Holy grail: The best Punjabi food for miles, Desi Spice, is just down the road from Eastgate Mall

Don't be put off by the gas station next door

Holy grail -- For some of us, it conjures a much younger Harrison Ford looking excessively fetching in khaki. For others, the reference is a bit more biblical. But for our dining purposes we'll stick with the pop-cultural connotation. In this case it's a bite or a beverage that you just can't imagine living without, or at least not chatting it up to all your friends. 

Sometimes the true gems hide in plain sight. For example, the best Punjabi food for miles around is just down the road from Eastgate Mall. 

BATAVIA, Ohio -- Desi Spice owner Bagga Dilbag comes to the restaurant industry by way of a gas station -- his restaurant is located adjacent to his Marathon station on Old State Route 74, where he and his staff serve the best malai kofta that I've tasted. 

For the uninitiated, malai kofta are the tender vegetable dumplings (think potato, paneer cheese, carrot, onion, garlic and typically a mix of mashed vegetables) served in a simmering tomato, onion and curry cream sauce. At Desi Spice, the hand-rolled, deep-fried dumplings are made entirely from scratch.

The accompanying sauce, flavored with plenty of black pepper, turmeric, cumin and curry powder, is also studded with golden raisins and nuts. The dumplings and sauce are enjoyed over fluffy basmati rice and, in our case, with plenty of onion naan.

My dining companions and I were a mix of vegetarians and meat eaters, but we all found the malai kofta prepared at a spice level of three was more than adequate. Our server, Kait Matthey, described anything higher as "making your eyebrows sweat."

Desi Spice specializes in Punjabi cuisine and serves both halal lamb and goat, in addition to plenty of chicken and vegetarian dishes. 

"We feel like the halal meats have a better flavor," explained Matthey. 

She was also quick to mention that the chef butchers all of the chicken in house and insists on cooking absolutely everything from scratch. 

"We don't even have a freezer," she added.

I can attest that the lamb saag was definitely the best I've eaten in a long time, and I look forward to trying the goat curry. Braised on the bone with plenty of onion, garlic and curry powder, it's the kind of dish that can feel adventurous to those who typically stick with chicken tikka. 

It's hard to imagine that an Indian restaurant tucked next to a gas station would be a destination. Although the interior is very casual (but complete with traditional drums and a sitar suspended from the ceiling), Desi Spice does an extremely brisk takeout and delivery business. 

Translation: It's an ideal spot to refill both tanks. 

Desi Spice

1098 Old State Route 74, Batavia

Desispicecincinnati.com

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