I have written about my experience and feelings for Bengaluru and my sojourn in Malleswaram before.
And while I write about my favorite foods, I wouldn't call myself a ‘foodie’. In fact I personally do not like the idea of going early or standing in a long queue - however great the food might be, sorry thats not me. In Bengaluru, sadly that’s how it is.
Thats one of the reasons I missed out eating at CTR the last time I was at Malleswaram as CTR, a popular landmark restaurant was always crowded.
I also do not have any happy memory of a restaurant called MTR where people used to queue up early in the morning to eat their breakfast, and also for an important reason because their famous Sambhar and other condiments were a scarce resource and would get over completely. So as kids when my enthusiastic father made us eat there one morning there wasn't any of the regular Udupi restaurant regulars because the chutney and sambhar were over, and instead we ate them with accompaniments which were unusual combinations (for kids). Couldn't get what the fuss was all about.
But on this occasion I took out the time and decided to eat there early morning as I needed to leave for a meeting at 8 am. Luckily there were a few chairs free and I managed to get one table to myself.
One thing about CTR is it brings back both the 50s art deco and South Indian lifestyle to life. Also its the closest I can see it to being a Indian style ‘diner’ concept. There were large glass windows you can watch the roadside. The service is relatively quick and closer to a Fast Food restaurant.
I ask for the Masala Dosa and the waiter clarifies to me if I want the ‘special’ one as he knows I cant speak Kannada and might not say “Benne”. I agree.
Now apparently the standard has reduced from the glory days, but I think its still pretty good.
When it comes I cant help noticing this is as KONKANI as it gets (IMHO at least). Konkani GSBs make a variety of Dosas and there are two varieties that are close to the type of Dosa that this restaurant serves and this seems to be a mix. But they elevate it further by achieving a consistency in texture rarely achieved by other restaurants.
Because ‘Benne’ is used it is practically like the Dosa has been ‘deep/ shallow fried’ with a crisp crust more on the lines of a deep fried fritter crisp crust, and then there’s the flavor of ghee/ butter. As a result the waiter gives you some tissues when you order this as your fingers are going to be ghee laden as you eat this. But what makes it unique is the spongy layer which you find in regular dosas which is a contrast and a sensorial delight as you bite into the crust and experience the light softness of the dosa.
IMHO its not this nor the taste of the dish that helps it get its fans. I am a sucker for nostalgia as well as institutions that adhere to or reflect some values. CTR seems to be old school while also being prey to new practices. All the waiters were wearing uniforms of a different name, perhaps the catering company which also brought in food early in the morning before they opened their doors (and if they also supply to other restaurants how unique can it be?). But what makes CTR unique is the ambience and the PRICES. Yes, I ate three items including filter coffee, but the bill was just around a 100 Rupees, which is close to what I’d pay for one dish at any of the neighboring udupi restaurants. Maintaining this price level is hard and the Sambhar served barely had any vegetables.
I went there twice and managed to get a chair. But wouldn't recommend this to those with queasy stomachs. My experience there was dampened by a tiny cockroach that also seemed to be a big fan of the benne dosa and made a dash to it, while the attentive waiter palmed it and took it away. He made sure I noticed he’d washed his hands afterward, but there was a niggling doubt of what happened to the cockroach. This happened on my first visit and wasn't enough of a deterrent for me to go there a second time, but it niggles and if you are quest about hygiene, perhaps the Benne Dosa is best left to be maintained as Bengaluru’s well kept secret :-))).