How Tiffin is revisiting Indian cooking | Let's Eat

At his new Tiffin Indian restaurant in Newtown Square, Munish Narula is taking a bold step in cooking one of the world’s most celebrated cuisines. I’ll explain. Also this week, I visit a barbecue spot in South Jersey, an old favorite in Old City, and a Queen Village destination that people flock to. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here.

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— Michael Klein

Tandoor be gone!

Tiffin has grown into a 10-unit Indian chain from modest beginnings on Girard Avenue in North Philly, and owner Munish Narula wants it to grow further. To do that, he believes, he had to make his kitchens goofproof so that even workers with limited curry contact can turn out tasty Indian food. A fast-food model, if you will. He contracted with Rational, a manufacturer of high-tech combi ovens, to develop recipes that can allow Tiffin cooks to bypass the fryer and tandoor oven — two staples of Indian kitchens that don’t exist at Tiffin’s new location in Newtown Square’s Springton Pointe Plaza (202 S. Newtown Street Rd.). The results, from a taste-test, are impressive: Fluffy, perfectly baked naan out of an easy-to-operate machine, and crusty yet nongreasy vegetable samosas and juicy kebabs made in a combi oven. Geeking out over data, Narula told me that Tiffin’s eight top-selling items — including naan, vegetable samosa, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, butter chicken, onion bhaji, mango lassi, and chicken korma — account for a whopping 57 percent of total company sales. Narula has shrunk the menu — the idea being that a more efficient kitchen can also execute fewer dishes better. (Among those gone: the chicken vindaloo.)  See a nonfried samosa here, and kebabs made in a combi oven here.

This week’s openings

Caffe Vienna | Rittenhouse

Italian-style sandwich shop at 20th and Locust. In soft-opening mode.

The Midtown | Washington Square West

Bar-restaurant at 114 S. 12th St. with plenty of private-party space.

Porch & Proper | Collingswood

Elegant American BYOB dinner house from Starr alums.

Stats on 17th | Rittenhouse

Sports bar replacing The Clubhouse at 111 S. 17th St. Soft-opening begins Sept. 6.

Trolley Car Station | West Philadelphia

American diner in the Portal at 40th Street and Baltimore Avenue has set Sept 4 as its opening.

No restaurant closings this week.

Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Octopodi at Estia in Center City.

1405 Locust St., Center City; 222 N. Radnor Chester Rd, Wayne; 140 Route 70 West, Marlton 

Center City: 4-6 p.m. weekdays, and 7 p.m. to close Sunday; Wayne: 4:30-6:30 p.m. weekdays; Marlton: 4-6 p.m. weekdays.

The Greek taverna trio varies its happy-hour selections among the locations. All offer something for everyone, but you’ll have to hit the original across from the Academy of Music in Center City or Marlton for discounted octopus — a signature Estia dish that its chefs prepare in a most unconventional way.

Where we’re eating: Eat Street BBQ Grill, Buddakan, Hungry Pigeon

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Ribs and sides at Eat Street BBQ.

Florida-style BBQ? “It’s a mix of everything, but one thing we don’t use is a lot of salt,” says Carlton Greer, who with wife Octavia recently took over East Street BBQ Grill in Columbus, Burlington County. Greer, who grew up outside Fort Myers, excels in ribs, which are among the juiciest I’ve tried. Props for his baked beans, studded with red pepper and red onion; remarkably they’re vegetarian — picking up a smoky taste from house-made “liquid smoke.” Full menu includes brisket, chicken, salads. Reasonable prices, family friendly atmosphere in a strip mall on the edge of the Pine Barrens.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Buddakan’s edamame dumplings.

Buddakan’s 20th anniversary did not pass unnoticed — certainly not by the huge turnout Sunday for a party at Stephen Starr’s Old City pan-Asian specialist. High point: I got to try the original-recipe edamame ravioli alongside the current, more delicate edamame dumplings — revamped a decade ago. Both are bathed in truffled Sauternes-shallot broth and are filled with a luxuriant mix of butter, cream, edamame, and truffle oil. Buddakan is a particular treat for weekday lunch, with tasting menus starting at $17.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Breakfast sandwich with chicken sausage at Hungry Pigeon.

Hungry Pigeon teams chef Scott Schroeder and pastry chef Pat O’Malley in a homespun corner storefront at Fourth and Fitzwater in Queen Village. You can get the best of both in the form of the breakfast sandwich ($7), available 7-11 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends. O’Malley’s English muffin envelopes fried organic egg and Jack cheese. Splurge ($3) for pork roll, scrapple, ham, or chicken sausage. The Pigeon runs all day — even offering after-school snacks (PBJ sandwiches and fries-and-ketchup). Tip: Opt for the $50-a-head, four-course dinners, to get a real sense of the kitchen.

Dining Notes

Watermelon is a favorite summer treat, but are you getting the most from your melon? The seeds and rind also make great snacks. Check out our recipes before you toss what you may think of as inedible.

Honeygrow is opening a takeout window at its Fishtown headquarters — but it will be only for customers who order via Honeygrow’s app and for delivery via Caviar, not at the window.

Lucky enough to be down the Shore during this heat? Critic Craig LaBan has found that the unexpected meals at out-of-the-way Shore places can be the most memorable, and lists his favorite hidden gems.

Herman’s Coffee has collaborated with Alex’s Lemonade Stand for a special blend. The final product features citrus notes, naturally, and it’s also redolent of berries and cocoa.

Craig LaBan is on assignment. His Q&A will resume upon his return.