Review: Sankalp imports dosas to Decatur

The opening page of the large, leather-bound menu at Sankalp in Decatur has a note titled, in all caps, “CERTIFICATION.” It isn’t, as you might guess, some kind of restaurant license or Zagat honor, the usual sort of certifications that restaurants tend to hang on the walls, but a note from the Guinness Book of World Records explaining that the Sankalp restaurant chain made a 25-foot-long dosa in 1997, the largest dosa in the world. Just after that is an addendum explaining that, in 2006, Sankalp beat its own world record by making a 30-foot-long dosa. This is fair warning, I think. Sankalp is a restaurant that is all about really big bread.

Let’s step back for a minute. You probably have never heard of Sankalp, which opened a few months ago in an old building tucked between a used-car lot and a liquor store on Lawrenceville Highway, and I’m telling you it won a goofy world record 20 years ago. In India, Sankalp is a big deal, a chain with more than 150 locations and such a large operation that they’ve moved into selling packaged food mixes at grocery stores. This location in Decatur is only its second in the U.S., though it has already expanded to several locations in Australia and Dubai.

The other thing you might be wondering about: dosa. This Indian flatbread is perhaps one of the most common foods served across the Indian subcontinent, but it has never become quite as common and familiar as, say, naan bread in North America. So, if you’ve never had dosa, imagine this: a rice and lentil flour flatbread as thin as a crepe and as large as a serving platter, golden brown and slick, about as sturdy as a griddled flour tortilla. If your taste buds are starting to tingle, I’d say it is time to get in your car and start driving to Sankalp.

Every meal here begins not with dosa, but a complimentary serving of a different large, thin bread. Your server will casually drop it off after you order, a roti from the kitchen with a little ramekin of creamy sauce to drizzle on top. This is no average roti, it is fried crisp and super thin, roughly the size and shape of a salad bowl, and seasoned with an addictive, mildly spicy masala seasoning that almost guarantees it won’t last long on your table. I’ve never had anything exactly like it, and it isn’t listed on the menu, though I have been able to gather it is a specialty called karari rumali roti. On the other hand, if you broke up this round shape into bite-size triangles and told me it was the new masala flavor of Doritos, I would believe you.

Which brings us to the meat of the matter: Sankalp is a vegetarian restaurant, so you won’t be having any. Yet, that fact matters little at Sankalp. Maybe that’s because the preponderance of breads at Sankalp virtually ensures no one can go hungry or the fact that the hunks of salty, firm paneer tossed in Sankalp’s curries are more satisfying than the stringy chicken or lamb that would otherwise tend to end up in those dishes. Or maybe that the menu is so long and varied that you’ll end up with a diversity of dishes that seem to just happen to not include meat. In any case, you won’t miss it.

One way to start is the Telangana aloo, a bright bowl of soft wedge potatoes tossed in a mustard seed flecked brown curry. It comes with a little bowl of coconut chutney that adds a creamy touch to the flavor. Or you try the “bar-be-cue sizzler” platter, which let me assure you has absolutely nothing to do with American barbecue, but offers a nice spread of yogurt-drenched cauliflower, hunks of paneer, cheese-stuffed potatoes, and fried spinach patties stuffed with cashews.

But really you’re just killing time before the breads. The dosas, which come in a variety of preparations, are the main event here. My favorite is the potato stuffing, which comes flecked with curry leaves and proves to be a satisfying palette for the colorful chutneys available here. Sankalp offers other styles, though, including a cheese- and corn-stuffed dosa, folded flat and fried to an extra crisp. It is almost exactly like an Indian quesadilla.

There is, of course, naan served here, a pretty good, thin charred rendition. It’ll make a fine pair with the tikka masala, which is a fine, mild curry even when requested as extra hot, but don’t miss the basmati rice that comes with it, though, which is as long grain and flawlessly cooked as basmati gets.

In general, though, I’d suggest avoiding those more familiar dishes to explore the expansive options, many unusual for here, that Sankalp offers. You might consider a dish of idli, tender steamed rice cakes perfect for soaking Sankalp’s spiciest chutney.

Of all the dishes that were new to me here, only the uthappam fell flat. It is a thicker pancake than a dosa, with onions and tomatoes cooked right into the dough, but both times I ordered it, neither the bland flavor nor the chewy dough appealed much.

What I’ll be coming back for, though, is that crisp roti and the satisfying, massive dosas that nearly cover the table here. More than anything, Sankalp delivers on the bread. It doesn’t surprise me they have the world record to prove it.

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