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Restaurant Fri Apr 10 2009
Rural food in India seems simple and lean. Chutney Joe's, an instruct-them-how-to-assemble-your-meal-at-the-counter type of place, just South of the Loop, doesn't claim to be rural food so far as I know, but it does remind me of that. Their Web site indicates an interest in wanting to change from "Americanized Indian food," and the chickpea masala held especially true to this on my visit. The flavors could be tighter and more mingled, but the essence feels refreshingly simple and lean.
The garbanzo masala, as they call it, isn't oil-laden like so many that I've had eating out in Chicago. It feels brothy, light and simple, and the sauce softly warmed and soothed the lining of my mouth. The chickpeas resisted my bite at first, and then crumpled without hesitation. The gobi potatoes, or cauliflower and potatoes, didn't include diced potatoes, as the online menu suggests, but instead whole, skinned, oval-shaped potatoes, as I probably would have preferred anyway. These potatoes were tender and firm, with a soft touch of oil. The cauliflower still held a bit of its snap. If you "create a meal" of it, like I did, you get your choice of basmati rice or one flat bread. I chose a soft, tender and nicely textured whole wheat flatbread that "should" be vegan, I was told (the other bread options had dairy). Other items are clearly identified as vegan on the menu, and they offer non-vegetarian and other vegetarian items, as well.
Photos of, presumably, India hang on the wall. In one, small storefronts fade off into the end of a narrow road, while a cycle rickshaw waits empty in the street. Another photo shows a well maintained fine garden with loads of green plant leaves having bright yellow spots - crotons perhaps. In yet another, barrels filled with what look like foodstuffs fill some small, enclosed space.
On a bicycle, Chutney Joe's is close enough for lunch for those working in the Loop who ride to work. I plan to return to try the samosas. The man who took my order at the counter had been pushing them. As he later chatted up the customers, he said something like this to one of them: "I know I forced the samosa on you. Do you want your money back?" The customer played along, asking for just ten percent off their next order. The customer seemed to like his samosa, telling how the "first one disappeared." Chutney, of course, would be brilliant for these. I tried the mango chutney, which was thick and sweet with perhaps just a touch of sour.
511 S. State St., (312) 341-9755