No holds barred on heat at Greenwood’s Thai Spice

Terry Kirts

Deep-fried ribs in ginger sauce ($10.95) While the average American hasn’t strolled the streets of Bangkok, nibbling on pork satay, fishcakes and slices of sunny jackfruit from sidewalk stalls or noodle boats, plenty of American diners seem to have some strong opinions about what makes for genuine Thai cuisine. As with Mexican and Indian food, ideas of “authenticity” are based too often on one single flavor element: spice. If it’s hot, the logic goes, hot enough to scandalize the typically conservative Western palate, then it must be what you’d get over “there.” It makes it seem as though everyone in Thailand eats the same way, that the entire nation watches every time we try their food, ready to chuckle when we grab for our water glasses. Of course, this isn’t the case. Not every American likes hamburgers or apple pie, and with over 65 million inhabitants, Thailand is bound to have, well, 65 million different preferences in taste. At least one or two must surely prefer their goong ob on the mild side. But when a restaurant’s spicing options run from mild to “Thai hot” and its menu admonishes, “No refunds on items ordered hot,” you can pretty much figure out which interpretation of Thai cuisine you’ve gotten yourself into. Such is the case at Greenwood’s Thai Spice, where we downed plenty of Singha, a Thai beer a notch more complex than Budweiser, to squelch our flaming tongues. Owned by some of the same folks who first brought Thai food downtown in the form of Thai Garden, this no-nonsense Asian eatery across from the Greenwood Park Mall does a surprisingly brisk business, despite its few concessions to local culinary customs. Whatever you think about their lightning-hot curries and noodle dishes, you never doubt for a minute that this is honest-to-goodness Thai food. Deep reds on walls, carpet and tablecloths, as well as some traditional Thai artwork, lend a touch of elegance that this strip-mall locale desperately needs. Colorful letters over the humble bar congratulate the little place on its one-year anniversary. The night we dined, service was friendly, and a bit by committee, though language barriers made explanations of dishes difficult. Strangely, as our beers accumulated, our main waitress kept stacking our empties on the floor by our table. Eventually she came by and spirited them all away. For appetizers, a combo required all fried items, so we split the difference with some summer rolls and chicken wings. The soft rice paper rolls ($6.50) were cut into little rounds with a wan shrimp atop each. Heavy on lettuce, they seemed a little less fresh than some others around town, though a creamy peanut sauce and a kicky sweet vinegar sauce helped to add another dimension. The chicken wings ($5.95), a tasty and less greasy version of the American tavern standard, came with a sweet, fruity dipping sauce. Traditional thom yum and thom ka soups ($3.50) both came much more loaded with chicken, shrimp and vegetables than other versions you’ll find, the former with a vinegary tang and the latter quite addicting with coconut milk. Among entrées, a special of deep-fried ribs in ginger sauce ($10.95) proved to be the mildest and meatiest of the evening’s dishes. Cut across the bone the opposite direction from typical riblets, these meaty and sweet morsels of pork made excellent nibbling with the brightness of ginger and the salty undertone of soy. Curries here cannot be adapted for heat preferences, so we went for the masaman curry ($9.95), the mildest, with tons of tender sliced beef, potatoes and still quite crisp onions in a thick sauce of more coconut milk with crunchy, aromatic bits of lemongrass. At medium hot, we could certainly feel the burn. Noodle dishes, another test of any Thai eatery’s prowess, varied from padd seuw ($9.95) with thick, wide noodles in a generously-spiced brown gravy with chicken and bok choy to the dish that most tested our provincial palates, the goong ob ($13.95). Baked in a little clay pot with glass noodles, fat shrimp and visible dried hot peppers, this dish, also designated “medium hot,” had us raising our eyebrows about the restaurant’s heat scale — and diving for our rice bowls, an even better antidote for the heat than our beers. Thankfully, desserts are quite cooling here. Bananas fried in wonton skins ($4) came with both refreshing mango and coconut ice creams in a dish large enough to share. Lychee fruits ($2.95) were served not over shaved ice but big chunks of ice from an icemaker that leached a lot of water into the syrup. Still, the light, slightly sweet fruit soothed after such gastronomic fireworks with the meal. Whether or not Thai Spice offers the most authentic Thai cuisine in the area, it certainly serves some of the most authentically spicy food of any sort around. Consider your tongue warned. Thai Spice 2316 E. County Line Road 881-2243 Hours Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday: noon to 10 p.m. Sunday: noon to 9 p.m Food : 3.5 Stars Atmosphere : 3 Stars Service : 3 Stars

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