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Kerala Masala Hut in Floral Park: any word?

CitySpoonful Jun 24, 2012 09:30 PM

I'm curious about a place I spotted on Jericho Tpk. in Floral Park -- Kerala Masala Hut. I haven't read anything about this restaurant, and it hasn't been mentioned on this board in other discussions of Keralan food in this 'hood.

I was in transit to a wedding, so couldn't stop to investigate on Saturday. But curious to know if it might be worth a return visit.

  1. charleyabraham Sep 2, 2012 06:26 PM

    Kerala Masala Hut on 246-01 Jericho Turnpike is in Bellerose, NY 11426, 2 blocks east of Cross Island Parkway. I live just a few blocks away, but on the other side of the CIP, and so had missed noticing this place until earlier today. Learned that it has been open now (Sept. 2, 2012) for about 3 months.
    Full disclosure: I am from Kerala - southwestern tip of India - but otherwise am unrelated and not-connected to the owners or staff of this establishment. Only Googled it to see what the buzz -if any- was, so happened on this page, and thought I'd post this freshly gained experience, that's all.
    This weekend concluded this year's festivities relating to Onam (pronounced 'Orn-um') , Kerala's harvest festival & foremost holiday - think Thanksgiving and Christmas combined in the USA - and just to feel out the new place, I ordered 2 meals of the Onam feast (vegetarian dishes with rice.) KMH's menu has lots of meat & fish, but for Onam, vegetarian is the thing (like turkey for Thanksgiving), but I added Fried King Fish to the order.
    KMH is a tiny hole-in-the wall place with the ambience of a Chinese take-out. I didn't know what to expect.
    Keralan cooking is not standard fare in most Indian restaurants; it features lots of rice, fish, beef, chicken and vegetable stews, often hot & spicy; there's little by way of wheat or oven-baked anything, in their place, everything is rice, rice crepes, rice dumplings, and coconut derivatives, fired up with a broad range of chili peppers and spices. Like it or not, Keralan food is not dull; its tropical flavors stand apart from the common-place Naan, Raita, Chicken Tikka Masala or Tandoori or Vindaloo or anything similarly originating in the arid north of India that many non-Indians think of when they think of Indian food.
    I can honestly say that KMH exceeded my expectations and that I'll be back.
    For explorers, may I suggest that you go straight to the $10 item - the priciest - on the lunch menu, the "Masala Hut Meal," and see which of the dozen items included in there you are o.k. with?
    Just remember that large quantities of rice is the intended main course; the dishes are meant to be mixed with scoops of rice, in a variety of combinations as you may like, each combination would ideally take the form of an idiosyncratic rice-ball.
    You may find many of them intriguing and one or two not so much, and you would certainly come away with a genuine impression of what it is that Keralan people eat at their homes each night for dinner.
    I wasn't pleased with the fried fish, but was more than happy with the Moru (spicy, tangy, diluted yogurt sauce that is to Kerala what the Marinara sauce might be in Sicily), Thoran (sauteed diced vegetables), Payasam (a kind of rice pudding.) Better Sambar (vegetable stew) could be had in any of the Tamilian places in Manhattan's Curry Hill, but the Kadumaanga (diced unripe mangoes pickled in a hot chilli paste) and the Inchi-curry (ginger in a chili pepper sauce) had a delightful & uncompromising bite.
    There was enough food to share with my siblings who stopped by for a visit; and they were mostly happy with the taste; KMH's food for the most part had a familiar, home-cooked, authentic flavor.
    The four young owners of the place were all present at the premises when I went to KMH this Sunday afternoon. They were friendly, solicitous, and eager to please. I wish these guys much success, and hope to have them cater some future event at my home.
    I am posting pics of the 2 orders of Onam meal I took home & put on the coffee table. Have not shown the white rice that it came with.
    This is my first experience of posting food pictures and writing a review for a foodie blog. Thanks for your curiosity & time!
    -c.a.

