chai whut?

Saturday lunch is a long-standing favorite of ours. It's a chance for Jeff and me to talk without the artificial constraint of a lunch hour, or the tiredness that comes after a work day. Most are unmemorable quick outings; today's will stick in my mind for a while, but not in a good way.

Our last experience at Spice of India was a little odd at times, but the dinner showed some promise. Enough to give it a second try, anyway. Everything I've heard and read indicated that it was better visited at lunch.  That's what we did this time, except this time it was on a Saturday. Thirty minutes after opening we were the first customers in the door; the satellite broadcast of a Bombay radio station was switched on as we walked in the door.

My memorable moment of the meal came early on.  The teenage girl serving tables was ethnically Indian, but her American-accented English made me think that perhaps she was the daughter or granddaughter of immigrants -- a suspicion that was confirmed after this exchange:

[server] "Would you like something to drink?
[me] "Chai would be lovely."
[server] "Whut?"
[me] "Uhhh.  Chai? ... Hot tea?"
[server, with a look of confusion] "Um, okay."

I was rattled enough to pull out my phone and hit up the mobile version of Wikipedia, wondering if maybe I'd grabbed onto a term that wasn't as common as I'd originally thought. No. I hadn't lost my mind.

The meal wasn't great. I hope it's better when they're catering to the weekday lunchtime crowd; it was bewildering to have no rice available and waiting halfway through our meal before any naan arrived at our table. I don't claim to be an expert at Indian food, but I know a bad experience when I see one.

What we saw there is indicative of many of our experiences in Huntsville. We love independent restaurants, but for the most part, they don't survive long here. For all the championing of New And Different restaurants we hear from some friends and co-workers, a drive down University tells the sobering truth; Olive Garden, steakhouses, and Macaroni Grill are full to the rafters, but ethnicity and originality are hard to find and generally unsupported.

When Jacob visited us for New Year's, I put a great deal of thought into where we should take him for meals. I wanted to give him unique eating experiences while he was here, but it was disheartening to realize how few unique eating opportunities there are here.

  • The old Greenbrier barbecue wins on ramshackle ambience, as well as their hush puppies. The barbecue's good-but-unspectacular.
  • As a matter of fact, you can get good barbecue from several different places, but after a while, you want something else.
  • Surprisingly, our Vietnamese restaurant has survived for years.
  • There are a couple of Greek places, one near Airport Road, one on the Square, and one on University, but none are standouts.
  • There are a few Thai restaurants here and there, but they range from middle-of-the-road to ooh-that-was-bad.
  • You can get decent Cajun food at Tim's, but their menu is set and has been for years.
  • Does Tex-Mex even count as unique any more?
  • Covington's Downtowne closed to the public in December.
  • Jazz Factory's gone, too.

I miss having easy access to a city that supports unique and independent food. I keep hearing that Spice of India is better during the week, but if what we saw yesterday was any indication, they're probably close to being out of business. Another one gone.  Grr.


 Damn. I didn't know that Covington's closed their dining room. I'm not sure I eat often enough anywhere to be considered a "regular", but that place was a favorite. SERIOUSLY good chicken salad. It's also one of the few genuinely local and southern places that I was able to show off to visitors.

Yup - for anyone who stumbles across this and says whut? They're not entirely closed - they're only doing catering now. Happened in late December 2009.

Jeff - a quick test to see if I've got comment notification emails set up in a way that works better now.  I've been meaning to tweak that.  If this works to your satisfaction here, I can deploy it pretty easily on your site too.

I enjoyed the dining we experienced. But I can understand the concern about just-another-chain. One advantage in the Twin Cities is a multitude of restaurants of every stripe. In fact, there are some I've missed trying because they closed before we had a chance to get there...and this is on the order of years.

What about Surin of Madison?