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Eat and Drink

Old Monk to serve free Indian-inspired Thanksgiving lunch to New Yorkers in need

Old Monk, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Alphabet

Old Monk, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Alphabet City, is serving a free Indian-inspired Thanksgiving lunch on Nov. 23. Photo Credit: Old Monk

Chef Navjot Arora’s family is giving him a night off — after he’s served more than 300 New Yorkers a free meal on Thanksgiving Day afternoon.

The co-owner and executive chef of Old Monk plans to transform his months-old Alphabet City restaurant into a soup kitchen serving Thanksgiving-themed dishes with Indian flavors for three hours on Thursday.

Arora’s buffet-style luncheon is a chance to “showcase the Thanksgiving spirit in a slightly different way,” said the chef who is set to prepare 600 turkey meatballs in a curry sauce flavored with fennel-seed powder — his reinterpretation of a classic Kashmiri lamb dish called gushtaba.  

“Also, my kitchen is more equipped to handle [Indian cuisine],” he added, chuckling at the thought of roasting “hundred of turkeys. 

“That would be impossible, so it has to be broken down and easier.”

Accompanying the meatballs on the menu: tandoori chicken wings, cumin-seasoned potatoes, house-baked naan bread, cranberry chutney with mango yogurt, and a carrot and green bean poriyal, which Arora described as a south Indian dish that submerges sautéed vegetables just before they are plated in a hot bath of clarified butter infused with such spices as curry leaves, mustard seeds, whole red chilies and coconut powder.

The chef, whose kitchen cooks Indian cuisine from all regions of the vast country with local and seasonal New York ingredients, said he was inspired to prepare a free, warm meal for New Yorkers who need one by the charitable works of a part-time contractor who helped renovate Old Monk’s Avenue B home.

“He told me every Sunday he . . . serves basic stuff like soup and cereal” at Tompkins Square Park, said Arora, who is considering joining him there with a pot of rice and beans once a month.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Punjab-born chef will have room to accommodate 50 guests at a time — in a trendy dining room decorated with walnut liquor barrels, filament bulbs, antique mirrors and photographs of modern-day monks — by seating them eight at one table.

“It’s all family style,” he said. “It will encourage mingling and eating together.”

Any food that remains at the end of lunch will be served in some format during dinner hours, which will feature the restaurant’s regular menu. Arora, however, won’t be around to supervise that meal.

“Every year, we go to my wife’s cousin house, who’s a second-generation Indian-American married to a second-generation Greek-American guy,” explained the restaurateur, who also runs two eateries in Westchester.

He won’t be picking up any utensils at their home until dinner time, a reprieve for which he is grateful.

“They won’t even let me bring anything, because they do this whole production. It’s good to just sit back and relax.”

Old Monk, which is located at 175 Avenue B, is open from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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