Editor’s Note: CurryUp is no longer open for business.
You’ve certainly been in this situation before: piled into a car; turning left at a familiar, yet unfamiliar enough to perhaps be a different Radio Shack for the third time; hungry and driving each other up the wall; not even sure that the restaurant even exists. Although there are many restaurants in the suburbs of the Twin Cities that are worth the drive, the question, “Is it really going to be worth it?” quivers in the air for the entire trip there, especially if Google Maps inevitably leads you into a church parking lot and you have to circle back again.
This time around, CurryUp — specifically, its $8 unlimited chaat buffet — was our El Dorado, tucked away in the wilds of Maple Grove, MN. We got so lost that the other members of the party thought I had hallucinated the whole restaurant, and I began to doubt myself as well. Seeing the imposing form of an Old Country Buffet looming before you is enough to discourage even the most starry-eyed gastronome, but right behind it, like an uncommonly merciful bait-and-switch, is the combination Indian grocery store / restaurant of your wildest dreams.
Not unexpectedly, the grocery store itself is impressive. Its size and friendliness toward non-Indians puts it in the same tier as Minneapolis’ Holy Land Grocery & Deli, where heartstoppingly kind ladies in hijabs wear t-shirts reading, “ASK ME FOR HELP.” CurryUp’s masterstroke lies in the fact that one may purchase the ingredients for many of the restaurant’s dishes and garnishes in the grocery store; the temptation is most certainly fueled by one’s memory of the drive to get there in the first place.
Just past the 100-lb. bags of rice, in the store’s far corner, is a full-service restaurant. A few perpendicular booths line the wall, and some spartan tables and chairs fill out the middle of the space. On the nights when they host the chaat and dosa buffets, they set up a long table topped with a mise-en-place in front of a buffet line.
The first time we went, we stood around the vestibule awkwardly until someone from the restaurant told us to sit down. The second time, we were obliged to pay up front and then we sat down. It probably doesn’t really matter to them as long as you eventually eat something, but expect some unease among your party for a while. At least, until the food arrives.
CurryUp’s buffets seem to be generally awkward affairs for newcomers, so don’t take it personally. Once seated, the idea of how it all works doesn’t quite translate so well. There are a few things that one may take from the steam tables, but the other items are either on or made fresh at the mise table. Simply go up to the cook standing at the table and ask him for whatever you want.
Chaat, for the uninitiated, is Indian street food. Designed to be eaten on the run in one or two bites, chaat dishes pack strong flavors into texture-rich vessels. Typical starchy vehicles include wafers, puffed crackers, sandwiches, and flatbreads.
These are the things on the buffet line: chole bhatura, a brown chickpea curry served with a nicely greasy flatbread; pau bhaaji, a lentil curry; and dessert, which can be either gaajar halwa, a sweet and rich-tasting carrot pudding, or kheer, a cardamom-scented rice pudding.
On the mise table: Bombay sandwiches, which consist of cucumber, tomato, and mayonnaise served between slices of crustless white bread; and masala chai, the classic spicy tea. Sugar packets for the tea are either right next to the carafe or by the silverware rack near the back wall.
The rest, you can request from the cook: samosa chaat, about 1/2 of a vegetarian samosa, torn open and drizzled with tamarind, fresh chickpeas, mint chutney, and raita; bhelpuri, a crispy, cilantro-imbued snack mix; pani puri, a puffed-up cracker that one dips in spice water before eating; and sev batata puri, a cracker-based dish featuring the tamarind / mint / raita alliance. Curiously, each visit yielded a different type of cracker for the sev batata puri. One member of our party described the latter version, which featured denser crackers than before, as “Indian food-tasting Cinnamon Toast Crunch.” Take that as you will.
Overall impressions were positive. The standouts of the buffet were the desserts, the chole bhatura, and the bhelpuri. The masala chai had a decent flavor and a smooth texture.
One disappointing misstep was the pani puri. It also only comes with the buffet at an added price of $1, which heightened our expectations. The dish would have worked so much better if the filling and crackers were warm; served cold, they tasted rather bland. Everyone generally stayed away from the Bombay sandwiches, which, though authentic, didn’t quite capture any of our imaginations.
If you come with an open mind and break out of your Old Country Buffet expectations of how a buffet should be, you’ll do fine at CurryUp. It’s worthwhile just for the experience of trying some great and unpretentious renditions of an oft-overlooked part of everyday Indian cuisine.
CurryUp holds its chaat buffet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 6pm-9pm.
BEST BET: Chole bhatura, bhelpuri, and gajar halwa.
Indian Grocery / Restaurant in Maple Grove, MN
13601 Grove Dr
Maple Grove, MN 55311
BAR: Beer + Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: Buffet is $8; otherwise, $7-$10