With his newest restaurant, NYC-based Roni Mazumdar envisions a space that welcomes the local community through its menu and design alike.
— Ally Spier
New York City-based restaurateur Roni Mazumdar sees potential where others may not. His newest venture, Adda, in Queens’ Long Island City neighborhood, is characterized by this kind of optimism, both inside and out.
Situated between Queens Boulevard and heavily trafficked Thomson Street, and flanked by an empty storefront and a 7-Eleven, Adda’s location may initially feel like an odd choice, but it’s very intentional. For one thing, it replaced Unico Global Tacos, a somewhat short-lived, earlier endeavor by Mazumdar and chef Suvir Saran that offered a globally-inspired menu. But Unico, and now Adda, address aims to “get people to see a little bit of life in this semi-barren zone”, says Mazumdar. Wanting to be a changemaker, rather than one who piggybacks on others’ efforts, Mazumdar hopes to appeal to the population of the largely as-yet-undeveloped neighborhood, whose quality food options are currently, severely lacking. A big segment of that population? Students at LaGuardia Community College, directly across from Adda on Thomson Ave. By offering a “student special” takeout option for $6.43 all day, every day that Adda is open (Monday through Saturday), he caters to this expectedly cash-strapped crowd.
But Adda’s attempts to welcome those who step inside aren’t merely limited to this lunch special, and Mazumdar wants Adda to provide an inviting atmosphere for anyone who chooses to dine there, local or not. The restaurant’s name itself nods to Indian culture. In Hindi, the word translates to a “perching spot”, and in Bengali, to informal group conversation, often alongside food. Mazumdar embraces the word’s roots fully, hoping that his aptly named restaurant will become a comfortable hang-out spot. Both the menu, and Adda’s interior design, work concurrently to achieve this.
Adda’s menu showcases traditional Indian flavors that Mazumdar, from Kolkata, and chef Chintan Pandya (also the chef at Mazumdar’s Rahi, opened last spring in New York’s Greenwich Village), from Mumbai, grew up eating, but not in an intimidating way: though most offerings cost more than the student lunch special, it’s not by much. The curries, biryanis, tandoor grilled meats, snacks, and breads are thoughtful representations of simple, regional dishes from throughout their home country. “Regional, but not generic”, says Mazumdar; the same can be said for the space itself.
Just as Adda’s food embraces authenticity through its nostalgic quality, so, too, does its decor. The intentionally sparse interior at Adda is meant to echo qualities of traditional Indian canteens — casual, sometimes cafeteria-like meeting places that offer affordable food options to locals, as much as menu items are. Sparse, though, is not in any way equivalent to thoughtless.
The takeout counter at the back of Adda is situated within a wooden shack that’s meant to appear shoddily constructed underneath a corrugated metal roof, evoking the bare-bones environs and rustic character of the places that inspired it. The kitchen is behind this structure, so that all dishes pass through it. A few small bills are glued to the shack’s posts, and single-bulb, caged pendant lights hang from its roof, a humorous nod to the means through which some canteens steal electricity from their neighbors.
In the dining room, tables and chairs are plain. And, though Mazumdar admits that he thinks some of his dishes look “kind of ugly”, he doesn’t want it to matter here. His menu is meant to include comfort food, and that’s reflected in and complemented by his aesthetic choices: he intentionally opted for simple dishware, not wanting showy pieces to overshadow the food.
On one wall of Adda’s dining room, the paint was made to look chipped, with streaks of teal, a color Mazumdar associates with the canteens of his formative years back home. The opposite wall is covered in collaged newspaper clippings, the collection of which was a collaborative effort led by Mazumdar’s wife. She, with help from the rest of the team, pooled resources in a shared Google drive to collect articles and at least 1000 images that reflect milestones and headlines from Indian culture from the last century.
Mazumdar, if given the chance, will proudly and excitedly point to favorite parts of this wall, embodying the vitality that he seems to hope Adda will inject into its surroundings.
Skift Table contributor Ally Spier is a Brooklyn-based writer and designer who studied ergonomics at Cornell, and architecture at Pratt. Her background in design informs her love of food and travel… and vice versa.