Delhi Deli – Indian Cafe and Takeout (This restaurant is now closed)
328 N. Harrison Ave.
Cary, NC 27513
Review Date: (prior to 1997)
Reviewers: Jeremy Horne, Jeanne Temkin, Gary Klaus, Dave Crescenzo, Dilip Barman, Valerie Copeland, Bill Copela
We visited the "Delhi Deli" in Cary on St. Patrick's Day. The Delhi Deli, as you might guess, is an "Indian Cafe and Takeout." This review is being written by two people. One, Dave Crescenzo, has only eaten in an Indian restaurant a handful of times, and may not ever reach his toes. The other, Dilip Barman, in rich contrast, could compare the fare with what Mom used to make. This should be interesting.
Northside Station is a little strip center with a dozen or so businesses, including a big sports bar (where I watched Old Dominion eliminate Villanova in the NCAA tournament after our dinner) and a lot of offices. The strip center, like so many strip centers, used to have a little yogurt shop. The standard strip center yogurt shop: smallish seating area, glass-enclosed counters, bare walls, napkin dispenser by the cash register, you know the place. Well, the yogurt shop at Northside Station is now the Delhi Deli. I mention all this because all nine reviewers mentioned it: liked the food, hated the atmosphere.
We liked the food and hated the atmosphere. This was clearly the theme of the night. The conversation centered on identifying the food as it arrived at the table (that is, tables: we pushed four of the small circular tables together, sort of like a cloverleaf) and commenting on the odd scene. With no Muzak, in such a small place, the silence was deafening. The fluorescent light above us flickered and popped and one table was unsteady. Styrofoam cups, plates, and bowls, and plasticware cluttered about. Barare walls, save for the odd, vividly colorful Hindu scene of a blue Lord Krishna and his adoring gopis. Now, we really did like the food, and my reviewing partner will doubtless address the subtleties and nuances of Indian cuisine. But hear the reviewers: "...little atmosphere." "Fine for a quick lunch but not much for dinner." "The fast food atmosphere detracted from my experience." "Old atmosphere of yogurt take-out." "If I hadn't signed up, I would have never entered the restaurant." "Need music." "A serious atmosphere lack." "Atmosphere needs improvement, feels like a doctor's office." "Unsteady table." "The transition from yogurt shop to cafe should be expedited." "Broken toilet paper dispenser."
The food was good: varied, tasty, plentiful, and inexpensive. Just as every reviewer criticized the atmosphere, all enjoyed the repast. Specific comments on the nature and preparation of the food were sparse, reflecting, as in my case, some lack of familiarity with the cuisine. Generally, the flavor and unusual (to all but Dilp) nature were positively noted. "Very good, variety excellent." "Invariably good," commented a regular. "The food was excellent but somewhat oily." "Food great." "Spicy and tasty with a wide selection." "Very good food at an exceptional price." I sampled a bunch of stuff, and I liked almost everything. Vegetable Pakoras, veggies dipped in chick pea batter, were a satisfying appetizer. Khaman Dhokla (steamed chick pea batter) was diamond-shaped bready stuff, light and tasty. Sev Puri (puffed-rice disks covered with potatoes, onions, and slivers of cheese), was also pleasant. Masala Dosai, a lentil crepe with potatoes and onions, was spicy and hot and got hotter as you ate it. My entree, Undhiu (mixed vegetables), was fresh and flavorful. Many of us drank Lassi, a smooth, yogurt drink which tempered the heat of the food. I liked its slight rose flavor, but did not like the same flavor in the Dahi Vada (lentil donuts soaked in yogurt): doughy, heavy, soupy, and the rose water made it soapy.
Our consensus: without major improvements in its setting, the Delhi Deli will have to survive as a lunch place and takeout. Gary Klaus, who lives nearby, spoke for the group: "I've eaten here many times. The food is invariably good. Some of the dishes are spicier than I like, so be sure to ask if you aren't a spiceaholic. My only comment on the atmosphere is that you can take out your food and eat at home."
I have mixed feelings about Delhi Deli. I'll skip all the obvious ents about atmosphere, as Dave has covered them well, and talk only about the food. I like to think that I know what good Indian cooking is, so I guess I have some qualifications for throwing my two cents in. One of the best things the restaurant has going for it is that it serves South Indian food, which is difficult to find. And it is authentic - down to some of it being too spicy hot for many palates! Also, being South Indian, the menu is almost exclusively vegetarian; what a nice touch if they were to eliminate their four meat dishes and be completely vegetarian!
Their lassi, a yogurt drink, is standard fare and theirs was fine; one suggestion would be including a mango lassi. Their Gujarati-style Dhokla (steamed chickpea batter) was excellent! My Mom makes her own northern variety (yum) and has recently tried this style, but I'm afraid she's not an expert (yet!) at this type of dhokla. I have a friend, Sapna, who is Gujarati (Gujarat is a state in northwestern India) and who makes great dhokla - Delhi Deli's is even better! It is a flavorful and subtly spiced dish that I can heartily recommend as a good appetizer. Their Pakoras, vegetables fried in chickpea batter, were very good; my only suggestion would be to use less batter for a thinner and crisper coating. I enjoyed trying their Bhei Puri and Sev Puri little breads with fillings like potatoes and puffed rice, but hadn't ever heard these names. They reminded me of chaat, a dish that is served at festive times in Indian households.
So far so good. The problem I had with my meal was what I was most looking forward to - Dosai. I had the Masala Dosai instead of the plain; a lentil crepe, the masala (meaning "spice") is also stuffed with a potato-onion-spice filling. Ah, dosai! One of my favorite Indian foods! Well, theirs was authentic - I think. It was so hot that even with an extra request for cooling coconut chutney, it was still difficult for me to eat.
Spiciness is a trademark of South Indian cookery, but I wish that Delhi Deli gave patrons a choice as to how spicy they would like their food. The dosai shell, anyway, was good. It is traditional to accompany dosai with sambar, a tomato-lentil-spinach soup, and idli (white oblong dumplings). Delhi Deli offers Sambar, but this was just too hot for me to have more than a spoonful of, so I had to let mine go to waste. I also took a sample of Dahi Vada, lentil rounds soaked in yogurt. As I've mentioned in the past, I am biased and have only once (at Suman's Indian Restaurant in Durham!) found dahi vadas which compared to my Mom's; Delhi Deli's didn't measure up. Their consistency and taste were lacking - but then again, this could simply be a matter of regional variation.
The punchline? I felt that Delhi Deli offers authentic food, and it is great to have a low-priced South Indian restaurant in the area. I wish they would make improvements to their atmosphere, as simple as getting better tables and having music, and that they would offer a choice of spiciness. Their service is slow so they are obviously putting a lot of time into preparing each order; tailoring heat should be easy. Were they to take some of our suggestions, I think that Delhi Deli could become a viable competitor to Suman's, my reigning favorite Indian restaurant in the area. Till then, this is a great place to visit if you're in the area for takeout. Try the Pakoras and Dhokla and stay away from the Masala Dosai.