After nearly four years of sitting empty, a prime Tower District spot is coming back to life.
Scratch that. It’s more like a virtual resurrection.
India’s Oven Restaurant & Bar opens Monday, April 29. It’s in the former Million Elephant Cafe & Bar space, at the corner of Fulton Street and Olive Avenue. And it has a whole new vibe.
It’s a second location for the India’s Oven at Marks and Ashlan avenues, only this location is open late. It serves north Indian cuisine and has a full bar with Indian-inspired cocktails and a butter chicken recipe with some serious street cred.
There’s a lot to tell you about here – even the bathrooms have a story behind them. Three years ago, the building was in The Fresno Bee because someone had peppered it with bullets, and plywood covered a few of the windows.
The restaurant has since been ripped apart and remodeled. Although the general layout is the same, a lot of behind-the-scenes work happened, including replacing plumbing and improving electrical.
“It was a complete renovation down to the foundation,” said owner Sunny Sehgal.
The finished product ranks much higher on the swank-o-meter than its predecessor. There’s an ornate wooden bar and even the ceiling is awash in gold details and elaborate crown molding.
The family pumped oodles of money into this building, about half a million dollars, Sehgal said. Three years ago when they first contacted the landlord about moving into the space, they were No. 18 on a waiting list of interested businesses, he said.
The reason India’s Oven got it? They were willing to spend money on the bathrooms.
Million Elephant customers may remember the narrow hallway with sharp turns that led to two tiny restrooms. And no doubt some customers remember awkwardly trying to avoid crashing into other customers in that cave-like space.
Any time a business like this undergoes renovation, its restrooms need to be updated to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The work wasn’t cheap. Now the hallway is gone and the restaurant has big, open restrooms that are wheelchair accessible.
But it’s the food and the drinks that most of you probably want to hear about.
The family hails from Punjab, a region in northern India, so that’s the cuisine they’re serving (think less coconut and more rich flavors and lentils).
It will be serving food seven days a week, opening at 11 a.m. most days, and staying open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
After 10 p.m., it will serve bar food, like butter chicken nachos, Indian-spiced chicken wings and Indian “mozzarella sticks” made with paneer, an Indian cheese that the restaurant makes in house.
As for the regular menu, Sehgal expects the most popular items at the restaurant’s other location to catch on here: The butter chicken and the garlic naan, an Indian flatbread.
There’s a tale attached to the butter chicken, a dish that’s simmered in a creamy orange tomato basil sauce. The recipe was invented at a well-known restaurant in India in the 1950s, said Sehgal. The chef that India’s Oven employs in Fresno, Surinder Barjatiya, worked at that restaurant for years.
“He has the original recipe … how butter chicken is supposed to be,” Sehgal said.
Another thing to know about Indian food? They can make it mild, medium or spicy. Sometimes customers are scared away from Indian food, thinking it’s all spicy, Sehgal said.
But spice and heat are two different things.
“If you want it mild, you will have it mild,” he said, but the food will always have flavor from spices. “We don’t make bland food.”
The restaurant has kid-friendly and vegan options, and is experimenting with a a soy-based vegan chicken tikka masala.
There are 12 beers on tap, wine and all the traditional cocktails at India’s Oven. There’s also Indian-inspired cocktails.
One cocktail is made with mangoes, Grey Goose vodka, yogurt and a housemade rose syrup, for example.
We know Fresno loves its micheladas, the drink usually made with Mexican beer and tomato juice. The Indian-style michelada is made with Indian beer and has 12 different spices in it, including garam masala.
Expect lots of mint and fresh juices made in the juicer behind the bar.
Hours: India’s Oven is open from noon to 9 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. 9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
You can follow the restaurant on Facebook.
Bethany Clough: (559) 441-6431, @BethanyClough