In the midst of casinos, glittering lights and where dreams come true is a quaint restaurant with an unusual name all the way from Kerala, Toddy Shop, run by Malayali chef Hemant Kishore in Las Vegas.
It all started last year when Kishore, who ran a lunch delivery service, went searching for a kitchen. “After months of reading lease agreements, I found a small kitchen inside a sports bar that wasn’t being used. The landlord had a condition—he wanted me to provide snacks to customers who came for gaming. Creating a bar menu wasn’t something I had on the charts, but it sounded like a lot of fun and challenging,” says Kishore, who is originally from Thiruvananthapuram.
He wanted to do something different from the regular burgers, wings and fries. Thus was born Toddy Shop, which features favourite bar snacks of Kerala. For Americans, local tourists and Indians in Las Vegas, suddenly there was something more than garlic naan, aloo gobi paratha and chicken tikka masala.
“The buzz around Toddy Shop grew when Shashi Tharoor, MP, tweeted about it in August last year. I got some great press in the Las Vegas Weekly and other papers. What attracts the crowd is the South Indian fare, beyond the regular idli and dosa,” says the chef, who has a degree in baking and pastry from The Culinary Institute of America.
The menu at Toddy Shop includes Queen Karimeen (the chef’s interpretation of karimeen pollichathu, using Pompano fish), Kappa and Konj (tapioca and prawns) and a pot of biryani and Kothu Parotta (minced parotta).
“I recently did a South Indian food and wine pairing event with sommelier Jaime Smith from the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. It was called Spices and Bacchus,” says Kishore.
Besides the Indian menu, Toddy Shop also serves regular American fare such as toasts and fries. It also has a selection of Jamaican dishes such as beef patties and rasta wings, besides Asian fusion dishes.
But what about toddy, the local South Indian alcoholic brew? “I am not serving toddy. Since it is a sports bar, they serve drinks,” he says.
Being a chef who has spent years in kitchens, Kishore believes Indian food doesn’t get enough attention in Vegas. “There aren’t any trained professional chefs cooking Indian food in the city. Those who serve Indian food have the same boring menu. My approach to food is modern, contemporary, and without rules. I made a name for myself as a pastry chef at my last job, so when I launched Toddy Shop, it went well,” he adds. One day he wants to have his own restaurant.