New Ace of Cups pop-up prepares bold Indian fare

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Acquainting yourself with "Horn OK Please," a vivid phrase that has been painted onto countless trucks in India for decades, will make you smile. See, it's used to encourage drivers behind trucks to honk. This isn't simply to amplify the local noise pollution, it's a quaint reminder to ask for a truck's cooperation in passing it.

Acquainting yourself with the Indian food made by Horn OK Please, a recurring pop-up at Ace of Cups, will also make you smile - if you enjoy delicious fare that's spicy yet nuanced.

The fledgling business is a collaboration between Manan Rathi and Bo Pang, two friends disenchanted with the corporate world. Rathi (who lived his first 18 years in India) and Pang (who moved from China to Dayton at age 5) met as students at Ohio State.

When Rathi wasn't studying for chemistry and MBA degrees and Pang was relaxing from electrical engineering books, the pals enjoyed cooking together, cribbing from and tweaking the beloved recipes of their mothers. Add in Rathi's experience with Indian street food and Johnny Oak's Po Boy and Shrimp Shack - Rathi was such as fan of the Columbus Cajun sandwich master that Oak hired and mentored him - and you have the foundation for a winning, zesty-food enterprise.

Horn OK's menu at Ace of Cups showcases flavor-bomb kebabs sold alone ($3-$3.50) or inside substantial sandwiches ($7-$8) wrapped in warm, thick and puffy naan bread freshly made by a local restaurant (Curry and Dosa). The sandwiches are garnished Indian street food-style, with fried egg, yogurt sauces, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, chutneys and so forth. The explosive, addictive results touch on flavors rich, aromatic, spicy, smoky and fruity-sweet.

Three kebabs are usually offered: Veggie (with "meaty" mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, onions and peppers) that shames timidly seasoned meatless preparations, luscious Spicy Lamb (soaked six hours in a marinade that includes soy sauce and Sichuan peppers), and Chicken 65, crisp and zingy pieces that disappear far too quickly once you start nibbling.

Sides and snacks are available as well, such as irresistible kitchen-sink Tater Tot Chaat ($4), wonderful red Kashmiri Beans with basmati rice (New Orleans meets India) and drunk-food-delights Butter Chicken Rolls ($4). Expect Horn OK's soon-to-hit-the-streets food truck to offer even more - like paneer tikka and chicken reshmi kebabs, plus special appearances by Johnny Oak.

Horn OK Please