The Indian Rice Factory has been a fixture in the Annex for over 43 years. Earlier this month, owners Aman Patel and his wife Deepa opened the Indian Rice Factory Chai Bar as an extension of their existing business. Located just steps from the restaurant’s long-standing Dupont Street location, the grab-and-go café is operated out of a quaint wooden barn connected to the restaurant. Offering a variety of coffees, teas, pastries and a pared-down lunch menu, the Chai Bar is intended to cater to a hurried lunch crowd.
While it focuses on speed and efficiency, the spot’s big draw is its 40-seat back patio. Save for the occasional siren from the nearby fire station, it’s surprisingly serene, despite its location near the train tracks. The eating area is lined with magnolia trees, perennials and white wisteria, and the bubbling koi pond (the Patels’ pride and joy) supplies a soothing soundtrack. The patio was originally only open to dinner guests (the Indian Rice Factory opens at 5 p.m.), but the Patels were eager to share their oasis with more people. According to Aman, the staff and students at the nearby George Brown campus have already become patio regulars.
The menu features traditional Indian beverages as well as a few coffee shop standbys. The traditional masala chai ($4) is Chai Bar’s specialty: ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, peppercorns and more are ground before the customer’s eyes in a mortar and pestle before they’re steeped in Tea Emporium tea. The spice blend can even be customized to suit the drinker’s taste. Macchiatos ($2.75) and Americanos ($2.50), meanwhile, are made with Reunion Island coffee beans. The snacks on offer range from locally sourced Indian cake rusks ($1) to Dufflet pastries ($3.50), with Greg’s ice cream coming soon. The lunch menu consists of a vegetarian option and a chicken option ($9 for a take-out bag or $10 for a sit-down meal), both of which change day-to-day. Each meal comes accompanied with lentils, cucumber and tomato salad, a papadum and basmati rice. Patel is also looking to add vacuum-packed entrees and prepackaged jars of garam masala for those eager to set up their own little rice factory at home.