Under-the-radar Indian in Kettering
By Tom Baker
This story starts with another restaurant break-up. After many years of weekly visits to Ajanta, I had to call it quits after a handful of service-related experiences turned me off indefinitely. It’s probably been two or three years since I last visited, and I figured I’d give them another chance to see if time really does heal all wounds.
Ajanta has been a family operated restaurant for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been going long enough to have seen it appear to have changed hands a couple of times. Located in a shopping center at the corner of Dorothy Lane and Woodman Drive across from Kroger, if you don’t look closely you’ll miss it. As many Indian joints in town they offer buffet at lunch most days, and in the evening early in the week. The interior décor and menu offerings haven’t changed much — during lunch and buffet nights the glass-topped tables are bare, and on weekend nights they add ivory tablecloths to gussy things up a bit. Ajanta offers a buffet spread seven days a week for lunch as well as on Monday and Tuesday evenings — selections on our last buffet visit included Choley, Saag Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Curry, Fish Vindaloo, Dal, salad, chutneys and your choice of Naan to order. At $7 for lunch and $10 for dinner it’s an average value compared to other Indian buffets in town. Single entrées such as Saag Chicken, Malai Kofta, and Aloo Gobi were all very good on our last proper dinner visit, although the chicken in the Saag was dry — perhaps it was cooked and added later as the dish can feature various proteins or vegetables such as chickpeas. Along with a pint glass full of rich Mango Lassi (most are 12 oz. and are more expensive) and a side of the yogurt and cucumber sauce Raita, ordering your dishes spicy is no problem as these cool accompaniments are a great way to temper the heat. I was excited to try their Special Tea again, my favorite in Dayton, and was not disappointed. The cardamom and herb spiced tea with milk is served sweetened, and they are happy to top you off free of charge. They also offer the full spread of Indian breads such as Paratha, Roti and Naan, and their Garlic Naan, my go-to bread for Indian food, was full of garlic — just the way I like it.
With a menu that features many of the standards such as Tikka Masala, Curry, Biryani and Vindaloo, and ranges from $6 at lunch to $11 (at the most) for dinner, for entrées or buffet, you’ve got everything you need at average to below-average prices. They even have a couple of beef dishes, which is unusual as the majority of the Indian population is Hindu, a religion that keeps the cow off the menu. However, keep in mind that India is a culturally, linguistically and culinarily diverse place with Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians to name a few. Bottom line is the food and pricing at Ajanta has been consistently good and wide ranging, and the service in many ways is no different.
When we broke up with Ajanta many years ago, it wasn’t because the food quality declined, or because the people were unfriendly. Sure, I’ve had pretty consistent flings with places like Amar, Jeet and Namaste, but with Ajanta we had irreconcilable service-related differences. To be specific, a place that I really enjoyed and was a feature in the courtship of my future wife, was just not able to keep up sometimes. Now you can say this of most places that get busy and have a server or a cook who called in with the brown bottle flu, but the fact is that there are never more than two or three people on the floor, all of them doing everything, and this leaves little room for error or for time to help the two-top that just arrived after three large parties. The last time we tried Ajanta before parting ways we sat almost 20 minutes after being greeted only with fleeting smiles of recognition, and we eventually left. As I watched two parties arrive on a recent visit, I was counting my blessings that we had already been served as they scrambled to get beverages and orders.
It was this friendly but sometimes inadequate service that led to our parting, so if this piece does anything beyond encouraging people to try a restaurant they may have passed up in favor of the more recognizable and better staffed Amar and Jeet, I hope that it’s a call to the good people at Ajanta to make some adjustments and keep up the good work — consistently. Ajanta has always had the food and the friendliness, so now it’s time to get the staffing and service there as well. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can be friends again, and I think that we could make it work.
Ajanta is located at 3063 Woodman Dr. in Kettering and is open 7 days a week. (937) 296-9200.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.