backstrEATS at a glance:
328 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104 Tel: 734) 222-9006
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-3 pm; Sat.-Sun., 12am-3:30pm
Dinner: Mon.-Thurs., 5pm-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5pm-10:30pm; Sun., 5pm-9:30pm
Atmosphere and Attire: Cozy and warm. A mingle of casual and business casual.
Cost: Lunch buffet is cheap Alternating from $9.49 on the weekdays to $11.61 on the weekends. Dinner is moderate. The average entree runs from $10-15.
Coke products: Yes! Big cups too!
As a child, I was taught to try new foods at least once. Fried grasshoppers. Baby squid. Butt of sparrow. Brussel sprouts. But, the heart wants what it wants, right? Though I tried everything once for the appeasement of my parents, I would dismiss what I didn’t like very quickly and never tried it again. Fast forward to the present. Like many things in life, I have realized that all food should be given a second chance (perhaps a third or a fourth). With the changing of my thoughts, ideals, and dreams, came the change of my personal taste in food.
As a foolish child, I did not enjoy Indian cuisine. I shudder to think of it now. How naive. How inexperienced. It was a rainy October day in 2009 when a friend of mine dragged my reluctant palate to an Indian restaurant to celebrate a mutual friend’s birthday. This moment could only be described in one word: pivotal.
Since the spices of the chicken korma glided onto my palate like Fred and Ginger on a ballroom floor, I was hooked. What have I been missing out on all these years? Indian food became a staple and I had it 2-3 times a week for most of 2009. There are a few Indian restaurants in the Ann Arbor area. But my focus for this entry will be on my favorite place that I frequent often. So often that they know my name and what I order (Like I said, the heart wants what it wants). Let me introduce you to Madras Masala.
Like the start of many restaurant stories, this one also started with a need and yearning. Brother-in-law Murali Jayaraman and Prabu Pandian answered the call for a South Indian restaurant in the Ann Arbor area in June of 2003.
After skimming through some reviews by the Ann Arbor news, I was intrigued by the statement made by the restaurant’s manager and chef, Alexander Lawrence. He goes to say that one of the major differences of North and South Indian cuisine was that the North relies more on butter and cream while the South dishes are spicier, using more pepper (Annarbor.com 2010). It would stand to reason that different regions have different tastes depending on what is more readily available to them. But many of us do not really think about the differences that comes along with regional cuisines, myself included. What other differences existed? According to food author, Howard Hillman, the most striking differences is that rice reigns supreme in the south whereas wheat (in the form of breads) were more popular in the north. The list goes on; sauces are thicker in the north, the south is more vegetarian friendly, etc. (For additional information, visit his website Indian Cuisine by Howard Hillman)
Though the street, which Madras Masala resides on, is small (only spanning for 2-3 blocks), the location is still impeccable. Why? Because you can literally say it is a stone throw away from a parking structure. (Parking is scarce downtown in this bustling city of 114,024.) The restaurant faces right in front of the Nickels Arcade, an old enclosed walkway that houses various businesses from cafés to antique stores. Ambrosia Café resides next door, a small independent café known for attracting locals, bohemians, artists and professors. (I once saw a woman holding a pointed crystal on a string and holding perfectly still for near 30 minutes. For what? No clue.) The location is also right next to the main central campus of the University, another big plus.
The facade of the store is quite simple yet inviting. They actually painted the outside with a rich scarlet color a few weeks ago which was a great improvement from the former pale butter cream color. The store may appear small from the outside but is surprisingly deep and spacious within. Like the outside, the inside is simple but nice. A few ethnic paintings hang throughout the restaurant. Much of the color scheme is jewel tones, warm golds and wine reds (Warm colors invoke bigger appetites). The lighting is soft like that of many candles and Indian music gently embellishes the atmosphere.
The restaurant boasts 170 items on its menu, 101 of those being vegetarian friendly. My perfect meal would consist of the following…
Masala Dosa: Mmmm the paper thin but extremely large crepe made from ground rice and black lentils. This particular dosa is stuffed with spiced potatoes. DELICIOUS. The dosa is served with various wet chutneys and milagai podi, which is a coarse mixture of dry chillies, dal, salt, lentils, and sesame seeds. I usually get this as an appetizer if I am with a group of people. However, this can easily be an entree for one.
Mughlai Chicken (Spicy): Oh, MC… how can I describe you? You are an absolute nirvana of spices; cardamon, cumin, and red chili powder to name a few. Your perfectly creamy but not too thick curry sauce has satisfying chunks of delicious chicken. You are a spicy foodie’s dreamboat…scratch that… curryboat. Even just thinking about the Mughlai chicken, its beautiful pale orange curry, ladled over a plate of basmati rice makes me crave for some right now. (The time now is 11:58pm… damn it.)
Batura or Bhatoora:
One of the many types of breads that they offer. It’s a deep fried bread that looks and tastes much like the carnival snack, the elephant ear. Sans the cinnamon sugar or fruit preserves. After further research, I have found that a typical recipe of batura calls for maida, which is white flour, yogurt, ghee or oil, and yeast. Sheer genius. Absolute deliciousness. The naan is also very delicious here as well. I would suggest trying them both!
The ideal dinner is finished off with a nice refreshing mango lassi, which is a yogurt based sweet drink with mango flavoring.
(Seriously, it is now 12:26am… and I’m drooling on my computer as I write this entry.)
Other wonderful dishes you should try are the Chicken Tikka Masala, Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), Chicken Hyderabadi , and dal fry.
You will never be without water at this place. The servers are very attentive on making sure your water is always to the brim. (I should mention that they are also very attentive on the rice! Double Bonus!) There is not one particular server to a particular group or section. The servers all go around rotating on their duties of refills and grabbing whatever is needed for the guests. I have stated in previous blogs that there service may come off a bit brusque with the dinner rush but they are polite and quick, which is all one can really ask for.
Although many of my friends assure me that Jersey has more Indian restaurants that are better than those of Ann Arbor, I shall miss my Madras Masala. It is and will always be my first love of a food that I gave a second chance to.
Until the next time we meet, Eat On <3Tags: Ann Arbor, food, Indian cuisine, Madras Masala, Mughlai, South Indian