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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

The Scent of Curry

Pakistan on Mitchell

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Mitchell Street was once known as the Polish Grand Avenue, the main drag for Milwaukee’s large Polish-American community. The Poles began moving away in the 1970s, making way for new chapters in the city’s immigrant story. Mitchell Street has enjoyed a Latino flavor in recent decades, but other groups have also settled along this crowded business district. A Pakistani butcher and grocer, the bustling Sasta Bazaar, is found on 7th and Mitchell. Next door, behind a deeply recessed doorway, sits an inconspicuous Pakistani restaurant called Anmol. Visually inconspicuous, that is, but evident to anyone with a good nose. The aroma of curry and other aromatic spices wafts through doors tightly closed against the winter cold.

Anmol bills its food as “Pakistani and Indian cuisine,” but the specific culinary identity is clear upon studying the menu. A relatively recent addition to the atlas, Pakistan is a Muslim nation carved from predominantly Hindu India after World War II. The fundamental distinction between the recipe books of Pakistan and India comes down to two animals: pigs and cattle. The former are deemed unclean in Islam and are never eaten; the latter are held sacred by Hindus and are left to roam at will. Anmol’s menu includes no pork but plenty of beef. And given the heritage of Islam, Anmol’s interior is more Spartan than most Indian restaurants, lacking the usual Kama Sutra kitsch. The setting is almost entirely utilitarian with half-a-dozen tables, an incongruous pair of plastic trees and a Shepherd Express rack. You come to Anmol for the food, not the view. And the food is mostly good.

As with many Indian restaurants, there are vegetarian options, including a tasty palak paneer made with chopped spinach and homemade cheese ($7.95), and an appetizer section with varieties of crunchy pakora and samosas ($1.75-$3.95). Setting Anmol apart is its chicken, nurtured on organic Amish farms and slaughtered according to Islamic Zabiha Halal rules, similar to the kosher traditions of Judaism. The chicken biryani ($8.95) features big chunks of tender, spicy meat (beware of bones) served in a heaping helping of mixed rice, shredded carrots and parsley. The spices build in intensity as the heat gathers with every forkful. That pitcher of water on each table and the bowl of cooling yogurt come in handy. The biryani portion is big enough to serve two.

Anmol makes some of the city’s best naan and roti in nine varieties ($1-$3.50). Mutton dishes, seldom seen on Milwaukee menus, are prevalent. And there are other exotic entrees, such as goat paya ($8.95). The hot chai is served in a glass, creamy but unsweetened ($1.25). The server inevitably gestures toward the sugar shaker on your table.

It’s always encouraging when an ethnic restaurant is popular in its own community. On recent visits, Anmol has been busy with Pakistani Americans lining up at the counter for carryout orders.

Anmol
711 W. Mitchell St. (414) 672-7878 $ CC: MC, VS, AmEx Smoke-Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Kate Enbring