CHENNAI: A drive to Gopalapuram, piping hot meals in the comfort of your car under lush tree cover, and the camaraderie it brought with it — a visit to the Woodlands drive-in remains an unforgettable image for several Chenaiites. This includes Balachandar R, Murthy K and Arumugan P, partners at Junior Kuppanna, who are now offering the once novel concept at their new location at the Kathipara Urban Square. “The government wanted to make this CMRL property into a hub and we told them that they need a strong concert that pulls people to the destination. So, we began brainstorming.
All of us are from Chennai and we have vivid memories of going to the Woodlands drive-in; we miss it. Furthermore, while we don’t party anymore, we remember that when we did, there were no good food options throughout the night for partygoers. Hence, to make the square a destination, we decided to make this location a 24-hour drive-in restaurant. The government supported us as well and because of the space here, parking is also not an issue,” they shared. While echoing the original is difficult as it had an impressive real estate, they admit that the square is suited for a drive-in concept as it can accommodate 20-30 cars.
It has merely been a little over two weeks since Junior Kupanna began serving through the night, but it was enough to prove that the idea was a hit. With its strategic location — roads from various nooks of the city leading here — the restaurant has been seeing success in its new schedule. “Twenty-five per cent of our sales have been between 12 am and 6 am.
We get a mix of families who want to enjoy the late-night biryani, people on night shift at nearby IT parks who come for their “lunch” breaks, partygoers looking for food options and travellers from the airport who want to stop for a bite,” they add. In a way, the statistics stand as testimony that the concept is still welcome among locals. The restaurant offers five menus, with some core items available for the midnight diners. The establishment also has an open-air area for events.
The 62-year-old brand has been offering the Kongu cuisine to Chennaiites for nearly two decades. They have 45-plus stores in over 25 cities. It was established in 1960 by Kuppanna and Rukmini Amma in Erode and has, over the years, expanded its menu while offering recipes passed down by generations. “When thinking of Tamil Nadu, people usually resort to Chettinad cuisine but that’s only one of many. Kongu cuisine offers food that is tolerable in spice and since it is nestled between Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a cross-border influence. One example is the liberal use of coconut in the dishes. We, as a brand, also manufacture our spices for the food,” they say.
On the leaf
Theory may help us understand the differences but the true test lies in the practicals, and so CE headed down to the teal and yellow establishment after a few minutes of searching, a couple detours and giving up on Google Maps hidden under the Kathipara Bridge. On a leaf lining a steel plate, an assortment of options awaited our judgement.
The Madurai mutton gravy did well in introducing the cuisine. Reminiscent of a Kerala stew gravy, the dish was peppery and savoury yet balanced, tingling the palate just the right amount. The accompaniment of the coin parotta brought a good starchy crunch to the bite. The Madurai Mutton (without the gravy) offered a chewy bite with the same flavours, but if one were to choose, the former would be the preferred pick. The Peri Peri chicken their South Indian take on the African spice blend may seem intimidating glazed in vivid red spices.
One bite coats your tongue in spices, letting the red chilli shine through in the salty-with-a-touch-of-sour concoction. This, however, may not be for those conservative with their spice intake who may instead go for the oil-free Pallipalayam chicken. Mild and rather plain but not devoid of flavour the dish was originally created for a customer who wished to eat something with less spice and oil. It even got its name thanks to the customer’s hometown.
While hearty and succulent, the dish would offer a better mouthfeel with larger chunks. The Vanjiram Fish Fry that followed seemed similar to the Peri Peri chicken in taste, leaning more towards the spice. For another seafood option, we recommend the prawn shukka, which was spicy and savoury with a kick of tangy.
While most accompaniments were impressive, the Mutton biryani left more to be desired. Perhaps, it was the familiarity with other versions, but itseemed a bit too sour and soft. However, combining it with the mutton gravy could help with that. All in all, a sweet would have been the ideal way to round out a meal like this. But we could wait for that till our next drive in.