“America, a melting cauldron of passionate people of multiple nationalities; passionate about life, friendship, love, their national pride, about food, and in fact, always ready to thankfully enjoy all of God’s blessings.” This is the first line of The Roti Story that owner and physician Dr. Saqib Khan wrote when he started Lakeland’s Café Roti.
Dr. Khan came to Lakeland 20 years ago to start his practice. In 2003, he started Café Roti right next to his clinic thinking that his staff and patients could eat there. With limited space and growing demand, the good doctor expanded.
Now, the Indian-Pakistani restaurant has a beautiful spacious spot downtown right next The Federal Bar on Tennessee Ave where they pride themselves in giving patrons authentic gourmet cuisine at an affordable price.
The décor sets an inviting yet exotic tone with warm yellow walls complemented by plush burgundy cushions. On one side of the restaurant hangs commissioned pieces by a Pakistani artist depicting winter scenes of the Mongols coming to India, and on the other side, summer scenes by the same artist.
When asked what inspired him to open Café Roti, Dr. Khan returned, “Everybody has somewhere inside them, a desire to open a restaurant,” adding, “Some go through with this venture, some don’t.”
Even the name is steeped in Indian culture. According to Dr. Khan, the word roti means bread. “The Indian continent predominantly lives on bread,” he said. “Roti, that’s the staple food because vegetables and meat are extremely expensive.”
The exuberant doctor and restaurateur spoke about the defining flavors of Indian-Pakistani cuisine saying, “If you look at the history of that continent, the main purpose, why even Columbus took the voyage to go find India was because of the Indian spices. China was known for its silk, but India was known for spices. It’s a civilization five, six thousand years old.”
Spices like chili, saffron, black pepper, cardamom, and turmeric are among some of the complex flavors in the form of simplistic dishes Café Roti serves up. The chef prepared a feast of their most popular dishes for us to try. Butter chicken, their most popular menu item, was full of moist pieces of chicken in a creamy, delectable sauce. Tandoori lamb chops were among our favorites, but everything was so bright, and colorful, and delicious it was hard to choose the best from the Biryani and Riata to the lamb shank dopiaza, and of course a glass of pinot noir to accompany the meal.
Dining at Café Roti felt lavish and expensive, but the prices were surprisingly affordable. The most expensive menu option, The Maharaja Feast for Two is still a reasonably priced option for date night – a four-course meal including an appetizer, soup, entrée, and dessert, paired with a bottle of house wine or champagne.
“My purpose is just to make simple food that anyone can cook. I have always in the last 13 years just tried to simplify it,“ said Dr. Khan. In fact, he is in the process of writing a book detailing how to run his restaurants from the proper way to carry a glass to all of their recipes.
“We have not opened a restaurant to run a restaurant,” he said. “We have opened it so these kids who work here and all these people can join hands and open a lot of restaurants across the country.”
“Publix started here, Red Lobster started here, we want to start here,” expressed Dr. Kahn.
“I think American people are the best kind of people who love food and they love life,” he said. “I travel a lot, and wherever I go in the world, say Turkey or Lebanon or France or Italy, and you go to any restaurant and you hear people laughing, you can bet your money on it that they are American.” He finished, “I think that is why I opened the restaurant.”
116 S Tennessee Ave,
Lakeland, FL 33801