Heera and Island Delight head East and West with spicy specialties
If only Christopher Columbus had been headed for Indiana, instead of India. He could have found all the spices he ever wanted, right here in landlocked Indianapolis, though he might have been confused about the city’s culinary geography. Heera, with its aromatic approach to the cuisine of Bombay, is on the northwest corner of town, while Island Delight, with its buffet of West Indian curries and stews, sits far east on 30th Street. But just as Columbus was a little mixed up about where he had come ashore, it doesn’t matter where you land, as long as you feel at home among the locals — and get a good meal.
Chicken biryani ($11.95) was also full of tender, nicely seasoned chicken with plenty of basmati rice.
Not just for lunch
Of course, Columbus thought he was headed east for some of the world’s most coveted spices. Today, spices aren’t exactly prized luxuries, but Heera grinds and mixes them judiciously in dishes that retain individual character. Ask your waiter, and he’s liable to regale you with the lengthy process involved in creating each flavorful curry, saag or masala. The location is a bit plain, though comfortable, and it’s virtually deserted in the evenings, something the owners hope to change. But with all of the other options on West 86th and a dearth of nearby residences, this place mainly feeds a quick lunch to the daily influx of area workers. Indeed, their buffet ($7.95) is a concession that recently replaced a selection of lunch specials. Among appetizers, the keema samosa ($3.50) stuffed with lamb, a not-so-typical Indian ingredient, are flaky and rich with a generous meat filling. These paired well with traditional syrupy tamarind and fiery cilantro chutneys. Cheese nan ($2.50) was a novel version of the ubiquitous Indian flatbread, though the homemade cheese didn’t impart a ton of flavor. Entrées are divided among tandoori, vegetarian, meat and seafood dinners, as well as plentiful family specials. Our polite but somewhat skeptical waiter asked us our heat preferences, but, perhaps fearing we couldn’t handle medium-hot, warned the cook accordingly. Dishes, then, were a bit timid, though not without flavor. Shrimp saag ($13.95) was a creamy purée of spinach swimming with fat shrimp. Chicken biryani ($11.95) was also full of tender, nicely seasoned chicken with plenty of basmati rice. Baingan bharat ($9.95) was a smoky concoction of eggplant roasted in a clay oven then mashed with special herbs. To end the meal, Gulab Jamun ($2.50), pastry balls made with homemade yogurt cheese, were as good as any around. Kheer ($2.50) is straightforward rice pudding but less like tapioca than some versions. All in all, Heera is an excellent point of entry for diners just learning how complex Indian cuisine can be without being too hot.
A little island spice
The sign for the old Waffle House it occupies still stands in the parking lot. Inside, only a few colorful décor elements make it clear you’re in a Caribbean restaurant. Take one bite of the jerk pork or the chicken wing dings, however, and you’ll know you’re not far from where Columbus did turn up, an island he described as “the fairest isle that eyes beheld.” Of course, you might get a more varied and authentic Jamaican meal if you come for dinner and try the ackee and codfish ($8.50) or the oxtail dinner ($8.50), along with conch soup and something called “manish water.” But the lunch buffet ($5.99) at Island Delight is a great way to taste the different approaches to chicken, pork and goat, with a few sweet accompaniments like sweet potato pudding and fried plantains. Aside from some salads, and rice and beans, the buffet is a meat-eater’s paradise, perfect for someone on a low-carb diet. Vegetarians, however, would be advised to order sides like home fries or Calypso rice off the menu. Chicken and pork dishes range from baked and barbecued versions to the much spicier “jerk” approach, with a host of unusual spices such as allspice and thyme. But nothing goes beyond what the average diner could stomach. Curried goat is a bit heavy on bones but is tender and rich with a buttery sauce. Salads and fruit are marginal, and slices of cake are a bit dry. But the bread pudding and sweet potato pudding are sweet surprises, rich and with just a hint of spice. For those wanting a true Jamaican experience, try one of the tasty beef or chicken patties in a case at the counter. Skip traditional Coke for a Blue Hawaiian Swizzer or a bottle of Ting with the zing of grapefruit. Service is often a family affair, and the place is quite intentionally casual, sort of like you’re stopping in for lunch at your mother’s. As with Mom’s kitchen, you’re never quite sure what’s cooking on the stove.