WILLIAMSBURG — Masti Indian Grill and Chaat Bar, which opened in late January in Williamsburg, stands out for its savory street food, or chaat selection, Bengali dishes, British inspired curries, and warm hospitality.
Co-owner Ruhel Amin and Executive Chef Abdul Jabber, who spent years working in England at curry houses on Brick Lane, are both originally from Bangladesh, like many owners of Indian restaurants in New York. While there are no exact figures, between 70% and 90% of Indian restaurants in the city have Bangladeshi owners. This happened due to marketing — it was easier to market Indian food, as India was a well-known and “exotic” country.
Another major influence is the Indian food scene in London, Amin explained, “If you look at the history of Indian food in England, it all started with Bengali people.” By 1982, there were 3,500 Indian restaurants in Britain, similar to New York, many were and still are run by Bangladeshis.
While Masti has those historic influences, a section of the menu, “Oh Calcutta” is dedicated to Bengali dishes — Calcutta is an Indian city with many Bengali residents. These dishes might be less familiar and are absolutely worth a try, especially the ghungi, a yellow split pea dish.
The bar, instead of serving drinks, serves Chaat, the popular south Asian savory street foods that absolutely burst with crunch, sweetness, and sourness. There’s airy bhel puri, pao bhaji (like vegetable sliders), and pani puri and they all go perfectly with a drink. Start your meal with one of these, before moving on to curries and other dishes.
Inspired by British curry shops, the curry section at Masti includes popular dishes like nut-based Korma, heavy on the ginger, and the obligatory creamy Tikka Masala. The selection also includes Balti, a tomato, fennel, garam masala based curry whose name translates to “bucket” in Bengali, since curry houses would make a large batch for the day’s customers.
Another highlight of the menu is the extensive vegan and vegetarian options, including a pumpkin paanch poran, pumpkin cooked with jaggery and curry leaves. A starter, the achaari guchi tikka, showcases mushrooms in a spicy yogurt marinade. Mushrooms aren’t popular in India, but the dish is delicious.
Amin is also adamant about the bread being fresh and hot. If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, he has a recommendation: don’t get the butter naan as it will lose its crisp on its way. Butter the bread at home. He purchases fresh spices to toast and grind for each dish, as well.
Masti’s menu includes teas and drinks like the excellent mango lassi, creamy and not too sweet. There’s a bring your own beer (BYOB) policy — Stranger Wines is just a few blocks away.
Amin runs the restaurant with his spouse Linda Mahkovec, who is originally from Illinois. The two met working at Symphony Cafe, a now-shuttered upscale restaurant in Midtown. They also own two restaurants in Harlem, Mumbai Masala and River Thai.
They were attracted to Williamsburg for the young folks interested in art and culture. “Brooklyn is the place to be,” says Amin. “Especially Williamsburg,” adds Mahkovec.
They took over the wide and well-lit space at 184 Havemeyer Street — previously another Indian restaurant — and are fitting right in. The dining room, which seats 36, has a Bollywood vibe, with posters and more decorations to come.
“Usually Chicken Tikka pays my rent, but not here,” Amin said. Diners so far are eager to explore a larger section of the menu, especially the chaats, which thrills them both.
Amin’s commitment to hospitality is evident from the moment you walk into Masti, he’s attentive about service and aims for guests to leave feeling better than they arrived.
“I love people, I love talking to people, the food is food,” he told us, “but my main focus is when guests come in, I want them to leave happy.”
Masti Indian Grill and Chaat Bar is located at 184 Havemeyer Street and is open for lunch from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. and for dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).