Pinch of Spice ahead of curve on food safety

Pinch of Spice. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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Pinch of Spice. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Indian restaurant in Kennesaw has always had cleanliness at top of its list.

Since moving to America from India 20 years ago, Vikram Bala has suffered plenty of cringeworthy racist comments. Mostly, he’s managed to shrug them off with good humor.

Pinch of Spice. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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Pinch of Spice. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

There was the person who asked him if he owned any elephants. And the person who wanted to know how many wives he had. When he and his wife, Archana Vikram, were preparing to open their restaurant, Pinch of Spice, in a corner of a Kennesaw shopping center anchored by a Dick’s Sporting Goods, a passerby who works nearby said, “Oh, man, you are going to stink up the place.”

This takeout order from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw includes (clockwise from upper left): lamb pepper fry, goat biryani, batter-fried cauliflower, tandoori chicken, bamboo fish. Mango lassi and condiments are in the middle. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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This takeout order from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw includes (clockwise from upper left): lamb pepper fry, goat biryani, batter-fried cauliflower, tandoori chicken, bamboo fish. Mango lassi and condiments are in the middle. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Bala, ever the smart politician and businessman, responded calmly: “My friend, you are my prime candidate.” He invited the naysayer to the grand opening, educated him on the smells and flavors of Indian cuisine, and won himself a regular patron. “Since then, he has been bringing people every other week. He’s my biggest customer,” said Bala, 47, an information technology professional who is Pinch of Spice’s front-of-house manager, partner and PR guy, while his wife is executive chef and the legal owner.

This takeout order from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw includes (clockwise from top): lamb pepper fry, batter-fried cauliflower, tandoori chicken, bamboo fish and (center) goat biryani. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
This takeout order from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw includes (clockwise from top): lamb pepper fry, batter-fried cauliflower, tandoori chicken, bamboo fish and (center) goat biryani. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Affable and loquacious, Bala talks a good game. When I reviewed Pinch of Spice in April of 2018, he told me the restaurant was founded on pillars of food quality, safety and personalized service (educating customers on the cuisine; letting them choose sauces and proteins to taste). It seemed pretty obvious, but, when he talked about cleanliness and sanitation, it kind of gave me pause. At the time, safety protocols were something no one talked about.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s all anyone talks about.

In mid-March, Pinch of Spice, which had a popular buffet, closed its dining room, created an online ordering platform, and began offering curbside pickup. “We were just paranoid,” Bala said. “Even before the government mandated it, we pulled the plug and said, ‘We are going to carryout only. … However, we will not compromise the quality of the food.’”

Takeout from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw can be ordered online or over the phone. There is curbside pickup, but no formal delivery service. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
Takeout from Pinch of Spice in Kennesaw can be ordered online or over the phone. There is curbside pickup, but no formal delivery service. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Bala bought “high-end, expensive chemicals,” and started cleaning the restaurant compulsively every morning. While they prefer that customers order online, Bala said he devotes 30 minutes each morning to taking phone orders from elderly patrons. And, though the restaurant doesn’t deliver to the general public, they make exceptions for customers who are facing hardships, or leery of leaving home. “If anybody needs food, and they are helpless, we go drop it off free of charge.”

As a way of giving back to the community, the restaurant has donated 1,200 meals to “front-liners” and the homeless. Bala also has helped a couple of small Kennesaw businesses navigate CDC guidelines. “They were in tears to be back on their feet,” he said.

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PINCH OF SPICE

Menu: full menu of Indian standards and chef-created dishes; many vegan and gluten-free options

Alcohol: beer and wine, including some two-for-one deals

What I ordered: tandoori half chicken, goat biryani, lasooni dhania gobi (batter-fried cauliflower), bamboo fish, lamb pepper fry, mint chutney, two 22-ounce Taj Mahal beers (a BOGO deal). When I reviewed the restaurant in 2018, I described it as a solid Indian restaurant, with a few standout bites and sips. (I still remember the frothy, hot-pink rose milk in its tall soda-fountain glass.) Based on this week's takeout, I'd say it's improved. The biryani and cauliflower were excellent. The lamb was tender, and I loved the flaky pastry (Kerala flay paratha) it's served on. (Roll it up like a taco.) The chicken was just a little dry by the time I got it home, but it will be fabulous shredded, sauced and tucked into tacos.

Service options: order online or over the phone; curbside pickup; no formal delivery service

Safety protocols: complies with CDC guidelines.

Address, phone: 725 Ernest W. Barrett Parkway NW, Kennesaw, 770-919-7111

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.

Websitepinchofspice.com

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