Place: 5th Element Indian Grill is a spacious no-frills place that opened four months ago with a faux red and gold pressed tin ceiling and private banquet room. It is named for the elusive 5th element, usually thought to be a kind of ether, and to honor that there are five major regions in India including north, south, east, west and a central interior. Flat screen TVs play Bollywood films with the audio turned off. There are comfy padded lime green seats in booths with ceiling fans overhead and photos of India on the pale salmon walls.
The History: Chef/owner Vijay Reddy is from Hyderabad in South India. He learned to cook from family and friends and has worked as a restaurant manager and chef in India and the United States. He emigrated to California 16 years ago, then moved to Florida to open his first Element in Jacksonville. He buys the halal meats and imported spices wholesale in Orlando and scours local Indian markets for produce. If there is something you want that isn’t on the menu, Chef Reddy will cook it as long he has the ingredients on hand.
The Food: One reason to visit is to sample the “holy trinity” of South Indian snacks. Dosas are crispy crepes made from soaked and ground rice and urad dal, a type of skinned black gram. The batter is left to ferment overnight for a slight sourdough tang then cooked on a griddle and served with coconut chutney. Rava dosa is a folded variation made with semolina (cream of wheat). Idli are small flying saucer-shaped steamed spongy cakes made from dosa batter. Medu vada are savory deep-fried donuts made from spiced ground black gram batter served with sambhar, a thin spicy lentil soup. Uttappam are thick pancakes made from dosa batter topped with onions and sliced chiles. From the north there are Punjabi favorites such as sag paneer; malai kofta (potato and paneer balls) in a rich cashew and tomato gravy; kabuli naan stuffed with a puree of cherries, coconut and raisins; gongura chicken in a sauce made from a type of hibiscus leaf; mixed grill with chicken, mutton, lamb, shrimp and ground beef kofta kebabs and biryani made with fragnant basmati and a choice of chicken, lamb, mutton, shrimp, or vegetables. The lunch buffet offers almost two dozen items including snake gourd curry made with a long slender gourd that is a mild and absorbent; curd rice with yogurt; pongol (soft, spicy grits); tandoori chicken; puffy deep-fried bhatura bread; goat curry; bitter gourd chips; tangy Andhra-style shrimp pulusu with tamarind and mint; spilt pea dal; channa masala (spicy chickpeas) good with eggplant and peanut chutney with truffle-like curry leaves; and vegetable korma. Then help yourself to mango soft serve ice cream to cool the heat and celebrate India’s Independence from British rule on Aug. 15.
You Didn’t Know This: In India and other places in the world Udipi restaurants serve pure vegetarian tiffin (snacks). Tiffin comes from the British slang “tiffing,” meaning to eat or drink between meals including teatime nibbles. In India snacks like dosas, idli and vada originated in Udipi, a town on the South West coast of Karnataka State in South India created in temples by Brahmins.
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If You Go
Place: 5th Element Indian Grill
Address: 1325 South Powerline Road, Pompano Beach in a strip mall
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $6.99-$11.99, vegetarian/South Indian $5.99-$15.99, mains $10.99-$21.99, weekday buffet $9.99 ($13.99 Saturday and Sunday)
F.Y.I. Available for catering events