- Special biryani with chicken
Location: 3033 Banksville Road, Banksville. 412-306-1831
Hours: Tue.-Fri. lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. lunch noon-3 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m.
Fare: Regional Indian and Indo-Chinese
Atmosphere: Low-lit but casual
When a good thing gets off the ground, sometimes all it takes is a gust of positive feedback to give it a momentum all its own. Take the variety of Indian food in Pittsburgh, for example. Only a few years ago, it seemed that every Indian restaurant in town offered more or less the same Northern regional menu of curries and rice, rounded out with a couple varieties of flatbread and some yogurt-marinated meat from the tandoor. Not that there was anything wrong with that. But when a restaurant serving the very different, vegetarian cuisine of Southern India opened, diners they took notice. They told their friends. And soon, it seemed, any new Indian restaurant was as likely to be Southern as Northern ... if it didn't try to be both.
Now, with the opening of The Mintt, local options in Indian dining have gone beyond Northern or Southern cuisine to focus on the specialties of a particular locale. The Mintt offers food from Andhra Pradesh, a state on India's eastern coast and home of Hyderabad. As such, it's equidistant from Southern, Northern, Muslim and Southeast Asian influences or, to put it another way, it's equally impacted by all.
The Mintt may be the first local Indian restaurant to name its chef on its menu, and we're happy to credit Mr. Suresh with a selection that is broad without being vague. Intriguingly, in the paragraph extolling the restaurant's approach to Indian cuisine, we saw mentioned several dishes not actually listed on the menu. We asked, and we received: first gongura chicken, then mutton biryani.
And you should do the same, because both of these dishes were extraordinary. The chicken was bursting with moisture and flavor, and the gongura -- a leafy relative of hibiscus with a distinctive, pleasantly sour flavor -- lent a unique vibrancy to the thick sauce. One caveat: Andhra cuisine is spicy even by Indian standards, and even the mildest dishes will awaken your palate. But the heat is neither punishing nor wearying to the taste buds, and the thoughtful staff brought an excellent, cooling bowl of raita for us and our children, who were getting a bit overwhelmed.
Andhra, in particular Hyderabad, is regarded as the capital of biryani, the ubiquitous Indian dish of rice cooked with spices and marinated meat and/or vegetables. The Mintt did this reputation justice: Its mutton biyani was, quite simply, the best biryani we have ever had, with savory, succulent chunks of mutton studding a mound of rice intensely flavored with herbs and spices.
Chicken 555 was a numeric relative of chicken 65, Southern India's great bar snack. The Mintt offers this marinated, deep-fried delicacy too, but we were pleased to make the acquaintance of the lesser known chicken 555. A sauce dressed with peanuts and curry leaves, and flavored with elements of a traditional pickle -- curry leaves, cardamom pods and a variety of seeds -- clung to the tender meat, infusing it with vibrant herbal notes.
Fish tikka was wonderfully light and moist within the delicate, coral-colored coating bestowed by the intense heat of the tandoor. Also from the tandoor, lamb keema -- a sort of skewered sausage served as part of the mixed kebab platter -- stood out as meaty and moist, clearly made of minced, not ground, meat. The platter also featured two traditional Andhra chicken preparations, one mild and moist, the other more like the familiar tandoori chicken. The shrimp were superb, but even Mr. Suresh couldn't make salmon sing in the tandoor.
Next came a dosa, the distinctive Southern Indian pancake made with lentil and rice flour. The Mintt's was substantial and almost chewy beneath a gloriously crisp exterior. The Andhra dosa, filled with upma, a sort of rice porridge, was unfortunately out, but the potato masala we got instead was a good balance of starch and spice. The sambar served alongside was more of a wintry lentil soup than a brothy dip.
A dish from The Mintt's more familiar Northern Indian repertoire, mutter paneer, was another excellent offering, full of plump, bright peas and firm, mild cheese in a sauce that was creamy, rich and slightly sweet.
Finally, from The Mintt's Indo-Chinese menu, we tried hakka noodles. Andhra doesn't border China, or even Myanmar, but at this point we figured Mr. Suresh wouldn't offer it if it weren't worthwhile. With plenty of chicken already on the table, we ordered the vegetarian version, vermicelli-thin noodles tossed with equally slender matchstick strips of cabbage, green pepper and carrots. There was not so much sauce as seasoning, but the flavors were bright, distinctly not-Indian, and made for a satisfying change of pace.
The Mintt's unique focus on Andhran cuisine enticed us there; its consistent excellence with dishes from all over the subcontinent will bring us back. And we'll be telling our friends.