For the past seven years, Curry Diva (currydiva.com) chef/owner Heather Jansz has staged weekly pop-up dinners at Our Kitchen (813 W. 36th St., Mpls., ourkitchenmn.com), a feast of flavors celebrating her native Sri Lanka.
Those logistics also mean that Jansz has devoted far too much time and energy to hauling food and equipment in and out of the tiny restaurant during these past seven years. Such is the life of a pop-up practitioner.
But those days are over. Jansz has landed a permanent home for her business, and she couldn't be happier.
"Danny has been really good to me," said Jansz, referring to Our Kitchen owner Danny Ziegler. "But it's nice to have a space that's just yours. It's going to feel like I'm telling people to come to my house. That's my dream. Just come, and eat. I feel like I need to feed the world."
She didn't move far — the Curry Diva's new home is across the street from Our Kitchen. Jansz has rented some underused space from another daytime operation: restaurateur Kim Bartmann's Cafe Wyrd (824 W. 36th St., Mpls., cafewyrd.com), formerly known as Gigi's Cafe.
Location aside, Jansz's regulars will have very little to do in terms of readjusting. She's keeping the format the same, offering a once-a-week dinner — she served her first dinner out of the space over the weekend — and is continuing the takeout setup she's been following during the pandemic.
It's an exceptional value. Vegetarians pay $16 for a four-course meal that includes favorites such as turmeric-infused rice; curried lentils; purple yams with red cabbage infused with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves; curried beets with cardamom and coconut; and kale with toasted fresh coconut, plus a range of flavor-packed condiments.
"Looking at the plate, it looks like a rainbow," said Jansz. "There's always a chutney, maybe date-lime, or ginger-plum. Last week, I was experimenting with dragon fruit. It's bright pink, such a wonderful pop of color."
The $19 meat option could include black pepper curry pork, garam masala chicken, lemongrass chicken or another delectable Jansz specialty. Most everything in her repertoire is gluten-free and dairy-free.
Having a permanent home base also will allow Jansz to branch out, adding a la carte specials.
"I want to do more specialty things, dishes that I couldn't make at the diner," she said. "I just can't wait to start doing some of the old things, like the stuffed vegetable roti with shrimp, or chicken curry noodles, or an amazing lamb burger. I want to get a little creative. That's what people stand in line for."
So far, she's sticking with Saturday nights, but hopes to expand to another evening ("We'll see how it goes," she said), and eventually segue into table service.
"There's space for 15 to 35 people," she said. "I want to do it, but I'm not in a rush. People are leery. Let me get through the next few months and we'll know a little bit better."
Jansz and former husband Evan Balasuriya were Twin Cities culinary pioneers when they opened their groundbreaking — and long-running — Sri Lanka Curry House in Minneapolis in 1976. In the late 1990s, Jansz was behind another favorite — this time, on St. Paul's Grand Avenue — with Curry Leaf Deli.
It's safe to say that the enterprising Jansz practically invented the pop-up concept in the Twin Cities.
She spent a half-dozen years wowing Highland Grill customers on Monday nights before landing at Our Kitchen eight years ago, eventually using that 18-seat daytime space to host what grew into a two-nights-per-week habit for a long list of devoted customers.
Jansz is looking forward to the possibilities of the new space.
"I'm pickling my limes, so they'll be ready to go in six months," she said. "I can't give this up. I'm a sucker for punishment. Also, it's my living. I'm not going to be someone's secretary. I'd ruin their business."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib