Some may remember Bangkok Cafe on Murfreesboro’s Public Square serving Thai food.
Though the restaurant moved out of that location in 2006 after 10 years of business there, Jack and Bubpha Butchareon still operate a Thai establishment, now on Robert Rose Drive between Thompson Lane and Stones River Mall, and known simply as The Bangkok.
Jack says the food he serves is very close to the traditional dishes one would find in Thailand, but the spicy heat is about “cut in half” for us Americans.
The green curry, however, has plenty of spice for this Pulse publisher. It’s not an overwhelming heat; the back of your mouth will certainly feel it, but it’s more of a flavorful, herby delivery.
The Mussamunn curry, on the other hand, is more sweet than hot, combining coconut, lime, peanut and onion flavors.
“Curry from Thailand is different from curry from India,” Jack explains.
The word “curry” is somewhat open ended in Asian cuisine, similar to the word salad. While Indian style curry contains a seasoning made with a mixture of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and other spices, curry in Thailand means a dish with paste made from chilis.
Like Jack said, the heat in the dishes at The Bangkok is toned down a little, but if you are more adventurous or a glutton for spicy punishment, the staff will have no problem kicking up the heat a few notches for you, or turning it down for that matter.
Thai food has enough of a spicy stigma to scare some off, Jack says, so it’s important to be accommodating and welcoming to customers while showing them the delicious tastes of Thailand.
“We scare some people by just the word ‘Thai,’” he said, adding that Thai food does not have to be incredibly hot; it can still be moderate and authentic.
He said it was difficult starting a Thai restaurant in a small Southern town years ago.
Some would even come into the restaurant on the square with such skepticism of the food that the owners would feel insulted.
“Some people walked through, say ‘what is this, you think I’ll like this?’” Jack said.
But over the past decade, Murfreesboro has grown both in population and in tolerance of more exotic flavors, and the new Bangkok location helps with parking and weekend business.
Through perseverance, the Butchareons’ business has thrived, and now has their woodworking, granite and carving importation business, Floors and More, next door.
The Butchareons actually grow their own Thai peppers in pots behind the restaurant, along with basil, mint, lemongrass and other herbs.
“Fresh is better,” said Jack as he inspected some of the chilis.
Inside, the restaurant is filled with carvings from the wood of mango trees brought over from Thailand. Jack says he brings them to America not to make a profit, but to introduce Thai culture to residents here. The Butchareons’ woodworking business also did the floors and tables in the restaurant and brought the granite columns outside.
But the real draw is the food.
“We get takeout here every Thursday,” said local Dr. Ron Nelson. “My wife usually gets the spicy tofu with mixed vegetables; she’s a vegetarian. I like the Phad Thai myself.”
The sweet and peanutty Phad Thai is a great choice for first-timers at The Bangkok, not too spicy at all.
Also, try the seaweed salad for a tasty surprise. The crisp greens are seasoned with a delicious sesame flavored olive oil dressing.
“The texture reminds me of bean sprouts, but tastier,” one diner said.
In the mood for something with some heat? The Phad Kraphrao has spicy chicken, pork or beef marinated in chilis.
Jack said many who have spent time in Asia, like Nelson, are a big reason for The Bangkok’s success. Though the food is not really Americanized (other than a few items like chicken fingers and grilled cheese for kids), The Bangkok does serve sushi, a Japanese dish that is gaining popularity and acceptance into American cuisine.
“We cannot survive on just Thai food; we have to have sushi,” Jack said.
Raised in Thailand, the Butchareons came to the United States for Jack to get a doctorate degree at Atlanta University.
Both he and his wife’s families owned and operated restaurants back in Thailand.
“We grew up in restaurants in Thailand; we never went to school for cooking,” Jack said. Though it has had its challenges, he said operating a Thai establishment in Middle Tennessee has been very rewarding.
“I knew no one when I came here,” Jack said. “But a lot of people have become our friends and have even come to Thailand with us.”
315-C Robert Rose Drive
Mon-Thu. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Fri-Sat. 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Prices: Green, red or yellow curry with chicken, beef or pork: $12; Phad Thai: $10; Egg roll: $1.35; Rainbow roll: $10.25