India Café is located in a strip mall on Airport Road. I was a little leary of it because of the subpar Indian food I had experienced at other Huntsville restaurants. To be honest, I’m not an Indian food buff, but I can usually tell when food is cooked as it should be whether it’s the kind of southern fare I grew up on or food from another culture. After all, isn’t all properly cooked food supposed to be tasty? Luckily, at India Café, this is exactly what was achieved. When Shane and I entered the restaurant, it smelled distinctively of Indian spices. There is a small dining area that is open to a buffet line that is only used during lunch hours. When the space is totally full of patrons (as it was by the time we left), only twenty people or so can dine at one time. This is a drawback because the place is popular enough that you might have to wait quite some time for a table, and you might be averse to eating elbow-to-elbow with strangers, as is the case with some of their tables. If you can get a table, you will love the food. They serve a complimentary appetizer that reminds me of spicy hushpuppies with an Indian flavor twist. The spicy sauce that was served alongside them for dipping was a nice addition. For our official appetizer, we ordered the Vegetable Samosa ($4), which is described as Indian style fried puff pastry stuffed with potatoes. It arrived with two dipping sauces on the side. One was green and had a curry flavor while the other was a deep purple and had a spicy but sweet flavor. The pastry was full of flavor all its own but became more complex and delicious when dipped in one of these concoctions. For my entree, I ordered the most popular dish, Chicken Tikka Masala ($11), which is described as grilled boneless chunks of chicken cooked in a tomato gravy with Indian spices. The menu indicated that you could choose either rice or roti (an Indian flatbread), but my dish was served with both. Until I had this dish, I didn’t care much for curry, but I found this curry flavor to be pleasant without overpowering the entire dish. The sides of basmati rice and roti were tasty, but were obviously only there serving as vessels to sop up the curried tomato gravy sauce that the chicken floated in. Although my palate could not handle this dish in the same quantities as mac n’ cheese, I definitely appreciated the flavor combinations and would put India Café at the top of my list when it comes to Indian food eateries in Huntsville. The staff is accomodating, the food seems authentic, and the prices are reasonable considering the amount of food that is served.
Melanie and I are game for trying just about any food, but some are more adventurous than others. Indian food is one of those. Before trying India Café, Melanie had eaten Indian food once or twice, and I’d never eaten it, although I’d eaten Indian-influenced Trinidadian food a handful of times. So, India Café was an adventure. The appetizers were enjoyable. The complimentary Indian hushpuppies were tasty. They definitely were deep-fried, but there wasn’t too much oil, and the batter was a bit lighter than a domestic hushpuppy. They had a straightforward peppery flavor akin to the pepper juice you find on tables at meat-and-threes. The flavor wasn’t complex, but it was enjoyable. I also liked the “potato pillows”, but I don’t know that I’d order them again. They tasted good but just weren’t my thing.
As a main dish, I ordered a chicken dish—I forget the name, but I understand it to be a common dish—composed of sauteed onions and peppers and grilled chicken. Only heaven knows what it was seasoned with, but the chicken had a nice and strong but not overpowering spicy flavor. I enjoy spicy food, and it fit my affection for spiciness. The sauteed onions were a nice compliment, although a bit more caramelization would’ve been nice. One note about the chicken: As the Trinidadians do, Indian people chop their chicken in ways unfamiliar to us Americans. Where we typically eat chicken without bones or in pieces composed of a single body part (say, a wing or a thigh), Indian people cut the body parts, leaving us to carefully pick the meat from the bones. It doesn’t detract from the flavor, but eating a square of bone-in chicken is weird when you’ve always eaten a leg or a thigh or a wing. The India Café atmosphere is a mixed bag. Being a café, the store is filled with little tables and chairs, which works fine—the confines are tight but comfortable. Clearly, the owners have put forth lots of time and effort in turning the ex-TCBY into a quaint café: they’ve painted throughout, disguised the old serving line, installed some chandeliers, and disconnected some fluorescent lights. The transformation mostly works, but it could use some tweaks: replacing the serving line with tables, ditching all the fluorescents, and hiding the ugly fountain drink machine could really help it out.
On the whole, our visit to India Café was enjoyable. The food tasted good and met our quota for adventure, the atmosphere was pleasant, and our servers were attentive and friendly. Plus, we came away thinking we’d tasted something an Indian person might say was almost authentic. I hope to eat there again. Final thoughts:
- India Café is cosmopolitan, attracting a clientele that gives our small town a touch of big city character. It would work just as well in San Francisco as it does here.
- Never before eating at India Café had I been told to not worry about meeting the requirements of a gift certificate because people are waiting. Nor had I been so obviously encouraged to leave without feeling slighted.
- Although my nose acclimated, the store has a really strong smell. Really strong.