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Columbus' Curry, Fast-Casual Indian Dishes Under $9, Opens in Wicker Park

By Alisa Hauser | April 23, 2015 8:25am

WICKER PARK —  After a year of anticipation, Columbus' Curry, a fast-casual eatery offering Indian curries from a former Bollywood star and his wife, is set to open on Friday along a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue packed with new restaurants.

The mostly vegetarian entrees —  along with a few chicken and one minced beef  — are what co-owner Rahul Bajaj describes as, "kind of like the greatest hits of Indian food," offered at "a comfortable price point so it is accessible to all."

Rahul and Michele Bajaj (DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser)

"The concept is essentially inspired by my mother's dining table in New Delhi, India," said Rahul Bajaj, who starred in Bollywood soap operas before working in investment banking, later writing a book about his experiences called "Bollywood Roulette: Inside the Struggle!"

"Growing up, at mealtimes, my mother would have laid out delicious curries and rice on the dining table, and then we would assemble a plate as per our liking."

Patrons at the 50-seat eatery will order their meals in a counter line, similar to a Chipotle or Subway set-up, selecting a basmati or brown rice base with a choice of up to three or four meat or vegetarian toppings.

Prices are $8.99 and under, with sides such as samosas and naan bread under $3.75.

Vegetarian curry entrees are daal, a lentil, aloo gobi, a cauliflower and potato blend, bhindi masala, an okra and chana masala, or chickpeas. 

Desserts are malai, a sweet cheese, served chilled; and gulab jamun, doughnut-like balls served warm and drenched in syrup. 

Mango lassi, made with strained yogurt and mango pulp, as well as chilled Masala chai, are among the drinks, along with fountain sodas and a few India Pale Ales and single-serve wine bottles.

"I want more people to eat Indian food and eat it more often. There is growing scientific evidence that Indian food is really good for you, largely due to the beneficial ingredients found in spices such as turmeric, chili, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and peppercorn," Bajaj said.

The Lakeview couple, who have two children under age 3, met when Bajaj came to Chicago to study at graduate school and met Michele, whom he "bowled over" by cooking her healthy Indian food, according to the Columbus' Curry website.

"It is a marriage of India and America in many ways and reflects our personal story," Bajaj said on Wednesday while on a break from training a team of workers, all dressed in black and orange, the latter a sacred color in India that he said was associated with hospitality.

Michele Bajaj said, "Everyone on the street is very excited to have another restaurant; it attracts more restaurants and makes it like a restaurant row."

Once open, Columbus' Curry will join Cumin, which serves modern Nepalese food at 1414 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Harold's Chicken Shack, 1361 N. Milwaukee Ave., Oiistar, a ramen-focused restaurant, 1385 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Antique Taco, 1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Scheduled to have opened over the summer, Cheesie's Pub and Grub and Whiskey Business, a "fry bar" specializing in poutine at 1365 N. Milwaukee Ave. is still under construction and could open in May, owner Chris Johnston said  earlier this week.

Columbus' Curry, 1359 N. Milwaukee Ave.  Dine-in and takeout. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Ph: 888-YUM-INDIAN (not yet operational but will be soon).

Columbus' Curry Menu by Rahul Bajaj

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