Superkhana International, Logan Square’s brilliant and long-awaited Indian restaurant, will officially open on Tuesday. Reservations are live via Resy for the restaurant that emerged from the Bombay Breakdown pop-ups that stormed through Chicago bars over the last few years. Chefs Yoshi Yamada and Zeeshan Shah have partnered with Lula Cafe/Marisol chef and James Beard Award nominee Jason Hammel to make creative dishes — like a butter chicken calzone — a reality.
Yamada and Shah are merging cultures and generations. Manchurian fries have the crispy stickiness of Chinese-American chicken, blended with a South Asian spice blend. While there’s no formal pairings, alcohol is meant to complement the dishes. They’ll also have spirit-free drinks, like a frothy lassi. GM Colleen Malone, who worked Violet Hour, created the cocktails. There’s a courtyard in back with 10 tables, ceiling fans, and benches to enjoy a drink and a bite outdoors. Some of the menu items are crossovers from the pop-up. But most of it, like korma meatball pizza and cashew hummus, are new creations.
Shah said the thread that bound him to Yamada was their appreciation for Indian dishes enjoyed on the subcontinent, at parties, and with family. Shah fondly remembers how his father would share meals food together on Devon Avenue and elsewhere.
The item that best captures the spirit of Superkhana International is the aforementioned butter chicken calzone. Hammel suggested it as a joke while brainstorming menu ideas about a year and half ago. But the light bulbs pulsed for both Shah and Yamada, who thought the dish was so crazy it might work. Butter chicken is the iconic Anglo-Indian dish that serves for many as their introduction to Indian food. Traditionally, it’s enjoyed by tearing off a chunk of flatbread and sopping it up with gravy.
On Superkhana’s menu, the item’s called “Butter Chicken Supreme.” It resembles a pizza puff, with glorious orange gravy flowing from the stuffed pocket. It’s brushed with ghee (clarified butter used in India) and topped with Maldon salt.
“It just clicked for us, there’s something really wonderful about butter chicken and something really wonderful about eating it with bread,” Yamada said while sitting in the restaurant’s courtyard.
The idea was to create the calzone’s crust using naan. They went through several dough recipes, but figured to bake the dough in a pizza oven using a pizza stone. The dough is a little saltier and more moist than normal naan dough to work in a pizza oven. Naan is traditionally made in a tandoor where temperatures rise to 900 degrees.
Originally, they baked the calzone without cheese, as cheese isn’t a part of traditional butter chicken. The cheese most associated with Indian food is paneer, but it doesn’t provide the melty gooeyness needed for the dish. While family recipes and methods procured from India provided inspiration, Shah mentioned how they needed to trust their instincts and made modifications. Shah tried butterkase, liberated from his friend Michael Simmons’s restaurant, Cafe Marie Jeanne. That didn’t work. They settled on a a blend of mozzarella and Amul, a processed Indian cheese that comes in a can.
Prepping the chicken is a laborious three-day process. They use Gunthorp Farms thighs, leaving it in a salt brine for a day. The next day the chicken gets showered in a yogurt-based marinade augmented with spices like coriander and cumin. On day three, the chicken is picked, not sliced or shredded, ready to be folded into the naan.
While the chicken marinates, the chefs prepare the gravy. Yamada studied the street food of India while on a Fulbright scholarship about 10 years ago. He talked about mistakenly conflating spice for heat. Spice is more about the flavor, not satisfying any pepper-eating challenges. He also mentioned how Americans eat more boneless meats than Indians and how that affects flavor. When sauces are simmered with bone-in meat, it essentially creates a stock. While they’re keeping the chicken boneless, Shah and Yamada are creating their own chicken stock for the gravy. The sauce consists of tomatoes, cream, stock, tomato paste, and butter.
The ingredients are spread on to the naan which is folded and baked for about eight minutes at 550 degrees. The result is an Indian-Italian hybrid.
Cultural appropriation is something that Yamada said they constantly talk about. He spent two years in India, in cities like Mumbai, learning the culture. How little he knew about the cuisine shocked him. When he returned to America, former Old Town Social chef Jared Van Camp introduced Yamada to Shah. Both confided in Van Camp their ideas for a restaurant. To Van Camp, it sounded like the same idea from two different chefs.
Sourcing Indian ingredients is still a challenge for chefs away from Devon. Shah said they’re working with Patel Brothers, Reluctant Trading, and Epic Spices. As part of a wave of new South Asian restaurant that have opened this year in Chicago (Rooh, Vajra, Egg-O-Holic, The Momo World), Shah has one request.
“I just want a grocery store to have rosewater,” he said.
Check out Superkhana International’s menu below. The restaurant officially opens on Tuesday, but locals may see some activity over the weekend. Superkhana is one of Chicago’s most anticipated openings of 2019.