East Brunswick Spot Lets Afghan Cuisine Shine

Afghan Palace puts Route 18 on the map.

It looks like a mozzarella stick but tastes like a hopped-up version of a Tater Tot: It’s the sweet potato roll at Afghan Palace, a laid-back storefront spot that’s recently taken root on frenetic Route 18 in East Brunswick.

Sweet potato rolls

What a nifty idea, when you think about it—mashing up sweet potatoes, rolling them into logs with a little breading, and serving them with sauces cooling and fragrantly spiced. We chew on these easy eats as we receive the bolanee, homey, handmade turnovers filled with minced vegetables and right for dipping into either a mild, yogurt-based sauce or a zesty mint-laced puree. Even if the bolanee look a little too humble, their pastry’s flaky and the scallion pops in all the right ways through the otherwise meek vegetable mash.

“Bush” soup? Yes, please. I’d like a cauldron on call for the entire winter, to pick me up when I’m tired, chilled, hungry—or all three. With a yogurt-rice base fortified by chicken, this very white, light, yet creamy-textured soup belies its appearance and delivers a bolt of both mint and warming seasonings.

Bush soup

I’d never encountered “bush” soup on an Afghan or Pakistani menu; that’s because it’s a specialty at Afghan Palace, a sister restaurant to the nearby Thai Palace and operated by Syed S. Qayyum.

Though Afghan cuisine is often compared to some of India’s regional foods, it’s got a distinct personality. Take a kebab, especially the beef zaffrani: It could, at first glance, look like a classic tandoori kebab, but it’s uniquely Afghani in its use of saffron-scented tomato to add vigor to the meat. To cap it off, there’s a side show of minced peppers, onion and cilantro and a pile of basmati rice chunky with dried fruits and snips of vegetables.

Beef zaffrani

I like it almost as much as I do the naringe palao, a jewel of a dish that tucks chunks of tender goat into a round of saffron-infused rice crowned with dried orange rind, slivers of almond, crushed pistachios and raisins. It’s a glorious assemblage, marriage material to the mango-studded naan in particular and the almost-juicy onion kulcha in general.

Naringe palao

Though both breads, I have to say, I also took a liking to the anar e murg, a chicken stew with a pomegranate sauce base that had a coy way of tasting refreshing and proving mighty filling.

Anar E murg

I was thinking about how that orange rind made the goat-rice dish one that would haunt me in happy ways when our amiable server brought out a birthday-cake size portion of mango custard. Thin slices of the tropical fruit were layered atop chunks of more fruit and a creamy base, and a scant dusting of pulverized pistachios and almonds topped it all off.

Mango custard

You know? That dessert could’ve been dinner.

Afghan Palace, 1020 Route 18 in East Brunswick. Open daily for lunch and dinner, except Mondays. BYO. 732-307-7163; afghanpalacenj.com.

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