A couple of friends and I recently decided to grab lunch at Saffron Café, downtown Indianapolis’ only Moroccan restaurant. I had eaten there once before (and had some mediocre paella), but this was the first visit for my two chums. Would my second visit be better than my first? Read on to find out!
It’s hard to miss this place from the outside; the sides and back of the building are beautifully painted in bright, bold colors that bring to mind exotic North Africa. Oddly enough, the front of the restaurant isn’t much to look at thanks to a black tent that allows outdoor seating even in inclement weather. Inside, the dining room is very classy with white tablecloths and waiters in suits. Don’t let all that opulence fool you, though, the place is a bargain—especially at lunch.
As soon as we were seated (there was no wait), our server brought us a generous helping of bread, which I used to dip in the olive oil already on the table. Both the bread and the oil were fine, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
My absolute favorite Moroccan treat is pastilla, a crisp honeyed phyllo dough pie stuffed with chicken and cinnamon-roasted almonds that combines sweet and salty flavors into one delicious dish. From my first visit to Saffron Café, I recalled that their version was quite good, so I tried to order one as an appetizer for the three of us to share. Unfortunately, though, they only serve pastilla at dinner. So, if you visit the restaurant for dinner, don’t pass up the opportunity to get one of these meat pies.
But enough about the one dish they didn’t have at noon. What is on the lunch menu? Quite a bit, actually. They offer a variety of soups (harrira, bissara, carrot ginger, lentil, and so on), a few different salads, kabbabs (all served with saffron rice or roasted potatoes and vegetables), quite a few types of tajines (slow-cooked stews served in colorful, traditional Moroccan pots), as well as some pastas and sandwiches. One of my friends opted for the lunch house salad and soup special, choosing harrira (cilantro soup with tomatoes, saffron rice, and chickpeas) as his soup, while my other friend decided on the ginger chicken tajine. I chose the honey-pear chicken tajine.
The food came out quickly, which is always nice at lunchtime. My friend who ordered soup and salad loved both. I had a bite of his soup and it was very good. My tajine was delicious, too, sweet and savory at the same time; the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the cooked pears added a nice burst of flavor. There was a thin layer of grease floating on top of the stew, which was a little unappetizing, but probably unavoidable. Also, my potatoes were a little undercooked, but not terrible. My friend who ordered the ginger chicken tajine enjoyed her stew as well, although she was ultimately jealous of mine, digging on the pears. If you order a chicken tajine, be aware the chicken is served skin-on and bone-in. That made it a little difficult to eat, causing me to feel like I was wasting some of the meat because I couldn’t find it! The bread came in handy, though, working as a sponge to soak up the remaining juice from the tajine.
Overall, I enjoyed my second visit to Saffron Café more than the first. I will definitely be back. Next time I’ll make sure I come for dinner, though, so I can get some pastilla.