I love dosa. What’s better than a crunchy, ghee-greased conical crepe packed with spiced potatoes? It's so delicious that I’ve often wondered whether there's more to South Indian food. Until this week, I've never seen a dish besides dosa labeled as "South Indian."
Flushing’s Southern Spice is an entire restaurant devoted to South Indian cooking. The menu proclaims, “Our first Southern style in Queens.” It’s located around the corner from the Ganesh Temple, whose canteen slings some mighty fine dosai. And then there’s Dosa Hutt, which also excels at South Indian veggie fare. But at Southern Spice, there’s nary a dosa to be found.
An appetizer of milagai bajji ($3), looks like South India’s answer to the corn dog, but it tastes like a nuclear samosa. Each green hot pepper has been stuffed with potatoes and coated with chickpea and rice flours. They’re crunchy and hot enough to make you want to suck down an Indian beer from the deli across the street.
Chicken 65 ($6) is a dish I could eat all day, and Southern Spice’s version is exemplary. If the old story about the name is true, then I know only six of the 65 ingredients: cilantro, onions, curry leaves, fennel seed, mustard seed, and dried chili pepper. Like the rest of the dish, that dried chili on top packs plenty of heat. Forgive the flash folks, the lighting in this place skews heavily toward the yellow end of the spectrum.
It’s not every day that I eat shark, much less scrambled South Indian style shark. Sura puttu ($9), literally translates to "scrambled shark," though shark hash is a better description. The heap of shredded shark meat is riddled with mustard and fennel seeds, cilantro, curry leaves, dried chilies and the occasional cardamom pod. Since it’s boneless the chef presents the dish with the spine. Guess this is his way to let diners know they’re not eating mystery meat. When I asked the waiter he said, “Yes, it’s really shark. We get it from the Chinese store.” And it’s really good, too.
Thanks to Southern Spice I now have a reason besides dosai and Ganesh to come to this corner of Flushing. I'm particularly keen to try the karaikudi nandu varuval ($15), a slow-cooked crab made Chettinad style, which has to be ordered in advance.
143-06 45th Avenue, Flushing NY 11355 (at Bowne Street, map)