A while back, the wife and I were driving down John Barrow Road when she suddenly said, “Did we just pass an Indian restaurant?” It seemed an unlikely place for a new curry joint, but sure enough, the next time we passed by, we saw it — what looked like an old blue house sitting on the hill right at the intersection of Barrow Road and West 33rd St. with a sign reading “Indian Kitchen,” complete with pictures of various dishes.
Indian Kitchen (3300 John Barrow Road) is primarily a take-out joint, as you will gather when you walk inside. There are a few tables with fold-out chairs, and on the day we visited, the place was cooled by two different wall units. A wall display on the inside showcases “Everyday’s Special,” conveniently divided by price into five and ten dollars. Among the five-dollar specials are idli sambar with chutney, veggie samosas (four per order) or chicken samosas (three per order), various pakodas, double ka mitha, while the $10 specials include chicken biryani with raita, Chicken 65, chicken curry with rice and salad, gulab jamun and more. The drinks include various canned and bottled beverages, including basic Coke products as well as mango lassi and Indian sodas such as Limca and Thumbs Up.
You can dine in, though, as we did once. The wife ordered the idli sambar, while I got the Chicken 65; we also got an order of the veggie samosas and some naan. If you haven’t had it, idli sambar is a South Indian speciality that consists of a steamed bun made of fermented rice (idli), served with a lentil and vegetable curry (sambar) and a peanut chutney. Most Indian cuisine popular in America is northern Indian, but we became enamored of this dish when Curry in a Hurry was still in business. Indian Kitchen’s version of this dish included several hot idli and a very robust sambar.
Meanwhile, the samosas were dense and filling, and if not especially flavorful themselves, they came with a tamarind chutney that lent the pastry a sweet astringency. At $5 a dish, both of these were a great value. The naan was a little on the chewy side and very likely store-bought, but serviceable. The Chicken 65 came garnished with a wealth of jalapeños and cilantro. Although the portion size was incredible, the breading was a little thin on some pieces, and aside from the jalapeños, it was rather lacking in fire. Nonetheless, it disappeared with alacrity.
We were the only customers in the restaurant for the duration of our stay, and as far as we could tell, the entire restaurant staff at the time was but two people; the cook was also our server. The food was brought to us in its to-go containers, minus the lids, along with some paper plates and plastic forks.
As noted, Indian Kitchen has a rather limited basic menu, but they do have daily specials, such as a $10 mutton dum biryani on Fridays, as well as a Sunday buffet. However, they offer an expansive catering menu. Indeed, catering seems to be their main source of income, with various dishes available in both “big tray” and “small tray” sizes. Just to illustrate the extent of their catering menu, they offer a dozen goat curries, from goat masala to achari gosht and kheema kaleji, and nearly 20 vegetarian dishes. Indian Kitchen is also, to the best of my knowledge, the only restaurant in Little Rock to offer Pani Puri since the closing of Flavor of India. Pani Puri is a popular street food that consists of a hollow, fried bread product (the puri), rather like a bready eggshell, in which one punches a hole to fill with various things, like chutneys or potatoes.
Ordering from Indian Kitchen can be a bit tricky. Once, my wife phoned on a Tuesday shortly after 5 p.m. (the place closes at 6 p.m.) only to be told that they had run out of food for the day. Too, now and then the restaurant will be closed for special events; they do announce these on their Facebook page, however. So call ahead or keep tabs on social media for changes in their schedule.
If Indian Kitchen does not have the fanciest dishes in Little Rock, it nonetheless offers us an experience that has been sorely lacking in this city, even as Indo-Pak cuisine has proliferated — namely, curry as comfort food. Often, when we seek comfort, we seek something simple and quick. In other countries that have a deeper heritage of the Indian diaspora, such as the United Kingdom, curry and related dishes have long graduated from the exotic to become the stuff of everyday life — the tinfoil-wrapped vindaloo you might pick up after a hard day’s work, just as you would a burger or pizza here. Indian Kitchen, then, is a true symbol of Little Rock’s evolution. No longer is Indian food just fine dining. Now, it’s also cheap takeout on Barrow Road. Our city has come of age.
3300 John Barrow Road
678-338-5308 / 917-832-3590
Hours: 11 a.m-6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Closed occasionally for private parties.
Other info: No alcohol, only canned or bottled beverages available.