Mon – Sat.: 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sun: 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Fill up with authentic Indian flavors at Jay Bros. Truck Stop
When India enters my thoughts here on the great plains of Nebraska, I’m remembering the pleasures of seeing the films Slum Dog Millionaire and The Marigold Hotel, or memories of tigers slinking through lush tropical forests out of National Geographic. I close my eyes and see pink lotus blossoms, purple orchids or flaming orange hibiscus climbing sandstone temple walls, and I can smell the sandalwood perfume, and of course, I have memorized the sweet and spicy flavor of chai tea. I do know many Indian restaurants in the U.S., but my knowledge of the ancient Indian cuisine in the film The Hundred Foot Journey with Helen Mirren was the basis of my experience with fresh and original Indian dishes until I made the happy discovery of Jay Bros. Truck Stop and Indian Food at the I-80 exchange at Overton, Nebraska.
Don’t laugh! The location surprised me too, and as I write this sentence, I’m yet amazed that Jay Bros., a truck stop on a long and barren stretch of Interstate 80 between Kearney and Lexington, hires a chef who creates and serves ancient recipes of savory Punjabi Indian cuisine in a sparkling clean and comfortable restaurant atmosphere in the station.
Harry and Shelley Chaudhari purchased the property in 2012. The building and fuel pumps were long neglected and needed a total restoration, but the family, including two sons, Jay and Parth, both college students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2012 and now graduates, recognized the business potential of selling fuel on Interstate 80. Their concept reached beyond fueling the thousands of 18 wheelers that pass Overton on their cross country hauls between New York and Los Angeles to offer northern Indian cuisine to fuel the mind, body and spirit of the cross-country driver.
“They will see the sign and stop”
Harry has now convinced me that many long distance semi-truck drivers in the U.S. immigrated from the sub-continent of India and especially Gujarat, a state in northern India.
“They will come, and they will see the sign and stop,” he said.
And it’s true. Many East Coast to West Coast drivers did immigrate to the U.S. from northern India, and they do stop at Jay Bros. where they refuel and also stop for a plate of freshly made Punjabi dishes. Intermittent travelers on I-80 and families in the neighborhood also are acquiring a taste for the Punjabi cuisine and enjoy the thoughtful service and sun-filled atmosphere.
Harry distinguishes the cuisine at Jay Bros. as northern Indian and he says that the best trained Indian chefs are from the Punjab region in northern India. Punjabi cuisine as described by Harry and Shelley, who immigrated from Gujarat, also a state located in northern India, “tastes the most flavorful and complex of the many Indian cuisines.”
I quickly learned by tasting and by listening to the Chaudhari family describe their favorite Punjabi dishes that Northern Indians take their food seriously, and I am learning to appreciate this ancient and richly spiced and flavored cuisine. Every few weeks another marvelous new dish appears on the menu. I try them all and relish each one.
India is a country with 29 states and 26 languages.
“Every state is different – living, eating, and language,” Harry said.
Food from the breadbasket of India
The Punjab borders Pakistan in northern India, and Harry says that the Punjab region is one of the most fertile regions on earth. The Indian Punjab is called “the breadbasket of India” because it produces 20 percent of India’s wheat and 9 percent of India’s rice and other edible grains.
The Punjabi cuisine is known for incorporating milk, cream, cheese (made from cow’s milk) in their curries, cooking with ghee, (a clarified butter), the mango lassi — a refreshing and popular yoghurt drink — and breads. The cuisine features less rice and more breads, and if only you visit Jay Bros. to taste the breads, you will leave feeling content and well nourished. You will see naan, roti, paratha, and kulcha on the menu at Jay Bros. Try them all or return often to taste one each visit. The breads are made to order and always served hot and immediately from the griddle or tandoor oven.
Naan is a fluffy bread baked quickly in the super hot tandoori oven and basted with butter, or garlic/butter, or a garlic/chili combination. The roti shares similar qualities with Mexican tortilla including shape — thin and round — and both an unleavened bread although the roti is made from a whole wheat flour that adds more texture and more chew and flavor to the finished product than a flour tortilla. Paratha, a tender stuffed pocket bread, is made from the roti flat breads, spread lightly with ghee and stuffed with potatoes and and/or potatoes and cauliflower and spices and baked on a hot griddle. The kulcha is a soft, pliable bread filled with a sautéed onion mixture.
I always choose a veggie samosa appetizer to begin my culinary tour of the northern India culture.
“Everyone knows samosas,” says Harry. A samosa pastry is filled with vegetables in a triangular shape and most often fried, always hot, crisp and savory. A tamarind and mint chutney adds even more flavor to the samosa.
Aromatic and beautiful dishes
The rice dishes are few in number but no less interesting. Try the vegetable biryani, an aromatic basmati rice cooked with nuts, herbs, spices and vegetables. Add lamb or chicken for added flavor and enjoy a savory main course that is beautiful on the plate with a mild and amazing combination of flavors.
What is on the shelf in a Punjabi kitchen? A short- list of ingredients include: cumin seeds, black peppercorns, chick pea flour, whole wheat flour, regular flour, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, chili powder, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, creamed coconut, fennel, fenugreek, ghee, mace, nutmeg, and Spanish saffron, whipping cream, milk, ginger, garlic, yoghurt (always made in-house at Jay Bros.), paneer — an Indian cheese that is also made in-house at Jay Bros., onions, potatoes, chick peas, tomatoes, serrano peppers, ginger and garlic.
Famous Punjabi foods include saag, a mustard leaf, cream, clove, garlic, ginger and tomato combination that is a mild tasting and delicious vegetable dish commonly eaten with a roti or naan fresh from the oven. Choose a meat entrée of chicken, lamb, or goat meat.
“We buy our meats in the local market and cook to order in a variety of traditional curry sauces,” Harry said. The curry sauces are made fresh for each diner and are creamy, spiced to your taste and each one seems better than the one before. Diners will choose from a long list of meat entrees: chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, chicken curry, chicken korma, lamb korma, goat curry, and the list goes on.
Seafood is included on the menu in two variations of curry. The tandoor oven specialties are the tandoori chicken, marinated chicken cooked in its own juices, roasted to a crisp, tender brown in the tandoor oven.
Lovely flavor memory to recall even today
Several weeks ago, I felt privileged to taste chole bhature featured as the Sunday special. A chole bhature is a lightly fried, puffed bread served with a perfectly flavored recipe of chick peas. The chole bhature puffs in the frying process so the interior is hollow although the bread casing is soft and chewy and delicious. A pinch of the tasty bread folded around the chick peas impressed my taste buds with a lovely flavor memory I can recall even today.
The chai tea is raised to another level of flavor at Jay Bros. too.
“Our chai tea tastes outstanding because we steep it from actual chai leaves harvested in northern India,” Harry said. “We bring chai tea and add ginger and cardamom.”
Are you hungry yet? I am. Meet you at Jay Bros. The chef and staff await us, and we’re all invited to Jay Bros. for breakfast, lunch or dinner and all times in between.