Capital of the landlocked Telangana state, Hyderabad has in recent years transformed itself into South India's Silicon Valley. Perhaps some of that newfound wealth has found its way to Jersey City, because the India Square neighborhood has lately been hopping with restaurants inspired by the techie powerhouse. Over the last few years several newcomers have focused on biryani, including Paradise Biryani Pointe, Biryani Pot, and Bawarchi Biryani Corner. While this decorated rice dish at least partly inspired by Middle Eastern pilaf is common in northern India, it's also the signature of Hyderabad, which has a unique Muslim history.
Two newer restaurants specializing in Hyderabadi fare have appeared over the last three months. We're not talking dosas and idlis here (though many cafes in Jersey City peddle those), but a whole other catalog of South Indian regional cuisines. One of the restaurants is called Hyderabadi House, with the same owners as Sri Ganesh's Dosa House, just across the street. You might have expected the new joint to also be vegetarian, but far from it. Hyderabadi House serves up excellent goat biryani and goat curries, in addition to kutt mirchi (fiery green chiles fried in a chickpea batter) and eggs put to surprising uses, including an egg masala that immerses the boiled variety in a rich peanut gravy.
Just down Newark Avenue from Hyderabadi House, with a view of the elevated highways that crisscross the sunken Meadowlands beyond, lies the subject of this review — Golconda Chimney. Golconda means "shepherd's hill," and refers to a citadel on the edge of Hyderabad that was once the seat of a medieval sultanate; now it lies in ruins, all coruscated walls and arched passageways rising in tiers against the cliff, furnishing a spectacular view of the city to the east. Golconda Fort was once the center of India's diamond trade, and the name has come to symbolize vast wealth.
The restaurant is handsome and somewhat luxurious, with flagstone wainscoting doubtlessly intended to symbolize the fort. The place seats about 80 in a deep, sparsely decorated room. Golconda Chimney offers a more sophisticated take on the cuisines of Hyderabad and South India than the other restaurants in Jersey City. In fact, it deserves to be counted among places like Indian Accent, Babu Ji, and Tapestry that are lately heralding an Indian dining renaissance in New York City. In contrast to those other places, though, the food tends to be more assertive and more highly spiced, perhaps because most of the patrons are South Asian, while Manhattan restaurants often tone down their spice palettes for a mixed audience.
If you're a goat lover, Golconda Chimney is for you. On its sprawling 18-page menu, 17 selections incorporating the horned and sure-footed beast are listed. There's a goat biryani ($13.99), of course, featuring succulent boneless pieces among the spice-scented grains, with a boiled egg perched like a bulbous white bird on top. It comes sided with thick yogurt raita. Also worth trying is goat sukha, a bony mass in an oily chile bath that makes it seem almost Sichuan. Gnaw away!
Gongura goat is cooked to tenderness with its namesake leaves, imparting a tart flavor, while goat pepper fry describes generous hunks of meat with a cumin rub simply roasted, concentrating the flavor. My favorite, though, is goat paya soup ($6.59), made with leathery and gummy shank in a silky broth glinting with collagen droplets. "This will be very good for my skin!" one of my vainer guests proclaimed enthusiastically.
Chicken is another Hyderabad favorite, as evidenced by such South Indian regional classics as chicken chettinad ($11.99), featuring tomatoes, coconut, and poppy seeds. Native to the city, dum ka murg ($14.99) immerses bone-in chicken morsels in a mellow sauce thickened with cashews and chironji (seeds of the Buchanania lanzan tree, which taste like almonds). Such ingredients, exotic to most New Yorkers, abound at Golconda Chimney, where every meal is an adventure in culinary geography. But one of the best chicken dishes comes from the Indo-Chinese canon: Chicken lollipop ($9.99) features the drumstick with the flesh pushed to the top, tinted bright red and fried, with just a hint of heat — like Buffalo wings with an Indian twist.
There are plenty of other desirable apps, including crunchy chaats, and pakoda shaped like flat brown falafels filled with spinach. Vegetarians will find plenty to admire among the entrees, too. Vegetarian kohlhapuri is a brightly colored vegetable mélange sprinkled with grated coconut. Pescatarians will be delighted by machli ka salan — white filet swimming in a dark pool of astringent fenugreek leaves. The menu offers fairly lengthy descriptions of each dish, so if you don't have a South Indian food expert with you, you're not entirely on your own. And don't hesitate to Google freely before you order.
What all this culinary abundance means as a practical matter is that there's no substitute for taking a big gang along on your first trip to the restaurant and trying lots of things— because there's no better introduction to South Indian regional cuisines, in the five boroughs or Jersey City than Golconda Chimney.
Robert Sietsema is Eater NY's senior critic. See his archives here.
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
Cost: Dinner for two, including one shared app or soup, goat entrée, vegetable entrée, and bread, with tax but not tip, $45.
Sample dishes: Goat paya soup, gobi Manchurian (Indo-Chinese cauliflower), vegetarian kohlapuri, mintlacha (garlic-mint bread), machli ka salan (fish curry), chicken kulcha (stuffed flatbread),
What to drink: Homemade mint soda, salt lassi, falooda (rose-flavored milkshake); BYOB beer or wine.
Bonus tip: Afternoons, seven days a week, an all-you- can-eat buffet is available ($10.99 weekdays, $14.99 weekends). Skip it — the most interesting stuff on the menu is omitted.