When I joined the group of writers who review restaurants for Current, my real motivation was to try food I'd never eaten.
So this trip was for Indian fare at The Curry Pot on Lee Highway near Shallowford Road.
My party of three was seated immediately. Our server was friendly and attentive, though he assumed we all were having the buffet, a fairly extensive smorgasbord of the restaurant's popular dishes. I'm quite new to Indian cuisine, and my family, the other two diners in my party, were first-timers and both iffy on curry dishes.
To my delight and the other two's apprehension, the warm, spicy aroma of curry filled the air.
Where: The Curry Pot, 6940 Lee Highway.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday; noon-3 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: For entrees on the online menu: $10.99 for at least five dishes like chicken curry or chicken vindaloo, to $14.99 for the tandoori mixed grill. Lunch and dinner buffet is $6.99 Monday to Thursday, $7.99 Friday and $8.99 Saturday and Sunday.
Directions: Take Interstate 75 to the Shallowford Road exit (Exit 5), and turn west toward Lee Highway. At Lee Highway, turn left, go about 200 yards and turn left into the restaurant parking lot across from the Lee Highway Bi-Lo.
I checked out the nine-page menu online before our visit, but found the actual menu to be much shorter - two pages - with some slightly higher prices. Still, since I was unfamiliar with Indian dishes, I took several minutes deciding even with fewer items to choose from.
My wife and son headed for the buffet ($6.99 Monday to Thursday, $7.99 Friday and $8.99 Saturday and Sunday) while I ordered lamb rogan josh ($12.99), something I knew nothing about.
My wife, not a curry fan, tried several items on the buffet, including a couple of kinds of naan, tamari sauce and raita sauce. She returned for a second helping of chicken tika masala despite her supposed dislike of strong curry. She tried some rice pudding that she said tasted good.
My son, a UTC student who also is iffy on curry dishes, sampled several buffet items he liked to some degree but didn't garner a second trip. He still returned for two helpings of chicken tika masala, a dish with chicken cubes barbecued in a tandoor oven with a rich, creamy sauce. A fan of traditional, pub-style hot wings, he found the tandoori chicken drumsticks a little bland but thought the chicken was good quality.
Not comfortable with the first-timers' assessments, I tried a bite of the chicken tika masala and found it was tasty with some nice big chunks of moist chicken in the delicious, creamy sauce.
There were some fried vegetable offerings from the buffet - I wasn't sure what they were called - that were fresh, steamy and tasty with flavorful crunchy breading.
As we ate, the server brought out a hot, thin, crunchy poppadom with a mint chutney made with cilantro that I thought had a homemade touch. The poppadom was satisfyingly crunchy on its own. I think I could eat it by the pound.
OK, I admit I never tried much Indian food in the past, even though my roommate my first year in college was from Calcutta. He liked the unfamiliar fare he found here in the States most of the time and only dined on his native cuisine with other Indian students.
So the lamb rogan josh was strange to me, especially the pieces of what I finally realized were slices of anise. They were very interesting in the sauce and in small slivers, but I dodged the larger pieces.
The lamb was served generously in large, delicious pieces doused in a clarified butter and yogurt sauce. The menu describes the sauce as mild, so I told my server to deliver "medium" heat with his advice that most people found that "too hot." A lot of fans of hot food will probably find medium about right. I might try something "hot" next time, just to see if I'm up to the task.
I also got some garlic naan ($2.59) to go with my meal. It was fresh from the oven, fragrant and adorned with fresh chopped garlic in sizable quantities. I tried it in the sauces delivered earlier, but it was best by itself.
I cruised past the buffet a couple of times, too, to check out flavorful looking dishes, chock-full of a variety of vegetables, herbs and sauce combinations.
The staff at The Curry Pot was very friendly and attentive. The nice woman who took over for our original server thoroughly went over our bill and made me review it as well when she spotted that I had been charged with a buffet, too, which she quickly corrected.
I noticed the servers spent at least a few minutes with most tables talking about the food and ingredients, offering suggestions when customers asked. Some customers were obvious regulars who knew the staff, the menu and buffet lineup.
The Curry Pot's strip-mall-style home was not fancy, but it was scrupulously clean, and the food on the buffet was fresh and plentiful.
Seating is diner-like, with a mixture of tables and booths. There was some ethnic decor, but mostly the interior of the restaurant was simple.
Getting into the parking lot can be a challenge if traffic's heavy. It might be better to approach from the south, via state Highway 153, when Lee Highway is busy. Parking, otherwise, is snug in the small lot shared by several businesses.
I'm definitely adding The Curry Pot to the growing list of ethnic restaurants I plan to haunt in the future. The prices seemed very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food.
Next time, I'll do the buffet to make sure I get a good sampling of the more popular items and some of the specialty items and desserts at a good price. As I gain experience and confidence with Indian fare, I'll strike out more on my own.