Tea Rose Diner
65 E. 5th Avenue (4880 S)
Murray, Utah 84107
Breakfast and Lunch
Monday - Sunday 9a.m.–3p.m.
Tuesday - Saturday 5p.m.–9p.m.
What makes the Tea Rose Diner special is the pure ambition of the place—it is the biggest tiny restaurant I’ve ever been in love with. For dinner, they make a perfectly excellent and unique rendition of Thai food (also available in vegan versions). The curries and soups are never too sweet, and the dark, somewhat citrus flavored seed, tamarind, is prominent in the cooking—which I found surprising because I didn’t think I liked tamarind, but here it is, simply delicious. They also have one of the most original breakfast menus I’ve ever seen.
The TRD proudly serves many different teas and are a worthy dining companion at $3 a pot, as there is no beer. Their unusual selection of ice cream is house made, hugely adventurous, and even available in a vegan version at the new 7200 S. location, (at which I have not yet eaten). The TRD also serves a great rendition of American food, with generously portioned breakfast items in surprising combinations and notable alternative options like a tasty vegan pancake. The dinner items are working-man style: Everybody else seemed to be eating Corned Beef and Cabbage ($10) on this Tuesday.
I was there for more than just the pleasure of the food: I was on a mission.
The Tea Rose Diner has a Hot Curry wall of fame. Taped to the door are eight pictures of smiling people holding up empty bowls. I can tell you, that smile is the punch drunk grin of the recently victorious gastric prizefighter. Now that I have joined them, I can also tell you that the day that followed the moment of that photo was difficult and long.
I started this assignment knowing I had to take the Curry Challenge, which meant I had to eat a bowl of curry prepared at level five hot, followed by a seven, and then a 10. When I first asked for a five, they wouldn’t serve it to me. I literally had to demand permission to order it before the server would let me get started. I requested an unusual curry, Kow Soi ($10). Lurking beneath what looks like an innocent salad of cucumber, sprouts and carrot is a cauldron of very spicy, unmanageable brown curry and egg noodles. It tastes fresh and rich with tamarind—I’ve never had a curry like it. I wish I had eaten a regular version because, brother, a five here is hot as hell. The five was scary, but doable, and enjoyable in the end—not a little unlike digging a grave in the desert and then not getting shot. It ate like there was potential trouble in every bite.
I had wised up after eating a five. I would eat rice curries. I would eat carefully and precisely. I would concentrate on breathing correctly and swallowing completely. No curry must be allowed to get into my lungs or sinuses or in the soft sides of my cheeks or under my tongue—none. For my seven I had to sign a release and have my ID scanned. I was freaked, afraid. I ordered a curry not on the menu, Mango Curry with Swai ($13.00) (Swai is a Thai catfish, but it eats like bluegill, which I love). The curry was excellent, I’m pretty sure, but the heat was elemental. It wasn’t just hot anymore: It was fresh liquid concrete. Eating carefully and not drinking anything during the meal helped tremendously. The wicked difference between desire and de Sade was evident here: This wasn’t a slap, spit, and swear around the bedroom—it was a get out of town hot tar whoopin’.
As for the 10, if you want my advice, you’ll forget about the challenge. If you must, do not eat all of it. It is stupid, shockingly painful, faintingly unpleasant and not worthwhile in any way. You have been warned. I would not have done it, knowing what I know now. Never.
For my 10, I had Yellow Curry with Swai ($13, $26 or Free—for the Curry Challenge the price is double if you are unable to keep it down, and free if you eat all of it in fifty-five minutes without taking a drink). Mine was almost black with peppers. I can’t even think about it without feeling ill. After one bite my body was done. It was way too much. Every bite, a punch to the face. Every swallow, a balloon of contraband that might break open and kill. The whole enterprise is a serious, mortal mistake disguised as a macho dare. I finished it with about 18 seconds to spare. Half an hour later I felt really ill. The night that followed was one of the most awful, in terms of physical pain, in my life. A bad hangover is a dreary thing, this was waking up retching and gasping after abdominal surgery. Yes, I’ve done that, too.
The lesson here: Get the regular menu items. I didn’t have anything that wasn’t really good, and the dishes were uniquely flavored, memorable, and generous. The Tea Rose Diner is too pleasant and well done, both in food and service, to waste your time and money eating unpleasantly hot curry. If you need a food challenge, take a week-long fast—it’s cheaper and more fun.