There’s something decidedly inauthentic about the all-you-can-eat buffets that define the majority of Indian fare served around these parts. It’s the very absence of a steam table and the lack of sequined portraits of Ganesh that set Mallu Cafe apart.
Situated in a less-than-glamorous, three-store micro-strip mall (next to a spice shop that also sells electronics and appliances), Mallu features diner-style seating, an unassuming decor that includes Western religious iconography and a multipage menu of dishes from India’s southwestern peninsula. Owner John Mathew points to an enlarged photo of a bus in Kerala. “You won’t find that anywhere else,” he says. This order-by-number spot has plenty of standbys, like biriyani, aloo paneer and vindaloos, but upon further inspection you’ll find unique Keralan specialties like spice-tossed bites of beef ulathu, dry-fried with coconut, and a creamy moru curry, a slow-cooked combination of winter melon, yogurt and spices, including turmeric.
Kerala’s proximity to the Arabian Sea is reflected in Mallu’s seafood dishes, including mackerel, porgy and king fish rubbed with turmeric and chile and pan-fried.
Sour tamarind and bright cilantro chutneys are Indian-restaurant staples; the sour-bitter lemon pickle that accompanies entrees at Mallu Cafe makes for a next-level condiment experience. Made with slices of whole lemon (pith, seeds and all), carrots, peas and green beans, the pickle is tossed with red Kashmiri chile powder, sour asafetida and whole mustard seeds, making for a relish that lends a bracing vibrancy to even the most innocuous chicken tikka masala.
Mallu Cafe | 10181 Verree Rd., 215-673-6732, mallucafe.net. Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Appetizers and breads: $1.50 - $7, entrees: $6.99 - $11.99.
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