Dhaba Brings Northern Indian Cuisine to Good Neighbor City

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Few local eateries feature color in their dishes as prominently as Dhaba.

Sumanjit Singh is trained in the field of mechanical engineering. But Singh, 29, who grew up in Punjab, India, also had an informal education in the restaurant business – an education that stretches back to some of his earliest memories.

“I used to stand next to my mom in the kitchen and watch her cook,” he recalled. “She’s really good, and sometimes she even comes here and makes dishes like her eggplant and spinach.”

“Here” is Dhaba Indian Bistro, located at 8333 Greenway Blvd. Singh’s family has worked in the restaurant business for years, and he worked with them. Now he owns Dhaba, which opened last year and serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5-10 p.m.

A locally-owned eatery surrounded by chains, Dhaba is already something of a culinary beacon for many who live and work in the Good Neighbor City.

“All the Indian restaurants around here seemed to be the same: the same buffet lunch and everything,” Singh said. “We wanted to do something different.”

“My goal was to give the customers better quality,” he continued. “No food sitting at a buffet for hours. Instead we bring everything out fresh from the kitchen.”

The menu is eclectic, featuring tandoori specials, lamb curries, homemade masala sauce, chicken, beef and an array of vegetables. But it’s not a scattershot approach to Indian food, Singh, a member of the local Sikh community that worships at the Middleton gurudwara on Century Avenue, explained.

“We’re from northern India, and we serve dishes from that region,” he said. “We’re not trying to do recipes from all over India; we’re doing what we know best.”

The kitchen features a barrel-shaped clay oven that can reach a temperature of 1,000 degrees. Cooks slap dough onto the sides of the inferno to make rustic naan and other traditional Indian breads.  

The dining area features profuse natural light, illuminating colorful Indian-themed artwork and other decorations on the walls.

“I like the industrial look, but with a lot of light,” Singh said. “I wanted it to feel open; not like sitting in a basement.”

Singh travels frequently to his native India, returning to Middleton with new culinary inspirations and ingredients.

Dhaba sits along a heavily travelled road, and office buildings full of hungry workers surround it. That means it’s well situated for success, according to Singh.

“To someone who doesn’t usually eat Indian food, I would say to just give us a shot,” he stated. “So many people become regulars once they try it. A lot of people think Indian food is just hot and spicy, but it’s not. It’s really full of all kinds of flavors.”

Dhaba uses a heat index, ranging from one (mild) to five (extremely hot).  “We’ll make it a six or a seven if you really want,” he added with a grin.

He estimated about 40 percent of Dhaba’s customers are native Indians. “They come back,” he observed. “That’ a good sign.”

Business has exceeded expectations, according to Singh. “So far it’s been really good,” he said. “Better than expected. All of these office people from around here say it’s awesome to have this option. Plus, it’s fresh and the prices are affordable.”

While being interviewed, Singh rubbed his legs, noting they were sore from a particularly busy few days running stacks of dishes back and forth. “It’s been so busy,” he said. “We thought it would have been slow over the holidays, but we had so many families in here. There were grandparents, and parents, and kids; that’s a good sign because those kids are future customers.”


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