UPDATE: 12/02/11: Ownership of Kabob’s has changed, along with the hours and phone number.
So you’re strolling along Nicollet Mall and you get a little hungry. You enter Gaviidae Commons and take the escalator up to the fourth floor. You see the usual food court offerings — a McDonald’s, a Subway — when you spot Kabob’s Indian Grill offering a $4.99 lunch buffet. You begin to look for which 2-3 items you’ll pick, when you realize: There are about 25 items! The new question: How much can fit on one plate?
Such abundance initially came out of scarcity. Kabob’s owner, software engineer Ather Jameel, arrived in Minneapolis to work as a technology consultant. A native of Hyderabad, a state in South India, Jameel says he soon found he couldn’t find any good Hyderabadi food in the Twin Cities area. In search of a solid meal, he drove all the way to Chicago to a restaurant called Hyderabad House.
“But, it would be: Have a feast, then come back,” Jameel says, emphasizing that the Chicago trips, though a short fix, were not a permanent solution.
Jameel noticed that there were many other Indian IT professionals in the Twin Cities in a similar predicament. Later, when he hosted parties at his home, guests would rave about the food that his wife and mother prepared. “You have to have a restaurant!,” Jameel recalls his friends begging his family.
Jameel took their advice, eventually leaving the tech field to become a restaurant entrepreneur. He and his wife opened a food stand in Bloomington in 2007, a sit-down restaurant in Maple Grove in 2008, and then the downtown Minneapolis skyway’s Kabob’s Indian Grill in 2009. Jameel’s business has also catered major events for the Indian community in the area, such as famous Indian singer Sonu Nigam’s concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center for over 1000 people.
Though many of his customers are Indian, the Kabob’s restaurants take into account the Minnesota palate. Jameel says that dishes are prepared at a medium spicy level, approximately “one red chile pepper,” or roughly 20% less spicy than you would find in India.
Downtown workers rely on Kabob’s not just for authentic Hyderabadi dishes, but also for Indian dishes from other regions. The first half of the buffet line hosts a number of vegetarian dishes such as dosas, idlis, wadas, pav bhaji, and a rotating selection of few types of rice such as rice dotted with lentils, grated unsweetened coconut, and mint. The second part of the buffet is non-vegetarian. One highlight is the goat curry, a homemade recipe from Jameel’s wife, Sarah, that features soft morsels of goat and a mild spicy flavor. (Did you ever think you could be addicted to goat?)
The authentic Hyderabadi dishes at Kabob’s include a variety of biryanis (cooked rice dish with meat or vegetables), Chicken 65 (a favorite of Jameel’s that consists of salty, spicy, bright red bits of cooked chicken), tandoori chicken that is prepared in the Hyderabadi style instead of the more common Punjabi version (Jameel won’t reveal the secret spice mixture), and the dessert double ka meetha that resembles a sweet, orange-colored bread pudding.
Jameel says Kabob’s is different from many other Indian restaurants because of the homecooked method of preparation of each dish.
“There’s no pre-making sauces that are then put on different foods… no heavy oils, no heavy cream,” Jameel explains, hinting at a practice in some restaurants of making standard sauces then slightly adjusting them depending on what’s ordered. He says at Kabob’s they opt for grinding their own masalas so they have control over each dish.
Indian breads and snacks are made on site as well. That means in the kitchen behind the buffet, cooks are making naan, placing them inside a 300° Celsius (572° Fahrenheit) tandoor oven. Jameel says in addition to the lunch rush, customers also stop by in the afternoon to pick up a snack : samosas, vegetarian pakoras, bhel puri, dahl puri, pani puri, and Indian tea (black tea prepared with fragrant spices) — each for $2.00 or less.
Perhaps a more refreshing option in the summer heat would be a mango lassi ($1.75): sweet, thick, cool, and full of intense mango flavor. Jameel says the drink is so popular, his customers “don’t want to miss it.” The question is, do you?
Kabob’s Indian Grill
Indian Buffet in Downtown Minneapolis
555 Nicollet Mall (4th floor)
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Ather and Sarah Jameel SAI Enterprises LLC
Mon-Fri 8:30 am-7:00pm
Sat: 10:30am-6pm (brunch special)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Always offers vegan options
ENTREE RANGE: $4.99 / full plate buffet