Frankie Observation

by James Boo on July 13, 2009 · 5 comments

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Kati Roll Co. - Greenwich Village, New York City
Since moving to New York, I’ve eaten a startlingly scarce amount of Indian food. This may have to do with the fact that I used to live near two quality South Indian restaurants and worked in the thick of an Indian culinary paradise; having absorbed my fair share of masala spices over seven years on the best coast, I now find myself less excited about the hunt for an Indian meal. My natural aversion to sit-down restaurants doesn’t help, as there are only so many tablecloths I can take before I start fidgeting and itching for a fistful of dumplings or a styrofoam box of takeout ribs.

Fortunately, New York food bloggers, namely Midtown Zach and BionicGrrrl, have alerted me to Manhattan’s take on India’s premiere standing-room-only dish: the kathi roll. Similar to the frankies I ate when I was binge snacking in Lucknow, India, kathi rolls of various types are sold throughout Manhattan at street food prices, beckoning to those whose chaat tooth is sharper than their desire for fanciful restaurant curries or kitchen staples like dahl and aloo gobi.

King Koti Roll and Chennai Kati Roll - Biryani Cart - W. 46th St. - Midtown, New York City
A kathi roll is essentially paratha wrapped around some kind of filling, the most common choices of which are variations of potato, chicken and lamb. Midtown’s hallowed Biryani Cart serves some of the city’s most well known kathi rolls, sticking closely to the roll’s street food aesthetic in a bid to outshine its four-wheeled competitors. To this end, Biryani Cart’s kathi rolls are the cheapest that I’ve had in New York.

Unfortunately, they’re also the least tasty. The cart’s King Koti Roll and Spicy Buradi Roll both seemed wholly underseasoned and barely sauced when I ate them, making it hard for me to draw much of a flavor line between the chicken inside them and the chicken at most other street meat carts. While the doughy, chewy, slightly junky chapati wrapped around the meats make both of these rolls a pleasure to eat, I wouldn’t come back to either of them without asking for an extra shot of chutney. On my second visit, Biryani cart’s Chennai Roll put up a much stronger fight against my skeptical taste buds; its sweet-and-savory glaze delivers the memorable punch of flavor missing from the cart’s more generic chicken rolls and gives me enough reason on its own to stop by 46th and 6th the next time I find myself pitching sitcoms at Rockefeller Center.

Roti Roll/Bombay Frankie - Upper West Side, New York City
The distinction between a kathi roll and a frankie has been highlighted by New York bloggers in the past, most directly by Erica of Always Hungry NY. Roti Roll/Bombay Frankie claims the subtitle of the frankie while breaking what may be its cardinal rule, but for most Americans the difference of an egg wash is a minor detail to the mouth watering rolls served by at this hole in the wall on the Upper West Side.

Bombay Frankie’s rolls, then, are not coated in egg. The paratha-like rotis that wraps their fillings are made from scratch and grilled to order, ultimately more chewy than crispy. Being a proponent of the chapati at Biryani cart, I harbor no ill will against their fresher counterparts at Bombay Frankie – especially when considering the superiority of the Roti Roll menu. Offering a wide range of vegetable choices alongside chicken and lamb standards, this is the most impressive variety of fillings I’ve seen introduced to a kathi roll.

Aloo Gobi Matar Roll - Bombay Frankie - Upper West Side, New York City Chicken Malai Roll - Bombay Frankie - Upper West Side, New York City
Judging from the options I’ve sampled, Bombay Frankie’s veg fillings are ultimately different classes of chunky paste, which isn’t a problem because the paste is packed with flavor. The aloo gobi matar roll, for instance, reduces potato, cauliflower and green pea to a single rust colored spread. The chana palak transmutes chickpeas, spinach and a bounty of spices into a similarly semisolid state. When paired with the fresh chopped tomatoes (and onions, if you’re not me) and hefty dose of spicy green sauce that go into every roll here, these fillings make the leap from glorified dip to glorious meal. This is no side note – while Bombay Frankie’s fillings are delicious on their own, it’s the generous dressing and impeccable construction that really brings things into focus and sets these rolls apart.

Bombay Frankie’s non-veg options are nothing to scoff at, but those who have no interest in a vegetarian meal will probably end up at the Kati Roll Company. This place is a crowd pleaser, and with good reason. Bollywood posters line its walls. A brilliantly cute and reductionist poster acts as its menu. Its paratha are fresher, crisper, and flakier than the flatbreads use at Biryani Cart and Bombay Frankie. Most striking of all: beef, which I’ve never seen in an Indian eatery, is served alongside chicken.

Mutton Kebab Roll - Kati Roll Co. - Greenwich Village, New York City Unda Roll - Kati Roll Co. - Greenwich Village, New York City
The concept of beef tikka is unlikely to take hold of my imagination or appetite anytime soon, but I was instantly attracted to Kati Roll Co.’s shami kebab roll (which, according to the logic of the illustrations, uses lamb meat that comes from a patty shaped animal). Having eaten some of the finest kebab during my stay in India and witnessed my good friend Boykji prepare authentic Lucknowie kebab for last year’s Chowhound Picnic in the Bay Area, I found the shami kebab – not chunks of lamb, but minced and thoroughly spiced mutton that is grilled to a brown before it goes into the paratha – to be delicious. If the kebab meat had been smoked before hitting the grill, it would have achieved the complex flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture I remember from India, but a completist’s rendition isn’t really necessary for the combination of tastes and textures to shine. All I can ask for is a bit more food for the money: at $5 a roll, the meat options at Kathi Roll Co. could stand to be a bit more filling.

After a solid sampling of kathi rolls at their most buzzworthy locations, I’m no closer to knowing where New York’s best masala dosa or tandoori chicken can be found. To be honest, I’m more enticed than ever by the rest of the city’s frankie offerings – if these three places are any indication, I’ll probably consume a lot more potato and paratha before sitting down to an Indian meal that involves more than a styrofoam takeout box.

Biryani Cart
46th St and 6th Ave
(Times Square/Theater District)
New York, NY 10036
Bombay Frankie/Roti Roll
994 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10025
The Kati Roll Company
99 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012


XXL July 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

when i was in shanghai, there was a fantastic mid-price-range indian restaurant within delivery range that served beef. the place had the indian standards–tikka masala, samosas, naan–but focused heavily on various interesting curries. it was in this promenade/alley way strip that was hospitable to foreigners, though. maybe that was it.

Zach July 15, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I really want to go back to Cerritos for some Indian food, but I feel like I need you to be in the area to justify the trip.

nido March 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Try the Masala Deluxe Dosa at Hampton Chutney Co.

James Boo March 2, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I’ll check it out! Thanks for the rec :]

PolishPaul January 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

I’m addicted to the Roti Roll’s “Lamb Boti Frankie”. Exceptionally good food.

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