New Bartlett restaurant blends French, Indian
Rakesh Chopra stands over a hot griddle and breaks with tradition.
The Bartlett restaurateur works quickly and carefully behind the counter in D^Licious Crepes & Roti, a new downtown cafe in Bartlett's Town Center. On Wednesday morning, Chopra folds the delicate rumali roti -- brace yourselves, traditionalists -- like a burrito.
It's a subtle moment but it captures what Chopra is trying to do: convince diners to eat Indian and French food on the go.
See, rumali roti, made from a batter slightly thicker than crepes and infused with spices, is typically wrapped like a handkerchief.
"There's nothing like this," says Chopra, who uprooted the concept from his former hot spot in a food court on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.
Chopra, who lives in Bartlett with his wife, puts his own spin on street food from northern India, where he grew up in the city of Chandigarh before arriving to the states 30 years ago.
With D^Licious steps from the Metra station, Chopra wants to cater to commuters who have come to expect fast food catered to their own tastes. Inspired by Chipotle, he hopes to grow D^Licious into a chain crossing the suburbs.
"Everything is fresh," Chopra says of the made-to-order menu.
Chopra prepares sweet and savory French (crepes) and Indian (rumali roti rolls) dishes on a crepe machine in front of patrons. It's a mix of performance art and conversation between chef and customer.
"People enjoy it," Chopra said. "They want to see their food being cooked, and I enjoy showing it because I take pride in my recipes."
Since opening earlier this month, the most popular item is rumali roti stuffed with chicken, saffron rice, garbanzo beans, mint chutney and veggies for $6. All the prices off the affordable menu include tax.
Chopra learned the culinary basics early in a career managing hotels and honed the craft through family and traveling. In the early 2000s, Chopra and his wife started catering to corporate offices.
At D^Licious, Chopra aims for the relaxed vibe of a European cafe.
Soft music plays in the background. There's a gallery of large family photos, including a portrait of Chopra's uncle, Prem Chopra, a veteran Bollywood actor hovering over a stove. And in another nod to commuters, there's free Wi-Fi and complimentary Dutch coffee, too.
The eatery opened in a long-vacant space that last saw a short-lived Italian deli come and go. But Town Center -- made possible by village incentives -- appears headed for a revival with the arrival of Marco's Pizza and the Arts in Bartlett gallery and studios.
Altogether, the occupancy rate has risen from 40 percent to 62 percent, village officials say.
"People are excited that there's something different available there," Economic Development Coordinator Tony Fradin said of D^Licious.
Chopra knows he's taking a risk with the menu. But he has the worth ethic, starting each day at 2:55 a.m. with a trip to the gym before opening the cafe's doors.
"I want to make this work," he said.
D^Licious Crepes & Roti sits across from village hall at 225 S. Main St. Hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. For details, call (630) 855-5373.