Once considered exotic and maybe even unusual, Indian food is well on its way to becoming as commonplace as Chinese or sushi. With the addition of Clay Oven Palace, Collingswood now boasts three Indian restaurants, each with their own flavors and ambiance. Some have questioned whether the town needs another Indian spot. Our answer: absolutely! Let us tell you why.
We Collingswood Foodies love Indian food. When we moved to Collingswood from Philadelphia, we were distressed to leave behind our favorite restaurant Ekta, and our other normal curry spots. Friends told us about Collingswood’s IndeBlue, but after a few unpleasant experiences, we were left unsatisfied. When Indiya opened a few months ago, we almost jumped for joy. Indiya is a worthy restaurant in its own right (try the chicken lababdar), and we think that Clay Oven Palace is equally impressive. In fact, due to fantastic prices and authentic quality, it may have a leg up on the competition.
As part of a grand opening special, Clay Oven Palace is serving an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet for only $9.95. Normally this will only be offered at lunch, so hurry over within the next week to take advantage of the special. This is the perfect opportunity for those new to Indian cuisine to try out something new. We know many people (hi mom!) who are reluctant to give Indian dishes a try, but we promise it’s not as far-out as you may think. Sure, Indian food is heavily seasoned with foreign-sounding spices like cardamom, turmeric, coriander and cumin, but once you try them you will be stocking your pantry full of curry powder and garam masala. And while some of it has a kick, it’s not all spicy.
Taking full advantage of the large buffet, we tried a little of everything. The standout for Jessica was the eggplant curry. It was savory and a little sweet with the inclusion of sautéed onions and not hot at all. Jamie preferred the lamb and also chicken curries. Both meats were incredibly moist and flavorful.
Every Indian buffet includes chicken tikka masala or chicken makhani (somewhat similar dishes) as it is somewhat of the standard option for Americans and the UK. For those unfamiliar, it’s a thick tomato-based curry with a hint of cream served with chunks of white meat chicken that has been marinated in yogurt and spices and chicken cooked in a tandoor (clay) oven. Clay Oven Palace’s version had a bit of a kick to it, which we loved, but wonder if it might be too hot for the average South Jerseyan. Jessica has been dealing with a cold and it cleared her sinuses right out.
Another Indian buffet staple is tandoori chicken, the Indian version of barbecue. Whole chicken pieces are marinated as described above and cooked in the tandoor. Clay Oven Palace lives up to its name there. Out of all three Indian restaurants in Collingswood, as well as Cross Culture and Palace of Asia, Clay Oven Palace wins our imaginary award for best tandoori. On the regular menu, you can order a half or full tandoori chicken for $12 or $16 respectively, served with basmati rice smothered in curry sauce. We’ve bookmarked this for dinner next week!
Vegetarians will be happy to know that the chef is more than comfortable with meat-free dishes. In addition to the tasty eggplant, we tried a meatless “meatball” dish made from chick peas, cauliflower, peas, and carrots. Even though Jamie detests chick peas and will never eat a channa masala, he chowed down on the “meatball.”
Every dish we tried elicited a positive response. The food has a distinct homemade, authentic taste. The dishes weren’t too heavy or creamy, and packed with flavor. As we ate, we heard the other diners respond similarly. One man, upon leaving, commented that he would definitely be back soon while a nearby couple told the owner they were totally stuffed because they ate so much, which is always a good sign.
Speaking of the owner, we chatted with Sunila Joshi about why she decided to open the restaurant. She mentioned that her friends always commented on her cooking and requested Indian dishes for all their events. Even though she is not the restaurant chef, she feels that more and more people are opening up to Indian cuisine and her chef can meet the demand.
Why Collingswood? She echoes what most of us already know: Our town is friendly, active and we love to eat. Joshi and her staff seemed positively excited about the restaurant’s opening, and took the time to chat to patrons and recommend different dishes. That friendly energy added to the comfy atmosphere.
The only downside we see for Clay Oven Palace is the location. Farther down Haddon Ave., it’s a bit too far to walk to from downtown. Street parking can be off-putting, but Joshi assured us that it won’t be a problem. She’s going to talk to the commissioner to get the “15-minute parking” signs removed from out front, as they only applied when the spot used to be a convenience store. We hope the distance from town doesn’t dissuade people from giving them a shot, because they really are worth it.
Clay Oven Palace: 329 Haddon Ave., Collingswood; 856-854-7300 or 856-854-7302
Hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Monday.
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