Bina’s Café, a very orange new eatery on Partition Street in the Village, aims to bring a tri-cultural experience and authentic Indian cuisine to Saugerties. Boasting the only open kitchen in the area, co-owners Rubina Mirza and Martin Martinez serve up a nexus of Pakistani, Mexican and hearty American cuisine that marry together beautifully, with a menu where Indian scrambled eggs (served with scallions, ginger, peppers and a slew of spices) appears between French toast and a breakfast burrito. For lunch, Greek gyros are listed alongside burgers, “devil wings,” a chicken tikka sandwich, a locally-loved falafel sandwich and a “dirty grilled cheese” that contains “whatever is in our kitchen, we can put it in, [including] ham, bacon, tomatoes, anything.”
“For me, it was my dream for as long as I can remember,” said Rubina Mirza, co-owner and namesake of the establishment.
Mirza, from Pakistan and Martinez of Mexico tossed around the idea of opening their own restaurant the first time they met in the back of the house at The Dutch.
“She got hired and I saw her skills and told her that she should get her own place instead of working hard for someone else. And she said ‘I will one day’ and I said ‘if you ever need help, I will help you’ — I don’t know much about Indian.”
Now he’s learning — Martinez is maintaining the American aspects of the menu while learning how to properly spice Indian food as he works for Mirza. Mirza also taught her husband and the third chef in the restaurant, Tahir Aziz, to cook — when the pair met through mutual friends, he worked at a call center and was “just an eater.”
“Four years ago I couldn’t boil an egg — now, I can cook for 200 people,” he said.
Now, he conducts culinary experiments each day when the trio meets in the kitchen for breakfast before the shop opens at 7 a.m., bringing out samples of test foods like chicken-stuffed naan to patrons to gauge how they are received before adding them to the menu. Aziz invented the Indian scrambled egg, adding roasted cumin, coriander, peppers onions scallions garam masala and ginger to the traditional breakfast staple. Four weeks ago, when the spot first opened, the menu had eleven items. Now, there are 18, and the menu is still expanding.
“Punjabi people are really good eaters. In Pakistan, if you see someone eating a lot, people say that they must be Punjabi,” said Aziz. “Lahore in my city you can go out at four o’clock in the morning and you can get anything to eat from there. That’s what we are trying to bring in here. That’s why we’re not keeping the same menu each week, then we’d be limited to just a couple dishes. “
Adhering to this Punjabi ideal, Bina’s remains open until 1 a.m. on Friday’s and Saturday’s, and opens at 7 a.m. seven days a week. Although the trio didn’t advertise (“no flyers, nothing), perhaps due to the shop’s location and the novelty of their concept, it has been abuzz each morning with clientele.
“People here, for Indian dishes, most people here just know about chicken tikka or maybe they have an idea of chicken tikka masala,” said Aziz — apparently, chicken tikka masala isn’t authentic Indian food, but rather an invention of Indian immigrants to Europe to appeal to the more muted tastebuds of locals. “More than that, I don’t think that people know about it — there are so many dishes that you can make. With chicken, you can make chicken teriyaki, chicken korma with just fried onions and dried cashews, almonds, yogurt, and the green cardamom. And it smells so good and tastes so different. I think we’re going to do the korma this weekend.”
On the weekend, the trio hosts “curry dinners,” featuring a new item each time, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. They also hope to host a similar regularly occurring event for tacos, and to add mango lassis and smoothies to their menu. Most importantly, the group hopes to keep the spot accessible everyone, offering a ten-percent discount for Saugerties local business owners and neighbors and keeping prices reasonable — for the most expensive item on the menu, a locally grassfed burger with fries, costs $14. For dinner, the priciest item is the lamb masala, which runs a customer $18.
“A little bit for everybody, people from the city, this town — we’re trying to keep this place for everybody,” said Aziz. “We aren’t trying to put a label on it. We’re in between everybody, we are trying to keep everybody in the loop so we can serve good quality at a lower price, and whoever walks into this restaurant will have the best taste.”