This no-frills, family-run operation brings the heat (read: spice) in generally well-executed, northern Indian dishes
That old proverb about a book and its cover? It has proved to be true yet again when it comes to the food at Cinnamon Indian Grill.
Months before ordering at Cinnamon — which is right across the street from Ace of Cups, a music club I frequent — I'd popped in on reconnaissance missions. At the last minute, though, I became gun-shy, grabbed a to-go menu and beat it.
Then Ace pals began telling me that Cinnamon, which assumed new ownership in August, had notably improved lately. Their general report: The food tastes great and the service is, well, sometimes OK.
Ready to pull the trigger on the place, I settled in to Cinnamon's little dining room. Although tidy enough, the off-white walls, floor and ceiling, along with the fluorescent lamps hung on opposing walls, offer all the charm of an unfinished basement.
I found the enormous menu dispiriting, too, but the upbeat subcontinent pop and hip-hop music improved my mood. So did a constant stream of regulars and food-delivery companies picking up orders. Other positive signs: cloth napkins and a super-friendly (if not especially helpful) server who proudly explained the humble business is family-run.
Of course, the proof would be in the pudding — or in Cinnamon's case, the proof would start with one of the better examples of a Mango Lassi ($2.50) I've had in Columbus. The uncommonly dark orange, smooth, thick and fruity yogurt drink is a terrific foil for the spicy northern Indian fare served here, especially since alcohol isn't offered.
My favorite spicy appetizer was the large, infrequently seen, textured Halim ($8) — a hearty, garlicky, tawny-colored stew with lentils, barley, wheat and fall-apart goat meat (bone-in, rather fatty).
The other spicy starters I sampled were good, too: a rendition of Chicken 65 ($8) that, although not particularly crisp, offered tender poultry and forceful flavors (garlic, methi leaves, toasted spice seeds and more); and two similar chaat preparations ($4 each) made with fried pastry bases — one contains samosa slices, the other kachori slices — showered with the expected flurry of delightfully over-the-top garnishes.
Like most curry entrees here, the tomatoey Lamb Vindaloo ($11) is a spicy, good-tasting dish with tender meat, a rich-yet-bright gravy and a bit of nuance. Ditto the fiery Special Chicken Curry ($12), which arrived with a properly cooked hard egg, plus an addictive sauce with minced jalapeno, cilantro and onions.
Curry paste livened by a sprinkling of cilantro and what tastes like Indian mixed pickle coat a wealth of grilled proteins in the built-for-two Cinnamon Tandoori Mixed Grill ($18). My huge plate contained a couple plump shrimp, segments of Pakistani-style seekh kebabs (both lamb and chicken), chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, beef kebabs (a tad dry) plus sauteed peppers and onion. Too bad the advertised salmon was missing from the still satisfying entree.
The pleasant Paneer Tikka Masala ($11) — cubes of fried, house-made farmers cheese in a gravy that recalls zippy cream of tomato soup — is a less spicy dish. Like all entrees, it's served with loose basmati rice fragrant with cloves and cardamom.
Want more help to sop up sauces? The house naan is nice and flaky ($3; try the green chili and coriander version) and the house roti resembles whole wheat pita bread.
A word on pricing: It's odd. Ostensibly, all items are discounted 20 percent from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. And between 4 and 10 p.m. pickup orders are supposed to be 15 percent off. This doesn't always add up in practice. And some dishes might arrive “mild” when requested “spicy.”
No, Cinnamon isn't the smoothest-running operation, but its very solid Indian food makes it OK in my book.