Restaurant Review: Annam Brahma

Annam Brahma
84-43 164th Street
(at 85th Street)
Jamaica Hills, Queens

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

For those willing to journey off the beaten path for a satisfying vegetarian meal, Jamaica Hills brings you the unexpected home of the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Queens, Annam Brahma.

Annam Brahma has an atmosphere most politely described as unique. Founded in 1971 to help promote the religious mission of guru Sri Chinmoy, Annam Brahma (literal translation: “Food is God”) now exists as a comfortable monument to his controversial spiritual life. The front of the restaurant is occupied with a glass-enclosed living room, complete with a jumbo-sized portrait of the late Mr. Chinmoy seated comfortably on the couch. Photos, artwork, and literature celebrating or composed by Mr. Chinmoy adorn the remainder of the restaurant’s interior; televisions set into the walls play looping videos of the guru bench-pressing livestock. As a testament to the carefully cultivated popular appeal of the religious fringe, somehow these ornaments aren’t overbearing, and the clean colors of the walls, tables and chairs give the dining room a soothing, intimate quality.

The staff are but another variation on this theme; decidedly European women with quiet Scandinavian accents all wear colorful saris, and they exuded a certain playfulness and familiarity in their interactions with us (by the end of the evening, we had all been invited to a concert honoring Mr. Chinmoy’s musical contributions to human culture).

The menu offers a confusingly wide range of cuisines that perhaps reflect the kitchen’s European talents but Indian longings. Supporting this theory of culinary confusion, the restaurant holds themed cuisine nights with an expanded menu, including Chinese, Italian, American, and an International Smorgasbord buffet. That said, at the core lies the Indian dishes from which we chose our courses.

From their wide range of Indian beverage choices, I had a gratifyingly thick mango lassi. Our culinary compatriots for the evening, Bess and Devon, drank a pungent, yet agreeable, kefir milk and a wonderfully seasoned chai tea (a traditional blend with the sweetness balanced against the cardamom, not the ubiquitous overly-sweetened Oregon-style). Brian took a more Western route with a lemonade.

The tastes and textures in our snack sampler appetizer were unfaultable for those seeking deep-fried Indian fare: the samosas (potato-stuffed pastries), alu chops (potato/onion patties), bhajiia (fritters), and bhelpuri (a crisp bread dipped in chutney or pickled sauces) brought our stomachs dangerously close to full before the arrival of the entrées.

To the main courses: the components of my Mediterranean Chapatti Roll-Up were fresh and rewarding. A selection of grilled and raw vegetables intermixed with feta and a light coating of tamari mayonnaise. Though simple, the dish offered a welcome contrast to the deep fried appetizers.

Brian and our companions chose the eponymous Annam Brahma Dinner: sag paneer and a selection of curried vegetables with rice, chutney, and dal (a lentil soup). The spinach of the sag had a pleasant, earthy taste, but the sparing addition of paneer cheese and spice left a shallow flavor. The accompanying vegetables were well seasoned. The dal soup was pure melted butter, making more than a few spoonfuls difficult to consume for the unprepared.

For dessert, despite our sari-clad server’s persuasive claims to specialize in a cheesecake with sour cream topping, the heaviness of the meal pushed us to share a slice of carrot cake, which was not overly sweet, relying on spice rather than sugar to create a respectable final course.

The bill came to approximately $16 each; a clear bargain for the relaxing atmosphere and substantial dishes. The food is heavy, so don’t dare to eat beforehand, and steel your stomach for a wild digestive ride. Overall though, as a unique, worthwhile, and budget-friendly experience, Annam Brahma deserves a pilgrimage from all NYC vegetarians.

Food (3/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (3.5/4)

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