People’s Indian Restaurant

By | February 21, 2007

People’s Indian Restaurant
5147 Penn Ave
Garfield (East End), 15224
M-Sun: 11am-10pm

Holy Cannoli! It is Week 9! Because it was the day of the Super-Snow, we decided to go local and pick People’s Indian, on Penn. People’s used to be the hipster-favorite about 5 years ago. Since then, the new hipster Indian scene is at Taste of India (also on Penn). I’ve been wondering about the reasons for this shift for a while. Is it because People’s went downhill? Is it just a manifestation of the hipster attention span? Maybe it is because Taste of India is that much closer to the BrilloBox, current hipster bar. We’ll eventually get to TOI to test it as well, but after eating at People’s this week I think we can safely knock out hypothesis #1. People’s was, in fact, better than I remembered it ever being before. It isn’t the best of the best in Pittsburgh, but it had a nice homey feel to it and certain dishes were really quite good. The service was top-notch, and the mood was just right. All in all, People’s surprised me, and it might you too.

People’s is in kind of a crummy area. Penn Ave fluctuates in its desolation-factor practically block by block. This block seems to be improving over the years (maybe another reason for the hipster exodus), but is still a little decrepit. People’s totally makes up for this fact when you walk inside. Even on the dreariest of days, such as the one we were experiencing, People’s will invigorate you the minute you sit down. The walls are painted in warm colors, and as Jessica N. pointed out there are fun, glittering pictures hung everywhere. There is no TV, so no Video Sleeze, and the Indian music is softly playing in the background. The staff is friendly, and the service is amazingly fast. Pappadams come on a plate with a mini-salad, and are served with tasty Tamarind and Mint Sauces, as well as moderately good onion chutney.

Looking at the ratings afterwards, I noticed that most of the test items were floating among the top scores, though nothing won first place in the average among all the testers. The highest rated dishes here were two entrées that have so far been difficult to find good examples of. The Daal was flavorful and spicy, and was well liked by most tasters. I found there to be some predominant flavor that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but it triggered a vague memory of something not so good, so I can’t commit to liking it. I think I prefer the Daal at Orchids (their leftovers the next day sealed the deal). But, clearly there is something to the Daal at People’s, so if Daal is what you are after, you should definitely try it here.

Another highly ranked dish was the Chicken Tikka Masala. Judging from the comments, the tasters appreciated the tenderness of the chicken more than the flavor of the sauce. Incidentally, the Core 5 rating for this dish is a little higher than the rest of the group, putting the Chicken Tikka Masala from People’s as the leader of the pack.

Probably not worth getting is the Biryani. This looked beautiful when it arrived, with all the right chunks of nut and veggie, but it failed to live up. The Mango Chutney was also pretty terrible. The jelly-like sauce was actually decently sweet and tangy, but the fruit chunks were downright N-A-S-T-Y! Laura Hi. called them ‘gross’, Sarah S. called them ‘gummy’, and I called mine ‘inedible’. The mango chunks were truly awful.

The Paneer dishes were OK, but funnily there was a huge gap in cheese perceptions. Several people thought the Paneer was some of the best we’ve had yet, with an actual flavor the penetrated to the core of the chunk, plus the browned crust of a Paneer that was seemingly seared before being added to the sauce. On the other hand, there were quite a few people who were dissatisfied with the cheese, perhaps because the flavor was a little unusual or unexpected, and also because it was very firm. I really love soft paneer with a crisp crust, and I liked the cheese here for its flavor. However, to each his own – this seems to me to be a Mattar of taste (sorry, that was an abominable joke).

Speaking of abominable, there was no abo-abdo this week – sweet! Of course, we are all eating our Hajmola like good little girls and boys, so maybe that is why. This week, as I was sucking away on the nasty, rotten-egg flavored tablet…..I began to…like it! Augh! Just ever so slightly, and that only lasted about 5 seconds and then it was nasty again. Can it be that I might actually end up liking it?

Also, this week I think we were being watched. Yes… it felt a little bit like they knew who we were! There was a couple there, one of which seemed to be the owner, who sat near us and were maybe watching us. This may be total paranoia, but the service was unusually excellent, with fast food preparation and frequent water refills. Could the restaurants in Pittsburgh be catching on? Of course, most of this could be explained by the fact that we were the only people there, so the staff had no other distractions. But…..if you are reading this People’s…good job! We liked you!

If you aren’t People’s, well then you should consider going to People’s, with some people, to eat some, errr, Veggie Samosas. Probably this restaurant won’t be on the top of the heap at the end, but it really was Aight. Plus it was super-cheap, and is probably the very best value we have found yet (not including buffets). If it is close to your house, or you are a hipster who misses old times, or you like to pay next-to-nothing for better-than-decent food, then you should definitely find your way to People’s.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Mango Chutney
Soylent Gobi

This week, we had a big group of onion-haters with us. I question their hatred of onions, but respect it nevertheless. It seems like it would be hard to find onion-free Indian entrées, but actually, there were a number of dishes they liked. If you are an Onion-Hater too, then you can be confident in ordering Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori Chicken (leaving the onions on the sizzling plate), and Plain or Garlic Nan. Avoid Baingen Bartha and Biryani, which are chock-full of ‘em, and of course the onion chutney. Note that this is only a guideline for People’s. I have found that onion presence varies from restaurant to restaurant (though usually Chicken Tikka Masala is a safe bet).

This week I added Mattar Paneer and Biryani to our graphs. Originally, we were just ordering these when we had a big enough group, but then it turns out that we always have a big enough group so we’ve almost always been getting them. Note that we usually order Veggie Biryani, but our order got screwed up at India Garden: Monroeville and we received a meat Biryani instead. I put the rating up on the graph anyway, to at least represent the general quality of their Biryani.

Week9 - Core5

Week 9 - All