Pizza N Curry brings Indian pizza to Shorewood
In the kitchen of Pizza N Curry, heat ripples from a huge, spinning grill that rotates in and out of a hot oven.
The air is warm with the smell of curry, ghee, and garlic. In the oven, nestled side by side, are quickly browning rounds of naan and thin-crust pizzas. A chef uses a spatula to lift them as they pass, checking their bottoms until they’re done.
The Shorewood South Asian restaurant is a passion project of Zia Khan’s. It’s a family business too: Khan is a software engineer by day, and his mother and younger brother work at the restaurant. Khan was born and raised in Pakistan. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 2016, at which point he began a masters program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“During the masters at UWM, I needed a part-time job,” he said. “I started working with an Indian-Pakistani restaurant called Anmol, on the west side.”
At Anmol, Khan learned the ins and outs of running a restaurant and began thinking about how he’d like to open one of his own.
“This was something like my personal wish to have my own business,” he said. “I loved the idea of making a unique food or food that’s a little bit unique than other Indian restaurants. That was something that motivated me to open my own restaurant.”
Pizza represented one way to distinguish their menu from other places, and Khan recalled having Indian pizza at a south side restaurant that he liked, which has since closed. It’s something Shorewood seemed to be missing too; the building once housed a since-closed pizzeria.
“In this area, when I did my research at the time I was buying this restaurant, I found out that there’s no pizza place nearby,” he said.
Khan said many Indian restaurants in the Milwaukee area are central or south Indian. “I’m from the north. I was born and raised in the north,” he said. “We don’t use a lot of spices. That’s how our food is, it’s mild.” He added that they tone the spice down a bit for the residents of Shorewood too.
In the dining room, several customers waited for their takeout orders to arrive. Jane, a longtime Shorewood resident of 23 years, was waiting for an order of chana masala, palak paneer, and naan. It was her second visit. She remembers when the spot was a pizzeria.
“Falbo’s Pizza, I think,” she said. “They had really good cannoli.”
Still, Pizza N Curry satisfies her sweet tooth, she said. She likes their kheer, a nutty, spiced rice pudding.
“This is a welcome addition,” she said.
Khan’s younger brother, Burhan, said at first, he was worried about opening the restaurant.
“I didn’t like the idea in the beginning actually because restaurant businesses are very tough,” he said. “But people are really supporting us, so it’s good.”
I ordered a chicken tandoori pizza. Back in the kitchen, Zia threw it together, showing off the different sauces. There’s pesto, the tandoori sauce, and the red tomato sauce.
“This is the Indian sauce,” he said. “This is the red sauce, it’s American.”
Khan added that there are around 16 spices in the tandoori sauce.
“We cook this sauce, we boil it for at least one hour to make this,” he said. “It’s not easy to make this. It gets thicker, and it takes a lot of time."
My pizza was dressed with tandoori chicken, green peppers, and salty olives. To top it off, Khan showered it with chopped cilantro.
There’s a long history of tastes and dishes coming together like this in a celebration of flavor. I asked Khan if he thinks their family back home would like the pizza.
“Especially the uncles, aunties, they would say, ‘Oh, what kind of pizza, what it is? Are you saying bread, like naan?’” he said. “I would tell them it’s bread and we just put cheese — people don’t even know cheese — mainly yogurt, milk. That's all the stuff that they know.”
But he thinks they’d like it. It’s pizza, he said. What’s not to like?