by Mike Sula
Would you go to a Japanese chain for Korean food? Plenty do—I've heard from a lot of Japanese folks who disagreed with my dismissal of Gyu-Kaku, the yakiniku megachain that does a bowdlerized version of Korean barbecue. Despite my general suspicion of such culinary cultural appropriation, why did I get so excited when I'd heard that India's largest restaurant chain had colonized Schaumburg and Mount Prospect? Especially since said chain, which specializes in southern Indian food, originated in the northern state of Gujarat.
Furthermore, why drive out to the land o' chains, when perfectly acceptable dosas and uthappam can be secured right on Devon Avenue at worthy independent spots like Udupi Palace, Mysore Woodlands and even non-regionally-specific veg spots such as Uru-Swati and Arya Bhavan?
I guess I just continue to be infatuated with the idea that for certain cuisines the suburbs are the promised land eating-wise, offering more higher quality and specialized options for groups that have either migrated from the city or bypassed it altogether. We've argued before that there's better Korean and Japanese food in the northwest burbs, and competitively good Chinese to the west. Doesn't it make sense that there would be worthy Indian out there too? Two very good regional Indian catering operations, Malabar Catering (Keralan) and Sam's Rasoi (Gujarati), do very well out in the burbs, as do plenty of restaurants, so it's telling that Sankalp, which has over 90 franchises worldwide, skipped over Devon Avenue for the burbs. That's where the Indians are, after all—some 11 percent of Schaumburg residents are of Asian Indian descent.
Sankalp got its start in 1981 in Ahmedebad, which today is India's fifth largest city and the world's third fastest growing city, according to Forbes. The group, which also runs pizza and northern Indian food franchises, plans to open a total of 15 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada this year. The menu features a dizzying variety of "dashing dosaz," thin, crispy cylindrical crispy crepes griddled from lentil batter and rolled up around spicy fillings; "amazing uthappa," more like omelettes, in that the fillings are cooking with the batter; and idlis, spongy, steamed, saucer-shaped cakes formed from fermented rice flour, seasoned in a variety of flavors such as the Chettinad rice cakes you see below, absorbing a thick, tangy, spicy sauce.
My group tried a couple of dosas: the "capsicum chilly garlic dosa," filled with fried, mildly spicy green chiles, and then a cheesy paneer-filled crepe. These were very fresh, paper-thin and crispy, made to order and served with small cups of sambar or rasam for dipping. They bode well for the all-you-can-eat dosa nights on Thursdays, on which you can customize your own from a buffet for $10.99. There's also an off-menu four-foot dosa commemorating Sankalp's 2009 Guinness World Record-setting 32.5-foot dosa (since broken).
We also ordered a few curries and a rice dish: a hard-boiled-egg curry called, mistakenly perhaps, "Mutton" kozhambu (that should be "mutthai"); a Malabari fish curry with tilapia, a boring fish that was nonetheless fresh, silkily textured and considerably brightened by its coconut gravy; and bisi bela huli anna, a buttery coconut-and tamarind-spiked rice-and-lentil specialty of Karnataka. There's plenty more to try on Sankalp's menu, and the stuff I ate was good enough to warrant further exploration. But I wonder if there's a certain groups of Indians in the northwest burbs who look at it with scorn, the way the militant-class Western foodlum repudiates Olive Garden. But what it apparently does not lack—especially on dosa night—is a significant following for whom it represents the same consistency and value that make Western chains so popular.
Sankalp, 167 W. Golf, Schaumburg, 847-490-4444 and 1014 Elmhurst, Mount Prospect, 224-735-3427