Amma Vegetarian Kitchen is not new. It has been in operation since 1997.
It is not fancy. Functional is a better word. No tablecloths, plastic utensils, paper cups, order at the counter, pick up your meal, and clear your table. It’s what’s called “fast casual” these days.
No beer or wine to go with a meal, only lassi (sweet, salt and mango), coffee, chai, a few juices and soda, and bottles of water.
So what is the appeal? Why have people been coming, many regularly, for the past 16 years.
The answer is easy: the freshly prepared Southern Indian vegetarian dishes. And if you doubt this, check your fellow diners. The local Indian community knows this restaurant.
If South Indian dishes are not familiar, start with a nearly universal favorite, a masala dosa, a mix of mildly spicy smashed potatoes and onion wrapped in a platter-sized freshly cooked crepe of rice and lentil flour. The dish comes with a serving of coconut chutney and a cup of sambar, a mildly spicy stew of mixed vegetables.
Masala dosa is comfort food--maybe it is the potatoes, maybe the crepe and its crunch--and it is not mouth searing spicy. If you want to go that route, move up in heat to the onion chili masala dosa (chopped onions and green chilis), the mysore sada dosa (the crepe spread with spicy chutney), or the mysore masala dosa (a mix of potatoes, onions and spicy chutney)--and be sure to have lassi handy to temper the heat.
Other variations on the dosa include a tofu dosa and the rava dosa, a crepe made from semolina, sprinkled cumin seeds, ginger and green chilis, with a number of possible fillings. The rava dosa takes longer to prepare.
It is impossible to ignore what Amma calls “starters.” which are so substantial that several would make a meal. These include samosas (puff pastry with a filling of mixed vegetables), a mixed vegetable patty, potato bonda (dumpling with potato filling) and several kinds of vadas (black lentil dumplings, served with sambar and coconut chutney, or soaked in yogurt, sambar or rasa.)
Amma also serves several traditional South Indian bread dishes, among them the chick pea curry and puffy white bread known as chole bathura, and three traditional rice bowls (tamarind, lemon and yogurt curd), all served with pappadum and pickle.
Amma offers a daily special as well as “Amma’s feast,”
billed as a “traditional South Indian meal.” This includes rice, chappathi, vegetable curry, sambar, rasam (spiced tomato soup), pappadum (a deep-fried lentil cracker), pickle, raita (a mix of yogurt, bits of cucumber and cumin seeds) and samiya payasam (a sweet, vermicelli-based dessert). At $8.29, this is a bargain meal!
Mango lassi is a perfect accompaniment for whatever you choose. Cool, smooth, sweet, and, with its yogurt base, good for you, as well. That’s enough to warrant another visit.