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Two Indian spots offer new twists at low prices 

In most of the English-speaking world, local bakeries offer those quick and tasty pastry snacks, thought to be developed as fast lunches for miners in Cornwall, England, but proliferated throughout the English-speaking world -- except here in the United States, where meats and cheese are piled between already baked bread. Other parts of the world stuff dough, too: empanadas, calzones, dumplings, to name a few.

India has samosas, of course. But now, curry hounds and other Indian food lovers, take note: A new Indian bakery has opened in the University area featuring puffs, rolls, chicken tikka wraps, pav bhaji pizza, Gobi Manchurian panini, cakes, and chaats. When owners Sonia Jain and Anjali Tewari opened the outwardly modest Cakes n Flakes Bakery Café a few months ago, word spread quickly in the Indian ex-pat community that Charlotte had an in-store-made Indian bakery and sandwich shop. And as with all good bakeries, this kind of food emporium demands a base of constant local nourishment and support to maintain its offerings and grow.

Cakes n Flakes is a grand micro scale operation with the bakery action focused at the back with tables toward the door. Glass display cases are filled with puffs stuffed with chicken or paneer tikka, or vegetables; breads and buns; and cakes. Choosing is difficult for the uninitiated. The regulars pop in and out, pointing to items and having them heated. However, owner Jain is ebullient in sharing information about her goods. Although a vegetarian, she cheerily remarks that her customers love the chicken tikka.

One standout is the chili and egg puff -- an enveloped hard-boiled egg with a bite. Also top notch for heat lovers is a small loaf studded with slices of jalapeno. Included on the menu roster are sandwiches which appear innovative, but not too tricked up to be successful like the Frankie wrap, a veggie roll with onion, tomato and lettuce and the chicken tikka panini. A round up of messy, but tasty, chaats include pani puri, and alu tikka, a vegetable patty bathed in a chickpea masala sauce. A few entrée specials are available as well. The chicken dum biryani is made with halal meat, basmati rice, and flavorful with a blend of spices.

Cakes are a visual wonder. In addition to wedding cakes, children's birthday cakes are available -- including one with Spider-Man dangling from an office tower. Smaller cakes and cookies are available without special order. The fruitcake pound cake is not your grandma's door stop holiday variety. This interior is delicate and flecked with not overtly sanguine bits of candied fruits. Delicious.

Prices represent a real deal: The egg puff is $2.50, chaats are $3.90, breads and buns around $3, loaf cakes $5, and entreés less than $7. Recently, Cakes n Flakes struck a deal with restaurateur Bhupin Engineer to provide the pastries at his newest endeavor: Bombay Cuisine Exotic Buffet and Chaats at Park Road and Montford Drive.

In Matthews is the no-frills, 28-seat Soma Grill Indian Bistro, which opened in February 2008. This is the first restaurant for owner Tulsi Pai, who does the cooking while her husband and son manage the outside. Pai wanted a family-styled Indian place that would feature sandwiches as well as entreés and included dishes she developed for her family while in another career -- dishes such as tandoori pizza and tikka wraps.

Soma's kitchen, though, is small and devoid of a tandoor oven, so many of the entreés are without that smoky flavor note. Also lacking is the steam-out-of-the-ears heat that vindaloo produce and in-house made naan -- a difference you can taste.

Pai's strengths are her appetizers and soups. The melt-in-your-mouth samosa pastry shell is crispy and then reveals a savory blend of potatoes and spices in the interior. These are well balanced hits. Also good is the lentil soup which has a thinner base and is loaded with the flavors of vegetables and lentils.

Pai designed Soma to bring Indian flavors into the convenience of everyday life, hence a beef vindaloo wrap, chicken tikka salad, and burgers with fries. Soma prices reflect this convenience: Entrees, which include rice, salad and lentil soup, range from $9 for a channa spinach masala to $14 for shrimp and vegetable. Sandwiches and salads are $7 to $9 and include one side.

Know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? To be included in our online blog, Eat My Charlotte, send information to Tricia via e-mail (no attachments, please -- these are destined for the spam filter):

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