Indigo (Finally!) Fills a Niche for Indian Fare at the Beach
And it does so uncommonly well.
Tandoori chooza.//Photo by Maria DeForrest
I am happily working my way through a dish of saag paneer at Indigo in Rehoboth Beach when who should walk past our booth but none other than the Rehoboth Foodie himself.
For those who are unacquainted, The Foodie eats out daily. It is his job, and he is very good at it. His website is a clearinghouse for all food and drink news and reviews in coastal Sussex County, and its following of restaurateurs and everyday diners spans from surf’s edge to west of the Chesapeake. In an area that suffers an embarrassment of great restaurants and savvy diners, the man is a local celebrity—and that is quite the understatement.
His celebrity is, however, eclipsed by his inside knowledge of the scene. A man of discretion and good taste, The Foodie knows which places are meh, and which are wows. It is therefore notable that he has chosen to spend an evening of leisure dining with his partner at Indigo.
“We wanted to get away tonight and go someplace low-key,” The Foodie tells me. “We just wanted to relax and eat some really, really good food, you know? No business. Just a great dinner.”
Could there be any better endorsement?
From left: The menu at Indigo is more limited than that at many places, but it covers the most popular Indian dishes; Garlic naan.//Photos by Maria DeForrest
I can’t discount novelty as a factor in the success of an Indian restaurant at the beach, but novelty fades, even for a one-of-a-kind place. Yet 14-month-old Indigo has come through its critical first offseason with following enough to enjoy a well-deserved second summer.
The food is that good, but conditions were favorable, too. With the recent additions of ramen places, Vietnamese restaurants and other heretofore unheard-of-around-Rehoboth ethnic and ethnic-ish restaurants, Indigo aptly fills what had been a gap.
It also enjoyed a bit of a ready-made clientele, regulars of its 25-year-old sister restaurant in Annapolis who were also regular beach visitors or who had long since become transplants.
Indigo owner Raghu Kumar grew up in his father Suraj's
It was a savvy observation by owner Raghu Kumar, a former accountant who had been scouting locations for Indigo for five years. Kumar had grown up in his father Suraj’s original restaurant, which opened in 1992. Suraj Kumar had learned to cook from chefs at pioneering Indian restaurants in New York City and out West, knowledge and style he carried to his own place—mother of Raghu Kumar’s soul. “I grew up there,” Kumar says. “It’s who I am.” Recognizing that some of the Annapolis regulars were also beach regulars, Kumar saw an opportunity to leave accounting behind and make a fresh start in an area where he felt confident the locals would respond favorably to his restaurant.
They have, and they have pulled Indigo through the winter. But new diners, delightfully surprised to see it smack dab on Rehoboth Avenue mere steps from the beach, discover the place every day.
Rents for such a prime location are big, so Indigo is a wee bit more expensive than most Indian restaurants, but paying a little more for good food beats driving 35 miles to Dover or denying the jones when the craving for the flavor of gram masala hits during your week at the beach.
The menu is also more limited than that at many places, but it covers the most popular Indian dishes—meat vindaloos, jalfrazie and tikka masala-style meals, and the like—while throwing a couple surprises into the mix. Indigo is, for example, the first Indian place I’ve seen that serves lobster. It also offers shrimp pakora. A great lover of vegetable pakora—most often a seasoned fritter of minced cauliflower, shredded carrot and other vegetables—I couldn’t resist exploring. We were presented with six large shrimp, marinated in sour cream and spices, then fried. Plump and moist, they paired well with the assortment of chutneys served with the complimentary papadum when we were seated.
The spinach in the saag paneer was of a bit coarser chop than usual, and it made a nice counterpoint to the surprisingly creamy sauce. (The dish is cooked in the clarified butter called gi, which excludes rich milk solids.) The chunks of homemade cheese known as paneer were large and plentiful. It was a unique and welcome twist on one of my go-to dishes.
The lamb rogan josh was also novel—and generously portioned. What the menu describes as “morsels” are large chunks of tender, delicately seasoned lamb simmered with slices of almond in a sauce of yogurt and cream. Rustic and ever-so-slightly sweet, it was as hearty a meal as I’ve had anywhere.
From left: Vegetable biryani; butter chicken.//Photos by Maria DeForrest
“We do what we do as well as we can,” Kumar says. That includes a dessert of uncommonly dense, moist gulab jamun (cakey, lightly fried batter in a light rose syrup). And as diners have become more familiar with Indigo, the popularity of various dishes has changed. The initial flurry of interest in so-called starter dishes such as tandoori chicken has shifted to more exotic meals such as butter chicken. “Not many have started with vindaloo,” Kumar laughs—even the mildest vindaloo starts at suicide on the heat scale. “If you started with that, you’d have nightmares for the rest of your life.” Just the same, it’s already a done deal for the next visit.
As we dined, Suraj Kumar strolled the dining room, delivering food, topping glasses of spiced iced tea, pouring wine, chatting about this and that, and generally making sure everyone was happy. That kind of hospitality helps increase the chances of success, but in this case, it takes only a few minutes of conversation to affirm that it stems from genuine love for the business and the people who make it. Of course, delicious food helps.
44 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach • 212-5220
Prices: Appetizers, $7–$13; entrées, $16–$43; desserts, $6
Recommended: Saag paneer, onion kucha, gulab jamun