This Brampton takeout joint's pillowy naans are perfect to mop up its butter chicken
Tandoori Tonite is at 15 Fisherman Dr.
In the deep industrial recesses of Brampton, I found an Indian-Pakistani takeout counter with some of the best naan around.
I discovered Tandoori Tonite by chance when I was exploring Brampton's North and South Indian food offerings with friends recently. Specifically, I was in search of a good dosa — the iconic Indian savoury crepe made with a fermented batter of rice and gram flour.
The crawl took us to various corners of the ever-sprawling city, with a few detours. I believe Brampton is experiencing a restaurant boom, with many international mom-and-pop shops opening up. Most notably, you can see it in the Kennedy and Steeles area of Brampton where there is an endless assortment of small shops across the plazas.
Personally, I think it's the most exciting part of the Greater Toronto Area to eat through right now. And it is borderless cuisine: West Indian, Sri Lankan, Nicaraguan, Ugandan — it's all there right now and there's something new every week.
The three of us found ourselves in one of the plazas off Hurontario Street, wandering through the various shops and a Sri Lankan grocery store that had recently opened.
We took a wrong turn and ended up in one of the city's many industrial drags — long stretches of plazas with automotive shops, rental companies and Hindu temples. One of us spotted Tandoori Tonite and we went in for a visit.
There isn't much to the restaurant. The kitchen is largely exposed, the walls are bare-bones with the exception of a large handwritten menu and there are a few seats. There are no washrooms. But the aromas of freshly baked bread and garam masala lingering in the air are what pulled us in.
"Order the naans. We are known for our naans," the lady behind the counter said after noticing our indecisiveness. "Get the butter chicken, too. People love our butter chicken."
I'm personally not a fan of butter chicken, known as murgh makhani. The North Indian dish is traditionally made with chicken, tomato gravy, plenty of butter and cream. There are many variations. I find it dull, lacklustre, too rich, too monotonous. There are so many incredible dishes in the Indian culture. Butter chicken, in my opinion, is the least exciting.
Instead, I went straight for the naan. A plain version dressed lightly with butter, one with a smear of crushed garlic, and another "keema" style, stuffed with meat. All three breads were incredible.
"I haven't had naan like this in a long time," one of my companions said. The standout for me was the stuffed naan. The ground meat was spiced just right and brought a veritable amount of pepper heat. It was the highlight of our crawl. I thanked the chef and left.
"Come back and try the butter chicken. You will love it," she said. I laughed and exited.
Tandoori Tonite is owned and operated by Samina Javed. Javed cooks while her daughters, Mona and Noor, help run the restaurant.
Javed was born and raised in Pakistan. All her life, she wanted nothing more than to be a chef. She described to me that her passion for cooking came at an early age from spending time in the kitchen with her mom.
"My mom taught me a lot when I was young and she was very patient with me. I made a lot of mistakes but she always appreciated me," she says.
Javed and her three kids moved to Canada in 2002. They first settled in Scarborough where Javed worked a number of restaurant jobs, before settling in Brampton a few years later.
"I came to Canada for a better life but to also become a chef."
When I asked her if there are any dishes near to her heart, she immediately responded with two: chicken biryani and naan. The menu at the restaurant features a few versions of biryani — a stir-fried rice of spices, vegetables and meat. But the real standout here is the naan.
"My specialty is naan. I make many versions of it," Javed says. The leavened flatbread that hails from the Indian subcontinent is a commonly found item at nearly all Indian restaurants. It's a simple dough recipe that is rolled out and cooked in a tandoor clay oven.
When properly cooked, it is soft, airy, slightly sweet, and dotted with blisters from the high heat. It is an art form. I have had my share of naans that were tough, overly sweetened or greasy. Javed's are some of the best I have had in a long time, and it's something she has been perfecting for decades.
She makes the dough every night and lets it rest for service the next morning. She said it's her mother's recipe with some slight tweaks. She always knew that she wanted to open a restaurant with variations of stuffed and dressed naans on the menu. After searching for a space in Brampton, they came across a restaurant that was up for sale.
"The price was right and it is close to our home," Javed says. They kept the name, changed the menu. and opened in October of last year.
I went back a few days after my first visit, eager to try some of the other naans on the menu. Javed's daughter Mona encouraged me to give the butter chicken a try. I obliged and ordered it with some plain naan.
Javed said to me that she has been working on her butter chicken for many years.
"I have been trying to perfect it."
This was not like any other butter chicken I have had before. It wasn't creamy, it wasn't watery and it was singing with cardamom and cumin. It reminded me of the darker, spicier curries of South India. The sauce had layers of pronounced garam masala and cinnamon without being overly heavy and rich. The naan was the perfect vessel to mop up each drip of sauce from the bowl. It won me over.
Javed's goal is to slowly expand her curry menu, but for now she's happy with the response her bread and butter chicken is getting.
"People are already coming from far away for my naan, and that makes me very happy."
Get the naan, and don't skip the butter chicken.
Tandoori Tonite is at 15 Fisherman Dr.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!