Fred’s Music Shop was an institution in Berks County for 45 years. In addition to guitars and music instruments for all genres, Fred’s also operated Tasty Licks, a barbecue supply store that served a completely different clientele.
But this blog isn’t about what once was. It’s about what is now. And since February, the former Fred’s Music Shop has been home to a new restaurant: Rangoli Indian Street Food.
It’s been quite a transformation for the storefront along Route 724 in Shillington. The old Fred’s sign has been wrapped with one promoting the new restaurant.
Outside, the building is still rather dull with brown siding and black trim. Inside, it’s a different world with bright primary colors popping everywhere from the walls to the pillars to the drape hanging from the ceiling. Rangoli being a traditional and colorful art form in India, it is only fitting that the dining room pops with reds, blues and yellows.
Indian cuisine is nothing new in Berks County. Aayshiyana Indian Cuisine operated for several years downtown (with other restaurants coming and going in its wake) while Laxmi’s Indian Grille and Nirvana Indian Bistro operate blocks apart in Wyomissing.
Rangoli is intentionally different. “Street Food” isn’t just a marketing tagline, it’s a true differentiator for the new restaurant. There are a number of dishes that will be familiar – dal, paneer, chana and a chicken dish similar to tikka masala.
But then there is everything else. The Street Food section of the menu includes “Naughty Naan,” egg rolls and a tandoori chicken burger.
It also includes exploding samosas and sassy fries, two dishes that I just had to try.
Samosas, fried dumplings filled with seasoned potatoes and peas, are a staple at Indian restaurants. The “exploding” samosas take the dumplings and load them up with a mountain of toppings that includes chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, green chutney, tamarind and yogurt sauces and crunchy noodles. You can also choose chicken or paneer for an added topping – I chose chicken.
There were so many flavors popping in this dish that it’s hard to choose a place to start. One thing that came through strong was the yogurt sauce, cool and refreshing with a little sweet-and-sour flavor thrown in.
It was also obvious just by looking at the inconsistent sized and shaped pieces that the restaurant uses fresh chicken (the owner, who took our orders and visited our table pointed out that they have no freezer in the kitchen). And the chicken itself had a nice flavor to it – even though I asked for very low spice on my dish.
On the side, my sassy fries were interesting. The standard French fries were coated in a special seasoning, more salty and herby than hot. They came served with the house special dipping sauce, a tangy green sauce that really enhanced the flavor and made them feel unique.
Julie does not like spice at all so she asked for no heat in her paneer dish. This also made it possible to share with Jakob, our now 17-month-old who is definitely not ready for even the mildest of Indian spices.
The paneer – a traditional Indian cheese – came served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic, coriander and the house blend spices. Paneer reminds me a lot of tofu in that it picks up the flavors of whatever it is paired with (and it’s a little chewy). Bits of cilantro added pops of flavor throughout.
One thing that was pointed out to us is that Rangoli does not add any “filler” to its tomato gravy. That is, there is no milk to make it creamy and no shortcuts like canned tomatoes – just fresh ingredients that are brought together to create a delicious dish, one that both Julie and Jakob enjoyed.
The dish was served with a choice of naan or white rice (Julie actually got both so she could share with Jakob). The rice is not basmati like patrons find in most Indian restaurants. Instead it is a more standard white rice – used because basmati has a higher amount of carbs. Rangoli’s naan was noteworthy because of its delicious seasoning that was heavy on the garlic.
We were joined on our visit by my friend Josh, who was visiting from Washington, D.C., and was taking full advantage of a cheat day from strict keto diet. His father has traveled to India multiple times and has hosted friends and colleagues from the Indian subcontinent at the family’s home in Oley so Josh has a much larger knowledge of the food than us.
He also has a much greater tolerance for heat and asked for his meal spicy – specifying that he wanted it spicy by American standards, not Indian standards.
Josh had ordered the chicken off the “Village Dishes” portion of the menu. The chicken pieces were served in an onion and tomato gravy with garlic and house spices. Despite the fact that it was a similar base to Julie’s paneer, the two dishes tasted nothing alike thanks to the change in spice level.
I tried one bite, and that’s all I could handle. I was happy to try it because despite the high-intensity heat, it was a delicious dish. The peppers used weren’t just hot, but flavorful as well and I really enjoyed it. There was just no way I could have eaten a whole plate. By the time Josh was finished, sweat was visible from his brow as his faced picked up a red tint that it hadn’t had before.
Thankfully he ate that first before moving on to two dishes that were much more mild. First, two samosas (non-exploding). The dumplings were a great way to cool off, even with the sweet and spicy chili sauce on the side.
After that, he tackled an order of pav bhaji: mixed vegetables with buttery tomato gravy served with buttered rolls – toasted hamburger rolls that served as good vessels for the excellent vegetable mash. It was a much lighter dish than others and made a great finish to his makeshift three-course meal.
Between all of us, we spent about $70. That included two cans of Limca – India’s answer to Sprite – and a ton of food.
Another great thing about Rangoli is their commitment to community – both locally and globally. A portion of the proceeds from every meal goes to charities supporting the underprivileged. One such charity, Prasana India provides medical care, nutrition and more to the destitute tribal and untouchable communities of India.
A restaurant with great food and an even better mission? Now that’s a place I can really get behind. Hopefully others get behind Rangoli and it creates a long-lasting legacy of its own.
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Rangoli Indian Street Food
212 W. Lancaster Ave
Shillington, PA 19607