From food truck to restaurant: Local couple brings South Indian soul food to Southern Vermont
BRATTLEBORO — When Nash Patel was 10 years old, growing up in Hyderabad, India, he learned to make dosas from his mother. She had been making them for years and thought he was ready to learn the family recipe.
Patel couldn't have known then that this lesson would lead him to open Dosa Kitchen with his wife, food writer Leda Scheintaub, in downtown Brattleboro more than 30 years later.
Nor could he have expected that when he and Scheintaub opened a brick and mortar restaurant at 34 Elliot St., capitalizing on the popularity of their food truck, there would be a long line out their door 15 minutes after it opened.
"We're very excited to be a part of this great community and we have a restaurant which feels more grounded than being on wheels," Patel said of the new brick-and-mortar location.
A dosa is a rice and lentil crepe with a sour, tangy flavor and an airy, crisp texture. It is gluten-free, dairy-free and fermented. Patel and Scheintaub wanted to make dosas and share what millions of Indians eat everyday with Southern Vermont. One reason they think dosas are so popular is that they are easy to digest. They're also versatile, and fun to eat.
Patel said preparation starts with soaking the rice and lentils in water for several hours. They're then ground in a 690-pound stone grinder from India, and then left at a 90-degree temperature for another few hours, until the batter has risen and fermented.
To cook the dosas, Nash pours the batter onto a large griddle and spreads it into a thin round or oval with a metal spreading bowl. Then he drizzles the top with organic sunflower oil, which works to crisp up the dosa and keeps it from sticking to the griddle.
At Dosa Kitchen, the signature dish is served as dosa plates, dosa wraps, and dosa pancakes (known as uttapam).
Dosa plates are long, thin crispy Dosas with the filling on the side; you scoop the filling up using the Dosa as a utensil. The classic dosa is masala dosa, made with spiced mashed potatoes, and served with coconut chutney and sambar, a light, flavorful lentil soup for dipping. While they're served with a knife and fork, they're very easy to eat with your hands.
The adventure begins
Scheintaub and Patel started their Southern Vermont journey in 2009 when they opened a booth at the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market under the name of Pepperwater, an Anglo/Indian soup dish. They moved to Brattleboro in 2010, and in 2011, Patel began working at Against the Grain, a gluten-free bakery in town, and dreamed of having his own food truck.
That dream became a reality when Scheintaub and Patel opened the Dosa Kitchen food truck in 2014. With the help of Debra Boudrieau of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and Bob Lyons of Southern Vermont Property Management LLC, they set up their food truck in back of Hooker-Dunham building in Brattleboro, overlooking the Connecticut River. In 2015, the couple moved the food truck to the Retreat Farm, where it stayed for four years.
Very quickly, the food truck became so popular that people would drive from all over New England to sample the food.
"A lot of people would take detours, driving from Boston, so that they could have our food," Patel said. "We got a lot of people from India coming through from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, thrilled that they could find dosas in Vermont."
Patel and Scheintaub met in Manhattan when he worked as a waiter at an Indian restaurant which she frequented. They got to talking about their favorite menu items and before he knew it, she had asked him out on a date.
"When we first started the food truck, I wanted to share the way we eat with other people," Scheintaub said. "I wanted to focus on providing high-quality ingredients to discerning customers who want to eat healthy.
"People comment that they feel really good after they eat our food," she added. "Much of that has to do with the oils we use; organic extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and sunflower oils. It's a huge price commitment, but it is really important to us. Our menu is also GMO free."
The menu at Dosa Kitchen is very similar to the food truck menu, with vegetarian, vegan and meat options. Patel and Scheintaub source as many local ingredients as possible and have a commitment to using organic ingredients and humanely raised meats.
The restaurant is now serving Saturday and Sunday brunch, and offering Belgian-style dosa waffles with butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon-cardamom. They also offer chicken and waffles, with chicken curry, onion, green chili, yogurt, and maple syrup.
They recently added Scheintaub's recipe for ladoos — aromatic Indian sweets made with nuts, seeds, fruits and spices.
"Traditionally, Indian sweets are very sweet but I've been using dates or honey as sweeteners," Scheintaub said. "We're also serving a classic gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe shared with us by Patricia Austin, as well as a variation made with a dusting of chili powder."
There are takeout options as well. The restaurant sells soups to go, and also offers containers of curries, sweets, waffle dosas and rotating specials.
Patel is the chef at the restaurant. He uses two large crepe makers and one large flat top grill to make dosas. Zoey Moyle of Putney is Patel's cook. Scheintaub oversees the operation of the restaurant and her culinary contribution focuses on sweets and soups. Ro Corbin and Kassie Harris help with the front of the house.
Juliet Cuming of Dummerston and her husband David Shaw were the first customers in line at Dosa Kitchen's recent grand opening.
"I'm gluten-free and dairy-free, so I used to eat three dosas per week when I lived in Queens," she said. She appreciates the Dosa Kitchen's commitment to local food, and her favorite meal is the chicken dosa plate.
"Dosas are the perfect food," she said.
A welcome experience
Zach Corbin, the chef-owner of Peter Havens, shares the adjacent space with Dosa Kitchen on Elliot Street.
"The whole experience has been very positive, a great symbiotic relationship having them next door," Corbin said. "From start to finish, it has been fun setting up, sharing the kitchen with them. Leda is a very talented writer and Nash is a great chef and I look forward to working with them for many years to come."
The bright blue and orange decor is cheerful and inviting. The restaurant has tall ceilings with a big crystal chandelier overhead and a whimsical checkerboard floor. A sales area along the wall includes three cookbooks, authored by Scheintaub and Patel, including "Dosa Kitchen" (Clarkson Potter 2018), Indian staples, cookware, and t-shirts.
Dosa Kitchen is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will also be open for gallery walk (first Fridays) for dinner. The restaurant has a large dining room which seats 30 for lunch and is also available for private catering dinners and special events. They hope to expand the concept of Dosa Kitchen to different locations in the future.
They still have their food truck and are booking it for weddings, festivals and other events and they will return to the Food Truck Roundup this summer.
For more information, visit dosakitchen.com
Victoria Chertok is a frequent contributor to Southern Vermont Landscapes and the Brattleboro Reformer.
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