Saiful Islam, the owner of Garam Masala in Ridgewood, has a hard time choosing a favorite customer. He appreciates each one, like the woman who drives in from New Jersey every friday and waits for her dish to be prepared for the car ride back. Or the table who came in last weekend, ordering first one garlic naan to share, then another one, and then one more. They couldn’t get enough.
Garam Masala is the third restaurant and first solo venture for Islam, who previously managed Tandoori Masala in Bushwick and Mahal Kita in Williamsburg. Just off the Seneca Avenue M stop, the restaurant opened at the beginning of March.
The menu is expansive, with specialities from the north and south of India. Islam, who is from Bangladesh, has three chefs working to execute the dishes. One focuses on the curries and well-known Indian dishes (he has over 20 years of experience), his uncle is the tandoor chef, managing the clay oven responsible for many of the house specialities, and a third works on appetizers, like a grilled marinated mushroom dish with tomato chutney.
With many years of restaurant experience, Islam has developed high standards. He stands between the kitchen and the dining room, looking at every naan and every plate. If it doesn’t look good, it won’t make it to the diner. To urge people to stray from their usual orders, he’ll suggest dishes like Manchurian cauliflower, with the promise, “if you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it.” He hopes to open another restaurant in Queens that will also serve Indian breakfast dishes.
The process of opening Garam Masala was slow. Islam signed the lease in 2017 and could only start construction last summer, as a third floor was added to the building, which required installing pipes and other alterations to their street level space. Islam still lives in Williamsburg but “couldn’t afford to open there.”
Ridgewood has a great community, he said, and the nearby Nepalese restaurants showed a local interest in South Asian food. He’s had a bunch of British customers who compare his food to indian restaurants in London, which set a high bar. Now that they’re open, Islam is wasting no time. He relies on yelp and google reviews to spread the word and tracks them closely.
The menu is large. Islam hates saying no to customers who inquire about dishes, so he’s constantly adjusting. There are multiple versions of the menu for takeout and dining in depending on preparation time and how well a dish travels. The best thing to do if you’re craving something, like shrimp biryani, is to call and ask for it. Big hits so far include the obvious (chicken tikka masala) and the unexpected (the Hyderabadi lamb shank has been very popular, with customers calling to check on its availability). He’s also been receiving many vegan orders, which are easy to accommodate.
Takeout is a large part of the business and Islam likes to answer the phone as much as possible. He learns people’s preferences and rarely forgets a guest’s order. Throughout our conversations, he references guests by their delivery addresses or usual orders. His trick, he claims, “is making the food so good they have to come back.”
All the meat is halal and the restaurant is BYOB. The food is freshly made and a dish of chana saag—chickpeas in spinach—had no noticeable grease, even when eaten cold the next day. Another revelation is the Kandhari Naan stuffed with coconut and raisins, the sweetness complements the spice of many of the curries. The toasted coconut stuffing falls out with each bite and you’ll be tempted to order a second one.
Garam Masala delivers within a two mile radius and offers a 10 percent discount for ordering over the phone. There are a number of opening specials, including 20 percent off dine-in lunch specials ($9), which include an entree with rice, daal, and a water or soda. For a huge meal (which might feed two people), a prix-fix section offers an appetizer, entree, rice, naan and chutneys for $16.95.
1819 Palmetto St, Ridgewood, NY 11385, off the Seneca Avenue M train
Mon-Sun: 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Images courtesy of Garam Masala.
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