RESTAURANTS

Persis Biryani Indian Grill brings Indian food to Cedar Rapids

Tandoori chicken is served on a bed of sauteed onions and peppers at Persis Biryani Indian Grill in Cedar Rapids. Tandoo
Tandoori chicken is served on a bed of sauteed onions and peppers at Persis Biryani Indian Grill in Cedar Rapids. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a Tandoor oven. (Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When you want something done, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

That’s why Sonali Revankar decided to open Persis Biryani Indian Grill in northeast Cedar Rapids in July; she wasn’t finding the Indian dishes she craved nearby and thought that should change.

“I love food. I’ll go anywhere for good food,” she said. “But if I wanted to find authentic food, I had to go out of town.”

Specifically, she wanted dum biryani. Biryani is a rice dish mixed with meat, vegetables and spices, but there are different varieties across South Asia. Dum biryani is a specialty of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. At Persis, the ingredients are slowly cooked together in an enclosed pot, and the dish is topped with crispy fried onions and served with a slice of lemon and a hard boiled egg.

“The aroma, you can’t beat that,” Revankar said. “All the spices that go into it, the creation — it’s an art, and it’s chemistry, too.”

Revankar partnered with cousins Mahesh and Chandrashekar Reddy to open the restaurant. Mahesh Reddy is also the manager and brought years of restaurant experience to the venture. Persis is a franchise with independently owned locations across the country, including one in West Des Moines. Revankar said the Cedar Rapids location features its own dishes and recipes, but the biryani masala — the spice mix — is licensed from the Persis company.

Mahesh Reddy said he was always interested in starting a business and knew restaurants were where he should focus.

“I thought food businesses were the best for me, because I’m a foodie,” he said.

He has been in Iowa for two years. Before that he managed restaurants in Texas.

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Revankar moved to the United States 14 years ago because her husband grew up here. They moved to Cedar Rapids from Moline for work. She is a manager at Mediacom.

“That’s my day job, and this is my dream job,” she said.

She and her mother-in-law, Pramila Revankar, used to always talk about opening their own restaurant, she said, before she died in 2018.

“I hope she is seeing this from above,” Sonali Revankar said.

Cedar Rapids Persis chef Sankar Muthusamy graduated from culinary school in India before moving to the United States. He said the key to a good biryani is time — the dish must cook for a minimum of an hour and a half so the flavors have time to slowly infuse through the rice.

“Good ingredients make good food. Good meat, good vegetables, good spices,” he said. “It’s a long process, but if you have patience, at the end of the day, customers will be happy.”

The menu includes both South Indian and North Indian dishes. Some of Revankar’s favorites include tandoori chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a clay oven; lassoni shrimp, marinated, battered and deep fried before tossed with garlic sauce; and mughlai chicken, cooked in a creamy sauce with nuts. They also have vegetarian options.

It offers dine-in, with tables spaced for COVID-protocal, as well as carryout and delivery through DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats.

Opening just three weeks before the derecho and having to close temporarily while the power was out and replace all their food was an unexpected challenge, Revankar said, but they’ve been grateful for the response from the community, which has carried them through not just the aftermath of the storm but through the pandemic.

“To open in this situation is a difficult thing, but we’ve gotten a very good response,” she said. “The people’s support is very good.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Persis Biryani Indian Grill

• Where: 4862 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

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• Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday

• Details: (319) 826-2000, persiscedarrapids.com

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