Quick, light, healthy, flavorful. These all apply to meals you can take out in a hurry or eat in at your leisure at the Tikkaway Fresh Indian Grill on Orange Street.
Launched by Gopinath “Gopi” Nair, the Tikkaway Grill is a culmination of ideas Nair had been working on for years to make healthy, light pan-Indian food at an affordable price and made at nearly fast-food speed.
Nair learned his home country’s tastes and cultural profiles the easy way, moving about the various parts of India as a military brat. He loved to spend time in the kitchen watching his mother cook, and that food fascination eventually brought him to the Institute of Hotel Management in Orissa, India, where he studied culinary science and hotel management. Nair went on to open two successful restaurants in India, but then he got the itch to travel and study in the U.S., and off he went for a master’s in business at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. After he graduated, Nair worked in fashion, but as it is so often, once a restaurateur always a restaurateur. He became owner of one of the Coromandel group of restaurants in South Norwalk, and began to weave together his cooking knowledge with his entrepreneurial skills.
In typical business school fashion, he did a demographic analysis of a target clientele, and up popped New Haven. “New Haven had the best energy, the best demographics, and the best like-mindedness in terms of open to diversity,” says Nair. A two-year search brought him to the Orange St. location, and he opened Tikkaway Grill last August.
“Indian is still a niche cuisine,” Nair says. “Eighty percent of Americans still don’t do Indian [food] yet. When I would talk to customers they would say, ‘I don’t like curry, I don’t like spicy’ but they would eat jalapenos. I realized it wasn’t that they did not like it, but they did not know it.” Nair decided to “make it approachable, low-risk, fresh, high quality, affordable,” enticing diners to try Indian food, and to educate their palates at the same time.
Indian cuisine offers many choices: mild, medium and hot in spiciness; vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free, all noted on the menu. “A grass-roots approach [from the] bottom up” was the best way to expose more diners to Indian food. For six dollars the Tikkaway offers the basic underpinnings of Indian food: masala, vindaloo, korma. Nair hopes once a diner tries his food the word will spread.
At Tikkaway, diners design their meal, customizing each entree choice. They pick the vegetables, the sauces, the sides. Nair’s philosophy is that “Indian food can be light, can be healthy, can be non-greasy, not stuffy. Young [professionals] are here four times a week for lunch! [They are finding] a lot of fresh vegetables, light, non-sinful food.”
Nair’s Mulligatawny soup has qualified for the 6th Annual Chowdafest finals at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, http://www.chowdafest.org/. Nair’s philosophy seems to be making inroads: it’s the first time Indian food will be part of this popular event.
Restaurant Website: http://www.tikkawaygrill.com/
• The Detes: 135 Orange St., New Haven. 203-562-1299. Open seven days: Monday to Friday, 11.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
• Price Range: Rice bowl, salad bowl, roti wrap, samosa chaat or chicken roll are $5.95 – $6.75.
• Style of Food: Pan-Indian home-style food
• Favorite dishes: roti wraps, salad bowls and rice bowls.
• Drinks: healthy
• Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free: yes
• Catering: yes