Indigo Blurs Lines Between Carry-Out and Community Hub
It’s been just more than a year since Indigo co-founders Dinesh and Nidhi Tandon formally established their brick-and-mortar neighborhood restaurant. But the writing on the wall (literally) suggests they have already firmly cemented their place among Indian dining enthusiasts.
The quaint establishment at 243 K St. NE, which replaced a dilapidated corner store in the steadily shifting NoMa section of town, has allowed the Tandons to graduate from cult following to community anchor. The family-run operation — he’s the carnival barker-like gent often calling back orders from the register area to the kitchen, while she juggles day-to-day cooking duties and recipe development — marks the continuation of the alimentary evangelism they began while doling out aromatic servings of their native dishes to adventurous shoppers at Eastern Market.
“This started with our passion for cooking, for my wife especially, and for me to have a place where purely home-cooked food [could] be served,” Dinesh said of their shared vision for the fledgling restaurant.
A glance around the close-knit main dining room (just a handful of tables, though more have been added to the refurbished patio area) illustrates just how passionate patrons are about the entire experience.
“All the way from Canada to enjoy your food,” a woman scribbled on one of the walls last fall. “Look past your thoughts so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment,” another inked elsewhere. “If I loved the daal makhani any more, it would be indecent,” an anonymous tagger openly confessed in permanent marker.
The quirky affirmations — management is clearly in on the act (“Waiting for your food sucks, but we promise it will be worth it” is, rather brilliantly, inscribed above the front counter) — may seem silly to some. But one loopy endorsement, in particular, managed to pique this political observer’s interest.
“Yes sir, it’s Mr. [Elijah E.] Cummings himself who signed the wall,” Dinesh affirmed via email regarding the eye-catching John Hancock the Maryland Democrat contributed to the restaurant’s D-I-Y decorating scheme. Per Dinesh, another lawmaker, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., has popped by a couple of times, while former Mayor Anthony Williams and his wife, Diane, are frequent visitors.
But Dinesh’s crowning achievement appears to be catering to the highest court in the land. “We have been honored by [Justice] Sonia Sotomayor’s visit with her complete team,” Dinesh said, noting that he has since delivered her go-to dish, ground lamb awash in vegetable-rich curry (more on that in a moment), over to the Supreme Court on multiple occasions.
The kitchen covers a good deal of ground, dishing out the likes of Punjabi street snacks and comfort foods (heartwarming lentil soup, anyone?) along with industry standards (mango chicken, saucy house-made cheese dishes). Dinesh swears by the chicken tikka (“It’s unlike anywhere,” he insists.) and paalak paneer.
The chicken tikka is impressive. Each bite of seductive bird is impregnated by traces of slowly simmered garlic, onions and peppers. The well-balanced construct does not rocket through the sinuses like some daredevil curry; instead, each forkful delivers a richly layered brew bolstered by thrilling flashes of attention-holding spice.
The keema favored by Sotomayor promises fireworks, but seemed more like a dud. Each portion features the crumbled lamb, accented with peas and onions, on one side, while a companion scoop of cooked chickpeas pools at the other end. Neither side is exceptionally spicy; lamb elicits a promising tingle the longer it’s left on the tongue, but fails to conjure any substantive heat. The chickpeas deliver a slow-building burn that pleasantly warms the back of the throat but eventually fizzles out.
Pav bhaji (think: vegetarian sliders) pack a formidable punch. The Sloppy Joe-like snack features twin potato rolls stuffed with hot pepper-laced, red onion-studded cooked spinach soaked through in hearty tomato gravy.
A bone-in goat stew is simply marvelous. The titular protein is strikingly tender (though some might find the native cliff-dweller a bit too fatty). The underlying broth is goosed by tongue-teasing blasts of concentrated cinnamon. The accompanying potatoes are pleasantly creamy.
In addition to continuing to grow the menu (check for daily specials on the giant chalkboard posted inside), Dinesh said he’s got big plans for the restaurant itself. Short-term goals include broadening the delivery area and carving out separate service lines for carryout and dine-in customers (yes, please!). Bigger picture stuff includes covering the outdoor patio beneath a canopy in order to provide additional opportunities for fans who’ve come to hang out.
“Our customers are the local community,” Dinesh said. “We feel happy to have won their appreciation and support.”
Indigo: 243 K St. NE; 202-544-4777. Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday.
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