     
     
     
     
    18 Replies
    1. re: charleyabraham
      c
      carfreeinla Sep 3, 2012 07:06 AM

      i see that you have a "cracker like" accompaniment to the 3rd photo. What is that and what is it made from?

      1. re: carfreeinla
        charleyabraham Sep 3, 2012 07:43 AM

        That's Papadum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papadum. Indian restaurants here often offer that with the appetizers, but in Kerala, it's crumbled and mixed with the rice-balls to add a bit of crunch & texture to the smoothness of the rice, not unlike crackers to soup. Am no cook, but will be happy to describe Keralan food! Also see: http://www.travelchannel.com/video/ho...

      2. re: charleyabraham
        jen kalb Sep 4, 2012 02:46 PM

        thanks so much for the report and very good pix of the food. Do they have any sit down space or is it all takeout?

        1. re: jen kalb
          charleyabraham Sep 4, 2012 04:14 PM

          KMH does have tables & an eat-in menu. Don't recall exactly how many, but my impression is that a dozen or so patrons would fill it to capacity. Expect nothing by way of decor or ambience. If you're headed this way just to explore this restaurant, may be you'd want to include a pit stop at the Buttercooky Bakery, which is within a mile further east on Jericho Tpke.

          1. re: charleyabraham
            charleyabraham Sep 4, 2012 06:59 PM

            KMH does have tables & an eat-in menu. Don't recall exactly how many, but my impression was that a dozen or so patrons would fill it to capacity. Expect nothing by way of decor or ambience.
            If you're headed this way just to explore this restaurant, perhaps you'd want to include a stop at the very popular Buttercooky Bakery (nothing to do with Indian) which is within a mile, and further east on Jericho Turnpike.

            If Keralan cooking intrigues you, here's my favorite piece of writing on the topic, by the late Johnny Apple of the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/22/dining/asian-journey-in-south-india-no-end-of-spice-no-end-of-flavor.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

            And here's a link to a lot of Keralan recipes and cooking videos: http://www.pachakam.com/Recipe_videos...

          2. re: jen kalb
            missmasala Sep 4, 2012 09:34 PM

            Jen,

            I went here with a few other hounds a couple of months ago. It's a small space but it does have tables. On the night we went, they were out of a lot of the things on the menu (many of which I wanted to order). Most of the food was tasty, however, and their homemade pickles were great. If I were going to eat here again, I would probably call ahead of time to see what they had, if that was possible. I got the impression that maybe they do mainly catering, but I could be totally wrong. I have no idea how it compares to the other keralan restaurants, as I haven't tried them. The owner who was in the night we ate there was v nice.

            1. re: missmasala
              charleyabraham Sep 4, 2012 10:16 PM

              I agree with the above; they didn't have fish curry when I went there on Sunday 3 PM. Kerala Masala Hut’s phone # is 718-347-1222.
              There was a Kerala Kitchen on Hillside Avenue and 269th Street in Floral Park. It was probably the most Keralan of restaurants, bigger and had been around for more than a year, and my favorite. Alas, they lost the lease as of a few weeks ago, and now only take catering orders: http://www.keralakitchen.com/
              In this neighborhood, many Indian restaurants include a few Keralan dishes in their menus. You could try Taste of Cochin's Kerala section: http://www.tasteofcochin.com/Menu.htm
              Lastly: in Manhattan, try Chola. Pricey by comparison, but the Rasam, Avial, Red Fish Curry and Konju Pappas in their dinner menu (more regional variety than in most other Indian restaurants) are Keralan: http://cholany.com/pdf/take%20out%20b...

              1. re: charleyabraham
                el jefe Sep 5, 2012 08:08 AM

                More of an update on Keralan restaurants:

                I was going to add that Charley missed what might have been the best Keralan restaurant in the area, but in googling to get an exact address for "Five Star" (247 Jericho Tpke in New Hyde Park), I found out they had a fire a couple of days after my last visit back in June. I don't know if they've reopened. Their telephone is 516-488-1230.

