By Gina Cavallaro
Alexandria, VA – The arrival of the pandemic that shut down so many of Alexandria’s restaurants for months was a short-lived inconvenience for Dishes of India, which has always done a brisk take-out business.
As soon as it was possible and could be done safely, brothers Gopal and Naresh Bhatt, the proprietors of Dishes of India, ramped up their kitchen, put the word out and began delivering their hot delicacies curbside to lines of waiting cars full of masked customers.
“We’re lucky in that way because we’re doing equal amounts of takeout as before,” Bhatt said of the restaurant at 1510-A Belle View Boulevard in the Belle View Shopping Center.
While the take-out side of the business continues, Gopal Bhatt said he and his brother expected to reopen the dining room “sometime in November.”
Seating will be at 50% of capacity, in accordance with Commonwealth of Virginia rules during the pandemic, but the excitement among the staff, and the customers, is growing.
“A lot of our customers, they want us to be back. They are calling to ask all the time,” Bhatt said, suggesting with a warm smile that the diners want to “enjoy a nice Indian wine or Indian beer” with their food.
To prepare for that opening, he said, they’ve replaced the carpets, applied fresh paint to the walls and installed filters in their ventilation system that will “clean the air” even more than before.
Still Thriving Despite Challenges
Established in June 1997, Dishes of India is the only business at the Belle View Shopping Center operating in a lower level locale. For more than 23 years, the popular restaurant has been adapting to its customers’ expanding preferences and thriving by offering traditional Indian hospitality.
The restaurant bounced back after last year’s shopping center fire and sporadic flooding over time, but the worst was in September 2003 when Hurricane Isabel swelled the waters of the Potomac River to a 100-year level, inundating the length of the boulevard.
The event that closed the restaurant for almost a year.
The morning after the storm, “when we walked in, everything was floating, all the furniture, all the refrigerators, all the equipment… everything was touching the ceiling. It was devastating. It was heartbreaking,” Gopal Bhatt said. “We thought ‘this was it, we’re doomed.’ Luckily through the support of the community… we came back strong.”
New Menu Items Coming Soon
Though he rarely goes to the kitchen these days, family patriarch Ramanand Bhatt, 88, still influences the menu.
There are vegan and vegetarian favorites, and because of the nature of how Indian food is prepared, there are lots of gluten-free items. The food, Gopal Bhatt said, is deliberately prepared to be enjoyed by all palates.
The popular lunch buffet has been replaced, for now, with take-out sampler bowls and when the dining room reopens, the lunch time offering will be a sampling of items presented on a thali, a compartmented stainless-steel platter.
By November, diners can also expect to see some new items on the menu, temptations from South India. Among the items are a masala dosa, a thin rice pancake usually filled with vegetables; idli, a cake of fermented black lentils and rice; and, a multiflavored rasam made of potatoes, lentils and curry flavors.
All the long-time, mouth-watering favorites will also be there. Butter chicken. Tandoori lamb chops. Palak Paneer. Reflecting on the rise in popularity of Indian food, Gopal Bhatt suggested Bollywood may have played a part.
“People watch so many Indian movies and they see all these weddings with all these good foods, but I’m sure that [it’s also] because of the kinds of foods we have with so much variety and the health benefits that these spices offer,” Bhatt said.
As the panorama of the pandemic continues to evolve, people with a pang for savory Indian food can order online at www.dishesofindia.com or call 703-660-6085.