Chorney-Booth: Big flavours and neighbourhood hospitality at Masala Lounge and Grill

Article content

It’s hard not to let the look of a restaurant colour expectations of what may lurk inside. For example: step through the doors of Masala Lounge and Grill, an Indian restaurant that opened in the Beltline at the top of the year, and you’ll find what looks like a standard pub, albeit one with the warming scent of curries wafting from the kitchen. With a formidable wooden bar facing the door to greet guests as they walk in, the room is cozy and the staff are friendly and welcoming, but the bones of the restaurant look very much like the former Fionn MacCools from not too long ago.

Advertisement 2

Article content

But if we don’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t judge a restaurant by its inherited architectural features. Masala Lounge and Grill’s casual setting belies the superb Indian dishes coming out of its kitchen.

Article content

Masala
The Masala Lounge and Grill does maintain a bit of the former bar feel but has been updated. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

If the name sounds familiar to readers from the city’s south end, it’s not just because “Masala” is an exceedingly popular name for Indian restaurants. Co-owners Pradeep Singh, a hospitality professional who takes care of the front of house, and chef Mahavir Singh are also behind the Masala Lounge and Grill in Okotoks, which opened about a year and a half ago. That restaurant has been particularly popular with Okotoks’ British population and the town’s municipal council, which has taken to ordering take-out for its meetings.

With that U.K. expat connection in mind, leaning into the new Beltline location’s decor makes more sense. The pub setting also offers a comfortable neighbourhood feel designed to draw in residents of nearby condo buildings. The Masala team has taken pains to turn its 100-seat restaurant into a community joint where locals can pop in for a quick drink and a snack, sit solo at the bar with a meal while chatting with the bartender, or hunker down for a full multi-dish Indian feast.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Masala
Owners Pradeep Singh, left, and Mahavir Singh Rawa at the bar in Masala Lounge and Grill in Calgary. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

That said, Masala Lounge and Grill is also worth travelling to from other parts of the city. The menu is enormous with almost too much choice, sticking primarily to North Indian fare, reminiscent of what the owners have experienced in India. What sets the restaurant apart from the norm is a commitment to fresh ingredients and homemade sauces, and a refusal to compromise on traditional flavours and techniques. There are a lot of Indian restaurants to choose from in Calgary – and a lot of very good ones at that – but Pradeep Singh believes there’s still room for new approaches.

“What we’ve learned from our past is what we present on the table,” he says. “If you’re looking for food that’s like what you’d get in India, this is where you can get that.”

Masala
A wide variety of dishes and desserts from butter chicken and naan to chow mein at Masala Lounge and Grill in Calgary. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Butter chicken is on the menu ($16.95), but staff will gently encourage customers to move outside of that ubiquitous comfort dish and order something new. There is a wide range of things to try, with choices that can be matched to guests’ preferred protein (there’s plenty of meat, but the restaurant is also vegan-friendly). Curries include vindaloo, kadai, lababdar, mango, and coconut varieties, with most dishes coming in between $15.95 and $18.95 depending on the choice of meat. There are also specialties like sizzling plates of mint tikka chicken ($17.50), several different preparations of paneer and dal ($14.95-$15.95), kathi rolls ($10.99), biryanis ($14.95-$18.95) and multiple choices for rice and naan. They make their own kulfi for dessert (with the option to adult-ify it with a shot of Bailey’s) as well as an aromatic gulab kheer rice pudding.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Masala
The bar area boasts many varieties of beer on tap. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

The bar is, of course, also fully stocked with taps pouring beers that pair with curries. But even though “lounge” comes before “grill” in this restaurant’s name, it’s the food that shines strongest.

Masala Lounge and Grill is located at 1249 11th Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 825-540-1627 or through www.masalaloungeandgrill.ca. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Masala
Mint Chicken Tikka on a hot plate at Masala Lounge and Grill. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

***

In other restaurant news, there’s a new food festival in town. The inaugural Feast on Fourth runs next week from April 24 to 28, with special deals at restaurants all along 4th Street S.W. Select restaurants will be offering specific dishes for $10 each, giving wanderers a chance to sample their way through Mission (and slightly beyond), on a self-guided progressive dinner.

Part of what makes this particular festival fun is the sheer breadth of offerings along what is one of the city’s densest stretches of interesting restaurants. Diners can stop into critically acclaimed spots like Roy’s Korean Kitchen for a green onion and seafood pancake or Park by Sidewalk Citizen for fried chicken with housemade spicy mayo, hit The Unicorn or Joyce on 4th for some pub grub, or grab an enormous ice cream tasting flight at Abbey’s Creations. Other participating businesses include South Block BBQ, Peasant Cheese, Phil and Sebastian, Vin Room, Pin Bar, and several more.

For more information and a full list of restaurants and featured dishes, visit 4streetcalgary.com/feaston4th

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

Article content