There are smiles on the faces of the people working at Spice N Curry, which opened in May in Elkridge, but don’t let that fool you. Underneath their cheery exteriors, they are serious — about their food and about making sure their diners are having a wonderful time.
When we arrived at Spice N Curry, around 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday, only a few tables were occupied. That changed quickly, with the restaurant filling over the next half-hour.
Spice N Curry’s menu includes all the classic dishes people expect to see at an Indian restaurant, plus numerous South Indian meals that aren’t as common. Though the Baltimore area is home to some of the country’s best Indian restaurants, most focus on food from the northern part of the country.
India is the seventh-largest country, by size, in the world, and the culinary differences between its regions — in ingredients and in styles of cooking — are significant. Northern Indian cuisine includes more breads and curries, while the food of the south is often rice or lentil-based — and the varieties narrow further from there.
Spice N Curry’s kitchen does justice to both regions.
We started with a bowl of crispy bread served with sweet and hot dipping sauces, followed by two southern India-inspired appetizers, punugulu and chicken 65. The punugulu — small, fried balls of squishy rice — were served with a spicy red sauce and a cooler, herbaceous green sauce for dipping. Texturally similar to hush puppies with mild flavor on their own, the punugulu were a good canvas for the intense sauces.
Chicken 65, a fried chicken dish with roots in Chennai, a city in the southeastern part of the country, was crispy and tasty with sneaky heat we loved.
Biryani — dishes using spiced basmati rice as a base — are a staple of southern Indian cuisine. Spice N Curry’s version has roots in Hyderabad and was simply lovely. The rice was delicately aromatic and cooked gorgeously with half a hard-boiled egg on top. In the middle of the mound, we found a chicken leg, its dark meat falling right off the bone.
We seasoned the rice, alternatively, with savory, gravylike sauce and cool, yogurt-based raita, both of which we loved.
Curries are a common element of northern Indian cuisine; the restaurant’s rich goat curry was intense and dark, with bits of goat meat, still on the bone, swimming in the thick sauce. It was spicy, which we liked, but not overly so.
Dessert was gulab jamun — spongy balls of fried dough in a light syrup spiced with cardamom. Sweet and sticky, they were a simple and likable way to end the meal. We realized, though, that we would’ve been just as happy to finish dinner with a mango lassi.
Instead, we tried the creamy, fruity drink early in the meal, when our waiter brought us one to try at no charge. It was sweet and thick, and we made quick work of it. From there, we stuck with water and soft drinks. Spice & Curry has no liquor license but allows BYOB with a fee of $5 to $10 for wine and $1.50 for beer.
Throughout dinner, the waiter who brought us the lassi kept an eye on our table, sharing service with a waitress. The pair partnered on every table in the restaurant, and though it was a busy spot, they managed to be attentive and friendly all around.
As we gathered our things to go, we overheard them chatting about the menu with the couple at the table next to ours, patiently answering questions and offering suggestions. They seemed invested in making sure the couple enjoyed what they ordered.
The same thing had happened during our meal, and it made a difference. Our culinary exploration of India — especially the southern portion — was excellent, from start to finish.