Atlanta Orders In: Cafe Bombay’s buffet, catering are gone, but delivery flourishes

This takeout feast from Cafe Bombay includes (clockwise from top): goat biryani, Goan shrimp curry, lamb seekh kebabs, raita and Chicken 65. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Remember the days of the grand Indian buffet?

At restaurants around the city, you could load a tray with samosas and panipuri, move on to the vindaloos and kormas, and the tandoori chicken and naan. Then, you’d get yourself a clean plate and start over again — and maybe take the afternoon off.

Before the pandemic, I was known to enjoy an occasional trip or two around an Indian buffet. At places like Madras Mantra, I could feel virtuous because the food was 100 percent vegan. A dependable spot for a bottomless North Indian spread was Cafe Bombay, a 16-year-old Briarcliff Road restaurant owned by Inder Jasuja, and run by his son-in-law, Jay Walia.

Today, Cafe Bombay’s steam tables are empty, and the catering arm of the business, which partners with hotels to make food for grandiose wedding celebrations, has dried up, too.

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Chicken 65 is available for takeout from Cafe Bombay. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“Since the pandemic, (catering) has totally stopped,” said Walia, an Amritsar native who moved to Atlanta in 1983 after marrying his wife, Romila Ahluwalia. (The couple’s son, Ricky, owns the restaurant Masti at Toco Hills.)

“There have been no weddings,” he said. “Everything has moved either to next year or canceled.”

Still, the daily lunch and dinner operations of Cafe Bombay have not wavered. “We never closed for a day,” Walia said. “We just made sure our staff was protected.”

When the pandemic forced restaurants to close dining rooms, Cafe Bombay started doing takeout exclusively. Business dropped by more than 60 percent.

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Goan shrimp curry is seen here with an order of naan from Cafe Bombay. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Toward the end of May, about a month after Gov. Brian Kemp allowed dine-in service to resume, Cafe Bombay reopened its dining room and patio, taking care to follow distancing and mask protocols. “Slowly, slowly, slowly, customers returned," Walia said.

Still, a big wedge of Cafe Bombay’s sales is takeout: 80 percent to 85 percent. And, more than half those transactions are made via delivery apps, Walia said. Indeed, when I dropped by Wednesday night to pick up an order I called in, plastic bags filled with orders had been set out near the cash register, waiting for pickup. Walia told me most of the night’s sales were headed out for delivery.

ExploreBuffets take a beating during coronavirus
A customer picks up a takeout order at Cafe Bombay on Briarcliff Road, where the lunchtime steam tables sit empty, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Cafe Bombay has no official mask policy for guests, but Walia says 90 percent to 95 percent of customers arrive in masks.

Like most restaurateurs, he takes things a day at a time. “I don’t see any change until the end of this year, or until the vaccine comes out.”

For now, that means no buffet plates loaded with chicken tikka and palak paneer (spinach and cheese). “I get phone calls every day," Walia said, “but I tell them, I’m sorry, I cannot do the buffet, because of restrictions and because of COVID.”

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CAFE BOMBAY

Menu: Northern Indian, full menu

Alcohol: yes

What I ordered: aloo tikki chole, Chicken 65, Goa shrimp curry, goat biryani, lamb seekh kebab, two orders of naan. The food was good, and a good value: The portions were more than generous. I especially enjoyed the Chicken 65 and the biryani. I’ll never know about the aloo tikki chole (potato fritters), because they weren’t in my bag when I got home. However, a container of cucumber raita, which I did not order, was. The manager told me in a follow-up call that he’d take care of the omission and tell his runners to double check to-go orders.

Service options: dine in; takeout or delivery via UberEats, Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash

Safety protocols: follows CDC guidelines

Address, phone: 2615 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta; 404-320-0229

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, noon-11 p.m. Saturdays, noon-10 p.m. Sundays

Website: cafebombayatlanta.com

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