The folks behind Chennai Cafe, one of the area's most celebrated Indian restaurants, have expanded into a trendy new cuisine with the opening of MK Gandhi's Malgudi Garden, a vegetarian restaurant focusing on "holistic, healthy and conscious eating," which they say is unlike any other.
"We believe vegan and vegetarian food is not limited to just tiffins, dosas, snacks and sweets," says owner Karthik Thambidurai.
Malgudi is in the former Chennai space, which moved last fall to 3301 Preston Rd. The address was briefly home to Samudraa, a restaurant collaboration between Thambidurai and chef Vijay Sadhu which closed in March.
The menu is like an intersection between vegetarianism and foodie-ism, with an assortment of dishes that feel totally new. It includes some traditional Indian specialties such as dal, the lentil stew, and biryani, the comforting rice dish. But they also do some unique dishes from regions all over India such as Kerala and Tamil.
Jaangri is an exotic fried dessert. Beans thoran are green beans sauteed, then simmered. "Kadai" tofu is a fiery curry. Beet poriyal is a fried vegetable dish from Tamil. Spinach channa is a curry with spinach, tomatoes and chickpeas. Kambam kali koolu is a cold porridge. Barley payasam is a sweet pudding. Like Chennai, they're unafraid of spices and bold flavors, some incorporating a skillful use of chiles.
On weekdays, Malgudi hosts a $10.99 buffet at lunch that includes pizza, soup, salad and choice of entree. The weekend version is $12.99 and has even more options. Dishes might include grilled vegetables, steamed eggplant, vegetable soup, fruit salad with fresh cantaloupe, pineapple and strawberries. Their pizzas uses vegetables such as spinach that go beyond the usual bell pepper and olive. Their bar usually includes at least nine items, with an emphasis on multigrains, plus pizzas and a main course.
They also have a brick oven in which they bake their pizzas.
"The reason we put pizza on the menu is for the kids," Thambidurai says. "Families come in and love the food, but I wanted to have something to the kids. So we got a brick oven. We do everything ourselves, including making the crust. It's a thin crust but it's a completely different pizza. The toppings are different than what others do. But when I put the pizza on the buffet, people love it."
The fact that Malgudi Gardens has spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi in its name is no coincidence.
"Healthy eating involves nutritious food which nourishes your body and soul with nutrients, enthralls your taste buds, leaves you with a feel good sense, calms your soul and make you look at this universe like you are part of it," Thambidurai says.