Spice Route Supper Club Opening Cardamom Hill Restaurant

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Thrilling news for Indian food lovers: Asha Gomez, the creator of Spice Route Supper Club, is going into the restaurant business. Her place, called Cardamom Hill, is scheduled to open this fall at 1700 Northside Drive, in the same Berkeley Heights shopping center as a Little Azios outpost. (She’s taking over the former space of My Girlfriend’s Kitchen.)

If you’ve been to a Spice Route dinner, you’ll know what makes this venture particularly exciting: Gomez concentrates her cooking on the specific flavors and dishes of her native Kerala, the southwestern-most state of India. Kerala has for centuries been a major port of the European-African-Asian spice trades, with longstanding Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu culinary traditions that often overlap.

Lunch at Cardamom Hill (named for an inland area of Kerala where spice plantations flourish) will focus on vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis, meals that include portions of several daily-changing curries—perhaps the vegetable stir-fry called thoren, flecked with grated coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves, maybe fish curry or spicy roasted chicken. Dinner will be more formal, with Western presentations of traditional Kerala dishes such as whole fish wrapped in banana leaf, duck roast, and coconut-rich beef curry.

The menu will also have a section called “The Indian South Meets the American South,” inspired by an enthusiastic response to a supper club menu exploring that synthesis. Dishes will include Kerala-style fried chicken over Low Country rice waffles, a dish that Gomez and her team served recently at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Gomez is no stranger to entrepreneurship: She owned the Westside’s Neem Tree Spa until 2008, where she memorably cooked meals for her clients after ayurvedic treatments. (Full disclosure: I was one of those clients, and Gomez and I became friends. I’ve been the beneficiary of many exquisite meals.) She will run Cardamom Hill jointly with her cousin, Vinod Anslem, a graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute and 15-year restaurant veteran who was most recently a sommelier at the original Morton’s Steakhouse in Chicago.

Gomez and Anslem will hold two more Spice Route dinners—one in July and one in August—before devoting all their energies to opening Cardamom Hill.

I’ve long complained that our metro area’s Indian restaurants cover too broad a swath, mixing generic versions of creamy Northern-style curries with a few perfunctory variations of South Indian dosas. Midscale restaurants focusing on one (especially compelling) regional Indian cuisine are long overdue, locally and nationally. I have high hopes for Cardamom Hill.

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