It was a valid point. After sharing a dinner at Masala Kraft Café, my health-conscious, vegetarian friend ventured, “Um…for a vegetarian restaurant, this place actually doesn’t serve a lot of vegetables.” I suppose she was being critical, but privately, I thought, “I know. Isn’t it great?”
Masala Kraft Café, a pretty, modest storefront in Hartsdale, offers South Asian guilty pleasures, including crisp rice-flour dosas stuffed with masala potatoes ($7.95), chutney-spiked deep-fried puris ($4.95), and nacho-like papdi chaat ($4.95). Though strictly vegetarian (not to mention Kosher), Masala Kraft is no health-food restaurant. It offers Indian street snacks, the cultural analog to pizza and tacos, with about the same price and nutritional value.
At its best, Masala Kraft Café is a cheap-food revelation. Salads like cool papdi chaat offer perfectly balanced sensory thrills, where crisp, deep-fried tortilla triangles are piled with chili-spiked chutney, mild chickpeas, and cooling yogurt. This starter misses no lettuce, nor does samosa chaat ($4.95): crushed samosas, yogurt, chutneys, lentils, and cilantro. In both, protein-rich legumes (chickpeas or lentils) offer satisfaction beyond an oily crunch.
Dosas ($6.95 to $8.95) beckoned from the menu, but both versions we tried arrived dried to shards. Though well-spiced fillings of masala potatoes (in one case) offered relief, a bit of creamy ghee would have made the crêpes perfect. To be fair, Masala Kraft’s dosas are partnered with potent sides of sambhar—a brew of lentils, tamarind, asafetida, and a wide variety of spices—which offers some wetness, as does a choice of chutneys. We’re fond of Masala Kraft’s fiery cilantro coconut chutney but also found ourselves dipping midnight spoons of green coconut from our take-out bag. Our favorite dosa was a special Bombay version, filled with a dark, oily mash of fiercely spiced potatoes and lentils that was folded into a crisp lentils.
Some of the best flavors at this alcohol-free restaurant arrive in liquid form. Along with the usual lassis ($3), both sweet and mango, one can find thandai ($3), an iced purée of almond milk, fennel seeds, and rose-petal essence that offers perfumed exoticism with the familiarity of a shake. Don’t miss Indian sodas ($2), including Kashmiri soda—a sweet/sour party in the mouth—and Masala Kraft’s addictive muru ($3), an iced, chaas-like beverage of salted yogurt, cumin seeds, chili, and fresh cilantro leaves.
Grilled sandwiches offer heartier fare and appear on a variety of breads, like juicy slabs of paneer with onion and cilantro chutney on wheaten, tava-grilled kathi rolls ($7.95). A “Snowman’s” ($7.95), served alongside ketchup, appears on white Pullman slices. It resembles a tall, grilled club stack filled with cheese, potato, and green pepper. Masala Kraft’s namesake sandwich offers a pulse-laden “vegetable cutlet” topped by tomatoes, onions, and spicy cilantro chutney on foccacia bread.
At its worst, Masala Kraft steps outside of its South Asian comfort zone to cater to Western-palated veggie customers, who may be scanning this pointedly Indian menu looking for the usual meatless suspects. One diner commented that his falafel was “fal-awful”—it featured hard, brown nuggets—while a masala taco with beans, lettuce, cheese, and salsa, felt equally beside the point.
Though it occasionally panders to Western tastes, one of the most compelling things about Masala Kraft is that it doesn’t beat the vegetarian drum. Nowhere on its tri-fold menu can you read the word “vegetarian.” In fact, Masala Kraft’s dishes are almost incidentally meatless, part of an established street culture with historical legs. Like knishes or pretzels, it’s meatless but traditionally so. It’s best not to view Masala Kraft as a paragon of ethical eating; it’s a place for crunchy/salty/greasy veggie pig-outs washed down with fabulous, icy drinks.
Masala Kraft Café ♦ ♦ ♦
206 E Hartsdale Ave, Hartsdale (914) 722-4300
Hours: Sun to Thurs, 11 am-9 pm, Fri and Sat, 11 am–10 pm.
Appetizers: $3.50-$6.95; entrées: $6.95-$12; dessert: $3.50-$7.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦—Outstanding ♦ ♦ ♦ —Very Good
♦ ♦ —Good ♦ —Fair