Look, just go to Caraway, all right? It’s great.
by Aidan Morgan
Caraway Grill Indian Bistro
1625 Broad Street
What do you get the city that probably has enough Indian restaurants already?
Answer: another Indian restaurant. A really good one.
As I’ve mentioned several times in this column, Indian food restaurants tend to present their food in certain ways, with an emphasis on northern Indian dishes and buffet-style dining. Recently da Vegetarian Curry House broke the trend with their dosa-centric menu and buffet-free restaurant. And now the Caraway Grill zigs again where the rest of the city zags, sticking with northern dishes but eschewing the buffet altogether and delivering a higher grade of some familiar dishes.
Not that there’s much room for a buffet. The Caraway Grill is tucked into a compact space in what seems like the worst possible location imaginable for a business that depends on evening customer traffic. Perched over the Broad Street underpass between a tattoo parlour and a building that might as well be called Flophouse McStabbingtons, the restaurant seems to dare people to try and navigate the side streets and limited parking options.
But dare they do. And for good reason.
In fact, The Caraway Grill has been packed every time I’ve visited. Even the ghostly dead zone of 3:00 p.m. the place is full of people eager to plant their faces in a plate of butter chicken (please don’t plant your face in the butter chicken).
Given its popularity — and an ever-growing pile of e-mails from people who love the place and needed to let me know — I decided to take along some Knights of Appetite, where we played the game of How Much Indian Food Can You Order In One Night.
We headed out on a Wednesday night with the aim of arriving at 6:00, reasoning that we’d be able to get a table fairly easily. And how wrong we were. Not only was the place full, it appeared to have a share of people who’d been there for a while (one memorable table consisted of one man, empty sauce-smeared plates piled up before him, an expression of childlike wonder and gratitude on his face). When did these people show up? Who goes out for supper at 4:30 or 5:00? Clearly, this place inspires the kind of devotion that necessitates reservations.
After a bit of a wait (which we spent at the Casino across the street, because this is the sort of colourful detail that you enjoy so much in restaurant reviews) we sat down and proceeded to deplete the city of its precious curry reserves. As always when I go to a restaurant with Indian food, I took along my Knight of Appetite from Hyderabad and her partner.
We started with the savoury chat, the vegetable pakoras ($4.99), the vegetable samosas (2 for $4.99) and the aloo tikki ($2.99). Instead of leaving chutneys and raitas on the side, as most Indian restaurants in the city do, the kitchen drizzled sweet and hot chutneys over the food. The effect is visually pleasing and tells you immediately that you’re eating something that has been prepared to be eaten in a specific manner. It probably wouldn’t work if the sauces weren’t so flavourful and fresh tasting; the hot chutney actually tasted of fresh crushed mint, which was a new and very pleasant experience for me.
Oh, and the pakoras rocked.
After the appetizers, we piled more dishes on: a vegetable biryani ($10.99) and garlic naan ($1.99) for the sides, spinach lamb ($13.99) and a French-style lamb shank ($13.99), red snapper curry ($11.99), goan prawn curry ($11.99), aloo gobi ($10.99) and spinach paneer ($10.99). We even tried the butter chicken ($12.99), because butter chicken.
After a dizzying meal, we gulped down a single gulab jamun ball each, which is a testament to the quality of the food and the degree of our determination.
Caraway Grill has a fairly compact menu, but there are still a number of dishes I’m itching to try, such as the baigan bartha ($9.99) and the vindaloo chicken ($11.99).
The bottom line: nothing disappointed. Owner and chef Parveen Singh is clearly committed to using fresh ingredients and recipes that don’t take shortcuts (like sauces loaded with sugar) to achieve intense and satisfying flavours. His greatest achievement is the French-style lamb, a fall-off-the-bone concoction that feels like high-end restaurant fare.
For lunch, your best option is the Lunch Special ($9.99), which gets you rice, naan and pakora and two curries. It’s the perfect size for lunch, which is why they call it the lunch special and not, say, the midnight special. Do not go in at lunch and ask for the midnight special.
Whatever you end up doing at lunch, don’t order off the supper menu, unless you’ve arrived with a sizable group. Otherwise you’ll end up with more food than you can handle and find yourself regretting your life choices a few hours later. But making good choices these days is hard. Better to make bad choices at a good restaurant.
THE ROUND TABLE
WHAT IS IT: Caraway Grill Indian Bistro
WHAT’S IT FOR: lunch and supper.
WHEN’S IT OPEN: weekdays 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; weekends 12:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
WHAT WINS: French rack of lamb, spinach lamb, vegetable pakoras.
WHAT ELSE WINS: Your stomach. Unless you massively over-eat. Then it might be a tie.