Friday, October 23, 2009

Springfield's Gem of India

Rare are the occasions when I have the chance to eat great curry in the Ozark Highlands. Until last week, every opportunity has involved my camp stove, my green enamelware pot, red lentils (because they cook faster than any other lentil), a gravel bar, and a little orange-stained Ziploc bag filled with my own spice blend of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne, asoefetida, fenugreek, and so forth.

But flip through the Springfield phone book's restaurant section and you'll find pages and pages of great authentic names for Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, and Thai food restaurants. Landing in Springfield at the end of a remarkably long and brutal workweek, I knew I wanted nothing more than vegetables and brown rice with some sort of non-animal protein source (and a decent wine list). The mind-boggling long list of ethnic restaurants on major thoroughfares near the hotel reminded me of the time Alyssa visited me in a fancy New Orleans hotel: when she walked into the lobby of the Meridien, she looked around at the gilded panels and chandeliers and said nothing more than "GAH!" followed by my country mouse response of "look at all them lights!" Of course, we both lived in New Orleans for many, many years, but our recent years of exile in Missouri and Idaho made it all seem so glamorous and Big City.

So that night, I learned that Springfield has the kabal on ethnic food in the Ozark Highlands. With no recommendations except that of my concierge who said of all of the Vietnamese and Indian restaurants I named "they're all good, so I've heard," I gravitated towards the regal sounding name of Gem of India. (My favorite Indian place in New Orleans was the now-defunct Shalimar (...Rue Madison?), equally glamorous, and a great lunch buffet. Killer saag paneer-stuffed mushrooms, good wine list).

Gem of India is a stately place, an old school restaurant with high back seats, cloth napkins, Indian waistaff in white oxfords. Outstanding Northern Indian fare, the Navrattan korma, pakoras, wine list were precisely what I wanted that night but the long, thorough, and capable menu including paneer thrown into every sort of sauce imaginable made me wish I lived closer. The restaurant is hosting their 7th Annual Diwali on November 7th, promising great food, Punjabi folk dancers, belly dancers, and an Indian DJ! Non-stop from 11am-midnight.
The trick now is to find enough intact native landscapes to warrant spending time in and around Springfield so I can try out some of those plentiful Vietnamese restaurants. Columbia's lone Vietnamese place is great, of course, but Springfield has upwards of 20 Vietnamese, countless Indian, and several representatives of every other ethnicity whose food I like to eat. It doesn't seem fair.


Jeff Moore said...

Allison, while I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing the Gem of India...may I also offer "Big Fat Burrito" next time you make your way to Springfield. I still crave the taste more than 7 years after moving away. Located on South National just south of Battlefield. Unlike any other. Of course they have vegetarian items for you as

Anonymous said...

HI Allison

New Delhi Cafe in Eureka Springs has some of the best Indian food I've tried — and it's a buffet! — and they have live music! Right in the middle of town on Main Street. I think the Indian stuff is weekends only.


James C. Trager said...

It really doesn't seem fair! How does the home of the state's flagship public university have such a dearth of good ethnic restaurants, while Springfield (whose claim to fame I somewhat abashedly admit I don't even know) does? Maybe the elucidation of the mystery lies in that unknown claim to fame...

Allison Vaughn said...

Noted, Derek. I've written it down! I'll be back that way on an exploratory visit through Arkansas. So many good restaurants in Eureka Springs.

And James, it really is unfair. No good Chinese food in Columbia. One good Indian, a couple of nice Thai. We have a good local food scene, which I brewpub just opened that doesn't own a fryer.