Chef Doug Katz is once again exploring regional world flavors and spices—as well as the latest trend in restaurant concepts—with the opening of Amba this past Friday, Nov. 6, in Cleveland Heights.
Amba is Katz’s latest “ghost kitchen” to go into the former Katz Club diner's 3,000-square-foot kitchen at 1975 Lee Road, where it will join Katz’s first ghost kitchen, Chimi, which opened in June. Rising Star Coffee also occupies about 2,000 square feet in the former diner.
persimmon salad“It was great,” says Katz of business at Amba over the opening weekend. “It just went smoothly, and people seemed to enjoy it.”
The ghost kitchen establishments are Katz’s answer to customers who prefer takeout and delivery meals over dine-in options—especially during the coronavirus pandemic. While Chimi offers South American-influenced cuisine, Amba offers Indian-inspired choices.
Chimi launched in response to COVID-19 as a way to use the diner kitchen that had been used for his catering business. He had originally planned to take this year to develop his next restaurant concept after the successful launch of Zhug last November. Katz says his future plans always included launching both South American and Indian restaurants.
“Before the pandemic, we were interested in doing both of these concepts,” he says. “We launched Zhug and thought, ‘what can we do with other ethnicities.’ Once the pandemic started, we thought about launching both [South American and Indian] concepts out of the diner because we had no catering.”
With Chimi now well-established, Katz says he thought autumn would be a good time to add Amba (which take its name from a spicy mango and mustard condiment with Middle Eastern, Israeli, and Indian roots).
Dishes at Amba include a selection of raita dips, samosas, chickpea fritters (also popular at the now-closed Fire Food and Drink) with seasonal ambas, chicken masala, or biryani. The menu includes meat, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes.
“[It’s about] good food with flavor that fits any diet today,” explains Katz. “People are really excited about our vegetables. There are so many options for vegetarians, and gluten-free. Historically, vegan was a plate of steamed or boiled vegetables or pasta primavera.”
Katz says all off his restaurants feature chutneys, ambas, or other protein enhancements. At Chutney b., for example, the enhancement may be a pickled mango chutney, or at Zhug it’s serrano chiles. “Amba does the same thing in Indian dishes,” he says, adding that if the menu item is described as spicy, it will indeed be spicy.
Katz says business at Chimi has been up and down during the pandemic, but the ghost kitchen concept has allowed them to keep up.
“It’s been great, but it depends mostly on how these concepts ebb and flow with politics, the weather,” says Katz. “But because we own the building, we’re able to deal with the ebbs and flows, and we’re able to use most of the same labor on the line.”
Chef Doug KatzKatz adds that, working with chef Cameron Pishnery, it takes about six weeks to develop a menu for a new concept. “We explore the options and Cameron prepares a menu for me and my partner Todd [Thompson]. Then we do a tasting for the staff. The chef understands the technique behind all the ingredients.
Katz says it’s all about the ingredients. “Thigs are made so fresh and using as many local ingredients as we can” he says. “Because we have a fine dining background, we’re really careful about using everything. Our goal is to only put these cuisines on pedestals and introduce the ethnicities to the community.”
The ghost diner concept also allows Katz and his team to experiment with new ideas and world flavors. “It’s like research and development, seeing what people like, people want,” he says. “It gives us more opportunities when we open a bricks-and-mortar space.”
Katz says there is enough room in the ghost kitchen to simultaneously open a third ghost restaurant concept in the future—perhaps featuring American regional cuisine or another kind of comfort food.
“The goal is to look for space for Chimi and Amba and keep things going at the diner—use it as a test kitchen,” he says. “We’re lucky we can do it."