Even the best restaurant is only as good as its bottom line. The freshest ingredients, the warmest hospitality, and the tastiest food can’t sustain a place that’s burdened by a budget that’s underwater. (For example, the closure three years ago of the stunningly ambitious Brasserie Zentral in Minneapolis, one of the best restaurants you probably never got to try.)
The flip side of that is that economically viable restaurants are often a series of unpleasant compromises. Freezing, frying, the use of highly processed ingredients plus tons of salt and/or sugar—that’s the usual way to game the system and stay afloat without too much struggle.
Enter Pizza Karma, a new Indian-inspired pizza restaurant in Eden Prairie. Service is blindingly fast—less than five minutes on both of our visits; hospitality is warm (particularly for a counter-service spot); and the food is remarkably creative and consistently good.
Three massive tandoor ovens ensconced behind a ceiling-height viewing window are the heart of the restaurant, pumping out fresh bread at a ferocious clip. From there, the act of making a naan-based pizza is simplicity itself: dress with sauce, top, and, after another quick blast of heat to melt cheese and finish vegetables, it’s “Order up!” and dishes are on their way to tables.
None of this would work, of course, if the food didn’t have an inherent sense of balance. Fortunately, the culinary mastermind behind Pizza Karma is Raghavan Iyer, a chef and author (“660 Curries”) who has gained national acclaim for his talent with spices. We’ve chatted with Iyer before and he possesses a remarkable ability to take spices and, through a process of grinding, toasting, and mixing, expertly control the finished flavor profile.
That comes through in dishes like the Pan-Seared Slices of Potatoes & Tandoor-Roasted Vegetables pizza ($10), a vegan option greatly enhanced by its deeply flavored, habanero harissa sauce. The sauce is legitimately spicy (but not overwhelming) and charmingly bright. The potatoes and other vegetables are gently roasted—done enough to be tender but not so much that the flavor or texture are beaten out of them. That’s a fine detail, but it’s details like that which can make or break a restaurant’s food.
Details make the restaurant’s beverages, too. Pizza Karma’s Chai (tea, in this case, made with milk—$3) is beautifully spiced. It’s also unsweetened, which lets customers decide whether to enjoy it as is or add sugar to suit their preferences. (Hopefully, many diners will stop short of the syrupy-sweet chai that has become the norm at most American coffee shops.) And the restaurant’s Mango Frappe ($4) has all the tangy dairy kick of a good lassi without a pile of sugar. It’s sweet, yes, but balanced. It’s a lassi for grown-ups in the best possible way.
The stars of the show and anchors of the menu are the restaurant’s meat-topped naan pizzas, and these work well, too. The menu’s first item is the Chicken Kebab pizza ($10), which brings together local, free-range chicken marinated in yogurt, spices, and garlic, plus a tomato-fenugreek sauce and chewy, rich, fresh buffalo mozzarella. Roasted but still lively onions and peppers ride atop the chicken and cheese and add brightness and contrast to the dish. With its subtle but pervasive sense of spice and tender roasted meat, this dish is comfort on a plate.
We also tried and loved Pizza Karma’s Pulled Pork pizza ($10), which was topped with surprisingly delicate and remarkably garlic-smitten pieces of pork plus more rich, dramatic, fully flavored mozzarella. (The restaurant’s vegan mozzarella on its potato pizza gets the job done, but it can’t hold a candle to the real stuff.) The use of garlic-cilantro naan gives this pie yet another layer of depth and flavor.
Starters at Pizza Karma work well, too. Tender potato cakes stuffed with chile-spiked spinach greens ($8) came served with a lively golden-raisin ginger sauce. This happens to be a vegan dish, but you wouldn’t know it—it’s nicely spiced and remarkably enjoyable.
The Almond & Cardamom Lamb Meatballs ($10) were our only (minor) letdown at Pizza Karma, as they were primarily earthy and funky, a bit under-seasoned, and covered in a smoky/herbal sauce that only emphasized the lack of brightness (or sweetness, or heat) that makes this a fairly lopsided dish. They were just fine but paled before the quality of everything else we tried.
So, there you have it: price, speed, quality, new bold flavors, and a bustling dining room. Add to the mix Pizza Karma’s dedication to using sustainable, plant-based serving ware and straws and a crisp, modern sense of interior design, and you’ve got a ready-to-franchise hit on your hands. If future editions of Pizza Karma get opened (and we certainly think they should), and future chefs can keep their eyes on the fine details as they do in Eden Prairie, the sky’s the limit and the books should balance themselves.
Where: 8451 Joiner Way, Eden Prairie, MN
Hours: Sun: Closed Mon–Thu: 11am–9pm; Fri–Sat: 11am–10pm