Food is elemental. An onion, ground cinnamon, a bell pepper, a flank steak—food grounds us, reassuring us that we're somewhere familiar or, failing that, somewhere that's at least readily comprehensible. Consequently, a trip to an ethnic market can be a bit disorienting. There are familiar details here and there, but the basic landscape is radically different. Aamchur powder. Whole singoda. Mango leaves. Kokum. In short: What the hell?
CurryUp, a recently opened Indian grocery store and restaurant in Maple Grove, is dedicated to answering precisely that question, regardless of how often or how naively it's asked. During a recent visit, a customer squinted suspiciously at a bumpy, vacuum-sealed, shiny aluminum bag labeled "Sikandar Shing." Within seconds a clerk appeared, brandishing scissors. "They're roasted peanuts. Very good," she said. "Would you like to try them?" Snip. Bag open. Peanuts proffered. Customer deeply impressed. On another visit, an older clerk walked customers up and down the spice aisle; this spice imparts a sweet flavor without adding sugar, perfect for diabetics. This one gives a sour, fruity kick to anything to which it's added. And that whole singoda you were curious about? It's dried water chestnuts, which are often ground into flour and used in a creamy porridge eaten on days of fasting.
The warmth and steadfast purpose of the place are remarkable. CurryUp may stock the goods an Indian clientele expects, but its effort to reach out to those less familiar with its wares is both deliberate and wonderful.
The restaurant is equally welcoming, offering a crisp, clean, roomy, and well-lit atmosphere and a menu that briefly and clearly defines everything on offer. The lunch buffet ($7.99) is a great place to start. The variety of food is modest, which has two advantages: It's easily comprehensible, and the kitchen can maintain a high level of quality. A chole curry (chickpeas and onions) had a nice warm heat and the tang of tomatoes. Chicken jalfrezi (a creamy vegetable medley) was equally good, boasting a clean, fresh taste of bell peppers that sang out from an otherwise rich and heavy mixture.
The lunch buffet also comes with a freshly prepared masala dosa, a sizable but surprisingly light crepe filled with a savory mixture of spiced creamed potatoes, peas, and onions. The chicken version of the dosa ($8.99 on the à la carte menu) is even better, the crepe clocking in at about 18 inches long, and the finely chopped chicken filling boasting a lightly spiced, almost nutty flavor. Only the chicken tikka masala ($8.49) was mildly disappointing. Though lacking depth of spice or char, the dish was pleasingly creamy and tasty, if bland.
CurryUp's straightforward and ably prepared Indian food is a blessing for Maple Grove's culinary scene. But it's the people working at the store and restaurant who are the real treasure.
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