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If the partners behind Taj Indian Grill were a comic book, they would be The Fantastic Foodie Four, each bringing a super power to the new restaurant in Cooper City.
Tucked inside the refurbished Countryside Shops shopping plaza, the Taj had a grand opening ceremony with elected officials cutting the ribbon on Dec. 14, but even two weeks before that, during the restaurant’s soft opening, Indian-cuisine fans from the area as well as nearby Davie, Miramar and Pembroke Pines were grabbing a table in the 56-seater or dropping by for take-out. Already the catering is starting to take off through a side door with easy access to a small driveway.
And it’s all due to the contributions from owners Mele V. Chacko, William Puthottile, Sajil Joseph and Joji John, a group of friends who pooled their talents to open an eatery that paid homage to their shared Indian heritage.
- Puthottile, as the executive chef, oversees the cooks and the menu. He owned a restaurant in Dallas for 15 years before moving to South Florida in 2019.
- John also owns Big Bazar, a grocery store in Cooper City that specializes in Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern foods, spices and goods. He already knew vendors and resources for Indian cuisine. He also knew the fans of Indian food. “Not just the Indian people, but the American people, many people, they come to the store and they … buy all the spices and sauces at my store, so I know they like the food,” John explains. “So I send them here.”
- Chacko owned a gas station on Taft Street and North Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines for 10 years, but also worked in I.T. for 20 years and has been dabbling in real estate in South Florida since 1995. He found the location, knew the demographics of Taj’s surrounding neighborhoods and was able to streamline the website, making it user-friendly.
- Joseph moved to SoFlo from India to marry. In India he was a nurse, so he brings strong people skills to the table as well as pandemic-protocol knowledge. He is also a business man with community contacts, having owned Colors Indian Fashion boutique in the same plaza.
“We did a lot of homework and pilot studies,” explains Chacko. “I am used to doing feasibility studies, looking at the economical side of things. We did the same thing. We fine-tuned the [opening] date. We took in consideration the neighborhoods, the people around us. We checked with [other restaurants], other chefs we hired. We took their comments and their experiences and the food and we combined it all and put … it in the menu.”
Puthottile says that so far the most popular dishes are the chicken Tikka Masala ($16), the chicken Biriyani ($18), the Masala Dosa ($12) and Gobi Manchurian ($16).
- Appetizers range from $4 to $21 and include fries, chicken wings, vegetable samosas, tamarind eggplant chaat and onion spinach pakora.
- There is a mulligatawny (curry) soup for $9 and a rasam soup for $6. The salads include a green salad for $8 as well as a tuna salad and a chicken tikka salad, both for $10
- Curry chef specials range from $14-$22 and can be prepared in the style of Tikka Masala, Korma, Palak, Vindaloo, Kadai, Chettinadu or Malabar Korma.
- The Biriyani mixed rice dishes include vegetable for $15, chicken for $18, beef for $19 and lamb, goat and shrimp for $20 each.
- Some of the signature entrée dishes include Malai Kofta and Butter Chicken, both for $16, and a beef pepper fry for $20 or a whole snapper fry for $25.
- There are also vegetarian, seafood, Indo-Chinese, naan/bread offerings as well as a children’s menu.
Next up, Puthottile says, “We are going to do south Indian style food. South India is more curry and more spicy … everything is a little different.”
His friend and community actvist Sajan Kurian says he knew the restaurant would be a success right out of the gate.
“We definitely needed something authentic and consistent with service and quality,” he adds. “And it’s people-friendly, anyone can come. I’d say 90 percent are non-Indian and the place is full. People stand in line outside for takeout food.”
Plantation’s Ysaac Kaplan and Carri Salerno said they grabbed a table as soon as the restaurant opened on Jan. 14.
”I work at the David Posnack [Jewish Community Center],” Kaplan says. “I do a lot of training and several of my clients, today, at one time, said, ‘Hey, you know where Beverly Hills Café used to be? You know what? They have a new Indian restaurant. You got to try it.’ Now we would travel to West Pembroke Pines to a place called Ruchi [Indian Restaurant]. They’re closed. COVID hit and they closed. And I’m like, OK, I’ve got to have some Indian food.”
Kaplan had the chicken Tikka Masala “with a nice cream sauce, you know — a little spicy but nice, with a little … rice. Absolutely delicious. It’s home cooking. We don’t eat fast food. We look for the nice ma-and-pa [with] real recipes.”
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Salerno says, “I had the Tandoori chicken. Unbelievable. So good. Incredible.” Kaplan adds, “And then she dipped it in my sauce.”
Dr. Kumar Shah, of Pembroke Pines, says his family appreciates the proximity to home.
“It’s great food. We don’t have to drive to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to get it. Outside of this, to get authentic Indian food … we were driving up to, like, Coral Springs. This is the only one in this area that I have found to be really good.”
Copper City Mayor Bob Ross says that Taj Indian Grill is “done right” and he appreciates the added diversity of cuisine: “You’ve got Chinese, Italian, now Indian, you have American, I mean c’mon, that’s how Cooper City is. It’s wonderful.”
Taj Indian Grill is located at 5602 S. Flamingo Road, Cooper City. It is open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily (closed Tuesday), and dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday (closed Tuesday). Call 954-314-7314 or visit TajIndianGrillCooperCity.com.