It seems like every other day another fast-casual restaurant aspiring to be the next “Chipotle version of X” opens its doors. Last week that honor fell to Chapati Indian Grill (2215 Chester Ave., 216-303-9780), a campus district start-up with dreams of striking it big in the franchise world. A second location is expected to open soon in University Circle.
Guests who visit Chapati can be forgiven for wrongly thinking they’ve stumbled into a Chipotle. From the industrial-garage décor to the now-familiar process that moves diners along a steam table assembly line, where workers pluck and plop ingredients from stainless steel containers onto the vehicle of one’s choosing. Here, that choice comes down to a chapati roll or bowl.
Whereas true chapati (also called roti) is a dense, chewy, whole wheat flatbread, the version here is more akin to a pliable wheat tortilla, which gets the quick steam-o-matic treatment to loosen it up. The main protein choices are limited to yogurt-marinated chicken ($6.75), grilled beef in sauce ($6.95), crumbled tofu in some other sauce ($6.45), or cumin-roasted potatoes ($6.65). From there, it’s a matter of custom building your meal by choosing fillings, toppings, sauces, garnishes... you know the drill. There’s steamed rice, chick peas, pickled chiles, coconut sauce, spicy cilantro chutney, tangy tamarind.
The whole process seems rocky, with just two staffers on hand to take and prepare orders, refill ingredient containers and ring folks up. It’s a system that can – and did during my visit – get bogged down as soon as an ingredient becomes scarce or an indecisive diner deliberates.
There is an open kitchen, yet there’s nobody in it cooking save for the line worker who took a momentary break to pour bottled lemon juice into a tub of steamed rice before garnishing it with a few slivers of cilantro. All foods are prepared in advance and held in a steam table, even fried foods like samosas ($1.95) and onion bhaji ($1.95), side dishes that are predictably lukewarm and soggy.
If you’re in search of authentic, freshly prepared and intensely flavored Indian food, Chapati isn’t your place. But if instead it’s reasonably quick, cheap and familiar-looking food in a familiar looking package that you seek, do give Chapati a try.