by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Christer Berg
When they set out to open a restaurant in downtown Cary, Samreen Nawaz and Syed Yousuf knew they needed to think outside the box. “Look how many Indian restaurants are out there,” Nawaz recalls saying. “A ton! We had to stand out.”
Since August 2015, they’ve done that by delighting in, rather than balking at, special requests – gluten- or lactose- or nut-free, vegan, low sodium, you name it – and inviting diners to bring their own wine, sans corking fee. It’s the sort of special treatment a diner might expect at an upscale eatery, but to get it at a casual spot with cafe lights strung above the outdoor patio is unexpected.
This month, Nawaz and Yousuf’s Kababish Café gears up for another unique offering: their annual Indian Thanksgiving.
“For us, food is the bridge between cultures,” Nawaz says. “Our customers feel like family,” she says, so last fall, as Thanksgiving approached, they felt they “must” offer a Thanksgiving buffet. The restaurant doesn’t normally serve a buffet, but during lunch and early dinner hours on Thanksgiving they set out an array of side dishes, each with a tweak on traditional American favorites: sweet potato pie with warm Moroccan spices, creamed spinach with curry. The star of the show was served individually to each table: masala turkey and homemade naan. Masala is an Indian preparation that typically involves marinating meat in a mix of spices, tomatoes, and yogurt and cooking it in a clay tandoori oven. You rarely see turkey as the meat of choice. “It’s something different and something special.”
Their menu on the other days of the year fits the same description. “We’re Pakistani,” Nawaz says, and have lived in Cary for a decade and New York for 25 years before that. “There’s an American fusion in there, too. We like both worlds – America and Pakistan – so we have a little bit of everything.” She works front-of-house and her husband, Yousuf, is the chef, concocting Pakistani-Mediterranean-Indian influenced dishes from tandoori chicken to lamb burgers and veggie-and-hummus wraps.
This month, when their legion of regulars celebrate Thanksgiving at the restaurant, Nawaz says they feel like they’re hosting family in their own home. “We do this out of passion. When we see our customers, all together, really enjoying and raving about the food, that’s what keeps us going. It’s a family event.”
201-103 W. Chatham St., Cary; Reservations for Thanksgiving lunch or dinner are recommended: 919-377-8794 and kababishcafe.com