CEDAR RAPIDS — When customers walk into Paradise Bar & Grill, a new restaurant in The Fountains, co-owner Sam Paul doesn’t want them to immediately realize they are in an Indian restaurant.
The ambience is designed to feel like any American bar and grill, he said.
“You shouldn’t realize it’s an Indian restaurant until you see the menu,” Paul said. “Indian food actually goes really with beer and scotch. Our biryani goes really well with beer, especially hoppy beer, but not a lot of people know that.”
He and two friends, Kumar Akula and Ram Krvadi, opened the restaurant in October after talking about the idea for a restaurant for years.
All three are originally from Hyderabad, India, and they share a love of Southern Indian and specifically Hyderabadi cuisine. Paul said many of the restaurants he finds in Iowa focus on North Indian food, and they wanted to offer something different.
They also didn’t want their restaurant to be just Indian. That doesn’t reflect their identities, Paul said. Rather, after years in the United States, they are a mix of cultures, and they want their menu to feature a mix of cuisines.
“We are by heart Indian, but we are Americanized by being here,” he said.
Biryani, a rice dish cooked with meat or vegetables and spices, is a specialty of Hyderabad and the signature dish for the restaurant.
Their dum ka biryani — cooked with chicken or lamb — is a recipe they’ve licensed from another restaurant, Paradise Biryani Pointe. That restaurant was started by a native of Hyderabad and has locations across the country.
Paradise Bar & Grill’s menu also features dishes like curries, naans, dals and more. Look for Andhra, Chettinad and Goan in descriptions on the menu to find items with a particularly South Indian style, though other items may also favor South Indian spice blends.
There are also Indian takes on Chinese and American dishes mixed in, like French fries seasoned with Indian spices and Indian street food-style versions of fried rice.
India is incredibly diverse, and people should realize its cuisine is equally diverse, Paul said. And the cuisine favored by members in the diaspora, like him, is even more so.
“We want to add more and more dishes and make it global,” he said. “Our love for beer and food is the inspiration.”
The menu is scaled back for now, and they hope to add more items as they grow, with the eventual goal of serving 50 percent Indian food and 50 percent other cuisines. “I’m 35. I’ve lived here almost 17 years. I’m half and half,” he said with a laugh.
One challenge has been finding the right heat level for their dishes to both please fans of spicy food and those unused to it.
“We toned down the spice level a little after opening. We want it to be palatable for everyone,” he said.
They offer dishes at a spice level of one to five, but with five more of a medium spice level than at many other Indian restaurants. Instead of spice, he said they want to focus on the masala, the blend of flavors.
“Our five is a three for an Indian palate,” Paul said. “We’re trying to find a good balance. We decided should tend to our masses. I want it to be flavorful, and the spices can be adjusted.”
All three owners have other jobs — Paul has an IT business. He arrived in the United States in 2003 to study and moved to Cedar Rapids in 2009. He likes Cedar Rapids for its quality of life, he said — the community, the schools, the cost of living. He said opening a restaurant and talking with customers has been a way to feel connected with his neighbors in a different way.
“This is being involved in the community,” he said.
If you go
• What: Paradise Bar & Grill
• Where: 5200 Fountains Dr. NE, Suite 100, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
• Details: (319) 318-2070, paradiseofcr.com
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