Masalah Grill

by Sam Gabel

 

According to her, starting a new business is difficult, epsecially in the restaurant industry where the majority close within a year. Masalah Grill’s path had an extra complication. Farzana’s husband who was initially running the business had a heart attack just as the restaurant was building business, and after Farzana had already quit her previous job in finance. The doctor advised bedrest for him, which meant Farzana had no choice but to take the helm. Without a safety net, she relied on hardwork, determination, and a little bit of luck.

 

No longer are the days of white picket fences, roses, and apple pies. Farzana Sohail is living a different kind of American dream. When she decided to open her first restaurant in 2015, she had no idea she would be awarded in the same year the title of the top “10 best restaurants of Long Island.” Like most culinary gems, Masalah Grill is operated and owned by someone who can provide us with an authentic view to a faraway destination that we otherwise would not experience. 

 

“When I opened in 2015, I had limited experience in restaurant. Masalah Grill means ‘spicy grill.’ I was thinking that the menu will have a lot of grilled items. I realized people liked the more authentic dishes than the grilled dishes. When I realized their feedback, I changed the menu. I introduced curry to my menu, and it was a big hit.” 

 

The restaurant is located across from the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington (the poet’s hometown) on the North Shore of Long Island. And like the name suggests, Farzana isn’t weaving a modern tale using traditional ink and pen, but with homespun recipes and an exotic spice arsenal directly imported from India using ingredients that she ate as a child: cardamom, cumin, and capsicum to name a few. “I make my own spice. I get the raw spices, and in the restaurant, I make a special touch. The flavors help enhance.” 

 

Her recipes are handed down from generation to generation in her family, and it shows in the menu. There are dishes that hint of unteachable technique from the texture of flaky potato and pea samosa to succulent lamb biryani. When you order a plate of her biryani, you are met with a bed of perfectly cooked rice that “prizes each individualized grain to maximize a subtle firework of spiced and herby mouth feel.” 

 

And wait till you try the naan, hints of smoke, doughy canvases you can hold in your hand to sop up each sauce decadent enough to be a family secret or to accompany varying levels of heat in your creamy, curry plates. The variations are reminiscent of her memories eating in Pakistan. There’s garlic naan, there’s onion naan, there’s potato naan, traditional flavors of Pakistan. And there are naans that pop inside of Farzana’s head, “what if there was a sweet naan?” Translation? Smatters of coconut, cashews, and almonds. Big hit.

 

Her earlier business model prized convenient, home cooked meals. “There are a lot of businesses around my restaurant, and they don’t have time to eat. They only have one hour. So I had to create something for them that would be quick, affordable, and tasty. It’s very easy to eat while you’re driving or taking into work.” She expanded to accommodate a dine in experience due to the popularity of her food and word of mouth. Now, she is also thinking of opening another location. 

 

According to her, starting a new business is difficult, epsecially in the restaurant industry where the majority close within a year. Masalah Grill’s path had an extra complication. Farzana’s husband who was initially running the business had a heart attack just as the restaurant was building business, and after Farzana had already quit her previous job in finance. The doctor advised bedrest for him, which meant Farzana had no choice but to take the helm. Without a safety net, she relied on hardwork, determination, and a little bit of luck.

 

“This food critic (Newsday) found me, and he told me that we’ve been liking your food and I want to get a writer for you. She came in twice and tried all my stuff, and all my dishes, and I don’t know who she was. She took some pictures. It was an amazing, amazing experience. I was jam packed. I ran out of my food twice. The next day, in two to three hours, I ran out of food again! I had no money to advertise. Everyday, new people are coming. People were coming 30 miles away. I had no place to give them. I cannot invite more than 18 people in right now. They loved my food; they said ‘it was extraordinary, phenomenal, unlike any other. So we are trying to expand right now.’”

 

So what’s the secret to her success? She says, “With technology now, you can get all the ingredients, you can get the recipe. But you should get a taste of the real cooking. In Pakistan, balance and ratio is very important. How much do you have to take the flour, how much sugar you add? Every food dish has a ratio and a balance of spice. So, in other places, if you find out there’s too little spice level and not balancing, or the ratio is not good, the onions and tomatoes, the spices, they can’t make a good dish! And it cannot be an impressive dish. What is really important is the balance and ratio of your ingredients-and the timing. If you burn out your onions, your dish is gone. Now all the people are asking, ‘you have to open classes, you need to open a class, we want to learn from you!’”

 

Does balance really determine what’s authentic and what’s not? You have to taste it to believe it.

A TASTE OF PAKISTAN:

It’s just Homemade Business

 

Masalah Grill 

195 Walt Whitman Road 

Huntington Station, NY 

(631) 271 - 1700