Skip the stuffing, go for the spice

November's annual contribution to the canon of American hunger rests in pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing. What this has to do with what actually happened-learning to catch eels and plant corn-I can't say, but I'd like to give thanks to the true Indians, whose spices catalyzed Europeans to trek the globe for them.

"Just because it is spicy does not mean it is hot. Most Indian dishes have 20 to 25 spices and herbs. That's why they're considered spicy," said Sheetal Singh, hostess and wife of chef Kanwarpreet "Channi" Singh at the family owned and operated Saffron (1710 W. Main St.) in Kalamazoo. "But you can have it as hot as you want, too," she chimes.

Saffron offers 44 house specialties at modest prices. Skip the lunch for a decadent dinner with sinfully crunchy Chatpay Aloo (barbecued potatoes) while enjoying a Kesari Regal (an icy shaker of Chivas Regal, lime juice, a splash of ginger ale, fresh mint, and of course, saffron) served in a martini glass. Novices can enjoy the first class service and have the Saffron Chef Special, a complete six-course meal for less than $20. Vegetarians are privy to a wide selection. Opt for the Nutty Navratan Korma, a vegetarian friendly dish with more flavor than any traditional American cooking could contain.

The gold tasseled, rust-red draperies hanging in the windows at Palace of India (961 E. Fulton St.) offer a relaxed dining experience away from the bustling Fulton traffic jamming west of Diamond. Here, you should favor the lunch buffet for the Butter Chicken. The rice is steamed to perfection, nan made fresh, and the onion pakora's availability is limited to the size of your stomach, all for less than $10.

Located at the tip of Eastown, mainstay Bombay Cuisine (1420 Lake Dr. SE) has outgrown its original space and transformed ye olde Pizza Hut into a modern swanky atmosphere. Lacking semblance to India, Bombay patrons now enjoy roomy, open bar seating with a focal point on food and its new, extensive wine collection. Ask which wine to pair with their Chicken Vindaloo, a hot spicy dish from Southern India that is complete with chicken breast pieces with a dark red sauce. Servings are large for typical Indian entrees. Prices, albeit steeper, are not overbearing.

Indian Cuisine (1520 Wealthy St. SE) offers a more casual alternative to Bombay. Offering a variety of settings in which to enjoy your meal, the front bar is well-lit, featuring benches and pillows, formal dining tables and Indian décor for those who want to step outside of Michigan's gray haze.

The French Quarter pastel architecture in the main dining room has touches of India in the doors and fixtures, replicating a Delhi courtyard, accentuated by traditional music. Arrive early for the juiciest pieces of owner Raul Campbell's Chicken Tikka Masala. Campbell, originally from Bombay, takes pride in his North Indian delicacies.
Server Megan Gogo, mused that there are too many flavors to favor, and suggested those hesitant to delve into a specific dish should "take a piece of nan and load it up like an Indian Gyro."

If you are looking for a similar menu with comparable prices to Bombay but prefer a more exuberant atmosphere, check out Taste of India (4445 Breton SE), or the more quick-staffed in-n-out India House (3760 Division SE) for a less-expensive a la carte lunch and dinner menu. Either way, you can't go wrong with Indian faire.

New Foodie Spots

The Electric Cheetah
1015 Wealthy St. SE Grand Rapids, (616) 451-4779

Along the revitalized Wealthy Street strip east of Eastern, The Electric Cheetah's ever evolving menu will have you stuck deciding between Pineapple Pulled Pork, East Coast Pulled Pork or a Sticky Pulled Pork sandwich. Their fall menu won't be around forever, and the made-from-scratch pies are savory and filling in Executive Chef Cory DeMint's original flare on standard American food stuffs, which is claimed to stem from Spain, local farmers, and grandma.

Wealthy Street Station Deli & Grill
1157 Wealthy St. SE Grand Rapids
(616) 451-0238

Limited seating is the only problem at the Wealthy Street Station Deli & Grill. Boasting the best of American, Mexican, and Polish short-order, this restaurant will leave you full of some of the best food Wealthy Street has to offer. Attack the half-pound Station Burger and its deep fried jalapeños and onion, smothered in chipotle and cheddar cheese, or get in touch your inner Pole with kielbasa, kraut, pierogies AND cabbage. And for the Mexican menu? It covers what the fast-food joints have, but far better.