Skip to content

The Curry House: Adding Spice to the Pine Hills

March 28, 2012

by Joe Napoli

A customer enters the Curry House, owner Mohammad Manik greets him with a friendly “hello” and then follows it up with a “how are you?” He’s gruff but friendly, and constantly working – open to close six – days a week. He’s also always concerned with making his customers happy, including one to whom he remembers to serve guava juice because it’s her favorite.

When he took over the restaurant eight years ago, only three other Indian restaurants were in the area. Today, there are more than a dozen. Still many people have never tried the cuisine because of its reputation as too spicy, and because of a  fear of trying something different.

The Curry House is a great place for beginners to try Indian food, according to Indian expatriate, Alex Panackale, a frequenter of the Madison Avenue eatery. “The price is very good,” he said, and there’s “good variety.”

Curry House on Madison Avenue/Joe Napoli

Northern Indian restaurants like the Curry House are not particularly spicy unless a customer specifies otherwise. “I can make it spicy. Number one to 100,” Manik said. When customer, Kevin Johnson, who loves Indian food because of its spice, inquired about which dishes were spiciest, Manik said the spice of any dish could be enhanced with chili powder and red onion chutney.

His home country, Bangladesh, has a lot to do with why the Curry House’s food is not as spicy as other Indian restaurants. Panackale, an avid cook of Indian food himself, said that the chili powder used in Bangladesh and Northern Indian food is not as spicy as that of the Southern Indian variety. The Curry House advertises itself as serving Northern Indian, Southern Indian, and Pakistani cuisine. But, the food has many more of the characteristics of Northern Indian food,  it is less spicy, creamier, and has more bread dishes.

While he loves his home country’s food, he does not miss living there. He moved to the United States 12 years ago, when he was 27. He joked about how he moved to America for the same reason as Europeans did in the early 20th century. “I wanted a better life. The U.S. has better education, better rules…everything is good.” He’s proud that his son, now 12, will be able to receive the full benefits of life in America.

His first job in the U.S. was working as a cook at the place he now owns. He was unsure of what he wanted to do as a career when he started, and chose the job because it would help him work on his English. After he was hired he was promoted to waiter two months later, he decided he wanted to get into the restaurant business. Within four years he was the owner of the Curry House.

Server Mohammad Azizur Rahman, also from Bangladesh, has worked at the Curry House for over a year, and enjoys the atmosphere and the customers. Every week he is happy to see the same faces. “It’s fun and nice to make conversation with all the people.” He’s even developed outside-of-work friendships with some of the customers from his home country. His co-worker, also Mohammad Rahman, has worked at the Curry House for five years. “I like this place…everyone here is friendly. It’s a good neighborhood.”

Owner Mohammad Manik and employee Mohammad Rahman/Joe Napoli

Located at 1112 Madison in Albany, the restaurant is non-descript from the outside, and looks like it could be one of the areas many pizza places—in fact it shares a building with one of them. Words used to describe the interior range from cozy, and very authentic, to small, and sparse.

The cuisine may be exotic, with some dishes featuring up to 50 seasonings, but the prices are college appropriate. Students who provide a valid school ID receive a 15 percent discount, and the restaurant’s website ( has printable coupons, such as $5 off a purchase of $30 or more.

One of the Curry House’s most popular dishes is tandoori chicken ($10.95), cooked in a cyclical clay oven (tandoor) at a high temperature, and seasoned with turmeric, cayenne pepper, and red chili powder. The spices synergize with the chicken as the oven locks in the flavor and moisture to provide a flavor unique to Indian food.

The restaurant’s menu has to be balanced with meat and vegetable dishes because while most Pakistani customers eat meat, Manik said around 75 percent of the Indian patrons are vegetarians. Vegetable curry ($8.95) is a favorite among herbivores. It’s a stew like dish comprised of carrots, tomatoes and potatoes, with a hint of spice and coriander.

One couple from Castleton travels to Albany at least once a week to eat at the Curry House. They enjoy it for similar and different reasons. Joyananda Gi likes the vegetarian choices and the variety of the menu. “It’s perfect,” she said. “And I don’t normally like spiciness at all.” Matt Migliorisi likes the meat dishes: “The chicken ends up being really tender.” They both agreed that the quality of the restaurant’s food has recently improved.

The Curry House is particularly popular with people native to the cuisine. However, the restaurant doesn’t just serve people who grew up eating Indian food. It’s for customers who like trying something different, or spicy, or discovered years ago or more recently that they just loved Indian food. Steve Dornbush is one of those people who recently discovered Indian food, and had great things to say about it and the Curry House. “The flavors (of Indian food) are more exquisite. The Curry House’s food makes food we (Americans) are accustomed to seem bland.”

Like most restaurants, business picks up on Thursday and peaks on Saturday, with a decline into Monday.

The restaurant does around 10 takeout orders a day, mostly large orders. Usually they prepare four meals or more at a time for businesses that call in for lunch deliveries or for families that pickup their dinner on the way home from work.

When a customer calls to place an order for takeout, Manik greets them with a “how are you my friend?” Naan bread—a pastry like buttered flatbread—is so frequently ordered, and in large quantities, that he instinctively checks before finishing the call by asking “how many naan you want?”

The Curry House’s most acclaimed feature is its lunch buffet, which was voted

The Curry House Lunch Buffet/Joe Napoli

one of the top buffets in Albany in the Metroland Readers’ poll in 2008, and the second-best Indian buffet in the 2011 edition. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 pm weekdays ($6.99), and noon to 3 p.m. on the weekend ($7.99).

Manik gets nervous when the buffet business starts off slowly, and mutters things such as “no customer.” But like clockwork, around noon on weekdays, and 12:30 p.m. on the weekend, business picks up quickly, and the only empty tables are those of people at the buffet getting more food. Customers were amenable when there was no room for an incoming diner, and multiple people offered to expedite their leaving in order to accommodate the newcomers.

The service is prompt and similar to that of other ethnic places in that they believe a clean table with regularly filled drinks is of the greatest importance. “They’re so nice, and they know us,” said Gi. Patrons are immediately seated and asked for their choice of drink, ranging from Pepsi-cola to spiced-tea, and then it’s time to indulge.

Fruit-slices, salad, and naan bread serve as a warm up for the main course: a 10 entrée spread featured in the center of the restaurant with a daily rotation of normal menu items. Half of them are meat dishes and the other half are vegetarian, complemented by a tray of basmati rice, flavored with cumin.

Dan Gardy, a neophyte to the Curry House, and to Indian food in general, tried the buffet on a recent Saturday afternoon, and was disappointed he had never tried it sooner. “It was good. Really good. I’ll have to come back and try it again.”

The biggest problem with owning a restaurant in the Pine Hills area, Manik said, is all of the surrounding competition. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway nearly right next door, and more restaurants than he’d like to count within walking distance.

He would tell a potential customer who has never tried Indian food about the variety of dishes, and how spices will prevent sickness. To him: “American food is mild, boring, only (seasoning is) salt. Indian food is spice…spice gives the food life.” -30-


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: