Most of J.P. Nagar may no longer be on the city’s outskirts, thanks to its unchecked sprawl, but it does have its own little slice of the highway. Not far from Ranga Shankara, and holding its own amidst a number of rival eateries in its vicinity, stands Chulha Chauki da Dhaba, lit by old-fashioned lanterns and sealed in by red walls and bamboo blinds.

As soon as you step in, you notice an open kitchen and a gravelled courtyard dotted with tables sheltered by umbrellas.

The look they’re going for is simple and rustic (if you’re willing to let cement bricks painted red pass for earthen walls), and the atmosphere is decidedly cheerful.

Their vast menu had us taking time, but we decided to skip the ‘Time Pass’ starters — which included items such as manchurian, lemon chicken, egg burji and chicken 65 — and dive into the tandoori starters, which include a range of kebabs and tikkas.

We asked for the kalmi kebab and the stuffed mushroom tikka. Helpfully, their non-veg tandoori starters come in ‘half’ and ‘full’ portions, which contain three and six pieces respectively. The kalmi kebabs were simply delicious, with juicy meat fairly melting away from the bone. However, they only took a few minutes to arrive, and while we were impressed with the quick service, we were unnerved to find that the chicken drumsticks hadn’t been cooked through.

The restaurant offers a wide range of meat, vegetable and paneer gravy dishes, rotis, pulaos and biryanis, and even phulkas and parathas, “genhu ke khet se”. It even has schezwan fried rice, thrown in for good measure. We tried the dal tadka and phulkas with “desi ghee” (what is dhaba food without the grease?), and paneer parathas, washed down with some chilled buttermilk.

Finally, we were disappointed to learn they were not serving dessert that day — the menu boasts of gulab jamun and gajar halwa — but the thick, sweet lassi they serve in earthen tumblers made up for it.

Chulha Chauki da Dhaba’s prices may be higher than that of your average highway dhaba — a meal for two costs around Rs. 600 — but if you’re looking for some good old Punjabi food close to home, then it makes for a pleasant alternative.

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