Cuisine: (Southern) Indian / Vegetarian
Open seven days per week
I love Indian food I could not begin to describe the subtle and not so subtle flavors of Northern, Southern, and the other regional cuisines of India. Each meal is an exploration of spices, tongue pleasing tastes and tongue tying names. OK, honestly my lack of knowledge is due to sloth because I am a sucker for an Indian buffet. A buffet is like a parade for my stomach – there is so much to see and eat that I lose track of the names and all of the flavors start to blend together.
Udipi is a coastal city in southern India known for diversity and as a rich farming area. The 161 / East Dubin Granville Road strip was known as restaurant row in the 1980’s, it consisted of miles of the best Columbus had to offer at the time: Flakey Jake’s Hamburgers, Chi Chi’s, Olive Garden, The Elephant Bar and every chain restaurant that could find space to build. The area is still overrun with eateries but the glory days have gone. Udipi Cafe is very much an outlier in the seemingly endless array of fried food and cheese covered cuisine. The Beechcroft area is not exactly known for it’s large Asian Indian community however 80% of the buffet customers at Udipi seem to be natives of India and make the trek to this part of town for the buffet. I think that is quite an endorsement.
I am certain the term vegetarian strikes fear into the minds and stomachs of many meat eating, Applebees lovin’ central Ohioans. I imagine the concept of Indian cuisine does the same to the people in a venn diagram overlapping with carnivores afraid of people that eat vegetables by choice. If you have one of these people in your life, might I suggest you take them to Udipi Cafe – as their gateway meal to the “dark side” of culinary choice.
The way to lure people in is through the value of Udipi’s lunch buffet. This all you can eat buffet will knock one back a whooping $7.46, including tax. In exchange for what would be a tip at many places you have access to fourteen plus entrees as well as soups, salad, sauces and dessert. A pitcher of water is brought to your table so you can stay hydrated during your feast.
At some point during your meal a dosa (masala pictured below) will be delivered to your table…..
If you don’t have time to dine in, you can drop in to fill up a large carry out container for the same price.
The Udipi Cafe buffet is a great way to explore the vegetarian cuisine of Southern India. The buffet experience does not make you bother with having to remember or pronounce what you are eating.
The buffet is offered from 11:30 AM to 3 PM Monday to Friday.
After several lunch time trips for the buffet, I was inspired to return in the evening to explore the menu in meal form. The evening experience is very different from the lunch buffet. There seems to be a different crew on board at night. My evening experiences often seemed to be hampered by a language barrier and what I can only describe as disjointed service, not bad mind you but somewhat confused. Eye contact is critical to move service along in the evening. The night staff seem content to let you sit for long periods of time so as not to disrupt your mediation or digestion depending on where you are in the meal. One of the evening research sessions involved the usual suspects (including Hungry Woolf/Columbus Food Adventures – photo credits on some shots below) and we delved into the menu in depth.
While evening service is a bit underwhelming. Everyone is friendly and each staff person has a good knowledge of the food. Two things are overwhelming: the menu selection and the size of the dosas.
The menu is fun to read. One section is headlined: Ye Soup Kettle and lists the soups made on site. There is also the Udipi Royal Dinner: choice of soup; choice of Idli or Medhu Vada or choice of dosa or Uttappam and Sambar with chutney. One might choose to end the evening with the Falooda Deluxe: vermicelli with vegetable seeds in condensed mild with raspberry syrup and rose ice cream. I am not sure if these terms made me feel like a visiting dignitary, pampered or a participant in a renaissance festival but I liked the variety to the point of indecision. Note: The carry-out menu uses different terms and phrases for the menu descriptions.
Fortunately, with a few people in tow one can easy explore the menu and the cuisine of southern Indian by ordering a few combination plates. We did not eat or meet a dosai (crepes made with rice) we did not like. We also enjoyed the Uthappas (Indian style pancakes) served with a variety of sauces.
Again, did I mention the large portion size? Check. The depth of the menu and the quality of the vegetarian fare here is very impressive. Beverage choices include Lassi, milkshakes, Indian beers and teas. Several desserts are available as well. There are many Indian restaurants in town now. This is one from the first wave and has stood the test of time and changing palates very well. Udipi is a good first experience for novices and well worth the effort of Indian food aficionados.