The spicy tomato-based lamb curries were my favorites, but Chicken Saag, a spinach-based curry, was a close runner up. The naan bread, light and blistered from the tandoori ovens, was a revelation. For awhile, I would have named the sweet peshwari naan my favorite food in the world.
Having worked my way through much of a typical Indian menu since my time in London, I thought I knew quite a bit about Indian food for an American. It turns out that someone could fill a book, or at least a menu, with what I didn’t know. That is how I felt when I ate at Woodlands, a quiet little place in a strip mall on University Drive in Lauderhill.
Woodlands serves Southern Indian cuisine which caters to a vegetarian diet, whereas the more familiar Northern style is know for meat-based curries and succulent tandoori dishes. Woodlands is, in fact, a completely vegetarian restaurant which meant I had to work slightly harder to “sell it” to my husband. He loves Indian food and is happy to eat a vegetarian meal at home, but he wondered how interesting the food could possibly be with no meat involved. He has now completely reversed his opinion. Southern Indian cuisine is Ganesh’s gift to vegetarians and soon will become the latest obsession of adventurous food lovers.
The majority of the food we ordered at Woodlands consisted of things we have never seen before. Pictures in the menu and the helpful staff gave us some idea of what to expect. On our first visit, we were ready to order several items, but our waiter told us that the Royal Thali would likely be enough for two. A thali is a sort of sampler platter, complete with various curries, including chana masala (chickpea-tomato curry) and coconut-vegetable curry; rasam soup, basmati rice, yogurt and dessert; and a golden balloon of freshly made fried bread called batura (or a big puri). This giant, chewy puff of warm, slightly sweet bread crowning the lovely thalis is enough reason to eat at Woodlands. A selection of appetizers accompanied the thali, introducing us to medhu vada, a fried “lentil donut” that had a greaseless, mildly-spiced bread-like interior. Though lacking the novelty of the vada, a simple vegetable fritter was another favorite.
From left to right: vegetable fritter, vegetable samosa and medhu vada.
The menu also has a large selection of dosais, or thin rice flour crepes that can be ordered with sauces on the side or chutney and vegetable fillings. The Woodlands Special Dosai is the Indian version of a really great hot veggie wrap -- a crisp crepe stuffed with curried vegetables and fluffy potatoes, tinted yellow with turmeric. These crepes are about 20 inches long, so there is plenty for sharing. Uthappams are another staple of Southern Indian cooking. These thick pancakes made from a lentil and rice batter are served with a variety of toppings like tomatoes, onions, and peas.
A variety of Indian breads are available a la carte, including my beloved naan. Woodlands’ selection of vegetarian curries can also be ordered in entrée-sized portions, but for your introduction to Southern Indian food, one of the thalis is a must. If you can make it for lunch, the buffet promises an even wider array of Woodlands’ vegetarian creations. It is available 7 days a week. I would love to tell you why a off-dry reisling pairs beautifully with spicy Indian flavors, but Woodlands does not have a liquor license. Take comfort in knowing that my husband and I like our glass of wine with dinner, so we would not be driving out of our way to eat there at every opportunity unless the food was fantastic.
With a reference to its name, the restaurant is sparsely decorated with a whimsical wooded garland painted along the borders of the walls. With booths lining one side and long tables filling the sunny front half of the room, Woodlands does not exactly resemble a maharajah’s palace, but no matter. I do not know of another restaurant in South Florida where two people can dine on so much exotic, fresh, healthfully prepared food of this quality for no more than $25.00. I am thrilled that Woodlands has given me a whole new facet of Indian cuisine to explore. It makes me wonder what other culinary aspects of the mysterious subcontinent that I have yet to uncover.
Another South Florida strip mall gem...
4816 N. University Dr.
Lauderhill, FL 33351
This post is a perfect fit for Dine & Dish, the online event where bloggers dine out according to a given theme and blog about it. This month, the theme is Like A Virgin. Head over to Sarah's blog, The Delicious Life, on October 20th and find out who else gave it up.