There are fancier East Indian restaurants in Milwaukee. Hey, there are ritzier ones in the Fox River Valley. But any homier than, or singular as Bombay Sweets? Doubtful.
Lest you insist on omnivorous dining, that the menu is strictly vegetarian proves to be incidental at best. At least it has for me. ‘Hearty and flavorful,’ as has been, what I’ve had there.
Bombay Sweets is one of my few go-to eateries in our state’s largest city. I’ve taken a few friends there, none of them I’ve known to ever have sworn off meat, and all have enjoyed. One was even so taken with one component of her meal, that she immediately went to the Indo-Paki grocery next door (more on that later).
If its name strikes your ear as though it should be a candy shop, so it is as well. In fact, you will make your order in front of a glass counter behind which sit attractively displayed trays of handmade confections. The degree to which they’re exotic will depend on how well you may be able to relate subcontinental Asians’ use of sweet ingredients, to goodies more commonly consumed by most of us in the U.S. For instance, anyone whose mouth waters at the sight of carrot cake, rich with nuts and raisins would do well to try the fudge, made with the same stuff (gajar ka halwa).
Last I visited, the chocolate burfi (dense, toffee-like bars) looked tempting enough to buy a pound. Also available and prepared on premise are spiced nuts and starchy, crunchy, savory snacks that roughly equate to some of Frito-Lay’s product line, though generally not chip, nor Cheeto-shaped, and of a significantly different flavor palette.
We want a whole meal, though, not just munchies. There’s no variety lacking here. Not counting an array of breads (no tandoor oven here, so no naan, but enough other types that most folks shouldn’t leave disappointed) and a few items listed as ‘snacks,’ there are still over 40 options.
Whatever to choose? For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, this is an instance where viewing the menu online before paying a visit would serve a body especially well. Besides, I’m not given space enough to go through even ten percent of the options.
But then there is the thali platter. At this ‘go-to’ restaurant, this is my go-to order.
A thali is simply a round dish on which foods of six flavors, said by many in India to comprise a complete or perfect meal: salty, sour, spicy, astringent, bitter and sweet.
Were some of those half-dozen attributes placed in a Venn diagram, there would likely be some overlap between some within Bombay Sweets’ iteration of the concept. Never mind that they’re served on a rectangular, pocketed, styrofoam tray germane to cafeteria settings. It’s still a an impressive array of tastiness that won’t take even $8 out of your account, beverage included.
Basmati rice takes up the biggest space in the lower right. Eat the long, tender grains on their own, or mix them up with the buttery lentils in the top middle and the varying veggie curries top and bottom left; the former space seems to often be occupied by a dish made with peas and what one dining companion believed to be tofu, but I’d swear to be an especially spongy cheese.
Raita, a cool yogurt salad that can work at a palate cleanser after the piquant items. Most piquant of the lot has to be the cup full of bitter, hot pickle bits that may be a love-or-leave proposition for some. That’s what my friend wanted to buy straightway afterwards, and what I mention whenever ordering a thali platter lest it be left off the tray. On a separate plate in the same meal are a piece of roti, a round wheat flat bread, and thinner, crispy, fried papadum. Think of the latter as a big, bubbly flour chip.
As for the beverage included with the thali, my suggestion is to skip the soda and go for the tea. The creamy, mildly spiced chai complements everything on the plate. Water, both icy cold and room temperature, is available for dispensing from a glass cooler near napkins and plastic utensils.
You may want to get an extra fork or spoon for your dessert. Listed as being included in the thali is a gulab jamin; think of a doughnut hole seeped in a thin, sugary sauce, and you get the idea.
When my mood is for a meal topper of lighter sweetness and milkier texture, I request kheer, a rice pudding of a softer sort than you’re used to. It’s listed as the dessert for the lunch combo that runs a dollar less than the thali, but there’s no up-charge.
Decor was more stark, and less welcoming upon opening in the late 90’s. A few years ago, however, upgrading to tables and booths with padded, maroon seats, the two big round ones of which are capable of seating eight, have made it a warm environment not unlike any family establishments serving more traditionally American fare.
Any foodie within a reasonable drive should know, and will likely cherish, the humble wonder of Bombay Sweets.
Next month? I may surprise us both!
Bombay Sweets 3401 S 13th St. Milwaukee 414-383-3553 www.BombaySweetsMilwaukee.com