                Kerala Kitchen was actually at that location for many, many years under different but related owners. Under it's latest management the food was excellent but the service was inept. It looks like this time it may be gone for good as their website indicates they are re-opening in Staten Island.

                That leaves Taste Of Cochin with it's mostly north Indian menu, though the few Keralan dishes I've tried were very good, and Kerala Masala Hut which I haven't tried yet but appears to have an even more limited menu.

                1. re: el jefe
                  DaveCook Sep 5, 2012 10:56 AM

                  "Yeah, we're back in business," said the fellow who answered the phone at Five Star.

                  Dave Cook
                  www.EatingInTranslation.com

                  1. re: DaveCook
                    el jefe Sep 6, 2012 02:16 PM

                    Thanks, Dave. I was going to call when I'm ready to go for their Sunday buffet, but it's good to know they're back in business every day.

                    And as a further update, I went past the site of Kerala Kitchen today. There's a sign in the window saying "Coming Soon - Taste of Kerala Kitchen". I looked in the window and it looks just like the last incarnation of Kerala Kitchen -- the same bar, the same tablecloths, the same buffet table is still set up. It leads me to believe that the new owner/management/cook is going to be the same as the old one and that nothing will change.

                    So it looks like there are still two full service Keralan restaurants in the neighborhood.

                  2. re: el jefe
                    p
                    punto Sep 25, 2012 08:13 AM

                    Just curious. Does anyone know if Five Star in NHP is related in any way to the Five Star Diner in Long Island City ? This totally un-imposing looking place has a way above average $9 Indian buffet. Does the term "five star" have any particular significance in India?

                    http://www.licmenus.com/indian/five-s...

                2. re: missmasala
                  squid kun Sep 8, 2012 02:28 PM

                  What are some of the things you'd go for on a Keralan menu?

              2. re: charleyabraham
                squid kun Sep 8, 2012 02:25 PM

                Appreciate this report (and the appetizing pics). What are some of those vegetarian bites? Do you think they'd be available outside the holiday season?

                1. re: squid kun
                  charleyabraham Sep 9, 2012 02:25 PM

                  Thanks for the comment & your interest, Squid Kun! Yes, the vegetarian dishes are available outside the holiday season also. It's just that a harvest festival in Kerala brings together all the main vegetarian dishes to one table for one meal, making it a special feast, the Oarna-Sadya. (Not unlike Thanksgiving; we can have turkey & the trimmings outside of the holiday too, it's just that almost everyone eats turkey on that special day.)

                  As for the picture: In the 2nd picture (7 plastic containers with yellow in the middle), from 12-o clock, clockwise: Cabbage-thoran, Errissheri (a kind of plantain & coconut curry), Sambar (vegetable stew with lentils), Rasam (sort of a sour & spicy, tamarind-flavored soup), Aviyal (vegetable stew, thicker than Sambar, with coconut), the next item I don't know the name of, may be it's Kaallan. The larger container in the middle with the yellow liquid is the Kaacchiya-Moaru, or Moru-curry, which is yogurt diluted to the fluidity of milk, and spiced with roasted chili pepper, may be coconut oil, garlic & mustard seeds. For Keralans, moru is to white rice what tomato sauce is to pasta in the West.

                  The 3rd photo, the crisp fried taco like thing is the Pappadum, and the other, smaller 7 plastic containers are all varieties of pickles (using that term very broadly), meaning dishes of sharper, saltier, hotter flavor than the other things on the menu. The Inchi-curry (ginger in chili-pepper sauce) is at 6-o' clock and the kadumanga-pickle (unripe mangoes) is at 12-o' clock (close-up of that item in the last photo.) There are 3 varieties of 'Pacchadi' shown, which are varieties of spiced-up yogurt. The green that holds everything together is a fake (vinyl-made) banana-leaf (Onam is traditionally served on a plantain leaf.)

