Mutton Kuzhambu is not a dish you would typically find on the menu of an Indian restaurant; it hails from the Tamil Nadu area of South India, a region under-represented in most Midwestern restaurants. The newly opened Copper Pot Indian Grill in downtown Minneapolis goes beyond the familiar Chicken Tikka Masala and Palak Paneer, and introduces an India rarely tasted, with dishes such as Bisi Bele Bath and Meen Varuval, guaranteed to reawaken palates jaded by legions of identical Indian buffets.
Located on the first floor of the Lumber Exchange Building, Copper Pot attempts to fill the void of upscale Indian dining in downtown Minneapolis that OM left with its closing in January of last year. With appetizers and entrees in the $5-$16 and $10-$26 range, respectively, a meal for two can easily set you back a pretty penny. While Copper Pot likely won’t replace your regular go-to Indian restaurant for quick take-out, their unique menu runs the gamut of geographies across India, from tangy, hot curries of the Andhra region to coconut-based dishes of Kerala and the usual dairy-heavy dishes from the North.
We started with the familiar Samosa ($5, above), two delightfully light and crispy shells that enveloped a finely ground, velveteen interior of spiced peas and potatoes. It served the purpose of an amuse bouche, a flavorful, two-bite morsel that aroused our taste buds in preparation for the rest of the meal, but the small portion left us wanting more for the money.
The Hyderabadi Chicken 65 ($12) was served on contemporary white dinnerware, bringing an air of finesse to a popular street food, often eaten out of paper plates at dhabas, or truck stops, in India. The generously seasoned nuggets of yogurt-marinated chicken were flavored with innumerable spices — curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and mustard, among others — that worked together in beautiful symphony. The only lacking element was a burst of acidity to round out the dish.
Staying within the theme of Indian street food, we sampled the Gobi Manchurian ($8), a fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines, which defines comfort food for many Indians. Unlike the Chicken 65, the Gobi Manchurian did not transport us to our favorite hometown dhaba. What should have been fluffy, airy fritters of cauliflower were instead dense and soggy. Still, the sauce was tasty, a flavorful balance of ginger, garlic, and scallions, with a pleasant hint of ketchup-y sweetness.
Our final, and favorite, deep-fried appetizer was the Kadambam Pakora ($6, above), Copper Pot’s rendition of a mixed-vegetable fritter. It hit the mark in both the taste and texture departments: The cumin-scented carrots, onions, and cauliflower were housed in a crispy, charred exterior without a trace of greasiness.
The selection of entrees, similar to the appetizers, was a little overwhelming. With more than 50 dishes to choose from, we selected dishes from across the Indian sub-continent, in the hope of identifying the chef’s area of expertise. While we couldn’t pinpoint a geographical specialty, the shared themes across all of the dishes we sampled were the depth of flavor and complexity of spice. There is a marked difference between Indian food that uses ground spices from a bottle, and Indian food that uses fresh spices, and the food at Copper Pot falls squarely into the latter category, with whole cloves and cinnamon peppering curries, and the rich, unmistakable taste of freshly ground spices in all the dishes we tried.
Still, some dishes were more successful than others. The Chicken Tikka Masala ($15, above) was rich and comforting, a creamy sauce with a complexity of spice, and a pleasant burn of heat on the finish. The Methi Chicken ($15) delivered lightly charred pieces of tender chicken breast marinated in mild spices, with an earthiness from the dried fenugreek leaves (methi). The Dum Puck ($15) was the table favorite. The slow-cooking technique yielded tender pieces of fully flavored lamb buoyed and complemented by a creamy saffron and cardamom sauce.
Less successful was the Andhra Goat Curry ($19). Pieces of melt-in-your-mouth-tender goat were disappointingly offset by the large amount of bone and fat in the dish. Andhra food is characterized by deep, intense, and pleasantly unforgiving heat and flavor, but Copper Pot’s version did not bring the spice we expected. Similarly, the Achari Chicken ($15, above), while well seasoned and flavorful, did not deliver on its promise of “hot and spicy,” and was expensive for the rather small portion of chicken that arrived.
Breads served their purpose of delivering curries from plate to mouth, but did not shine on their own. The Naan ($3) and Kulcha ($4, above, top) were both a tad dry, though pleasantly seasoned with ghee instead of butter, and the Paratha with mint and pomegranate ($4, above, bottom) lacked a silky unctuous richness that is often associated with this type of bread.
Dessert was not worth sticking around for. The notably weird signature house dessert, an avocado and pecan ice cream ($6), was rich and bursting with avocado flavor, yet lacking the sweetness needed to alleviate the spicy flavors from the food.
The one area where Copper Pot truly disappoints is in the drinks department. The beer menu is limited, without a trace of local craft beers, and a nearby patron had to describe the contents of a Manhattan to the waiter, since the bartender “only works on certain days.” And don’t expect to order coffee after dinner — they don’t offer it. Service was mostly smooth, with a few nice upscale touches — crumbs wiped away between courses and silverware replaced as needed, as you would expect in a restaurant that defines itself as “fine dining” — but a few minor hiccups detracted from our largely positive view of the hospitality.
The uniqueness of the menu alone is worth a visit to Copper Pot, with the options for South Indian dishes virtually unmatched by any other restaurant in the metro area. While certain dishes were more authentic than others (the South Indian dishes won’t necessarily compete with your mother’s home cooking if you’re Indian), the chef certainly has a deft hand in the spice and flavor department, more so than most other Indian restaurants in town.
Copper Pot Indian Grill
Indian in Downtown Minneapolis
10 S 5th St
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Mon-Thu 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm
Fri 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-10:45pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Often
ENTREE RANGE: $10-26