Editor’s Note: B.Z.A. India’s Kitchen has closed.
There is a veritable universe of Indian food that beckons in other American cities — LA has whole neighborhoods of regional Indian cuisine, while in the Bay Area hundreds of places compete just to provide the best dirt cheap naan and curry, and in New York anything is possible, or at least everything regarding Indian food — but alas, here in Minnesota the stuff is lacking. That’s sad for a few reasons, but one of them for the budget-minded foodie is that inexpensive Indian food can be so wonderful, not to mention that, for a single country, India offers such a bewildering variety. Enter B.Z.A. India’s Kitchen in Northeast Minneapolis. This small, family-run place, which opened in March, specializes primarily in non-vegetarian southern Indian cuisine. Think less coconut and dosas, and more biryani and curries. The menu has a smattering of more common fare like tandoori chicken and samosas, but there’s also Hyderabadi-style biryani — a spiced rice and yogurt-marinated meat / veggie dish — along with both kadhi gosht and masala gosht — lamb and beef, respectively — cooked in a spicy tomato-based stew.
The “B.Z.A.” in the restaurant’s title refers to Bilquis Z. Ali, the mother of the family, who commands the kitchen while her husband, Syed Ali, mans the register. The couple’s two children help out in both the back and front of the house. Like many a smaller, immigrant-run restaurants, this a genuine family affair. The food reflects that small scale and a particular care that comes with it.
The prices are affordable, the portions are large, and, perplexingly, somehow everything is cooked to order (not a small feat for an Indian kitchen). While we waited at a table near the front of the restaurant, watching the traffic of Central Avenue go by, it was possible to see through the open kitchen a pot of water on the stove for a chai tea, each piece of naan being made one at a time, and the lamb and chicken cuts sizzle their way into our dinner. The chicken biryani ($7) came with moist bone-in chicken sitting on a huge plate of spiced basmati rice. The flavors were fresh and bright. Biryani is a dish that comes in almost as many variations as there are Indian cities; the owner’s son informed me that this was in the style of Hyderabad. Half the spices under the sun had made it into the plate of rice, and the saffron-colored dish gave off a delicious, heady aroma. The kadhi gosht, a sautéed lamb in a tomato-based stew, had a dense, rich flavor, and enough spice for a slow-building burn. Cleaning up the sauce with naan helped to spread out an otherwise intensely rich liquid. The naan ($1) and the beef samosas with an accompanying thin, fiery sauce ($1.75) were cooked to order and arrived hot and straight from the kitchen, not from under the shelter of a heat lamp.
The short menu offers a few vegetarian options, including a balanced tomato-based curry of sautéed vegetables ($5). For the less adventurous, this bowl is a safe bet. Order a chai tea ($1.50) and you’ll get the real deal: an intense black tea with milk, sugar optional. As either a drink or dessert, the mango lassi is an unusually rich, cool, almost ice cream-based treat ($2). Affordable pleasures both.
What, if any, are the shortcomings at B.Z.A. India’s Kitchen? This isn’t quite the upscale Indian you might find elsewhere. Be forewarned the menu is blessedly small to go with the smaller prices. Unfortunately, while having everything cooked-to-order made for very tasty food, it was not the most efficient system — be prepared for a moderate wait.
Hopefully, B.Z.A. India’s Kitchen will soon bring in the volume of customers it deserves, and some of the dishes will come out faster.
On the whole, this is a wonderful little place that serves up much-needed affordable Indian food. As a plus, the menu is heavy with items that are relatively unusual in the Twin Cities; non-vegetarian southern Indian food is a rarity here. Try something new to the Minnesota dining scene and support this worthwhile family venture.
BEST BET: Any of the three biryani dishes is delicious and representative of the region. The spring vegetable curry is reliable and among the most popular dishes. Abbas, the owner’s son, said the “Chicken 65” was his favorite — a marinated chicken dish with only a mysterious number for a description.
B.Z.A. India’s Kitchen [NOW CLOSED]
2411 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
OWNERS: Sayed and Bilquis Z. Ali
ENTREE RANGE: $5-8