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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Gotta Have A Sweet Taste of India

Jun 03, 2008 01:48AM
Creative Cuisine The Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant

By Lisa Moore

For years I’ve heard about the great vegetarian Southern Indian cuisine The Woodlands cooks up. So I decided to leave the bubble of chain restaurants in my back yard and venture over to east Charlotte with some staff members to see if the buzz was true.

As we came in the entryway, I noticed several awards and favorable reviews on the walls. We followed the faint scent of incense and Indian music on inside and took our seats. I have to admit, the dÈcor threw me off a little – outdated and bland, probably left over from the Chinese restaurant that was there several years ago. I felt propelled to whip out my feng shui bagua and do a makeover. But once the first appetizer appeared at our table, I realized that The Woodlands is all about the food.

With over 20 appetizers to choose from, we decided on the appetizer sampler. Beautifully displayed, manager Naveen Vajja patiently described the elements of vadas (fried lentil donuts), potato bondas (potato dumplings with chickpea flour), fried pakoras  (potato, cauliflower, onions mixed with chickpea flower) and samosas that were the biggest I’ve ever seen. Sauces to accompany these ranged from sambhar, a brothy essence of lentils to a pungent mint chutney and a cool, coconut chutney.

The contrast of flavors and spices had my taste buds tap dancing, so I swigged down some tangy mango lassi, a creamy yogurt based drink, to cleanse my palette.

After poring over a lengthy but very descriptive menu, I selected the Woodlands Special Spring Dosa, a white lentil and rice cake filled with onions, potatoes, grated fresh vegetables and hot chutney. Vajja informed me that dosas (there are 13 different kinds) are their best-seller and claims that Woodlands is the only Indian restaurant in town that offers them.

The four gigantic crepes were loosely wrapped around the slightly spicy ingredients and served with coconut chutney and sambhar, a vegetable soup-like sauce. An avid fan of Indian food, I had never experienced these South Indian delicacies before and took my leftovers home to devour later.

Three months ago The Woodlands added an organic section to their menu. Vajja explained that management believes this is another step to healthier living and noted that many new customers were coming in to explore the varied options and flavors. He claimed there is a definite difference in the taste of the organic and non-organic dishes, so we ordered both organic and regular chana masala.

These white chickpeas in a tomato based sauce with exotic spices, ginger and garlic were equally tasty and served with organic earth greens, garden vegetables in a warm coconut sauce and rasam, a traditional Indian sour and spicy soup. Vajja claims that in the organic chana masala the chickpeas are softer, while maintaining their integrity and we did notice the contrasting difference in texture. He added that the parboiled rice is healthier because it is not processed and retains its nutritional value when cooked.

We capped off our smorgasboard tour of India with payasam, a sweet dessert consisting of fine vermicelli cooked in milk and honey and garnished with raisins and cashews. Unlike the heavy feeling I get after some Indian cuisine, I felt light and satiated.

Vajja says that The Woodlands is the only Indian restaurant in Charlotte that serves South Indian Cuisine, explaining that southern fare is rice based, while northern is bread based and uses more dairy, cream and butter. The menu does include some northern and Indo-Chinese dishes. Next time I plan to sample one of the twenty curry dishes and the rice and lentil pancakes topped with fresh veggies known as Uthappams.

The entire Woodlands menu is zero trans fat and everything is prepared from the freshest ingredients – no use of artificial spice packets here. Varjja says they truly believe vegetarian fare is much healthier and that people would be surprised at the range of options available. Low key, the restaurant doesn’t advertise much, but tries to build on their existing customer base with the quality of their food.

As Vajja cheerfully stated, “A happy customer is the biggest billboard.” Then count me in. The Woodlands was well worth the drive and is on my list of favorite restaurants.

The Woodlands is located at 7128-A Albemarle Road in Charlotte. For more information visit

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