“Quick Bites with Lavanya Narayanan” is a four-part series delving into the world of culinary female entrepreneurs in Indiana; this is the third article of the series.
It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, and BODHI is packed. Not “15-minute wait” packed—more like an hour-long situation, which is an indicator of just how excellent the experience is. As I peruse the menu and relish the decor, a mix of Buddhist sculptures juxtaposed against modern-day murals, I sip on a refreshing “Françoise & Étienne,” one of BODHI’s many signature cocktails—and one that owner Taelor Carmine mentions is one of her favorites. Already, it seems, I’m in for a night to remember.
“We opened BODHI about a year ago,” Taelor states over the hustle and bustle of exciting music and even more excited guests tucking into beautifully plated, Instagram-worthy Thai food. Despite the multitude of Thai restaurants tucked into downtown Indianapolis, BODHI has made its mark over the last year—a testament to the powerful women behind this unique blend of ancient and novel.
It’s been a labor of love, headed by Taelor, as well as her mother Nicky Carmine and her grandmother Pen Phojanasupan, both of whom have worked in Thai kitchens longer than Taelor can remember. The initial stages saw Pen behind the line, with Nicky taking over to train the current chef brigade to churn out authentic pan-Thai cuisine, something Taelor says was difficult to find growing up in Carmel, Indiana.
“When we first moved to Carmel in 1996, Thai cuisine was hard to come by, to say the least. The closest I got was ‘orange chicken’—and frankly, I didn’t even know what that was,” Taelor laughs.
Soaking in her family’s restaurant heritage and wanting to introduce her city to the flavors she grew up with, Taelor pursued her own culinary journey, working shifts in fine dining at Mikado Japanese Restaurant before joining the staff at popular Indianapolis restaurants Union 50 and The Ball & Biscuit. It was there that the vision for BODHI began to form.
“I loved the magic of cocktails; drinking them, creating them, and I always wanted to have a restaurant that featured a combination of craft cocktails alongside authentic Thai food—an elevated dining experience,” she says passionately.
Taelor brought in her friend Heather Storms, who is the former general manager of The Ball & Biscuit and BODHI’s current beverage director, to develop 24 cocktails especially for BODHI. The women-run craft cocktail program also includes seasonal drink menus under Storms’ direction.
As for the drinks themselves, the aforementioned “Françoise & Étienne” is one of Taelor’s favorites, as is the beloved “Flora & Fauna,” featuring a hibiscus-infused gin. But pick any one, Taelor says—you really can’t go wrong. And as a side note, the bartenders can also put together a mean mocktail.
And what should you eat with all of these spectacular cocktails? “The drinks pair beautifully with all of our dishes, but for a classic cocktail and dish experience, I’d recommend our drunken noodles,” Taelor says, adding, “They’re made using handmade noodles from a local producer, and they’re really special here.”
Customers seem to agree, and as we glance around the dining room, it seems that my additional orders of spring rolls and tofu salad are equally popular. Gone, it seems, are the days of a $10 pad thai – instead, BODHI’s humming a different tune: one of finesse, flair, and flavor.
“Here’s the thing: Oftentimes, Thai cuisine is looked at as ‘cheap’ or ‘basic,’ as is a lot of Asian cuisine, while European cuisine is given fancy plating and expensive ingredients. But we’re here to show that Thai cuisine deserves just as much respect and appreciation—you’re paying for the experience, the freshest ingredients, the hospitality, and the true, authentic Thai taste. That’s what our food is all about,” Taelor says.
A message recently popularized by David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious,” Thai cuisine is undergoing a renaissance, and BODHI is certainly one of Indianapolis’ key players. With a Thai pastry program and Thai charcuterie in the works down the road, Taelor, Nicky, and Pen show no signs of slowing down. Everything they do is exceptional, and it is all rooted in love, Taelor explains:
“BODHI is my baby, my everything. From the decor, to the food, to the fact that it allows me to work with my mother and grandmother every day, it’s a love letter to our homeland, right here in Indianapolis.”
Lavanya Narayanan is an Indianapolis-based journalist who’s always on the lookout for the next best bite. When she’s not out restaurant-hopping, she loves experimenting with friends in the kitchen and has a special affinity in her heart for Starbucks, Twizzlers, and Diet Coke.
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