Just one word: Bodhi. That’s what Taelor Carmine wanted when she settled on a name for her new Thai restaurant in the old Black Market space on the east end of Massachusetts Avenue. It’s simple and succinct. “Bodhi is a Sanskrit word for awakening,” Carmine says. “Buddha was enlightened under a Bodhi tree. So I think it was a perfect name for us because we were just emerging into this food scene, finally able to represent our diversity on Mass Ave.”
Buzz around Bodhi has been building for months, and after offering carryout only for a couple of weeks, the restaurant opened for indoor and patio dining (limited seating for now) during the first weekend of March Madness.
Carmine originally planned to open Bodhi on East 16th Street, across from Tinker Street restaurant, but COVID intervened. That location would have been new construction, and banks were getting cold feet thanks to pandemic uncertainty. The deal fell through, and Carmine had to put the project on hold. When news broke that Ed Rudisell was closing Black Market, she reached out to her network of contacts and eventually connected with the building’s owner, Ed Battista (co-owner of Bluebeard and the forthcoming Kan Kan Cinema). “It was a blessing in disguise that the original plan didn’t work out,” she says. “In terms of initial startup costs, it’s just a fraction of what I would be spending on 16th Street. The other location would have been really small without room for a bar. In this one, I’m able to do everything that I’ve always dreamed of doing, which is a cocktail bar and Thai restaurant.”
Three generations of women form the culinary foundation of Bodhi, with Carmine’s mother, Nicky, and grandmother, Pen Phojanasupan, overseeing family recipes and other Thai favorites on the small, focused menu. Both women came to the United States from Thailand and spent years cooking in other local Thai restaurants. Carmine’s favorite dish is the Massaman curry braised beef. “It was originally a Muslim dish in Thailand, and it’s always served with chicken or beef. We would never serve it with pork because Muslims traditionally do not eat pork, so the only options are chicken, beef, or tofu.” Pad Thai is also on the menu, though the kitchen went to great effort to distinguish it from what you might expect. “Pad Thai is a very Americanized dish, and personally I never eat it over here. But our chef took three days to master the sauce, and the tamarind in it is so delightful,” she says.
Though the menu is tight, there is plenty of room for collaboration. “Some of our recipes have been handed down for generations, but I really want it to be a team effort with our cooks in the kitchen. They contribute ideas, and as our cocktail program grows, our bartenders will also contribute to the menu.” The dessert menu is simple for now (think ice cream with sticky rice and Thai fruit salad), but Carmine has dreams of launching a Thai pastry program, something she could do if her aunt, a specialist in Thai pastry, comes to the United States to join the family business.
And while the food is obviously important, it’s the drinks that excite Carmine. She hired her friend, Heather Storms, former general manager of Ball & Biscuit, to design the cocktail menu and manage the bar. “You know how most Thai restaurants have drinks as an afterthought? My concept is a cocktail bar that happens to have amazing Thai food,” Carmine says. Case in point—the Thai Iced Tea cocktail with bourbon, rye, spiced ginger liqueur, demerara sugar, orange peel, and housemade Thai iced tea. “Instead of a typical Asian cocktail like a lychee martini made with a mix, Heather is using fresh ingredients and putting an Asian spin on familiar cocktail components,” Carmine says.
With Bodhi, Carmine is blending the traditions of her family with her own interests, conjured from a life split between two continents. She was born in Thailand and moved to the United States when she was a teenager, attending Carmel High School and Hanover College. After graduation, she moved back to Thailand and worked in property sales but didn’t enjoy it as much as she hoped. She moved back to Indiana and started working in restaurants as a server and spent the next decade saving up to open a spot like this. “My mom and grandmother and I get along very, very well, and we’re so close,” she says. “In Thailand, families live together. They usually don’t branch out and get their own homes. And even though I live by myself here, I get to be with them every day at work.” 922 Massachusetts Ave., 317-941-6595, bodhi-indy.com