurant looks exactly the same on the outside and inside as it did on my last visit to pick up takeout but there are some significant changes. For one thing, they now have a more formal menu booklet. As far as I could make out, the contents are unchanged but it does make it a little easier to navigate. More consequentially, I noticed a new face in the kitchen (and the front of house is new as well). I chatted with the chef a bit at my first of these lunches and he told me that the old chefs left unexpectedly a month or so ago at which point he came over from elsewhere in the US to help out. He’s also apparently going to be overseeing the opening of the location of yet another South Indian chain in the Twin Cities in June. The chain in question is Anjappar, a Chettinad specialist. Unlike the other South Indian specialists—who have all opened in the suburbs, where most of the Indian population lives—this location is apparently going to be in Minneapolis proper. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare with what will likely be a far more non-desi clientele. But that doesn’t have much to do with the current incarnation of Kabob’s, which has no connection to Anjappar.
If the menu is still the same, the revived weekday lunch thali also looks very similar. Though closer examination does reveal some differences from the thali of old. For one thing, there was less diversity in these recent thalis. For some reason both included both sambar and dal at the expense of a second vegetable dish. For another, there weren’t significant difference between the thalis I ate in two different weeks. In the old days I ate a number of these thalis and it rarely felt like the same meal twice. But these thalis felt substantially similar—though it is true that there were a few variations: tomato rasam on one occasion and tamarind rasam on the other; pongal for the sweet on one occasion and gulab jamun on the other. On both occasions the bread served was naan, which didn’t really go well with anything else on the thali. Contrast with dosas and chapatis under the old regime.
But these are all very minor complaints. Both thalis were very good in and of themselves—even with the dal/sambar redundancy—and I was very happy indeed to eat them. And it may well be the case that as the kitchen finds its groove under the new chef the thali will begin to branch out as well. In the meantime, I am eager to go back and try their Chettinad dishes off the a la carte menu as the chef indicated that was his speciality.
For a look at what the thali looked like on both my visits, launch the slideshow below. And feel free to ask questions in the comments about any dishes you don’t recognize. Scroll down to see how much it cost and so forth.
Price? As at most restaurants over the duration of the pandemic, the cost has risen slightly. All the way to $11.99 for the veg thali and $12.99 for the non-veg thali. Which means both continue to be screaming deals. Is there a reason you shouldn’t go eat one today? Well, yes, there is: they’re closed on Tuesdays. But you should go tomorrow.
Service is as friendly as ever. But with large numbers of people placing to-go/delivery service orders, you should be willing to be patient. On my second visit I saw one gent storm out in anger, cancelling his to-go order because the food wasn’t ready exactly when he was told it would be and it was a bit embarrassing to watch. My own system is to go in, order my thali and walk over to TBS Mart in the same strip mall for my weekly Indian grocery shopping and then come back 15 minutes later for lunch which then shows up on the table a scant minute or two later. I suggest you do the same (at TBS Mart you’ll be able to find everything you need to make my Indian recipes).
Alright, next week will see a return to St. Paul and a report on a Japanese meal.