Chutney Joe's offers affordable Indian fare

August 14, 2009 (CHICAGO) When you think of Panera, you think hearty soups and sandwiches, and when you hear Chipotle, it's all about high-quality, fast Mexican. Now a Chicago entrepreneur is hoping you'll have the same gut reaction to the words Chutney Joe's, which will conjure images of quick-service Indian food with bold flavors and an emphasis on healthier preparations.

It's a typical lunch hour in the South Loop. Students and workers don't have a lot of time to eat, they want something other than burgers and fries, and price is always a factor. Enter Chutney Joe's, a new concept promising Indian home-cooking in a familiar, fast-casual environment.

"I wanted my food and my concept to be able to be able to relate to Average Joe in America, I wanted to take it to the main street of America," owner Vijay Puniani said.

Everything is homemade, from the potato-and-pea stuffed samosas (which are baked, by the way, instead of the usual deep-fry), to the pork vindaloo, rich with garlic, ginger, cilantro and the key: toasted and freshly-ground spices.

"The spice level is exactly where it is in India, most homes this is how people cook the food," Puniani said.

Chicken biryani goes well beyond the typical Devon Avenue ho-hum bowl of rice, while the spinach paneer and chicken masala are vibrant and well-seasoned.

Lamb rogan josh is complex, with more depth of flavor than you'd expect from a fast-casual operation. Even the naan - either wheat or garlic - arrives warm and toasty. The concept is focusing on healthier options: no ghee or clarified butter, no cream and no deep-frying. It's fast, casual, home-cooked Indian food with a decidedly modern approach to presentation.

"We are serving ethnic home-style Indian cooking, and very healthy food, in a very modern American, contemporary environment," said Puniani.

As the name suggests, they also have a number of homemade chutneys on hand. Their plan for now is to keep expanding to other markets.

Chutney Joe's
511 S. State St.

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