Ponderosa is one of the oldest restaurants and the only one serving South Indian cuisine even now. It opened way back in the 80s and instantly became a raging success. People used to throng the place to try out what they perceived to be exotic dishes like Masala Dossa, Itli Sambar, Paun Bhaji and the venerable Thali.

This infatuation was fuelled by the arrival of the VCR in every household making Indian movies the staple diet of every Pakistani which showcased this cuisine in favorable light.

Although people in this part of the world are predominantly ‘carnivorous’ at least when it comes to eating out, they were in awe of these all-veg dishes from across the border which were nowhere to be found here except Ponderosa.

The location of Ponderosa also helped matters, situated at a major junction near the National Stadium.   Then it moved from that prime location and things have never been the same for them since then.

Ponderosa first moved to the building at Sea View which now houses the KFC. Didn’t work out although they had managed to create a pleasing ambiance there.

Finally Ponderosa moved to the Muhammad Ali Society food street where it now stands in a corner near the old Kaybees away from the limelight.

The place gives the impression of a restaurant that has seen better days. It’s still modeled on the 80s style so don’t expect the ambiance you would expect from a Zamzama café.

Taste-wise it’s still right up there where it was 20 years ago. South Indian food is basically Madrasi cuisine, and Ponderosa aptly captures the spirit of that cuisine. I would know that since I’ve had the opportunity to taste what the Madrasi people themselves cook, and it’s not farther from what Ponderosa has come up with.

The Dossa culture was introduced by Ponderosa which has been adopted by many other restaurants and small time cafes. Initially there was only the Masala Dossa which  basically comprises of Aalo ki bhujia. However, many variants have been created including Qeema Dossa, Chicken dossa, Paneer Dossa and even Onion Dossa.

We tried the paneer and the chicken version, having consumed the masala one many times before. Both were equally delectable, but at Rs. 200 and 260 respectively, they are definitely pricey.

The paneer version was filled with cubes of paneer with a healthy dose of onion and tomato. We felt that these two items were a bit too much compared to the paneer cubes. Overall the dish was delicious.

The other specialty of Ponderosa is the Thali, specifically the Madrasi special thali. It comprises of a big circular thal in the centre of which is placed plain white rice with three puris and a paapar on top. Along the circumference of the circle are seven small katoris (steel cups) having an assortment of dishes including halwa,daal, bhaji achar and the likes.

If you only go for the meat when eating out, this is one dish definitely trying out. Although not every item on the thali is sumptuous, most of them are, and at Rs. 210 per thali, a single person just won’t be able to devour it completely even if he’s famished. That’s how large the thali is. On top of everything, you get a glass of namkeen lassi with the thali.

Ponderosa has also come up with a Mughlai version of the thali. It costs Rs. 280 and pales in comparison with the Madrasi counterpart. To begin with, it has just five dishes on the thal two of which are omelet (very strange) and achar. The other three dishes on this day were chicken qorma, qeema and halwa. It just doesn’t offer you anything unique which can be had anywhere else. Better avoid it.

You can order extra puris which cost Rs. 60 for four purees. Very expensive indeed, but they are top-notch quality. They aren’t your halwa puri wali purees or bbq paratha wali, but a unique breed. They are neither soaked in oil nor do they crumble at the slightest touch.

With the city offering a plethora of diverse cuisines, south Indian cuisine has lost its allure. But if you’re stuck by a bout of herbivorous craving that won’t put a dent in your wallet, Ponderosa is definitely the place to hit.