Meatless Monday: Spiced Chickpea Wrap at AJ's Cafe

Anthony Dominic, Crave

If you work Downtown, you know it can be difficult to find new lunch spots. If you're a vegetarian, it's even trickier. A few weeks back, I popped into AJ's Cafe at the corner of Fourth and State streets, and I'm glad I did. I was greeted by jovial Ajay Kumar, whose family long owned Taj Mahal near Campus (now Mughal Darbar). One glance at the menu, and I knew AJ's wasn't a typical Downtown deli. Each item is peppered with refreshing Indian flair; buzzwords like "chutney," "masala" and "ginger" caught my eye right away.

Kumar preps fresh soups daily, too. There's always at least one vegan option, usually savory Lentil & Spinach ($2.99 for a cup/$4.99 for a bowl). I chose the cup portion and found it filling.

I paired my soup with the vegan Spiced Chickpea Wrap ($5.99). I usually steer clear of anything that's defined as a "wrap," but this dish is more like a burrito. It's packed with rice, spinach, onion, tomato, tamarind chutney and cumin-spiked chickpeas. Kumar will make the chickpeas as spicy as you'd like, and I prefer the wrap with a nice kick. The lightly grilled tortilla also holds up well against the ingredients.

Kumar makes his own Indian Ginger Chai, but I ordered some freshly brewed Upper Cup coffee ($1.25 for a regular/$1.55 for a large). The East Side roaster is one of my favorites in the city, and AJ's is one of the few Downtown spots (nearby SuperChef's serves a special blend from Upper Cup) where you can always find it.