It's indisputable: Toledo area diners like their comfort food, but they also dote on eats with a bit of a kick - spicy dishes that scorch the palate, or at least put a major tingle on the tongue, requiring large gulps of water, a salt-rimmed margarita, or a cold beer to put out the fire.
The examples are legion - Mexican food seasoned with chipotle, cayenne, and jalapeno chiles; Chinese with scalding Szechuan; Cajun with andouille sausage and blistering blackened spices, and Indian with curries and hot chili pickles.
And don't forget another Toledo favorite, the cuisine of Thailand in southeast Asia, with an emphasis on curries, chilies, and other ingredients that, depending on your intestinal fortitude, can soothe the stomach with sweet coconut milk or have you crying out for a gallon of pink lemonade to douse the conflagration.
One of the better-known Thai establishments is the Bangkok Kitchen in Maumee, a comfortable restaurant that's an easy habit to get into, thanks to the service, a nice buzz of conversation among the patrons who frequent the place, and the quality and variety of food - such Thai dishes as Pad Thai noodles with meat, seafood, or tofu; satay chicken, stir-fried entrees, soups, curry specialties, crispy duck, and Thai fruit for dessert.
The Bangkok started out as the Siam Caf in Northwood before establishing itself on Dussel Drive in Maumee and South Byrne Road in Toledo. The latter eatery was sold a few months ago and now does business as Tasty Thai.
In fairness to the Bangkok, not every dish is ablaze with spices, and in most cases the kitchen will gladly prepare the food as mild or hot as you want it. A typical meal is built around white rice, fish sauce, lime leaves, cilantro, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, and other spices, and the portions are invariably large.
Among the appetizers, priced from $1.25 to $6.50, we sampled spring rolls in rice paper and rangoon with crab meat and cream cheese. We also tried a Gahree puff with potatoes, chicken, and curry powder in a phyllo dough wrap, accompanied by a small cucumber salad, and the hit of the day, six plump princess shrimp with chicken and spices in a deep-fried pouch.
Hot and sour soup, with just enough tang, comes with most entrees. A lunch special ($8.25) brought the soup with chicken and a giant mound of lo mein noodles studded with more chicken, thin carrot slices, celery, onion, broccoli, green onions, and mushrooms.
Another time, we ordered delicious Tom Yum soup, billed as "Thailand's most famous," loaded with shrimp and vegetables, as prelude to two exceptional entrees. One was Sam Sahai, a stir-fried combination of vegetables, brown sauce, and a trio of shrimp, beef, and chicken ($9.50). The other dish was Gang Gahree ($7.75), a yellow curry with a choice of meats and seafood that I found overpowered by the coconut milk.
Nor was I much taken with Pla Dook Pad Ped ($9.75), which is stir-fried catfish in red curry, served with eggplant, lime leaf, basil, and other ingredients. I expected a firm whole fillet and instead got deep-fried chunks of catfish with so much batter that I couldn't taste the fish. Thankfully, it was the exception to a generally satisfying experience.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org