When Hanif Harji was a kid, his grandmother used to roll up dosas—southern Indian rice flour crêpes—so that he could manage them with one small hand. More recently, when looking for a new food project to open with his friend Ryan Fisher, it occurred to Harji that his grandmother’s child-friendly solution could provide the backbone of a whole business. A one-handed dosa leaves the other hand conveniently free for a beer. Thus, Madras Pantry was born.
Conceived from the dosa outward, the concept for the resto-store started with hand-held street food and led to decor inspired by outdoor markets and carnivals. The West Queen West space (recently vacated by Klaxon Howl) now includes wall-size posters of a sword swallower and Siamese pigs courtesy of designers Sara Parisotto and Hamid Samad of Commute Home. Harji worked with them on his other ventures Nyood and Kultura, and describes his collaboration with them as the best partnership ever.
Harji’s light touch on the creative side allowed the designers to “use some of the pieces that are part of our private collection,” says Parisotto, “ones hard to integrate into a commercial setting.” It’s difficult to evoke the feel of open-air market street food in Toronto’s climate, but with a miniature motorized Ferris wheel, stylized extension cord lighting and an outdoorsy indoors, Madras Pantry manages a clever approximation.
The menu is still being tweaked but currently includes a masala dosa with honey yogurt sauce ($6), jerk chicken with tamarind ($7), and a salad dosa (romaine lettuce, garlic dressing, tomato, scallions and feta, $6). The menu of fillings is created fresh every morning at Kultura and will soon include such traditional dosa stuffers as chickpeas and cauliflower. Thick, lush lassis are available in mango, lychee-lime and strawberry-mint ($4). The last item on the menu, freshly made kulfi (a frozen milk-based dessert, $4), is a rarity in the neighbourhood.
Madras Pantry is mindful of its eco-footprint and proximity to Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Wicker baskets (courtesy of Commute Home) lined up along the east wall will be lent, along with blankets, to people planning to take their meals to the lawn.
A dosa picnic in the park? Maybe summer arrived just in time.
Madras Pantry, 877 Queen St. W. (at Walnut Ave.), 416-777-0026.