Have you ever been inside Pondicheri and wished that pesky restaurant part wasn't attached to the bountiful, glassed-in pastry case up front, laden with cookies and brioche and madelines and begging you to smear that nice, clean glass with your drooly face? Or wished that the small entry area with a table of ghee and curry powders was larger, offered more selections, was absolutely laden with clarified butter and spice blends? If so, Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop is the place for you.

Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop
2800 Kirby Dr., Ste. B240
713-522-2022
pondichericafe.com

Yes, there's some seating here, but it's really beside the point. The upstairs Bake Lab + Shop, which is accessed by ascending a cleverly marked "Stairway to Heaven" adjacent to Pondicheri's street-level patio, is more about grabbing and going than staying and snacking. This is where you come to pick up a bunch of baked goods without clogging up the line at the restaurant downstairs, where you come to browse the huge wall of spices assembled by owner/chef Anita Jaisinghani, where you come to decide you need several containers of freshly made tamarind chutney and korma sauce to take home for that Indian feast you're totally going to cook later, now that you've been here.

In fact, the Bake Lab + Shop can best be described as Pondicheri meets Penzey's meets Revival Market meets Sur La Table. Yes, there are even South Asian cooking implements for sale here. For the Houstonian who loves food and cooking (and chocolate-chili-oatmeal cookies), it's very nearly heaven. Though the selection is a bit sparse inside the newly opened space (after all, it's only in its soft opening phase right now), I can see it eventually growing into its light-filled aerie, becoming—like its sister restaurant downstairs—a destination all on its own.

For now, though, the Bake Lab + Shop is a clever way for Pondicheri to expand its popular baked goods program while offering fans of the restaurant's Gulf Coast-Indian fusion food a more casual outlet. In addition to cookies and gourmet pantry stockers, diners can also get fresh juices from the juice bar as well as sandwiches and sides for lunch. I recently enjoyed an avocado, farmer's cheese, and pea shoot sandwich on freshly baked bread and a side of curry-spiced pumpkin with pepitas and pomegranates—two dishes that were very Pondicheri, yet very apropos of a grab-and-go spot where you can take your food to-go or enjoy a quick bite on the sunny patio.

For now, the Bake Lab + Shop is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. To see more from the space, take a trip through our slideshow.


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