WHEN I FIRST MET Venkat Reddy, the owner of Minerva Indian Restaurant (located in the Publix-anchored New Tampa Center plaza on Bruce B. Downs Blvd.), I told him up front that Minerva was probably never going to make my list of favorite restaurants in New Tampa because I really wasn’t a big fan of Indian food or even most types of curry.

I also told him, however, that I’ve always been at least a little adventurous when it comes to food and that I would keep coming back to Minerva to sample as many of his (and his customers’) favorite dishes as possible. Nearly three years later, I’ve sampled not only Minerva’s extensive and very reasonably priced buffet but also many of the specialties I probably would never have considered sampling when I was younger.

So, today, whether it’s because my taste buds have “grown up” or because Minerva’s authentic cuisine from every region of India is just that good, I really do enjoy visiting there — and not just because I also enjoy cutting the spice of the food with the truly delicious beers of India, including Taj Mahal, Hunter and others (Minerva also serves some good and popularly priced wines).

I always include an order of naan bread when I visit Minerva and my favorite had been the garlic naan, but on my most recent visit, I loved the savory butter naan (below, left) even more. 

As for starters, I really enjoy the vegetable, lamb and chicken varieties of Minerva’s samosas, which are fried, well-spiced triangular-shaped appetizers.

But, my favorite appetizers are the vegetable spring rolls served with mint and tamarind dipping sauces, and the Minerva Special Soup, which is sort of a blend of traditional New York-style Chinese egg drop soup and my mom’s homemade chicken soup. It’s loaded with white meat chicken and a variety of fresh veggies. 

Going Off-Buffet

Venkat agrees that most people who like Indian food go for the butter chicken, Masala or Tikka Masala dishes and biryani (rice) dishes (all of which are Specialties of the House at Minerva), but my favorite entrée at Minerva is still the Tandoori lamb shish kabab (above), which is actually ground lamb served with a crispy edge outside and tender inside on a sizzling fajita-style dish, only with better onions and peppers than at any Mexican restaurant. And, even though the lunch buffet is an amazing deal at just $9.95 Mon.-Fri. and $12.95 Sat.-Sun., full orders of the entrées I’ve mentioned all cost just $14.95 or less.

I also really enjoyed the Minerva Special Chicken, which features delicious veggies with boneless chicken pieces in a sweet red curry tomato and basil sauce that has no bite at all. Another new favorite of mine is the goat curry, which is tender goat on the bone, again with a light curry sauce that was excellent when paired with the vegetable biryani (basmati rice) from the buffet. 

And yes, for you vegetarians out there, Minerva offers nearly two dozen veggie entrées, plus hand-made dosas (crepes), a South Indian favorite served with sambar, coconut and ginger chutney and a variety of veggie-based fillings. I still haven’t sampled any of the dosas, but Venkat says they are definitely among his most popular dishes. 

I’ve also never sampled any of Minerva’s desserts, but they are very popular, too, especially the rice kheer (pudding) and the gulab jamun (milk-based balls in a sugar syrup).

Be adventurous…visit Minerva…and please tell Venkat I sent you!

Minerva Indian Restaurant (19050 BBD Blvd.) is open for lunch every day from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and for dinner from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. For more info, call (813) 978-8586 or visit MinervaTampa.com

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