Columbus quietly has become home base to a rapidly expanding chain of Indian restaurants.
Persis Indian Grill, which took over the Chutnys location two years ago in Crosswoods, serves as the flagship for all other Persis restaurants throughout the country, 16 of which are open while several other openings are in progress.
James Dhilip, operations manager for the company, said the transition from Chutnys to Persis was a smooth one, although the name wasn't immediately changed because of brand identity.
But that is changing. The 6,000-square-foot Columbus restaurant, 195 E. Campus View Blvd., is in a transition phase, getting a brief, but significant makeover, with new tables, a fresh coat of paint, updated upholstery and a custom-built bar.
A menu makeover also is in the works. The plan is to celebrate a grand opening Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Manoj Rajak, a veteran of the local Indian food scene and consultant for the company, said a few things separate Persis from other restaurants of its kind, most notably its lighter flavor.
"It's a homemade style of food," he said. "We make food in small batches. Nothing is cooked and sits around."
Persis is known for two specialties: Tandoori and Hyderabadi biryani, Rajak said.
The former, an Indian-style barbecue, involves Halal meats, fish, vegetables and bread cooked in charcoal-fired, clay-lined ovens.
The latter is a rice dish cooked with either meats or vegetables, garnished with a hardboiled egg, crispy and raw onions, and served with two condiments -- yogurt-based raita and mirchi ka salan, a spicy chili sauce.
Persis has its roots in South India, traditionally known for its spicy vegetarian dishes.
Indeed, vegetarian fare has a significant role in the restaurant. Patrons can indulge on such dishes as saag paneer, homemade cheese napped with a rich spinach sauce; vegetable korma, fresh veggies cooked in a cashew onion sauce; and baingan baratha, eggplant roasted in the tandoor oven, mashed and cooked with tomatoes and onions.
Most entrees cost between $7 and $13. A buffet is offered during lunch hours.
Executive chef Raj Kumar, who's worked in large hotels and small restaurants across India, said he makes his spice compounds from scratch by roasting and blending the ingredients on premises.
"It's harder, but that makes me satisfied," he said. "When people smell the aroma, we want them to think they're in India. That's how I'm trying to make it."
Persis was founded by real-estate investor and entrepreneur Ravi Pallerla, who owns the strip shopping center where the Crosswoods' restaurant is located and several other properties across the United States.
The concept then started branching out into cities such as Eagan, Minn.; Round Rock, Texas; Stamford, Conn.; and Okemos, Mich. Five additional stores are in the planning stages.
Persis either owns the stores, is involved in co-operating partnerships or sells licensing agreements that allow other restaurants to use the restaurant's name as long as they buy the spices and have their cooks train under Kumar, Dhilip said.
He said Pallerla wants to keep refining the restaurant's mission while expanding into other markets.
"He's a food-lover and from Day 1, he wanted to have a unified system so all food tastes the same everywhere," Dhilip said.
Persis is open for lunch and dinner hours six days a week. It is closed Monday. For more information, call 614-430-0090.