Atlanta Orders In: Spelman grad goes big with 3 ghost-kitchen restaurants

Menu items from Khana-Americana showcase creative playfulness, as common Indian flavors are woven into everyday American bites, such as with the tandoori fried chicken sandwich. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Menu items from Khana-Americana showcase creative playfulness, as common Indian flavors are woven into everyday American bites, such as with the tandoori fried chicken sandwich. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Indian, American and fusion menus are prepared for carryout, delivery at Cloud Kitchen

“We have to do something to control our own destinies right now. Anything can change on the flip of a dime,” Star Naidu said.

Prior to the pandemic, Naidu worked at an Indian restaurant in Midtown. The shutdown saw her tootling the streets of Atlanta as a Lyft and Uber driver.

Now, the Spelman College grad is the owner of Khana Americana, an Indian fusion takeout and delivery business she operates out of the Cloud Kitchen space on Atlanta’s upper Westside.

Although not formally trained, Naidu’s culinary influences are many. She credits her grandmothers for passing down their love for Southern cooking during her upbringing in South Carolina; her father for imparting his business acumen as the owner of a catering company during her youth; and her husband, a native of Mumbai, who taught her traditional preparations for Indian mainstays.

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Star Naidu prepares curries at the space she rents at the Cloud Kitchen facility on Atlanta's upper Westside. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Star Naidu prepares curries at the space she rents at the Cloud Kitchen facility on Atlanta's upper Westside. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

With Khana Americana, Naidu looks to fill what she sees as a void in the local food scene. “I’ve never heard of another Indian-American concept,” she said.

Originally, she planned to offer not only Indian-American mashups, but also “good ole American fare,” as well as unadulterated Indian dishes. But, the Cloud Kitchen staff convinced her to split the menu, creating a trio of eateries, along with a unique website and branding for each: Khana Americana focuses on Indian fusion, Bantai’s Kitchen dishes up traditional Indian plates, and Mama’s Americana offers burgers, dogs and other familiar fast-food bites.

Naidu gives a nod to her native South Carolina with Mama’s Americana menu items like the Carolina-style butter burger and hot dog plates, both topped with slaw and an all-beef chili. “Anything Carolina-style comes with chili and coleslaw,” she said.

Bantai’s Kitchen is where Naidu applies her Indian kitchen know-how. The most popular-selling item, butter chicken, sees generous strips of tender chicken bathing in a silky-smooth tomato gravy rich in butter and cream.

As for the lamb curry rogan josh, she said, “When you slow cook the lamb, the fat comes up and makes this little layer. Some Indian restaurants don’t slow cook it. They add ghee. We don’t have to add ghee.”

While you can taste the depth of flavor in the Bantai’s Kitchen curries, plates from Khana Americana showcase creative playfulness, as common Indian flavors are woven into everyday American bites.

There’s the tandoori fried chicken sandwich, TFC for short, with the bird marinated in spiced yogurt, roasted, deep-fried, then topped with pickles, sweet slaw and secret sauce on a toasted brioche bun. “Especially right now, with the chicken wars, it’s something we wanted to tap into,” Naidu said.

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Khana Americana customers can order a frankie stuffed with tandoori fried chicken, paneer or chole and cilantro jeera rice, along with standard fixings of pico de gallo, a blend of shredded cheeses and mint chutney sour cream. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Khana Americana customers can order a frankie stuffed with tandoori fried chicken, paneer or chole and cilantro jeera rice, along with standard fixings of pico de gallo, a blend of shredded cheeses and mint chutney sour cream. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Another Indian-American marriage is her version of a frankie, a popular street food in Mumbai, sometimes referred to as Mumbai burrito, Bombay burrito or roti wrap. Customers can order it stuffed with TFC, paneer or chole (chickpea curry) and aromatic cilantro jeera rice, plus standard fixings of pico de gallo, a blend of shredded cheddar and amul (a processed cheese from India), shredded lettuce, and mint chutney sour cream. The already big-as-your-face burrito can be jumbo-sized and even loaded, with the side of waffle fries and curry ranch dipping sauce rolled up with everything else.

Naidu has taken things a step further with the recent addition of a frankie bowl, essentially a deconstructed frankie. She credits social media for that inspiration. “Instagram has been a big part of this. I follow a lot of great creatives, chefs, and look around at what’s popular. The idea of a bowl popped up and I was like, ‘That would be amazing!’ Why not do it for people who don’t want this big tortilla?”

She also credits social media as a key tool for spreading the word about her fledgling food business. “Instagram has been a game changer,” she said. Posts of craveable food can get people drooling — and hopefully placing an order online, but Instagram also offers easy, direct communication. (The most oft-asked question: Is the food halal? Answer: Chicken and lamb hail from Marietta butcher Tripoli Halal Meat.)

Three months into her new venture, Naidu said she is optimistic about the future. “We are slowly growing each and every day. I can tell our community is starting to catch on, and see what we are doing here.”

Star Naidu is the brains behind Khana Americana, which focuses on Indian fusion; Bantai’s Kitchen, dishing up traditional Indian plates; and Mama’s Americana, offering familiar fast-food bites. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Star Naidu is the brains behind Khana Americana, which focuses on Indian fusion; Bantai’s Kitchen, dishing up traditional Indian plates; and Mama’s Americana, offering familiar fast-food bites. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

KHANA AMERICANA

Menu: Indian-American fusion

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: tandoori momos ($9), tandoori fried chicken sandwich ($14), butter chicken ($16), Bombay frankie ($11), gulab jamun bread pudding ($6), apple pie lassi ($6), and rogan josh ($16) from the Bantai’s Kitchen menu. The chicken sandwich, frankie, bread pudding and lassi were playful, generously portioned and affordably priced. The butter chicken, with its silky-smooth sauce, was divine.

Vegetarian options: momos, samosas, veggie burger, Bombay frankie with paneer or chole, masala grilled amul cheese sandwich, all side dishes

Service options: carryout or delivery; order in person, online or by phone; curbside available upon request; delivery through DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and Postmates

Outdoor dining: no

Mask policy: required for anyone entering the building

Address, phone: 800 Forrest St., Atlanta; 404-641-2326

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturdays; 4-10 p.m. Sundays

Website: khanaamericana.com

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