                  The rectangular tray in the middle shows Paayasam (rice pudding) at the bottom, Upperi & Sharkkara-peratti (banana chips and brown-sugar/caramel-coated plantain chunks), Parippu-vada (fried lentil donuts with a crispy exterior and a hot & chewy middle), and bananas (the beloved Keralan variety called Poovan-pazham is smaller & perhaps sweeter, which is not the same as the Chiquitas shown here). This platter is suitable as dessert and bites to accompany tea or coffee.

                  Perhaps you can tell, I am better at eating than at writing or understanding the details of what I am eating, and I don't cook. No matter, just give it a try; you'll like at least half of the vegetarian dishes, I assure you of that! :)

                  And if you are keen on eating something emphatically Keralan, the Meen Curry (red sauce with black tamarind) with Kappa-vevichathu (mashed tapioca? cassava?), White Rice, Moaru Curry and Cabbage Thoran, with Kadumanga Pickle and Pappadum - that's what I would recommend. You could try the beef also, but expect that to be more like a very overcooked & spiced up (but not nearly as hot as the fish curry) version of the meat you'd find in Chipotle's Steak Burrito, cooked with coconut chips. These things I've named, you won't find them in most non-Keralan Indian Restaurants.

                  As for Kerala Masala Hut: I made my second visit earlier today. Bought Fish Curry (Keralan fish curry is very spicy & hot & aromatic, with red chilli pepper sauce with black tamarind) and Chicken Cutlets (the keralan cutlet is really mixture of mashed potatoes, spices and ground meat made into balls, dipped into flour mixed with egg yokes, and fried), both of which they had in supply at 11:45 AM.

                  KMH is a small operation, more a catering business with a few seats and tables if you must eat there, and if the counter is empty when you walk in, it's because the person there is behind the door helping or getting something from the kitchen. But the service was eager & helpful, and the food was tasty and hot and very much like it was prepared at home.

                  El Jefe had mentioned "5-Star" earlier in this thread, I hadn't even noticed that place till today en-route to my drive to the bank in New Hyde Park, gosh, there it was - after living here these 20+ years, and I am Keralan! - near the Umberto's nearby where I've gone many times! Indeed, it looked like a 'full-service' establishment; do go there also.

                  May all the tribes of Malayali kitchens increase, especially those that are near my home! :)

                  Readers seeking more reliable information on the ingredients and recipes of Keralan (Malayali) cooking should visit http://www.pachakam.com/default.asp For the vegetarian dishes of Onam specifically, a more helpful link might be: http://www.onamfestival.org/onasadya....

                  1. re: charleyabraham
                    squid kun Sep 10, 2012 12:00 PM

                    Very cool - thanks again, charley.

                    I especially liked your earlier tip about crumbling the papadum into the rice balls. I take it these are foods that are traditionally eaten with the hands?

                    1. re: squid kun
                      charleyabraham Sep 11, 2012 04:31 AM

                      oh, yes! :)

                      1. re: charleyabraham
                        n
                        nabilfawzi Sep 16, 2012 02:42 PM

                        Thanks for the detailed review. I have been dying for an authentic Keralan restaurant. (Quilon reprazent!) Do you by chance know what their operating hours/days are? I couldn't find anything online.

                    2. re: charleyabraham
                      m
                      MacGuffin Sep 25, 2012 07:15 AM

                      This sounds wonderful. I only wish this restaurant were accessible to (or better yet, in) Manhattan. Thanks for your posts.

                2. DaveCook Jun 25, 2012 06:39 AM

                  This may be Bellerose and not Floral Park, if the venue at 24601 Jericho Tpk. is the one you spotted in passing. I don't know it, but I've added it to my little list. Thanks for keeping a lookout!

                  Dave Cook
                  www.EatingInTranslation.com

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DaveCook
                    CitySpoonful Jun 26, 2012 06:38 AM

                    It's on my list too. Hope to snag a friend w/wheels and head back that way soon. If I do, I'll report back.

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