Tucked into an obscure and half-vacant building on Franklin Street, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe could easily be overlooked if not for word-of-mouth. In fact, its reputation pre-dated the physical opening on the restaurant in downtown Chapel Hill.
Vimala Rajendran’s cooking earned a loyal following after years of pay-as-you-can community dinners hosted in her home. As a result, the community enthusiastically chipped in to get Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe off the ground.
Located in the building that previously housed Penang and Sandwhich, Vimala’s is hidden inside the courtyard and wraps around the interior section of the building in an awkward L shape. The space is simple and pleasant, with additional seating in the large outdoor courtyard. Orders are placed at a counter near the entrance and then delivered to the table when ready.
For a newbie, the ordering system can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. There are a number of delicious-sounding daily specials scribbled onto a chalkboard in small print by the cash register. Alcoholic beverages are not listed on the beverage section of the main menu, but wine and beer are indeed available for purchase.
Fortunately, the staff at Vimala’s is enthusiastic, helpful and patient. Vimala endeavors to pay her team “living wages” higher than those usually found in the restaurant industry, and her team’s attitude suggests that they feel invested in the well-being of her restaurant.
A large percentage of ingredients are sourced locally, and the menu includes some unique and innovative choices. The “Chole Bowl” ($6 at lunch) features Delhi-style chickpeas prepared with spices and tamarind. It's topped with lime and garam masala, with extra flavor from garnishes of red onion, sev, chutneys and cilantro. It’s a fairly simple presentation, but the dish is extremely flavorful and satisfying. The goat curry, samosas and saag paneer entrée were also big hits at the table.
It keeping with the restaurant’s hippy vibe, service is awfully slow – only a problem if you’re in a hurry. Ordered during a not-particularly-busy lunch hour, a bowl of Chole and side of raita took twenty minutes to appear at the table, and an order paneer naan another five minutes to materialize.
Vimala also teaches monthly cooking classes at the restaurant. The next class, scheduled for February 24 from 2-5pm, will focus on the elements of a good Indian curry. The cost is $65 per person and spaces can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.