On a recent weekday evening, Cafe Spice Indian Cuisine in Cockeysville was packed with customers. The servers sprang into action each time a new diner was seated, serving the free cracker-like papadum and seamlessly taking orders.
The aromas in the room were tantalizing, as hot plates were delivered to tables. In the midst of the thrum, Rani Garg, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Girish, was serenely surveying the scene.
She would later stop by our table, inquiring about the meal, as she did with every guest.
That's the kind of attention that has kept the Gargs in business for 10 years. The food is always well-prepared and thoughtfully plated. But given the number of Indian restaurants in town that are turning out great dishes, the Gargs' personal touch goes a long way.
There are no surprises on the menu, which includes an assortment of dependable naans, vegetarian options, tandoori dishes, curries and biryanis.
Cafe Spice, which first opened in Towson, will celebrate its sixth anniversary at its Cockeysville location in April — a testament to its good will and place in the community.
Scene & Decor The main dining room of the storefront restaurant is dressed up with colorful, upside-down umbrellas on the ceiling, and Indian artwork, chandeliers and red fabric swatches on the walls. There's a peaceful, congenial ambiance as the owners pass through the room making sure customers are having a good experience.
Appetizers The deep-fried shrimp pakora ($9.99) was the winning dish of the evening. The shrimp, stretched out of their curled shape with an airy chickpea coating, were delectable. There was no dipping sauce, but we found that the mint and tamarind chutneys served with the basket of papadum complemented the seafood. The mulligatawny soup ($5.99) wasn't as intensely flavored — or "tangy," as the menu described — as some we've had, but the mild lentil broth dotted with sliced scallions was soothing.
Entrees The chicken tikka masala ($16.99), a popular dish at the restaurant, was creamy and delicious. While we opted for poultry, you can also choose lamb, goat, fish or shrimp. The minced lamb meatball curry ($17.99) featured a rich tomato-based sauce. While it was very good, we thought the dish would have benefited from more than four meatballs. There was plenty of fragrant basmati rice to soak up both sensational sauces. The entrees were mildly spiced; we were surprised no one asked us what degree of heat we would like, as they do in many other Indian restaurants.
Drinks We were smitten with the hot masala chai ($2.99), laced with ginger and cardamom. Other drinks include Mysore coffee, juices and sodas, as well as salty, sweet and mango lassis (yogurt-based drinks). The restaurant is BYOB with a $2 per glass corkage fee.
Service We had a variety of servers, each of whom was quietly polite.
Dessert The three gulab jamun ($6.50) — India's traditional deep-fried cottage cheese balls dipped in sugar syrup — had the texture of glazed doughnuts holes and were a satisfying finish. The single scoop of homemade pistachio ice cream ($6.50) didn't live up to expectations. It was thick and pasty, and lacked the nuts and raisins that were listed on the menu.
Backstory: Girish and Rani Garg operated a restaurant in Bangalore, India, before coming to Timonium to live with a relative. They opened Cafe Spice 10 years ago on York Road in Towson, and relocated to Cockeysville six years ago.
Signature dish: Shrimp pakora
TVs: No TVs
Where: 10540 York Road, Cockeysville
Contact: 410-891-8740, cafespicemd.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations