Finish this sentence: “If you’re going to be in Northfield, you have to eat at _______.” Tough, right? And when you think about it, much harder than it should be. It’s a cozy town with a colorful history that’s home to a pair of nationally renowned colleges, yet it lacks a signature dining experience. It does have a fine cluster of Greek pizzerias, down-home coffee shops with sandwich menus and, soon, a sweet microdistillery. Our favorite spot for a pint is the back patio at Contented Cow, but it’s their sister restaurant that’s making us eager to cruise through town during lunchtime.
If the name Chapati sounds familiar, you may be recalling its offshoot location in Edina that ran from 2004 to 2009. The original Northfield location is on the main level of the century-old Archer House on Division Street. The decor is minimal and bright, much like Namaste Cafe in Uptown, with a few sectioned-off rooms behind the main entry that houses the buffet.
All things being equal, we prefer the lunch buffets at Gandhi Mahal, Copper Pot, and Himalayan to that of Chapati. But Minneapolis and Northfield are drastically different contexts. Considering the limited amount of intriguing eats in Northfield, Chapati needs only to accomplish the basics: a competent array of rich, flavorful curries. And in that, they succeed admirably.
The buffet offers a handful of entrees, alongside soup, salad, and a few snacks, with vegetarian and gluten-free options very much present. The one we went back for was the chicken korma (above, top left) with fall-apart, bone-on dark meat and cashew slivers in a deeply spiced, onion-filled sauce. The standout starch was alu masala (above, right), a hot and powerful lentil stew enveloping quartered golden potatoes. The requisite chicken tikka masala (above, bottom) was more composed than the usual yogurt-drenched affair. It was more of a chunky spice puree that surrounded the tender and smoky tandoori chicken. Only one true disappointment: the naan. Sectioned and left to go cold in the buffet trays, it lost any straight-from-the-tandoor comfort it may have once had.
At $12 (tax included) we were much happier to try all of these entrees than we would have been paying dinner menu prices ($12-18) for any of them individually. That said, we’d go back for dinner in a heartbeat (this time with a dedicated order of warm naan). Now perhaps we’ve shortchanged the culinary scene in Northfield and it’s not truly that dire (a few notable exceptions: Red Barn Pizza Farm, El Triunfo, El Tequila). For now, knowing we have a solid lunch spot on the town’s main drag is a good place for us out-of-towners to begin exploring.
Chapati, Cuisine of India, 214 Division St S, Northfield, MN; 507.645.2462