Thursday, October 5, 2023

Punjabi Dhaba Serves Fantastic Indian Food to Locals and Travelers Alike.

Operating out of what, years ago, was a Waffle House, Punjabi Dhaba has brought excellent Indian food to Morrilton with flair, pakora, and a bottomless cup of chai.

The expansion of truck stops and adjacent locations offering eastern cuisines has been noted in recent years, thanks to a new influx of immigrant truck drivers seeking flavors of home while traversing the United States on long hauls. There are a few locations in Arkansas, particularly truck stops in Dyer and Morrilton, who are catering to this crowd.

Such is Punjabi Dhaba, a new location for the Tour of India folks, housed in a former Waffle House last home to Mom and Pop's Waffles a few blocks south of Interstate 40. Here, the windows are now decked with decadent photography of some of the dozens of dishes this Indian diner now offers. 

The flavors here are those common with North Indian and Pakistani eateries. There is a spread of treatments - korma, vindaloo, masala, curry and saag - for chicken, lamb, goat and seafood. No beef or pork appear on this menu. 

My dining companion and I dropped in for an early afternoon repast, complete with chai for the cold day. Punjabi Dhaba's chai comes in paper cups, pre-sweetened, maybe a little too sweet but with those fine notes of cinnamon and cardamom we both craved. 

We started with appetizers - the familiar vegetable pakora, and a bread pakora I'd never tried. The former was what my companion called "Indian hush puppies," balls of onion strings in a light besan batter, served with tamarind sauce and mint chutney. These to me are like superb, well-seasoned onion string balls, sweet yet savory. 

The latter, a happy discovery - six triangles in the full order, puffy well-soaked diagonally sliced bread cubes cooked like French toast. The cubes are small bread slices soaked with sesonings, dipped in gram (chickpea) flour batter and deep fried. They're a popular street food and very tasty.

We chose to share a lamb korma and a goat tikka masala. When we ordered, we were asked if we'd like naan. Do note the naan is a separate cost. The curries were delivered with white rice. 

I found the korma a little less thick than I like, but the very well stewed lamb made up for it, pliant and perfect to dissolve on my tongue. It was flavorful - as I understand it, it can also be brought up significantly in heat to please the diner.

The goat tikka masala's sauce was so thick, our waiter even mistook it initially for the chicken version of the dish. Under that sauce, chunks of goat with some bone lay, with the clingy sauce obscuring all. Again, attention was well paid to the tenderness of the meat. 

In addition to the traditional naan that came to table, we had a basket of sweet naan, elsewhere known as peshwari naan. The dish, traditionally filled with dried fruits and coconut, was actually pink within with a jellied filling alongside lots of flaky coconut. Not so sweet as a dessert, but delightful as a pastry with the sweet chai, this will be part of my future orders as well.

You'll find Punjabi Dhaba/Tour of India on 1504 North Oak Street in Morrilton, off I-40 south of Exit 107. You can call ahead orders to (501) 215-4199 or order online here.

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