There are many reasons one hears (especially from certain habitués of Bearden and downtown) for avoiding the western frontier of Knoxville: traffic, distance, traffic. But, if it's true, and if you are one of those skip-Turkey-Creek-at-all-costs people, it's a pity: You'll never find Bombay Palace.
According to co-owner Mac Kharat, the restaurant relocated from Sevierville last fall partly because of the seasonal nature of business and the challenges that that presents in terms of maintaining a quality buffet. That commitment to food quality isn't just an owner's imagination, it's more than evident on the plate, too. That's partly due to the kitchen presence of Kharat's businesses partner, Charanjit Kumar. Kumar, who was born in the ancient Indian city of Jalandhar in northwestern Punjab, is a happy chef, affectionately known as Pappi by the equally happy servers. He smiles shyly while his staff heaps on the praise: "He knows how to cook 500 dishes! He's the best Indian chef in Tennessee! He's the buffet king!"
Under Kumar's supervision, the buffet, offered at lunch, is certainly beautiful and carefully tended. The dishes vary and include any number of the familiar and favorite, but it's also unique in one aspect because, as Kharat proudly notes, it's the only restaurant in the area to offer goat curry on the buffet. If you're a meat eater, run, don't walk, to give this dish a try. Goat and many other meat options are often prepared using halal meat—and it's almost always available upon request (and for $1 extra).
The buffet is nice, but the dinner menu is equally good and offers more than 100 options, with, as you might expect, a wide selection of vegetarian fare. And everything can be adjusted to custom spice/heat levels from mild to hot and, for all the fire-eaters, Indian hot. Caveat emptor!
Pricing is reasonable, and the restaurant just started serving wine along with beer. The atmosphere is a little sparse—not exactly the most romantic destination, unless, of course, you're dating a food lover—but the food quality more than atones for the fluorescent lighting.
One very nice and unique grazing option is chaat—a series of snacks or small plates that are usually fried or served over puri, a fantastic and fun puffed white bread that's worth ordering on its own. Speaking of bread, Bombay Palace makes it all in-house in traditional clay ovens that are coal-fired instead of the more modern gas option. This adds a beautifully smoky quality to naan and makes a noticeable taste difference in other oven-cooked favorites like tandoori chicken.
The dishes featured as Must Haves are all pretty safe options for the timid or new-to-Indian diner, but there's lots of both the new and the familiar to explore on this menu, and all of it looks worth a foray into Turkey Creek.
10901 Parkside Drive #101, 671-6667
Sun-Sat: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner: 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Palak Allo: This potato and spinach dish is mildly spiced (unless otherwise requested), but it's not a shy violet either. As is it is, the spices are warming with a hint of tongue-tingle to frame very pure potato and spinach flavors.
Bombay Special: While not on the regular menu, the Bombay Special is available upon request and is usually on the lunch buffet. It's a rich melange of vegetables in a curry sauce that gets a boost from ginger and garlic. There's a hint of tomato sauce, but not enough to stand out. It's a rich and creamy option that leaves a light and pleasantly ginger-kissed aftertaste.
Kalmi Kabab: From the tandoori specialties section of the menu, this skewer of marinated chicken gets the full clay-oven roasting experience. It's moist and flavorful and served sizzling. It's a very friendly dish for the uninitiated and would probably please the palates of young humans who remain skeptical of weird food experiences.