A café and specialty market sharing the same space – it's not a new concept.
Rajbhog of Charlotte is distinctive nonetheless.
The University City café is a franchise that serves hot meals and pastries of India. The adjoining market, the first for a Rajbhog franchise, carries ingredients and prepared foods for making the same fare at home.
“It's like Dean & DeLuca,” said co-owner Lakshmi Sarathy, standing in an area stocked with exotic produce. “It's one-stop shopping.”
Most shoppers wouldn't immediately make the association with Dean & DeLuca, the upscale gourmet shop known for artisan and imported foods, wines and kitchenware. After all, this is an Indian café and market.
There's also the fact that Rajbhog, at Pinnacle Point shopping center on Mallard Creek Church Road since September, caters to budget-conscious families and UNC Charlotte students.
The prices have helped make the café and market a popular place with Indian nationals and others who enjoy Indian food. After just one month in business, the line for the stylish, 44-seat café sometimes trails outside the building.
“It's fast food,” co-owner Prarthana Singh said of the menu served, with some variations, at the 11 Rajbhog franchises.
The first, Rajbhog Sweets and Snacks, opened in Jackson Heights, N.Y., more than 20 years ago. Singh and Sarathy have the first North Carolina franchise.
The café menu includes popular dishes such as Chicken Tikka ($5.99), the rice dish Biryani ($6.99) and lamb shish kabobs ($4.99). Daily specials and combination meals also are available.
The menu also offers plenty of vegetarian options: crispy vegetable-filled turnovers called Samosas ($2.49), vegetable fritters called Pakoras ($2.99) and crispy potato-filled crepes called Dosas ($3.99).
There are 11 different chaats, vegetarian street foods traditionally eaten as a snack in late afternoon. Try one of the Special Bombay Snacks if fiery foods are your passion.
Rajbhog carries more than 100 varieties of dry and Bengali, or sugar-syrup-dipped, sweets. These are popular for Indian celebrations and Hindu festivals.
Allow extra time to shop in the market, especially if you are inclined to cook Indian meals. The shelves are stocked with the aromatic dry spices that are central to Indian cuisine – turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom and fenugreek among them.
You'll also find 15 varieties of lentils, a frozen foods section and Rajbhog-brand ice cream in not-so-common flavors, including saffron and pistachio, carrot and fig.
Rajbhog of Charlotte gives consumers a tasty twist on the concept of a café and market feeding each other.
“It's growing beyond our expectations,” Sarathy said.
What restaurants make your neighborhood special? Call or send an e-mail to Karen Sullivan at 704-358-5532; ksullivan@charlotte observer.com.
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