For this week's lone review, Craig LaBan dropped in on Anney Thomas and Margie Felton's South Philly Indian street food café, Chaat and Chai. For LaBan, two bells rang clearly through the cafe's colorful walls, where he enjoyed Thomas's Kerala roots through short rib tacos and Kala Chana curry. Interestingly enough, in all of LaBan's 1,000 word write-up, there was not a single sighting of a negative comment.
At first glance, LaBan labeled its location as "seemingly random", but in the end, after having eaten Thomas's slider-like tilapia "pav" (labelling it the "best fish burger" he's ever eaten), the critic decided that its location wasn't as random as he'd originally thought, what with neighbors Texas Weiners, frying fish burgers since 1923, just a stone's throw away:
Two unusual sandwich specials, meanwhile, brought a pair of memorable fillings to the Indian slider buns known as "pav." On one came a slab of tandoori-spiced paneer cheese topped with noticeably fresh, lightly creamed spinach and a tangy dollop of garlic chutney. The second was even more unusual: a well-spiced patty of minced tilapia bound with chickpea flour and eggs lit with coriander, fenugreek, and ginger. Panfried and topped with zesty tomato chutney, it was one of the best fish burgers I've ever eaten. Granted, that's a low bar. But there was something else, too, something familiar that drew me in.
Thomas created her fish pav without knowing that, barely a block away on Snyder Avenue, the venerable Texas Wieners (est. 1923) has been serving fish cakes on buns (often atop a hot dog) forever. So maybe Chaat & Chai and its exotic fish cake are not nearly as randomly situated as I had suspected. In fact, this welcome burst of evocative color and bright Indian street-food flavors already feels like it belongs.