Over the years, I have spoken to several restaurateurs who have opted for the sky-high suburban rents over a location in Detroit, citing crime problems, lack of patrons due to population flight, and the general risks of succeeding in the city proper.
Maliha Naveed went to Wayne State University, and views the area as a hub of cultural activity, inhabited by a diverse population. When she decided to open a new Indian restaurant, American Masala, along with her partner Naveed Syed, the two didn’t see it as a risk. Rather, they saw it as an opportunity to attract the many people who live and work in the area. Their confidence in the decision, partly fueled by the success of their first six months of operation, has prompted them to extend the restaurant’s hours to 24/7, beginning on Sept. 10. In addition to its proximity to the Detroit Medical Center, home to hundreds of round-the-clock workers, the restaurant is directly behind the 13th Precinct of the Detroit Police Department, adding a sense of security to apprehensive patrons. Location, location, location.
I love Indian food, and I like to try new Indian restaurants as soon as they open. When I recently heard about American Masala, I called a friend who shares my enthusiasm for this fine cuisine, and we headed out for what sounded like a hard-to-find location. The restaurant’s address is 51 W. Hancock, between Woodward and Cass, but its entrance is on the side of the building facing a parking lot on Forest. You’ll know that you have arrived when you see the brightly painted exterior with its framed Indian art. What a surprise! It looks like an Indian postcard. Once inside, the joy of discovery continues. The aromas are at least as striking as the visuals. As much as I attempt to resist buffets, I never bothered to look at a menu. There are more than a dozen irresistible selections on the buffet, including tandoori chicken, which is marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, then typically cooked in a tandoor, a charcoal- or wood-fired clay oven. The restaurant is having a tandoor shipped from India within the next few weeks; for the time being, the meats are being broiled. It was difficult for me to tell the difference, due to the excellent marinade. Rest assured, it can only improve once the proper oven arrives. There was a delicious fish curry, butter chicken braised in a rich gravy, and lamb masala, spicy braised lamb on the bone.
Indian restaurants are always vegetarian-friendly; a recent buffet included vegetarian salads, soups and biryani, a layered rice dish. At $6.99, this is a bargain. The food is primarily southern Indian, but there are a few selections from other regions, as well as items from China, the Middle East and the American South.
Indian food uses the same spices in many of its dishes: coriander, cumin, turmeric, hot red pepper, garam masala, and cardamom. As the proportions are changed, the flavors of each recipe change. Indian food is well-seasoned, complex, but not necessarily hot. All of the foods served at American Masala are halal, that is, in accordance with Muslim dietary laws which dictate how animals are fed and how they are slaughtered. No pork products are permitted, and all halal animals must be fed a chemical-free diet. All in all, this food is good for you. Enjoy it.
When I started cooking Indian food a few years ago, one of my first dishes was Aloo Bhaji: potatoes and tomatoes in delicious gravy, which begs for some basmati rice to absorb the resulting flavors. Here’s a recipe that is fairly easy to prepare — the spices are available at most markets, but I recommend visiting an Indian store like Patel Brothers. It’s the Indian equivalent of a chain grocery; one is located on Orchard Lake Road, south of Thirteen Mile.
American Masala is located at 51 W. Hancock, Detroit. Call 313-832-5555. Check out the restaurant’s Web site, samosaking.com, for directions, menu descriptions, a daily list of buffet items and a discussion of Indian cuisine.Jeff Broder is a chowhound for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org