The other day, I was driving down an obscure little lane near home, and saw a sign that said “Sidewalk Cafe”.
Having made a mental note to check it out, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend informed me that the scrumptious chocolate-frosted cake we were consuming had been obtained from there. It was rich, gooey with frosting, and sinful enough to warrant at least a dozen Hail Marys.
The first time I visited Sidewalk Café, I was charmed by its homely simplicity.
An oddly charming mishmash of unmatched chairs, tables, and tablecloths fit cozily into a narrow space that was probably once someone’s driveway. At the far end of the space is a counter; the area before it is a pleasant seating area with casual furniture that just begs you to sit down and read a book or have a long natter with a friend. Artfully placed vintage tins, jars, and odds and ends present the kind of organized clutter that takes hours to get just right.
Over several visits, the blackboard menu remained mostly the same. Like the decor, it’s a bit of a mishmash: chicken, fish, or vegetable “pies” (not pies, really, baked dishes); vegetarian or non-vegetarian pasta; chicken or vegetable biriyani; vegetarian or chicken burger; chapati or ghee rice with chicken, egg, or vegetable curry, channa masala or palak paneer. You may also order reasonably priced grilled or cold sandwiches, and (if you want a breakfast or brunch) waffles, pancakes, and egg-sausage type breakfast combos. Tea, coffee, bottled drinks and a few packaged juices round out the menu.
I have tried the chicken “pie”, the fish “pie”, the non-vegetarian burger, the pasta, the chicken biriyani, and the aforementioned chocolate cake.
Both “pies” are hearty and filling. The ingredients are very fresh (just look at those colors!) and overall, they are tasty. My grouse is that the breadcrumb topping – which, for some reason, sits atop a thin layer of egg white – often overwhelms a forkful of the pie. To the best of my knowledge, a traditional British fish pie (the only kind that’s crustless) is topped with mashed potato, much like a shepherd’s pie. While I have sampled a potato crust, a cheese crust, a cheese-and-breadcrumbs crust, I have never come across an egg-white-topped-with breadcrumbs crust – and in my opinion, it ruins an otherwise perfect dish. When I asked about it, one of the owners, Rajini Reddy, told me “that’s the recipe”. I, however, feel that recipes are meant only as a starting point. They’re meant to be questioned, to be tweaked and refined. My suggestion would be to either use cheese and breadcrumbs or switch to a conventional mashed potato crust.
The biriyani is satisfying in the way that only home-cooked biriyani can be. It contains a decent amount of chicken, and is neither too “wet” nor too “dry”. It’s not outstanding, not even close – but this is definitely what you’d choose when you’re craving the taste of home-cooked food.
Fresh ingredients make the pasta unexpectedly good. While it is (predicatably) overcooked to please the Indian palate, it isn’t the usual limp, soggy mess that passes for pasta in many eateries – I’d describe it as firm, but nowhere near al dente. When I visited on Independence Day, the pasta was served with spinach puree and tomato concasse in homage to our flag: classy and creative. Delicious too.As for the burger. Well. To me, this is a big, fat no-no. It isn’t at all what I would call a burger (for starters, it’s made of chicken). The patty is a) stodgy with “filler” and b) coated in breadcrumbs (gasp!) The burger bun was very fresh, but the good folks at Sidewalk Cafe do not seem to know the cardinal rule of burger assembly – never put the mayonnaise or ketchup directly on the bun! Soggy burger bun = yuck. This overly desi-fied representation of a burger – complete with raw onions and cucumber (cucumber? really?) fails to impress. However, at Rs. 75, it holds its own quite well when stacked up against a MacDonald’s burger… although I must add that in my opinion, even cardboard tastes better than a MacDonald’s burger.
The desserts consist of the home-baked cakes on display at the counter. Again, these are not “fancy” desserts. Plain ol’ chocolate cake with homemade frosting. Basic lemon cake. Frosted cupcakes. Delicious in a nostalgic kind of way.
At lunchtime, Sidewalk Cafe is packed tight with the (mostly migrant?) young BPO crowd that seems to appreciate its homely fare and ambience. However, if you visit any time outside of the 1pm to 2pm lunch rush, it offers an uncrowded and refreshingly charming alternative to any of the generic chain cafes. The food, while mediocre, is fresh and wholesome, and the general vibe is cozy and warm.
Overall, I actually like this little gem. There’s certainly no haute cuisine here… just simple, home-cooked food like mama used to make – even if mama’s version of a certain dish wasn’t quite “authentic” or always up to scratch. Comforting in its predictability and unambiguity, unpretentious in flavor and presentation, Sidewalk Cafe’s fare is tasty, but does not aspire to culinary brilliance. And sometimes, that kind of simple honesty is just the thing I’m looking for.
No. 3, SBI Colony,
3rd Block, 7th B Main,
Phone: 080 25530426, +919886144902