Chief Avishar Barua has done a lot of mischief since the pandemic interlude. Well known for his brilliant culinary sensibilities during his time at the Service Bar, Barua branched out into competitive television cooking, as seen in several episodes on Excellent chef. He also explored the national ice cream scene, with the launch of his Talenti creation on the theme of Buckeye. And now? Now he has opened his own small restaurant in Worthington.
Joya’s, his new spot on the main street of Old Worthington, is a neighborhood replacement for Sassafras’ beloved bakery. Joya’s social media describes the project as a “Fun Bengali American Daytime Cafe”. That’s a lot of ideas in one description, but with a little analysis, Joya’s positions itself as a daytime operation that merges the regional sensibilities of Indian menus with those of Americans.
Given recent experiences, this is an appropriate descriptor.
During the Service Bar era, Barua was famous for his thoughtful and vaguely whimsical interpretations of the convenience foods you could find at places like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. The homemade tacos, for example, have been rewarded. And a cover of these famous tacos can be found in the Double cheese crunch ($16) at Joya. They’re double-hulled wonders that use an approach that was popularized by the good folks at Taco Bell, then perfected by Barua. At Joya’s, paratha (serving as a soft tortilla) pairs with crispy corn tortillas to contain pepperjack, a distinctly smoky cheddar cheese, lettuce and salsa along with a choice of meat filling. Smoked pot roast is the right choice to bring it all together.
The description of the homemade fried rice menu is amazing. Joya fried rice ($17) lists atypical ingredients that include bacon and chicken nuggets. The chicken nuggets item should probably be tackled first: Not nuggets, because nuggets are almost always processed meat. Joya’s uses two-bite segments of fresh, juicy fried chicken along with oddly crispy bacon to create areas of interest around a base of savory, soy-infused fried rice. Also in the game is a wok fried egg with spiked sambal, plus extra light rice crisp crunch.
Originally served in a cup, Toast in a cup ($14) is a wrap sandwich made with thick, chunky bread, the lovely combo fills with pork roll (something like a cross between ham and bologna), an omelette populated with cabbage chunks and scallions , pepperjack, Korean mayo, mustard and a splash of ketchup. Maybe it leans towards messy, but that’s not a bad thing.
If you haven’t already noticed, there’s a lot going on at Joya. There are more than Bengali and American influences at play, guests will also see elements of Mexican and Korean cultures. There’s no point in trying to rank the offerings, as the kitchen is clearly on the adventure of incorporating elements for new experiences.
Being a daytime operation, special attention is also paid to the cafe menu. Joya milk chai ($5) pairs a fragrant, fruity Ceylon tea with enough evaporated milk to give it a good weight. Alternately, Nitro cold brew ($6) is infused with nitrogen that removes the edge coffee is known for and replaces it with a full, creamy sweetness that’s almost deceiving for a notoriously caffeinated beverage.
Joya’s defines itself as a daytime operation and in this case that means it is open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
For more information, visit eatatjoyas.com.
All photos by Susan Post