Good Eats: Greene Chutney Grill
Update July 14, 2016: This business is closed.
If you work in Exchange Place and feel a lack of lunch options, check out relative newbie Greene Chutney Grill. The Greene Street eatery offers something different from your standard fare: Indian with a twist in a fast-casual setting.
The restaurant wouldn’t have existed at all if owner Rita Vachani, a smiling and lively petite woman in her sixties, hadn’t been laid off from her corporate job in 2010. She was suddenly in a position to consider other career options. While she worked in the restaurant industry for several years starting in 1992 (after arriving from India with her husband Manohar Vachan), Rita was reluctant to get back into the unpredictable business. Fortunately, her daughter and son-in-law, Jersey City residents, convinced her that there was a market for an Indian restaurant downtown and urged her to reconsider.
Still hesitant, Rita decided she had nothing to lose by participating in the unemployment program’s option for entrepreneurial business training. The teachers pushed her to work hard and educated her thoroughly. Armed with better tools and a more concentrated vision, Rita began plans for Greene Chutney Grill.
Indian food is “typically heavy and spicy in restaurants,” and Rita wanted to provide healthy home-cooked cuisine available for easy takeout. “I realized that it was hard to get healthy Indian food when going out to eat, and I wanted to start a homemade, organic all-natural Indian restaurant.”
For starters, Rita insisted that the food be fresh every day and she only uses organic all-natural ingredients. Breads, sauces, and chutneys are all made fresh daily in-house, and all menu items are baked or grilled — never fried. “All made fresh with love. That is our mission statement. Everything is fresh. Every day,” says Rita.
She credits Chipotle (the Mexican Grill fast-food chain) for her business model. Indeed, most customers comment on the comparison between the two. Rita wanted to bring “convenience and portability” to Indian food.
The street is Greene, the concepts are green, and their chutney is certainly green. The to-go Grill is small and bright with clean walls, six tables, and stools by the window. Customers walk up to the order counter and move down the line to create their own meals, the main draw being the build-your-own wraps (roti or spinach) and bowls (quinoa or basmati rice). First choose a base, protein (chicken, lamb, or paneer), followed by toppings (your choice of up to seven standard veggies), next sauce (masala, tomato and onion, or spinach), and finally “heat” (none, mild, medium, or hot).
I went for a quinoa bowl with chicken and masala sauce. I added red onion, fresh spinach, chickpeas, scallions, roasted peppers, pickles, and then chose the spiciest sauce to top it off. Note: Consider ordering extra sauce on the side because they apply it modestly.
Greene Chutney also has soups, salads, sandwiches, pastry pockets, smoothies, chai and homemade baked chips. All of their breads, wraps, and pastries are baked in-house.
I placed my order to-go, as most customers do, and carried my eco-friendly containers home. I was curious to see how my meal would hold up over my trip and the re-heating that would inevitably take place. It was a success.
I started with the puff pastry pockets: one chicken and one paneer & spinach. When warmed, they melted in my mouth. I moved on to the lamb noodle soup: beefy broth and fresh herbs with chunks of lamb and vegetables. The noodles were rotini rather than flat like I imagined, but the chutney and lamb flavor delivered in this hearty stew. Soups are served with a half of Chutney’s signature sandwich, which is cucumber, onion, chutney, and paneer on a soft roll. It’s a nice add-on rather than the typical bread and butter, and it also helps justify the soup’s $7 price tag.
The chicken-quinoa-masala bowl was aptly flavored thanks to the fresh veggies and extra sauce, the chicken was juicy and tender, and the quinoa was cooked well too. The portion was on the large side; if I ate the entire dish for lunch, I’d fall asleep at my desk. Over all, everything was enjoyable. The price points are slightly high ($11 for the quinoa bowl, $6 for the pastry pockets), perhaps due to the quality of the ingredients, so while it may not be an “every day” spot, it’s a good choice when you’re craving something different.
Greene Chutney also offers delivery (phone or online) to residents within a one-mile radius, and that side of the business has been gaining momentum. “We have regulars that we know very well by phone yet they’ve never walked into the restaurant,” Rita jokes.
While Greene Chutney is currently closed on Saturdays and Sundays because of the neighborhood’s emptiness on weekends, the owners have plans to expand their daytime hours to include weekday breakfast. Think made-to-order omelets with Indian-inspired flavors. It will be quick service, just like lunch, with organic eggs and a wide variety of fresh fillings.
“I’m very detailed, and I like to be involved in every part of my business. Healthy fast-casual is what we wanted to bring to the market—and we have. I want to maintain the same quality every day. I’m a very strict boss.” Rita laughs.
When asked about Chutney’s upcoming two-year anniversary, Rita says she’s “Very happy. Very tired, but happy. My husband and I are here 12 hours a day, and sometimes at the end of the day, I think ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ But then I wake up the next day excited to go to work.”
Photos by Mickey Mathis