Breakfast is fun again. We were brought into Pondicheri by a twist of culinary fate… a perfect storm of restaurant long lines and closings on a Saturday morning caused us to drop in on this “Indian Diner” for breakfast. We had planned to have dinner there soon anyway… and we still do. Self-described as serving “best of classic, home-style and street foods of India”, everyone with a computer has written about this restaurant, but I’m only talking about breakfast. Chef Anita Jaisinghani had caught our attention years ago when we brunched at her Indika restaurant out Memorial Drive. After she moved to the lower Westheimer location, we faithfully followed. Last Valentine’s Day, Sally and I celebrated there and it has been our favorite romantic Valentine’s Day destination in memory. Jaisinghani’s new creation, named after an Indian city, Pondicherry, seemed perfect for breakfast. After all, the name means “new beginning”, or “fresh start”. How better to start a day?
Comfortable seating and bright window view
Tables are all very close to each other in this “Indian diner”. Conversations with fellow diners are effortless and, to us, comfortable. If you’re very private about your breakfast, you might not be comfortable here. Somehow it seems rude to dine three feet from someone and ignore him, doesn’t it? With the efforts to get the maximum number of seats in the restaurant and with windows lining two entire walls for a street view, the interior is bright and reminiscent of some diners/cafes in Manhattan we’ve enjoyed. We agreed that this wasn’t the place to have a private, quiet, romantic candle-lit breakfast and were pleased to have our food choices validated by a foursome at a nearby table asking us “What IS that?”.
While the restaurant is open at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast and late for dinner, table service is available only at night. I point out that there are many brunch restaurants in Houston and we have visited one every Sunday for a while to spread the word about those we like. THIS one however, fits comfortably in the brunch category… but is what seems to be missing in Houston… a bright open-early BREAKFAST spot, not in a hotel! Ordering is at the counter with a courteous knowledgeable Indian-American hostess from a house-printed menu, updated daily. The challenge of reviewing this restaurant is that the menu can (and does) change daily, due to availability of produce and what we liked may not be there when you go… but what replaces it probably will please you.
The breakfast/lunch menu is applicable from 7:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. and in addition to breakfast items, offers salads, burgers and “frankies” such as Paneer and Veggie Frankie (a wrap with seasonable veggies and paneer masala), Texas Wild Shrimp Salad (with beets, mango, cucumber and sprouts), Lamb Mint Burger (with cheese green chutney and onion masala). Anyway, imagine a lunch menu that isn’t offered anywhere else… but we were there for breakfast. Scrambled /Fried Eggs, Potatoes, Toast, Jam, etc., are all on the menu, but really… you can get that anywhere, can’t you?
As a breakfast staple, French Toast at Pondicheri is a must-order for me. At once huge, eye-pleasing and tasty, it might be all that many diners need for breakfast. Generous Texas toast slices cooked drenched in egg are piled with seasonal fruits such as bananas, apples and blueberries… sprinkled with powdered sugar and have jaggery syrup (a sweetener made with raw Indian sugar), served on the side. This Indian take on French toast could have been all I needed, but it wasn’t all that was ordered (and eaten).
A “side” or Fresh Fruit was nice, as it was seasonal, but so many other offerings at Pondicheri are already smothered in fresh fruit, as was practically everything else we had.
Surprise treats always on the menu, but never described completely, are Nightingales… or Daily Samosas with Chutney. These fried pastries are filled with whatever is in abundance that day… and they are always tasty with breakfast or a perfect little chaat or snack.
Hardly a snack is the Papdi Chaat… a mound of crispy semolina crackers with sprouts, cumin yogurt, cilantro and tamarind chutney. Speaking of seasonal, our Papdi Chaat had a generous sprinkling of pomegranate seeds on it… and this crispy, tart, colorful seed is usually only available until May. Sally and I kept switching the French toast and the Papdi Chaat back and forth.
Masala Chai Tea
Coffee can be American, India blend, cappuccino… or, of course, Masala Chai Tea is perfect with these offerings. Those who wish to enjoy merely a cup of coffee and a pastry will find an array at the counter when ordering. We chose a moist Blackberry and Apple Pudding Cake that had just been placed in front of us while we were ordering… fresh from the kitchen.
There’s always something fresh from the oven in the morning…
Blackberry and Apple Pudding Cake
You can get breakfast anywhere, but when considering location, atmosphere, uncommonly creative dishes, hours of operation and PRICE, Pondicheri scores high on our breakfast/brunch choices.
Breakfast menu served (counter service) from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. weekdays and 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. on weekends. Lunch (counter service) is from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Coffee, tea and pastries (counter service) from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Dinner is served (table service) from 5:00 until 10:00 p.m.
2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX 77098