Indus Express is Like an Indian Version of a Midtown Deli
My hatred of the generic Midtown deli is no secret to anybody who reads this blog, but what may surprise you is that it has nothing to do with the concept. The concept is actually pretty great. Variety. Cheapness. Speed. Convenience. Did I mention variety? Plus, it has the “by the lb. buffet”, which to me is like cocaine you buy off a dealer you don’t really know: satisfying on so many different levels, but more expensive than you expected, and lord knows what ends up in it before it reaches your hands.
What I can’t stand about generic delis is the mediocre food. It can be explained in this easy to understand math formula:
A massive amount of office workers in a small space + laziness = Tons of Generic Midtown Delis with crappy food.
The incentive to make good food is gone when your customer base is built in. Put that same generic deli in a location where people will actually have to drag their asses a few blocks- and these businesses would inevitably fail. The owners of Indus Valley, a Zagat Rated (23) Indian Restaurant on 100th & Broadway, have set out to change all that by taking over half of the City Market Cafe on 48th St. btw. 5+6th, and replacing all the generic Midtown deli items, with Indian food. Instead of roast beef and mac & cheese, you get Chicken Tikka Masala & Saag Paneer. The soup station has been replaced with a samosa and pakora center, and possibly the biggest improvement, boring deli sandwiches, swapped out for kati rolls & naan wraps. It’s the kind of ingenuity you love to see in the Midtown Lunch’ing landscape, giving rise to a hybrid that could only exist here. The Generic Midtown Indian Deli.
There are no shortage of Indian steam tables in Midtown, and while Indus Express has a decent one, it’s nothing to go out of your way for. A better than average, and reasonably thick saag is filled with big chunks of paneer (Indian cheese), and counts as a vegetable. Their aloo gobi is heavy on the cauliflower, and the biriyani looks really tempting in the steam table. I’ve been told the Vindaloo is spicy enough, and the chicken tikka masala is good. I enjoyed my lamb curry, which had a good amount of meat hidden away underneath the sauce. The meat can be dry at times, but you’ll find that at almost any place where the food sits in a steam table. The prices seem reasonable when you look at them on a menu ($7.99 for 2 vegetables, $8.99 for 1 meat, 2 vegetables, $9.99 for 2 meats, 2 vegetables, all with rice and naan), but with a drink your lunch inevitably ends up being over $10, and your gut reaction is to feel like it’s a little pricey.
Comparing it to the two closest Indian steam tables, most will complain that it’s a little more expensive than Minar (although I’ve heard they recently raised their prices), and the food is not as high quality as Utsav. But they give you a ton of food, and the selection is great- so if you don’t want to wait in line at the craziness that the former has become, or you want a larger selection than the latter provides, you’ll be more than happy with Indus Express. They also have dosas, uttapem and idly, three southern Indian specialties that are slightly rarer in the homogenized Indian landscape of New York City.
Where the place really differentiates itself is at the “sandwich bar”. You have your choice between two different kinds of wraps, the kati roll- which Midtown has become very familiar with, thanks to the namesake “Kati Roll” location (39th btw. 5+6th) and the Chapati Roll Cart (on 46th & 6th), or the Naan Roll, which as far as I can tell, is completely new to the Midtown Lunch’ing landscape.
The Indus version of the kati roll has some similiarities to the original, but all in all is pretty different. It starts off with a larger piece of fried Indian flat bread, that gets an egg fried directly into it, just before being stuffed with your choice of fillings (chicken tikka, lamb, potatoes and or paneer). It’s larger, and one sandwich is enough for lunch, costing $5.95 to $7.95 depending on the filling, and is served with a small “salad” and fried potato strings (a very nice addition!)
Whatever filling you order gets sauteed on the grill with bell peppers and onions, and topped with a mint chutney, and tamarind chutney, making the whole thing much sweeter, and more acidic than anything served at Kati Roll. It’s also not spicy at all, although you can ask them to throw chilis in if you want it hot. The grill makes both sandwiches pretty greasy, but the naan roll gives you a slightly less greasier option (unlike Kati Roll which serves all of its sandwiches on the fried chapati bread).
The naan roll is practically the same thing, stuffed into a large slice of naan, which is baked against the wall of a tandoori oven right there behind the counter.
The final temptation at Indus Express comes in the form of a Samosa/Pakora bar packed with a large selection of fried goodies. The usual suspects are there, along with some nice surprises like gobhi pakora (fried cauliflower) and paneer pakora (fried cheese). However, there are two major drawbacks. They look delicious in the steam table, but end up cold from sitting out there, so to reheat them they use the microwave, a horrible thing to do to delicious fried things. Secondly, and possibly even worse, they don’t allow you to add pakoras or samosas to your combo meal, forcing you to spend $3.95 ala carte for one type or a mixture. Despite being microwaved, they were pretty tasty, and are difficult to avoid (did I mention how delicious they look behind the glass?)
The salad bar is still there on the right, the lone holdout from the City Market Cafe, which still rents part of the location. But it’s been empty every single time I’ve been to the Indus Express, proof positive that when given the choice between good ethnic food, and boring deli food, people will make the right choice. That, or lame Midtown workers don’t want to eat salads from a place that smells like Indian food.
- Good Indian food, from the owners of an UWS restaurant that got a 23 in Zagat
- Indian wraps in both fried flat bread, AND naan
- Great selection and variety (pakoras, samosas, southern Indian specialties, desserts)
- They have samosas, and a large selection of pakoras
- The naan is baked fresh right behind the counter
- If you love mint chutney and tamarind chutney, you’ll love this place!
- The naan wrap means you have a less greasy option than Kati Roll or the Chapati Roll cart
- If you think Kati Roll is too spicy, you’ll be down with these very mild wraps.
- The bread for the Kati Roll gets fried on top of a fried egg before being stuffed
- They give you fried potatoes things with your sandwiches!
- You can get better quality food at Utsav, one avenue over
- It ends up being about $10 without a drink, and could be more depending on what you order
- The fillings for the rolls are fried on the griddle, so no matter what bread you get it ends up being pretty greasy
- There’s too much going on in the rolls. They saute the meat with bell peppers and onions, plus add two different kinds of chutneys.
- The rolls are too sweet/not spicy enough
- The fried stuff looks great, but it sits out all day, and they microwave it to reheat
Indus Express, 48 W. 48th St. btw. 5+6th, 212-840-2733