When my sister invited me to grab some Indian takeout for lunch, I was apprehensive to say the least. Despite my love of spicy grub, I have not had the best relationship with Indian cuisine, and have gradually moved away from exploring it further. She insisted I would enjoy something from Papa Dave’s, a place that should be considered takeout only due to its small footprint on Knight street. Paying no heed to her recommendation I pushed for pizza, also from Papa Dave’s, but she insisted and I gave in. “Why not give it another try?” I thought, while still holding on to lingering resentment.
Papa Dave’s is a strange little hole in the wall, having evolved from a what seemed like a regular pizza shop to an establishment that also serves Indian cuisine with nearly the same prominence they apparently once did Italian. During this transition there once was a banner hanging out front that I saw several times while driving by, and it never failed to draw a chuckle from me. A slogan stating “the real taste of India” rippling in the wind just underneath a sign that said “pizza” amused me, and while it’s apparently long since been retired, I can’t shake that image from my mind.
I let my sister order for me, both because I trust her judgement and also because I had no idea what to choose. She selected an order of medium heat butter Chicken for both of us, and once again reassured me I would enjoy it when I asked if she wouldn’t rather have the butter chicken pizza instead.
One of the things that has kept me from experimenting more with Indian food is the lack of visual appeal. I realize this isn’t a fair and universal statement, as there are certainly some fabulous looking dishes in the category, but when you’re looking at the $10 and under segment, things tend to look a little rough around the edges. In the past I have received piles of sauce and rice that come in various tints of red, none of which looked very enticing, and often put me off before I started.
I had these familiar feelings rise up when I opened my takeout box from Papa Dave’s. It didn’t look all that tasty, but I can grasp the honesty in that approach. It is what it is, not hiding under garnish and pizzazz. Still hesitant, I ran my fork along the border of sauce and rice and blended the two together, and with a final audible sigh, tasted something I was ready to be disappointed with.
It was a surprising moment, as I was expecting my mouth to tighten and reject the flavours but instead found my interest piqued. The flavours were well rounded, and it didn’t taste overly of spices, giving room for the base elements of the dish to rise forward. It was easy to appreciate the creamy texture of the butter chicken sauce, both with the simple rice that had a few veggies sprinkled throughout, or with the generously supplied naan bread, of which I received four pieces. The naan itself was fairly average, but still worked well enough for both dipping as well as holding scoops of rice and sauce. The rice was also a straightforward affair, acting more as a vehicle for the flavours than a point worth focusing on.
What impressed me most was the chicken, which was comprised solely of white meat, with not a hint of cartilage or gumminess to be found. I tend to be quite picky with meat, especially poultry, so this was quite well received by myself, as I have been known to very nearly break out a microscope when preparing chicken for home cooked meals. I did not expect to exclusively receive white meat at this price point, and while I certainly could have used more chicken, I found the trade off of quality cuts over the quantity of pieces an easy deal to accept.
As I continued to eat I began to realize that the heaviness of the dish lent itself well to being shared, as two people could likely find the box and the naan that accompanied it a satisfying lunch. While my sister stopped half way to save the rest for a later meal, I powered through, no longer because I was hungry, but simply because it tasted good.
While I may not be well versed in the virtues of Indian cuisine, I can say without a doubt that I enjoyed my meal. I love being wrong about food when my expectations are low for the wrong reasons. For a meal to rise against previously engrained doubts and concerns to bring a satisfying experience forward is always a treat.
Hidden in several respects, the butter Chicken lunch special at Papa Dave’s has the ability to surprise and satisfy both fans of Indian cuisine as well as those new to it.
Papa Dave’s, 6483 Knight St, Vancouver
Butter chicken lunch special
$9.99 before tax