This is a rather late report, but back in May, the Austin outpost of Kumar's Mess opened up on Windmere Drive in Plugerville. This is a South Indian restaurant with food from the region in and around Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Apparently they draw inspiration from the namesake Kumar's Mess in Madurai, where I have previously eaten a very satisfying meal based around the meat-centric Tamil dishes. While there have been many good South Indian restaurants that have opened in different parts of the country, I don't believe there has been a restaurant of this quality that correctly represents the flavors, taste and aromas of its home region. While I'd hesitate to call this Chettinad food, there is a good representation of dishes from this region in the menu, as well as a few favorites from around the state.
Weekend lunches, which a couple of us hungry hounds went to, consist of unlimited meals (thalis) served on a banana leaf, with a steel plate for additional spillage protection (for those not used to eating on just banana leaves, it can get messy as the gravies and curries are portioned directly on the leaf). This place gets pretty crowded for weekend meals, so best to make a reservation before you go. The decor is simple, straightforward and generally clean, with servers pretty attentive to the cycle of refilling your plates. Weekend lunches are rice only, so that is something you should prepare for if your are looking for breads to dunk your curry in.
Apart form the unlimited meals ($12 for veg, $15 for non-veg), they also had a few extra items you could order including meen vaurval (dry-roasted fish), nandu varuval (dry-roasted crab-in-the-shell) and the quintessential gobi manchurian, along with fresh-squeezed juices. The non-vegetarian meal, in the first picture, comes with a mutton kolambu (goat curry), koli kolambu (chicken curry) and meen kolambu (fish curry), along with 2 poriyals (veggie sides) - on this day potato and beetroot, kootu (a typical south indian dish of lentils, white pumpkin with a coconut base), lemon pickle, pappadam, arisi vadagam (papadam-like crip made of rice flour), thair molaga (green chilles dried in yogurt), neer mor (buttermilk with a tempering of green chillies, ginger and cilantro). There are also glimpses of gobi manchurian. My friend, being vegetarian, had the veg meal which replaces the meat and fish items with a sambhar, rasam and kaara kolambu. Rice is the carb of choice here as mentioned before. Dessert was a simple rava kesari (semolina halwa).
Overall I couldn't fault the meal one bit - the gobi manchurian being the weakest item on our plate. The mutton kolambu was well spiced with a good flavor of fennel and cloves dominating, typical of this sort of cooking. The Meen kolambu was adequately sour with a balance of spices and heat, and is more typical of North coastal Tamil Nadu, sans the typical coconut-laden Kerala- or Goan-style curries. The sambhar and rasam were on point, and the kaara kolambu which is typically more sour and pungent than the former two, was very authentic in flavour. These flavors do put off some Indians from other parts who are not used to this level of spice and pungency. The poriyals and kootu were well done, with their relative simplicity of flavors and spices, a nice counterpoint to the fire and acidity of the gravy dishes. Unlimited servings of the neer mor will help you cool down periodically, and a glass at the end is mandatory part of the cuisine. The chicken was probably the on item which didn't remind of flavors from back home. Back in India this is typically made with country chickens, which are older and tougher, but pack in a lot more flavor. I typically recreate that flavor here by using a good stewing hen.
I think this is a great addition to the Austin, or for that matter TX food scene given the original in Dallas has been up for some time now. Bay Area and NJ are best places for Indian food at the moment, but I'd think this would give many of the South Indian restaurants there a run for their money. I be back there soon, perhaps to try their a la carte items.
I apologize for the bad quality of photos - I remembered to take some only after we began the feast.
15803 Windermere Drive #206
Pflugerville, TX 78660