Crafting the flavors of Indian food takes time—meat marinates for days and sauces simmer for hours before resting to bring the flavors together. Even the bread requires an overnight rise.
But before the classic naan even got on the menu at Taj Gloucester, Chef Graeme Gilchrist took a good two weeks of trial and error (not to mention taste-testing) to get the texture just right in this rich Indian flatbread. Once he felt like he’d replicated the classic, the chef felt free to experiment. So in addition to the traditional naan, fluffy and chewy and perfect for drenching in curry, the menu at Taj also offers a Chili Cheese Naan, flavored with melted local cheddar, green chili, and cilantro. It’s a fun appetizer, in addition to being a nod to the chef’s roots—his family’s dairy provides milk to the Cabot cheese cooperative. Try the naan with some of the restaurant’s spicy sweet-sour Indian pickles and perhaps a cocktail from the inventive list or a craft beer.
Taj opened last fall during a tough stretch for restaurants, but the pandemic afforded Gilchrist, whose previous experience was at European-leaning Ceia Kitchen + Bar in Newburyport, time to experiment and explore, testing out spices that were not previously in his repertoire. The resulting menu mostly hews close to traditional Indian dishes while adding in some pops of creativity—literally.
Take the Bhel puri, for example. This very popular street food, usually found on the beaches of Mumbai, is a mixture of crunchy puffed rice, nuts, fruit, vegetables, chutney, and an Indian spice mix called chaat masala packed with cumin, coriander, and fennel. While the spicy salad mostly follows tradition, Gilchrist subbed in puffed faro for rice and tops the dish with amaranth popped like popcorn.
Vegetarians eat very well at Taj—the Bhel puri is just one example from a menu that is about half vegetarian and mostly naturally gluten-free as well, since Indian cuisine traditionally relies more on rice and potatoes than flour. Many dishes, like aloo tikki, skip both meat and wheat. This indulgent potato pancake stuffed with peas and aromatic spices is amped up at Taj—the potatoes are shredded rather than mashed, so when they are fried, they develop a crispy texture similar to a hash brown.
Aloo tikki is purely vegetarian, but the light, crispy samosas (made with a wheat flour crust), have options for both meat eaters and vegetarians: Choose either potatoes and peas, or try the butter chicken version.
Entrées mostly cover Indian classics—paneer saag, lamb tikka masala, tandoori chicken—all with traditional layers of flavors and long-simmered goodness. But a few dishes, like the mango curries—available with shrimp, lamb, or chicken—are a bit more fusion. To craft those, Gilchrist blends Indian with Thai, creating a bright tangy dish with flavors of lime, mango, coconut, and Indian spices.
These hearty dishes packed with warming spices are particularly satisfying in the depths of winter—and they travel and reheat well for takeout. In fact, curries and soups are prepared a day or more in advance, so the flavors can meld prior to serving, thus do not suffer from transporting.
Of course, samosas and naan in particular are best enjoyed fresh from the kitchen. Patrons who want to experience those at their best will find a casual dining room, dominated by a long counter and chalkboards, located in a cooperative space shared with Breakwater Roasters coffee shop and the community nonprofit Backyard Growers.
During the day, there’s breakfast (think egg sandwiches on naan English muffins) and Fair Trade certified coffee ordered from the counter. But at night, the lights come down and table service is available in the cozy space.
Desserts are also best enjoyed in person—while the mango cheesecake travels well, the mango sorbet and coconut gelato can turn into soup pretty quickly. Besides, at press time, cocktails were not offered to go, and Taj’s Vanilla Chai Espresso Martini might be exactly what you need to get through this winter.
Chili Cheese Naan $5, Indian Pickles $4, Veggie Samosa, $8
Bhelpuri $12, Mango Shrimp $16, Lamb Tikka Masala $16, Paneer Saag $15
Mango & Passion Fruit Cheesecake $10, Vanilla Chai Espresso Martini $12
3 Duncan St., Gloucester, 978-515-7337, taj-gloucester.com