You can't help but worry for all the independent, chef-run and mom-and-pop restaurants out there. The times are not being kind to them, but even while staring the very real possibility of closure in the face, these businesses show a resilience and creativity that's nothing short of inspiring. Necessity is the mother of invention, sure, but these past few weeks, it seems like desperation's been the bad dad of innovation.
Almost overnight, we've seen plucky businesses turn into drive-in restaurants, makeshift grocery stores, food delivery companies, bulk food operators, online merchants and farmers markets. Makes you wonder if these add-on services will be offered in the post-COVID-19 era. I sure as hell hope so, particularly the drive-up curbside service. I gotta tell ya, I'm a pretty big fan of the curbside service. Pretty, pretty, pretty big fan.
Kathi Rolls on Curry Ford Road initiated me into this brave new world of dining (and odd new world of restaurant reviewing). This is the first of what I hope aren't very many such parking-lot dining appraisals but, well, see note above re: desperation. That said, it's hard to be objective, let alone critical, at a time when an entire industry on the verge of imploding needs our support, not our judgment.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
- Lamb kathi roll
The honest truth is that Kathi Rolls not only needs our support, they deserve it. Chef Shantanu Sen's Indian street fare is every bit as worthy of eating in a one-way parking lot as it is inside the restaurant's humble digs. Speaking of, Kathi Rolls occupies the old Forever Naan space which, in hindsight, was probably a poor choice of name. The paratha, not the naan, happens to be my favorite bread anyway – a little crisp, a little doughy, a little flaky and always layered in circular fashion. Sen, who hails from Kolkata, India, doesn't make these flatbreads in-house – not yet – but, after recently bringing on two cooks to help him out, I'm told that day is coming. And while fresh-made parathas will certainly make his kathi rolls even better, Sen uses a premade product of a decent enough quality to properly envelop everything from eggs ($6.99) to chicken tikka ($8.99) to palak paneer ($9.49).
On this particular day, which happened to be the first day they offered curbside pickup, I lifted a special malai kebab kathi roll ($9.99) to my mouth thankful that A) its aromas of chicken flavored with cheese, cashew nuts and Sen's secret blend of spices were able to neutralize the sterile scents of sanitizer on my hand, and B) the roll was manageable enough to devour sans spillage while seated in my car. Not to mention the morsels were so wonderfully soft. And, BTW, don't be an ignorant boob by referring to kathi rolls as "Indian burritos," "Indian tacos" or "Indian wraps." They're kathi (pronounced "kat-tee") rolls. Say it a few times if you must.
By now, the two bags of food laying in the passenger seat had turned my car into a masala sauna, so after a slurp of the lychee lassi ($5.99), I tore open one of the bags and shoved the lamb kebab hot dog ($7.99) into my mouth. Absolutely glorious. And fiery. When I got home about 15 minutes later, I ate the side of chatka fries ($1.99) – the crinkle sort, only dusted with a chili seasoning. I guess I was still hungry.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
A pair of plump, and not so thick-crusted, samosas ($3.99) reheated quite nicely a few hours later, as did the basmati bowl with a stunning assemblage of tandoori veggies ($7.99) – green beans, cauliflower, carrots, peas and potatoes. A garnish of pickled onions, cilantro, green chilies and chaat masala powder was akin to gilding a lily, but I'm not complaining. Sen clearly knows what he's doing.
I was a bit skeptical of his "naan pizzas" but I have to say, his palak paneer pizza ($8.99) with spinach and cheese was gratifying, even the following day. It does make a bit of a mess, however, requiring a thorough wash-up afterwards. Then again, I'm sure you're all doing that anyway. Right?
— This story appears in the April 8, 2020, print edition of Orlando Weekly. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider supporting this free publication with a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.