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Homemade Indian food with a side of pingpong.
A convenience store in the Elmhurst neighborhood is just about the last place you’d expect to find hot, satisfying, homey Indian food, but Cottage Mart defies expectations. The cozy little store, barely visible from the street underneath the vines and trees that encase it, has all the classic liquor store standbys: Hot Cheetos, Diet Coke, lottery tickets, cigarettes. But come at lunch time and you’ll be immediately struck by the pervasive scent of tikka masala and fresh naan.
Cottage Mart has been owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo Eugene and Kiran Dass since 1984. Every day, they cook up Indian stews, fritters and curries to sling from behind the front counter to curious customers and long-term patrons alike. This isn’t highfalutin fare. Between the handwritten menu on a whiteboard and the fact that the food is made daily in the store owners’ home kitchen, it’s about as folksy and unpretentious as it gets.
You can get tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala, and you’d be well-advised to add rice and naan to any order. But the more exciting dishes are the vegetarian options. At my most recent visit, Kiran had whipped together a vat of bhartha, an eggplant curry that was rich and meaty in flavor thanks to a generous employment of onion, ginger, cumin and garlic. I ate it alongside the bhindi masala, a heavily spiced okra-and-tomato curry dish. Slightly more mild in taste but equally appetizing were the Dasses’ no-fuss takes on chana masala, a chickpea stew, and saag aloo, a spinach and potato curry.
While everything I’ve eaten at Cottage Mart has been enjoyable, half the allure of this to-go Indian food spot is the oddball charm of its environment. Cottage Mart itself is rather cute, with its dark wood-paneled interior and pingpong table, and its earthy-looking outside. And then there are its owners, both as warm and comforting as their homemade food. At my last visit, Kiran was quick to engage me in conversation about how she can’t eat her own cooking because the smell of all of the spices day in and day out makes her sick. Meanwhile, Eugene was extolling to me the health benefits of his tamarind and mint dipping sauces (both excellent and necessary should you order the samosas or pakoras, by the way) before challenging me to a game of pingpong.
It’s worth mentioning that while the hot food is normally available only at lunch, it’s served until closing on Fridays, at which time patrons are encouraged to join the weekly mini pingpong competition.
2130 51st St.; (916) 739-6310