Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Maharaja Cafe (Closed)

Sadly, this restaurant has closed.

Maharaja Cafe
4273 American Way Dr , Suite #2

My fake brother is getting ready to move away from Memphis. I asked him which restaurants he would miss the most and surprisingly his list contained a few I'd never heard of. He went on and on about "some Indian place on American Way" so much so that I HAD to try it even though I am really not a fan of Indian food. Since he couldn't remember the name of the restaurant or its exact location, Warren and I had to drive around until we found it.

Boy am I glad that we found it!

We visited on a Saturday afternoon after a busy morning of going to the Farmer's Market and Children's Theater Festival at Rhodes. Not surprisingly, Jiro fell asleep on the drive over, so I had to carry him in. (He's a huge six-year-old so this was no easy feat.) Satchel (age 8) was knee deep in a new book and begged to bring it in, which was unneccessary since I was happy to oblige this request. I deposited Jiro in a booth and Satchel settled in next to him while Warren and I tackled the menu.

There was a nice, young Indian guy working the register--let's call him Shri Dreamy--and he helped us figure out what to order. My fake brother had instructed me to get "Chicken 65" which I assumed was number 65 on the menu, but it was the actual name of a dish. I asked Shri Dreamy if it was spicy and he said it could be, so I ordered it spicy. Warren requested his usual--Palak Paneer--and Shri Dreamy recommended the Chicken Tikka Masala for the kids. My brother had also insisted we get a Mango Lassi, so we did. Warren added on an order of rice and Naan, and that was that. Shri Dreamy instructed us to get our own water from a nearby water cooler and told us to pay after we ate.

We were the only people in the restaurant except for a large group of men at the center table. I peeked at what they were eating and started to get excited about our meal. Back at our table, Jiro was sleepily staring into space, Satchel was happily reading, Warren was playing Word Scramble on his iPhone (he's addicted) and I was taking notes and sneaking pictures.

The restaurant is in a strip mall across from the Waffle House near Getwell. You actually enter through the Regal Indian grocery store. Inside the restaurant part is a a makeshift counter and a menu board and as many blue booths as one could possibly squeeze in. The carpet and wall paper led me to believe the space was not formerly a restaurant. I kind of got a video rental store vibe from it, but that might have been because of the many Indian movie posters decorating the wall.

While we waited for the food to cook--it was made to order--several young Indian families came in. I was happy to see more children, especially younger and more rambunctious ones. There was at least one high chair and the staff seemed welcoming of the families.

There was a toddler exploring the place who I could have stared at all day, but our food was ready so I had to stop. I went to the counter, smiled at Shri Dreamy, and brought our delicious looking lunch back to the table on a tray. The Chicken 65 stood out since it came with a lemon and a chunk of sliced raw onion. In Cameroon (where Warren and I met and served in the Peace Corps), I developed a taste for raw onion. It is actually quite good to eat with spicy food. Just seeing it there excited me. I grabbed a piece of chicken with my fingers and popped it in my mouth. It was super crunchy and intensely flavorful. I was in love! Warren and Satchel immediately followed my lead. It was a bit too spicy for Satchel, but he wanted to keep eating it anyway. Warren and I started trying to pick out the flavors like in a Top Chef challenge. "Ginger," he said. "Tumeric?" I asked. "That's cilantro on top," he said. And so on. The Mango Lassi, which is a smoothie like drink, was quite refreshing and also effective at quelling the heatwave in our mouths.

After some more munching on the Chicken 65, we started in on the Palak Paneer and Chicken Tikka Masala. Both were excellent--the best I've had. I especially liked the big cheese chunks in the Palak Paneer. Satchel was really adventurous and tried everything, but funnily enough, raved about how good the rice was. Jiro, who was still half-asleep, would only agree to eat Naan, then immediately stopped when I tried to take his picture.

After a few minutes Satchel asked if we could get another order of Chicken 65 "not spicy." I had no doubt that it wouldn't go to waste, so I obliged. I also got another order of rice. Shri Dreamy seemed pleased that I was back to order more. I asked him where the name Chicken 65 came from, but he looked sheepish and said it was hard to explain in English. I did gather that it had something to do with the age of the chicken. I wondered if it was a house specialty, but he said that other restaurants made it too. I doubted it was as good anywhere else though!

While we waited on our second order, we polished off all of the food at the table. Then Warren went to explore the grocery store while I hung out with the kids. Of course by the time the second order was ready, our food had settled and we were too stuffed to make a dent in it, but Shri Dreamy had thought ahead and given it to us in a styrofoam to go container. (It was kind of Styrofoam City there, but I let it slide because the food was SO good.)

Satchel kept reading while Jiro and I went in search of Warren in the grocery store. I told Jiro he could get a treat, but everything was pretty foreign looking to him so he never found anything. (There was a bar of soap that he thought was a candy bar. Once I told him it was soap he gave up trying!) Warren had no trouble finding things he liked. He scored some garlic paste and some of the Indian spices/licorice candy that they usually have in a bowl at the check out.

We paid for our lunch and our groceries at the grocery register. It was being operated by a young woman who I guessed was Shri Dreamy's wife (or sister?). Our lunch total came to $34.91 and our groceries were about $8.

Full and happy, we went outside and explored all of the other treasures buried in the stripmall. (You'll have to wait to hear about those!) The kids scored some popsicles and Warren and I found where we want to do our next DWM review, then we all piled back into the car and headed home. I had the Chicken 65 in my lap and couldn't help picking at it all the way to Midtown. It's just absolutely addictive. Needless to say it was gone before nightfall!

Editor's note:While eating at Maharaja Cafe I noticed that they are closed on Mondays. This conflicts with what is on their website, which says they are open everyday. Their website is actually hilarious. Had I visited the website before going to the restaurant, I would have been very confused. It makes the restaurant seem fancy, when it is definitely casual. Also it says that there is a daily buffet. This *may* be true, but there wasn't one on the day we went. The best part about the website is the pictures--there's a nice one of the family that owns it (sadly Shri Dreamy is not pictured), but all of the other photos are stock photos. I especially love the fat white guy in a chef's hat and the basket of chicken tenders!

Maharaja cafe on Urbanspoon


Liz said...

Wow, this looks like a great find. Thanks for cruising the strip malls on our behalf!

Shannon said...

thanks for this review. we went last night and LOVED it. that chicken 65 is something. my mouth is burning up from the leftovers this afternoon. we will be back soon.

Stacey Greenberg said...

Glad you liked it! I could eat there everyday.

Liz said...

Just got back and I think I swalloed a bloatation device. We got a goat dish (started with K, I think), plus the palak paneer, chicken 65, & a nice chickpea thing, all perfect. I'm up for trying the Friday night taco cart next door. Anyone?

Stacey Greenberg said...

We did the taco cart last Saturday. Stay tuned!

Jon said...

This is one of my favorite hidden gems.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping that this would stay a secret of mine but the people are so nice I'm glad it is getting recognition. The chicken pakoda is another great appetizer. If you really like spicy food try the chicken chettinad. The that is their spiciest curry before they even add spices. It may be best to start with a medium spicy order. Also the methi chicken is delicious.

Waiting to hear about the tacos barolas review. I got one of their menus last time I was there and was excited and intrigued that they have beef head tongue and tripe tacos. It is on my short list of places to go.

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