The Surprise Spot for Curry for Breakfast? Florida
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these East-West fusion breakfasts are delicious and unique.
By Laura Siciliano-Rosen
Inside the Pelican, an unassuming little diner in downtown Lake Worth, Florida, there are countless references to the namesake bird in paintings and figurines. The birds gaze out from the walls above the handful of tables and perch behind the long American diner-style counter. That seems quite fitting — expected, even — given the restaurant’s location 1 mile from the beach. What’s unexpected is the food the Pelican is best known and loved for: Indian-style breakfasts.
Here, among the upscale tapas restaurants, beachy sports bars and downtown consignment shops, you can try an aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) omelet, a bowl of dal with your eggs, or eggs Nissa, a spicy scramble with curry sauce, tomato, chiles, feta and stalks of ginger. Of course, you might also come for the peach cobbler pancakes, the shrimp and grits or the homemade chicken sausage. The Pelican’s ever-growing menu of Indian dishes and East-West fusion breakfasts is not only delicious but also unique: Even in India, combining eggs with curry is not a thing.
“I think people saw me and said, ‘Could you cook a little Indian food?’” Tara Sami, the restaurant’s chef and co-owner, says. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Sami lived in Delhi before coming to Florida in 1985; it was in 2004 that she and her husband, Mohammed, bought the diner in Lake Worth. It wasn’t long before she accepted the requests for Indian dishes, adding them to the roster of American food they started with.
First it was just East Indian eggs, simple scrambled eggs with a dry curry mix added in — a breakfast dish popular in Pakistan and India — and some chicken korma at lunchtime. Sami says she was surprised at how well-received it was, so she added more options. Combining an omelet with Indian cooking was the next step, and an idea she attributes to her mom, who used to serve her children leftover curry with eggs in the morning. Thus, Sami’s lamb and spinach keema omelets, which fold spiced, minced meat into eggs, were born. Customers loved them.
Certain dishes are medium-spicy here, and customers are given fair warning.
The more traditional Indian dishes, like the korma and dal, Sami cooks in the style of her grandmother, who was from Delhi. One of the most popular is nihari, a meaty “morning curry” beloved in both India and Pakistan ($20). At the Pelican slow-cooked beef shank or boneless chicken are typically what’s on offer, served swimming in a rich, spicy, spectacularly delicious curry alongside naan, home fries and two eggs cooked to order. (This is a diner, after all.)
Sami credits her old-style “big-pot cooking” method of the Indian dishes for all the accolades — which she says differs from that of other area Indian restaurants, where you’re more likely to be able to request your food mild, medium or spicy. Certain dishes are medium-spicy at the Pelican, and customers are given fair warning. “I don’t add the sauces on top of the meat or the vegetables. I just cook with it, and that gives more flavor to the food,” Sami says.
The downside to a small space that puts out incredible home-cooked food? There may be a wait for tables on weekend mornings. And it’s cash only, so come prepared. Neither of these things seem to deter fans — many of whom drive from afar to visit, and take to Yelp and Facebook in support of the place.
One such poster, Eric DeRise, of Lutz, Florida, calls himself a “biannual regular, because we live three hours away.” Describing the food, he tells me, “imagine eggs, bacon, and grits with curry, turmeric, spicy chiles, dal and masala. Wonderful!”
Sami, who’s often seen working the counter when she’s not in the kitchen, admits she sometimes gets tired of cooking — but she loves her customers too much to stop. “People in Lake Worth are very supportive and always give me good support and courage [to do] my work,” she says. “I think maybe that’s why I’m here a long time.”
Go There: The Pelican Restaurant
- How to get there: The Pelican is located in downtown Lake Worth, a compact, walkable stretch of what is otherwise a sprawling, diverse city, about 15 minutes south of West Palm Beach. 610 Lake Ave., Lake Worth 33460. Map.
- When to go: The breakfast and lunch spot is open 7 am–1 pm Monday through Friday, and 7 am–2 pm on weekends. You’re less likely to encounter a wait on weekday mornings. Remember to bring cash. (There is an ATM on the premises if needed.)
- Pro tip: The nihari is a fan favorite for good reason — don’t miss it. If the spice becomes too much, try the delicious homemade raita, a yogurt-like condiment that will cool your palate.
- Laura Siciliano-Rosen, OZY Author Contact Laura Siciliano-Rosen