7633 Reading Road
The lunch buffet at Amma's Kitchen is a delightful introduction into South Indian vegetarian cuisine. That's right - I said the words "vegetarian" and "buffet" in the same sentence. There are plenty of Indian buffets around town, and they all seem to offer at least a few vegetarian items, but at Amma's it is all vegetarian, all the time. Even more astonishing: on Wednesdays the entire hot bar is completely vegan!
The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside the space is cheerfully decorated and bustling. For those unfamiliar with South Indian cuisine, the friendly staff is knowledgable and happy to guide first-timers through the myriad choices. Unlike North Indian cuisine, famous for it's curries, fried vegetables and reliance on dried spices like garam masala, South Indian relies moreso on coconut for flavoring and is generally non-greasy, roasted and/or steamed.
I don't mean to suggest that Amma's doesn't serve any North Indian items - there are currys and a few fried items on the menu - but don't count on finding naan (unleavened flatbread) or papadums (fried lentil crackers). Instead, there are delicious dosas (thin rice crepes filled with a variety of stuffings), vada (lightly spiced lentil donuts) and idli (steamed rice cakes).
The buffet changes daily, but expect a couple of rice dishes, several lentil-based and vegetable dishes, soups and a nice selection of desserts, along with the dosas, idli, and vadas. On the day we visited I fell in love with the chana palak (chickpeas in creamy spinach) which is similar to chana saag but with more spinach and a lot less salt. Likewise the heat-packed rasam soup, with its heavenly mixture of tamarind, tomato, pepper and spices, rocked my world. It was quite possibly the best soup I've ever had.
Now I'll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of beets. My husband loves them - especially Scandinavian-style pickled beetroot - but until today I was sure that I hated this particular root vegetable. Enter the beet halwa, a scrummy dessert of shredded beetroot simmered with cream, sugar and cardamom and topped with slivered almonds - and color me impressed. I went back for seconds. Surprisingly, my husband didn't like it. He took one bite of mine, shook his head and opted instead for a small dish of kheer (rice pudding).
Amma's lunch buffet is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and until 3 p.m. on weekends and holidays, and their a la carte dinner menu is available from 5:30-9:30 p.m. All menu items are vegetarian, and dishes containing dairy products are clearly marked.
If you can't get there for the lunch buffet but are interested in trying an assortment of the more popular menu items, Amma's offers several affordably-priced dinner specials that include bread, rice, soup, appetizer, crepe, curry and dessert. It's a nice introduction to this fantastic vegetarian restaurant.