Since Milwaukee's summer this year is undoubtedly an Indian Summer, with warm days cropping up in September, it seems fitting to suggest a stop at Bombay Sweets, 3401 S. 13th St.
The vegetarian restaurant, which is more like a giant cafeteria and bakery, features cases and cases of Indian, Pakistani and Bengali sweets and a substantial menu posted on the wall.
Don't be intimidated.
Just about everything on the menu is explained by ingredient or photograph, and the confections are numerous enough that you can slowly work your way through the cases on multiple visits, sampling and deciding what you like along the way.
The 13th Street location has been around for 10 years now, and owner Narinder Kumar expanded to Brookfield about three years ago, bringing his family's vegetarian-focused cuisine to the West.
But for non-vegetarians, don't dismiss the thought of dining here because there is no meat. Appetizers, snacks, entrées, and value meals at Bombay Sweets succeed in filling even the pickiest of eaters with bountifully flavored selections including potatoes, peas, chickpeas, beans, lentils and delicious Indian breads.
Dining here is ultra-casual on styrofoam plates and plastic ware, and beverage selections include soft drinks, lassi (a drink made of yogurt and rosewater or mango juice) or a mango milkshake. You pick up your tray at the counter, your utensils, straws and napkins at a station towards the back of the restaurant. And, you bus your own tables after dining.
Samosas ($0.75 each) serve up pockets of crusty pastry packed with turmeric flavored potatoes and peas, and set the tone both for robust flavors and extraordinarily reasonable pricing. Masala dosa ($4.50) plates a long crispy pancake rolled into a tube packed with spiced potatoes. The dish is served with a lentil gravy and a green coconut sauce. My preference was the gravy, which added an earthy flavor to the dish and allowed the pancake to become almost like a sponge for the flavors therein.
Halwa Poori platter ($5.50) was my favorite of the items we sampled, with two sweetened rounds of fried bread served with yogurt (raita), halwa (a very thick pudding), chholey made with garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes. Freshness reigns at Bombay Sweets, and this platter in particular illustrates Kumar's ability to offset heat and spice with sweetness and milder flavors, like the raita, so that diners can determine the spice quotient of their dishes.
Bombay Sweets also offers a substantial curry menu, with 14 varieties in all served up with basmati rice that is so deftly cooked each individual grain steps out without any stickiness.
Vegetable korma ($4.99), one of the more familiar Indian curry dishes, separated the cream from the mixed vegetables, allowing us to alter the sweetness and thickness of the sauce. My only complaint is that the sauce absorbed too much into the cashews, giving them a strange, chewy consistency. Other than that, the dish was delightful, and even better when sipping the mango lassi alongside it, which again provided sweet balance to the heat of the curry.
The namkins, or more savory mixes, which appeared often to contain nuts, were being purchased to go by the pound by patrons walking in and pointing out their selections, and the sweets beckoned throughout the meals, as many diners gazed at the case while feasting on their entrées.
If you like adventure in your dining scene, Bombay Sweets offers it in large doses, and you can decide how much and what to try on each visit. You're guaranteed to leave with something new to look forward to just about every time.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.