Indian food to go
4200 N. Ventura Ave., # A
At the far end of Ventura Avenue — after you’ve passed a slew of Mexican restaurants and mercados and the Bell Arts Factory and thrift shops and various tiendas— the road begins to curve and you feel as if you’ve entered into a scene from one of my favorite movies of the past couple of decades — There Will Be Blood. The industrial rural scenery continues and then a rather bland, beige building appears unexpectedly. The spot is home to a terrific Mexican food to-go restaurant (Maggie’s) and K.C.’s Market, a convenience store owned by Chuher and Kusumalata “KC” Matai, that also peddles a limited amount of deli food to-go. The couple has been in the mom-and-pop grocery business for 30 years, the very dear 87-year-old sari-clad KC told me, 15 on the Avenue and previously 15 years in Santa Barbara. “Mom” is from Bombay and “Pop,” now 80, is from Delhi.
I first learned about Maggie’s from a fan who, after a very early morning jaunt to the Ventura Flea Market, took me there for one of the addictive (and certainly calorie-laden) chile relleno burritos. While waiting for our order, I wandered next door to the market (with rows upon rows of candy, canned goods, house supplies and nary a fresh vegetable in sight) and discovered the homemade Indian food in a hot deli case, also sold to-go.
It was love at first bite and a tradition I’ve since adopted: Grab a burrito for lunch at Maggie’s on the Avenue and pick up Indian food from KC’s to take home for dinner. Things began to change slightly — on one visit Chuher proudly told me they were “adding Subway sandwiches” to the homemade Indian dishes, which included tandoori and tikka chicken. These days the India fare is more limited and is prepared by Julie, who has been cooking from her bosses’ recipes for seven years.
“I’ve got their Indian dishes down,” she told me. She does, sort of.
They were out of the pav bahji, which was advertised on a handwritten brown-paper sign taped to the deli case because, well, they have it whenever they have fresh vegetables. Julie described it as a “veggie Sloppy Joe.”
For my recent visit, I ordered two chicken curry and rice dinners to go ($5 each) (Although later turned out that one order was plenty for two) and a sampling of the samosas ($2.50-$2.99 for two), since it was cheaper when I bought “two of the same kind” — two veggie, two beef and two chicken, which came with homemade green chutney.
I was headed to Ojai — and this part of the Avenue became even more bucolic as it wove alongside Highway 33 before eventually joining up with that highway. There was purple lilac in bloom, workers picking in a field, barns, a tractor — a pleasant tease to my “dinner will be later” experience.
When I arrived at my friend Tim’s house we weren’t quite sure how to heat up the samosas, but decided to test one in the microwave. Big mistake, although the veggie filing of lentils, potatoes and peas, was tasty and nicely spicy, the pastry was tough as shoe leather.
“Definitely oven,” we agreed.
The homemade green chutney, which we both liked, gave Tim “spicy tongue,” he said. He suggested mango chutney next time would be nice.
We had hope for the oven heated, as they appeared crisp around the edges. Alas, our experiment failed us. Again the contents were well spiced, but the pastry was just too thick and heavy-handed.
On to the main course. The rice had a beautiful fragrant perfume and the chicken was deemed “Actually delicious, for reheated food,” according to my pal, who gave a “thumbs up” for the cubes of chicken. We both agreed that the meal would have been greatly enhanced with the addition of raita. I should have picked up yogurt, cucumber and cumin, as it’s easy to make, and will in the future.
I am hoping that the Matais and cook Julie bring back chicken tikka, tandoori and, more importantly, naan bread, which they used to make, to their menu.
In all fairness, I think I should return and try another samosa on another day — and perhaps there will be fresh dessert to sample as well. But all in all, you really can’t beat the prices here or the blending of spices used — unless you travel to India.