From chicken tikka to butter sauce, new downtown restaurant brings Indian flavors to pizza
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
I’ve noted before that my household likes butter. We are that family who orders a lobster dinner and sells the lobster to buy more melted butter. So, you are darn right that I’m intrigued by a pizza that replaces the marinara with butter sauce.
That’s a hallmark of Indian-style pizza, and Lawrence now has just such a pizza purveyor. The Pizza Palace recently has opened at 125 E. 10th St., which is next to India Palace. That ‘s no coincidence. Kirandeep Choong is an owner and manager of the Pizza Palace, and also is part of the family that has owned and operated India Palace for approximately the last 25 years.
He’s also a pizza lover, thanks in large part to his father, India Palace proprietor Balhar Choong, having been a top-notch pizza chef at a Boston pizzeria before coming to Kansas to join the family’s Indian restaurant business.
“Growing up, my dad’s day off was always pizza day,” Kirandeep said.
Of course, that was many years ago when if we thought of the concept of “fusion” at all, it usually was after a Super Glue accident. Today, fusion is all the rage in the food world, and it is at the heart of Indian pizza.
Kirandeep explained that his restaurant’s Indian pizza starts with a traditional Italian-style pizza crust.
“It is not like we are putting this on naan bread,” he said.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
While the base may be Italian, the toppings are Indian and likely involve dishes that fans of India Palace know well. An early favorite of customers is the Achari Paneer. On a traditional Indian menu, that’s a spicy curry-based dish that gets its bulk from Indian paneer cheese. For an Indian pizza, that curry becomes a topping, along with red onions, green bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and even cilantro. Yes, the pizza also includes the aforementioned butter sauce, which in Indian cuisine is far more complex than simply melted butter.
That butter sauce is a base in five of the six specialty pizzas currently on the menu at Pizza Palace. Those include a Veggie Delight pizza, a Fish Masala pizza and the Aloo Gobi, which is one of Kirandeep’s personal favorites. It features fried potatoes, cauliflower, green chilies, red and green onions, cheese, roasted garlic and cilantro.
The restaurant does have its own house-made red sauce, which it uses for what may be its most popular menu offering, the Chicken Tikka pizza. Kirandeep cooks his chicken in a clay oven and then turns it into a pizza topping with onions, red peppers, roasted garlic, cheese and cilantro.
“If you appreciate Indian flavors, you are going to appreciate this,” Kirandeep said of the Indian pizza varieties.
But, if you don’t know much about Indian food, an Indian pizza might be a good way to get started. Kirandeep said having bits of Indian dishes in a pizza format might be a less intimidating way of trying something new.
“Who doesn’t love pizza?” Kirandeep said.
Plus, it is possible to ease into the idea. Pizza Palace also has a menu of traditional pizza offerings, including pepperoni, meat lovers, Margherita and several other toppings that you would find at nearly any traditional pizzeria. Kirandeep said he lets customers divide their pizzas up half-and-half, with an Indian style on one half and a traditional style on the other.
“It is a more familiar approach to something new,” he said.
Well, perhaps new to you, but the idea isn’t new on the overall culinary scene. Kirandeep estimates that there have been Indian-style pizza restaurants for about 30 years. They are popular in Canada, which has large Indian populations in certain regions, and also popular on the U.S. West Coast.
Kirandeep put Indian pizza on his must-eat list when he traveled to California, and had long had the idea of an Indian pizza place in Lawrence or the Kansas City area. But what spurred him to act was that he saw one of the Indian pizza-style chains start to enter the Texas market. He didn’t want someone else to beat him into the Kansas and Midwest market.
Kirandeep said he thought hard about opening Pizza Palace in Overland Park, which has a large Indian population. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a restaurant right next door to his family’s India Palace. Pizza Palace is in a spot that previously housed Archibowls and a handful of other restaurants over the years, including Ramen Bowls.
“It was special to open it in Lawrence,” Kirandeep said of the decision.
Still, he’s betting that the Indian pizza concept will prove popular enough that he’ll get his chance to open in Overland Park and elsewhere.
“This is definitely a proving ground for me,” he said.