The Indian food scene along Massachusetts Street isn’t just heating up — it’s speeding up.
Downtown Lawrence diners now have four restaurants to satiate their Indian cravings, and the three newest are fast-casual or carryout concepts.
The latest addition, Chutney’s Indian Diner and Bar, 918 Massachusetts St., features Indian staples such as chicken tikka masala, vegetarian spinach paneer, samosas and mango lassi ordered at the counter and eaten at tables, or carried out.
Owner Rasesh Patel said he’d heard of similar fast-casual Indian restaurants taking hold in metropolitan areas like New York City.
“I figured, why not for Lawrence?” he said.
As it has for years, India Palace, 129 E. 10th St., still offers an extensive menu of lamb, chicken, seafood, beef and vegetarian items in a sit-down atmosphere. India Palace is also locally renowned for its lunchtime Indian buffet.
Patel said Chutney’s aims to serve diners looking for a different Indian food experience, one with quicker service, a more casual atmosphere and less-expensive entrees.
Another thing sets his restaurant apart from others, Patel said. Instead of using ghee, or clarified butter, and cream as in traditional Indian food preparation, Chutney’s uses convection cooking and meats’ natural juices.
“We wanted to do more healthy cooking,” he said. Nutritional information for all menu items is posted online at chutneyslks.com.
Patel grew up in Chicago eating native food his mother prepared.
Indian food was a natural choice for his business, he said. He worked on his plan with help from the Kansas University Small Business Development Center, which provided market research indicating healthier options and fast-casual restaurant concepts were in demand.
Chutney’s offers about a dozen entrees ranging from $5.99 to $9.99, with the option to add a smaller portion of a second entree for a few dollars extra. There’s also family-style portions of the same entrees plus naan wraps, appetizers like samosa chaat — a smashed samosa with garbanzo masala — and a couple of desserts.
Cosmos Indian Store, 734 Massachusetts St., set up a few tables by the front window and started serving hot food in January.
Offerings include poori (fried flat bread) with potato masala, idli (steamed rice cakes), uthappam (a thick pancake with toppings cooked into the batter) with sambhar (vegetable stew), chicken curry and Cosmos’ popular vegetable korma, owner Amrutha Ravikumar said. Fried snacks such as samosa, vada and pakora also are fan favorites.
Ravikumar said the restaurant tries to give equal prominence to both North and South Indian dishes. They also offer daily kids meals for $3.99 and take group or catering orders.
Curry in a Hurry
Curry in a Hurry, 1111 Massachusetts St., has one table, but most people grab their tikka masala and go.
Inside, warmers are loaded with ready-to-eat portions of peas and potato curry, chicken curry, two kinds of tikka masala, lemon rice and appetizers such as palak pakoda (spinach and onion fritters) and mini dosa (potato curry-filled crepes). Owner Sammi Sangam also regularly makes biryani, a layered meat and rice dish his native city of Hyderabad, in south India, is famous for.
Sangam first started selling hot Indian food to go at the Shell gas station at 17th and Massachusetts streets, which he owned. It gained a following, and after selling the station he reopened his Indian food-and-convenience store concept — without the gas — at its current location in 2011.
KU senior Valentino Moreno walked in for his usual chicken curry on a recent afternoon.
“It’s very good,” Moreno said. “It’s very convenient, and ... when I’m in a hurry it’s great.”