(Update: Bombay Cafe closed in August of 1014 and was eventually replaced by Amrit India. We have no idea if there is any connection between the old restaurant and the new one. -Erik, February 22nd, 2015)
Bombay Cafe. Thursday, May 22nd, 2014. Dinnertime.
Kira and I have been to Bombay Cafe a number of times, both at it’s old location and at its new one. Sometimes when a restaurant moves, it’s just a matter of location and decor. The new spot on the northeast corner of the Square* is more certainly more convenient and visible, and it allows for some outside seating too. The cafeteria-style interior of the old location has been replaced with something a bit more restauranty, with orange walls and plenty of wooden furnishings. If you look closely, you can still see the Quiznos trash cans and sneeze guards. But the move has brought other changes too.
*For those who are new to Bloomington, “the Square” refers to the area around the Monroe County Courthouse, between Kirkwood Avenue and 6th Street and between College Avenue and Walnut Street. It’s the center of the downtown area.
Some of my friends bemoan the loss of the freshly-prepared dishes of the old Bombay Cafe, but I don’t think anyone misses the long wait times for the food. As it stands now, all the dishes are prepared ahead of time, and you can pick and choose whatever combination of dishes you like. But the quality of those dishes is still outstanding, and I don’t think anyone would complain if it hadn’t once been otherwise. The particular dishes on offer vary from day to day, so if you want something in particular, make sure you check on their Facebook page first. But there’s always at least a few vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Kira and I are both fond of the butter chicken, but on this particular trip, we wanted to try some different things. I had goat* curry and coconut chicken, while Kira tried the chicken tika masala and some kind of cheese dish whose name I can’t remember. The goat curry was a little too spicy for me, but not for Kira, although she wished it had more meat in it. The coconut chicken, chicken tika masala, and cheese dish were excellent. The naan is always tasty, if sometimes a little burnt around the edges. I’m not usually crazy about dal, but I like Bombay Cafe’s dal. The owner told us that they’d dropped the old family recipe in favor of a more complex flavor that has a few bits of veggies thrown into the usual mix of lentils. If you’re sensitive to spicy food like I am, I’d stick to the dishes that they tell you are “not spicy”. Some places I can handle “not very spicy” or “only a little spicy”, but Bombay Cafe is not one of those places. When in doubt, the staff will be happy to provide a taste of any of the dishes they have.
*My notes say “gort” curry. I’m not sure if this is my typo or if I was faithfully recording a mistake on the label. This review sat half-written in the queue for a long time, so my memory isn’t very fresh.
I do regret that I never got a chance to try some of the odder-sounding items on the menu at the old location. They’ve still got a sign that advertises “innovative Indian food”, but most of the dishes they offer now aren’t exactly what I’d call “innovative.” Although it is one of the few places in town that regularly serves goat meat. (Although to be honest, when it comes to curry, I can’t really tell much of a difference between the various different kinds of red meat.)
If the owner is there (and he almost always is), he’ll also be happy to talk your ear off about the food (or about anything else too). He’ll tell you if a dish is traditional everyday Indian food, or if it’s really only eaten on special occasions. If you ask, he’ll talk about the trials and tribulations of running a restaurant, from why he decided not to dump his Quiznos franchise for his own restaurant to why he doesn’t have a cash register. Fortunately, he always maintains an air of friendliness and helpfulness, so I enjoy engaging him in conversation whenever I’m there.
The “combos” come with naan, rice, dal, and two dishes. The regular size is usually enough for me or Kira, and will cost you eight dollars. If you opt for the large combo, it will cost you somewhere between twelve and fourteen dollars, depending on whether you get vegetable, chicken, or other meat dishes Even though you’ll order your food at the counter, they’ll ask you to pay when your’e done eating. It’s really easy to forget, and I’ve almost walked out the door without paying on more than one occasion.
Probably the best new addition is the shawarma and crêpe stand that appears outside the Cafe on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. We’ve never had the shawarma, but when we visited, I insisted on trying a banana-Nutella crêpe. It was fun to watch the crêpe-maker at work, and he graciously allowed me to take lots of pictures while he worked. And of course it was very tasty.
So here’s the short version: Consistent quality Indian food at a good price; not as freshly prepared as it was at the old location. Don’t forget to pay on your way out. Also: crêpes!