732 Murphy Rd. (FM 1092), Stafford
NOW BRANDED AS PALM INDIA RESTAURANT - KERALA KITCHEN, CO-LOCATED WITH OLIVE'S PIZZA. THE DINING AREA HAS BEEN GREATLY EXPANDED AND SPIFFED UP.
Kerala Kitchen has been around for some years I guess. It’s mostly a catering operation but they sell OTC by the pound whatever they have cooking and over the months I’ve been going, the in-house eating area has been spiffed up a bit and I’m more likely to see someone having a meal on premises, typically a thali. Still, dining accommodations are rudimentary.
Like Mahima Indian Bistro down the road a couple of miles, Kerala Kitchen features the unique dishes of Kerala like Steak Fry, Pork Fry, Fish Fry, Kerala style curries and biryanis, aviyal, thoran and others, plus dishes like Chilli Chicken and Chicken 65.
My first visit over a year ago was almost my last and I almost left empty-handed. I was walking out in frustration, never having seen another soul after standing at the counter for 10 minutes, when another customer came in and showed me how it worked - he yelled at the top of his lungs to get the attention of the crew in the back. Since then, a bell has been placed on the counter that you can ring. The menu is limited - there’s an erasable board on the wall listing the dishes but not all of them may be available, about a dozen in toto, some vegetarian, some non-vegetarian, and some biryanis. The menu does change.
On that first visit I walked out with a pound of Chicken Curry for $6 as I recall. I was just relieved to have gotten anything at all for my time but my mood brightened considerably when I tasted it as it was very good. In fact, I was moved to compare it to my first meal at Himalaya or the first time I tried the Beef Nihari at Sabri Nihari. Pretty impressive company and I knew I had to go back to check my impression despite the awkwardness of the ordering routine, but that was about when I was burning out on Indian food and it was a long time before I returned..
I’ve also had the Butter Chicken, taking something of a chance because it’s a dish I haven’t found to be very satisfying the few times I’ve had it before, I’ve found it too rich from the butter for my taste or terribly bland but this version redeemed the dish. It’s the best I’ve had of my limited samples.
One time the Mutton Stew caught my eye on the menu board. They warned me they only had about a half a pound left but I thought that would be enough for me and I wasn’t deterred. When I first opened up the container I thought perhaps my order had been mixed up with another until I looked it up online at found that Mutton Stew in Kerala is made with coconut milk. It also included potatoes, carrots, ginger, curry leaves and other spices. Being the last of the batch, there were only a few small bites of meat but this too was very impressive and I’m hoping to be able to try it again.
I’ve also had the Moru Curry and a pork dish. Moru means buttermilk and online references to this dish refer to it as a buttermilk curry but both here and at Mahima, where it is also offered, it is explained as a yogurt curry. The difference may stem from awareness of the difference between buttermilk as the term is used in India and what we refer to as buttermilk in the USA. In India, buttermilk is the liquid left over after butter is churned from yogurt - yes, I wrote that correctly, butter is churned from yogurt. As I recall being told, it’s a little thinner than whole milk. That differs a lot from the cultured buttermilk that we are familiar with here. Actually, I’m also told few places churn their own butter anymore and buttermilk often is just watered down yogurt. I used it over some rice I heated up at home, as had been suggested by another customer, and then tried to find other uses for it besides just gulping it (I got about a quart for $3). Corn flakes and curry, anyone? I didn’t try it, but I thought about it.
The menu offered either Pork Fry or Curry, I don’t remember which, but the man who waited on me said it was the other dish, not the one listed. By the time I got home, I couldn’t remember which was which so I’m not sure what I got. Curries in Kerala are typically rather dry, like Malaysian curries, and in my experience the Fry dishes are even drier. There is a difference in preparation and some differences in spices used, etc., but I’m not familiar enough with the dishes yet to decipher which one this was. I thought it was the least impressive dish I had gotten until I got around to reheating the leftovers and I liked it a lot more.
As I have experienced at other Indian restaurants and grocery stores, other customers can be very helpful and courteous and I’ve had some very good conversations with others waiting for food. One time there was a guy from the North Shore area who said there is no place offering the foods of the Subcontinent on the far east side and he can only go so long on burgers, pizza, bbq, and Tex Mex before he has to have some of the tastes of his homeland. He is not from Kerala but he drives all the way over, bypassing the Mahatma Gandhi district and the cluster of Indo-Pak restaurants around W. Bellfort, Wilcrest and 59, down to Stafford to this place to load up. He had to make a couple of trips to his car to carry out his haul, several trays of probably about 5 pounds each. I wish I had thought to ask him what he thought was worth driving all that way for.
According to the sign on the door, they’re open seven days a week until 8 pm.
All dishes are shown as plated at home; I've gotten take-out everytime.