Are you a control freak? Would it bother you to switch seats mid-dinner? Are you a reserved Midwestern type who just wants to eat in peace and not interact with your fellow diners? If you answered yes to any of those questions, the Curry Diva’s pop-up dinner may not be your thing. But if you are adventurous, friendly, and interested in trying home-style Sri Lankan food, it’s just what you’ve been looking for.
Heather Jansz, better known as the Curry Diva, has hosted pop-up dinners at different restaurants around town for the past few years, and she has currently taken up residence at Our Kitchen in south Minneapolis. If you’ve been to the popular breakfast spot, you know it is a tiny space, with seating for a grand total of 18 people. There are 10 backless stools at the counter and a row of chairs pulled up to what amounts to a glorified ledge against the opposite wall. The space between the chairs and the stools is barely enough for diners to make their way to their seats.
Because of the intimate scale of the place, you may feel like you’ve stumbled into someone’s private party. And Jansz is clearly the hostess – she has known many of these folks for decades, since they were customers at her restaurants, the Curry Deli and the Sri Lankan Curry House, which was an Uptown fixture for years. When we showed up at our allotted time, there was only one empty seat in the place. After another diner finished and left, Jansz asked a group of three to move down a stool so we could get two seats together, and they happily obliged. It’s that kind of crowd.
The ambiance is 100 percent disheveled diner decor, but once the food starts coming, you won’t notice. You’ll be too busy devouring delicate pappadams, made with lentil flour and served with a ginger and craisin chutney. Try not to inhale too many, because there is more food – a lot more food – to come.
Here’s the catch: You won’t get to choose what you eat for dinner. Jansz cooks a variety of dishes, based on what inspires her at the market, and serves them up family style, so you get to try everything on the menu for a mere $15 per person. The food comes in very generous portions; we took some of everything home in the container Jansz offered when it was clear we had enjoyed all we could.
And if you keep going back, the lineup of menu items will be different every time. So even if you fall in love with the pork that is slow-cooked in molasses with a dark-roasted curry blend that Jansz mixes up, you could find a new contender for favorite on your next visit. A typical Sri Lankan meal centers on rice and curry. The rice dish on our visit was aged basmati, flavorful and perfumy on its own, cooked with ghee, onions, and peas. Molasses pork and a garam masala chicken in a rich, garnet-red sauce were served alongside.
Sri Lankan meals also feature multiple side dishes, and that meant a cabbage salad with onion, sesame, and coriander that packed a bit of a spicy punch that was kind of addicting. The meal also included a raw kale and chickpea salad with tahini and nutritional yeast that might convert the kale haters out there. We also tried a dal made with lentils, fresh turmeric, and cinnamon that made me think of the best comfort food. The meal was served with a fiery Thai chili and coconut sambal for those who like some extra heat. The food hits all the right notes of texture and flavor contrasts.
Sri Lankan food is by nature virtually gluten-free, good news for people avoiding gluten; vegans and vegetarians would have plenty to eat too. As you probably already guessed, there is no booze served here, but Jansz blends her own chai, which is offered hot or iced, or you can opt for mango juice.
The pop-up dinners happen on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You’ll need a reservation, which you can set up by calling or emailing Jansz. The easiest way to know what’s coming up is to get on her email list. That way you’ll also learn about her Diva Dinners, a more leisurely and refined version of her pop-up.
The Curry Diva Pop-Up at Our Kitchen
813 W. 36th St., Minneapolis