Fans of Compass Rose: I am one of you. I've been eating, drinking, and talking about my favorite place in DC nearly since it opened in April 2014. I lived a block away for almost a year, and most nights their kitchen became my kitchen. One dish I immediately fell in love with is khachapuri, "that cheesy, eggy, bread thing from Georgia—and not the state". It's one of the reasons why I'm now the Hype and Social Media Director of Compass Rose—I just can't stop loving it.
I did a little bit of research into khachapuri for this "Bitten" edition WanderCrust. After tasting many different versions in Georgia this past summer, I knew you'd all want to learn more. Enjoy all of the cheesy goodness below.
One of the fabulous tales in ancient Greek mythology is that of Jason and the Argonauts: a story of the circle of heroes—named after their ship, the Argo—who sailed East across the Black Sea to modern-day Georgia to find the Golden Fleece, the sign of authority and kingship. Far away in time and space from the ancient world, key pieces of this story—boats, gold, and heroic efforts—are spun into a culinary delight we love so much at Compass Rose: Khachapuri.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t been to Compass Rose to eat, you’ve most likely never had khachapuri. Try sounding it out, pulling out all of the stops (and a few tricks you might have learned in school) in trying to pronounce it.
It’s quite the dish: Humble ingredients everyone knows are transformed into a deservedly heroic dish from the Republic of Georgia. It’s comforting, creamy, decadent, and satisfying. Khachapuri is, simply, amazing. A sea of salty, creamy, hot cheese is topped with fresh local butter and a glimmering organic egg yolk in a boat of golden dough. The best elements of the Golden Fleece myth are reincarnated on your plate, ready for your epic edible adventure.
There are numerous varieties of khachapuri from Georgia; it’s as ubiquitous and regional as pizza is in Italy. Because it’s so widely consumed, there’s a khachapuri index (produced by the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University) that tracks inflation and economic trends in Georgia based on the cost of making khachapuri in different parts of the country.
Ours start with fresh, house-made dough. Paco, our prep chef, has made nearly every batch of khachapuri dough since we opened in 2014; he begins at 8 am and allows the dough to proof several hours before he divides it into individual servings. Later in the day, when you order a khachapuri, we grab one of these portions and shape it into a distinct form: a long canoe with dough walls. This Adjaruli iteration is from the eponymous Georgian region and, unlike the more common closed Imeruli version, is served as an open pie.
We then add a combination of feta, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses in lieu of using traditional sulguni cheese. After testing many, many options on our end and reaching out to dairy producers in the DC-region, we weren’t able to find or make sulguni cheese for several reasons; chiefly being that domestic cows don’t produce milk that works well to make this briny cheese. Our triad of cheeses approximates the briny, salty, and melting qualities of sulguni cheese and is just as delicious.
After the dough and the cheese bake in the oven for a fast five minutes, it emerges gleaming, steaming, glossy, and golden. We quickly anoint it with a pat of organic butter, a shiny egg yolk, and, in a nod to Rose's Lebanese and Italian heritage, some Lebanese za’atar—a middle eastern spice blend that includes sumac, oregano, and sesame seeds—for good measure. As the server mixes the cheese, egg, and butter in the dough boat at the table, the yolk emulsifies and is cooked by the residual heat from the cheese—and your life is forever changed.
In April 2015, we had sold more than 10,000 orders of khachapuri (approximately a third were eaten by me), and we’re closing in on 30,000 orders—if not more. Khachapuri is the classic(al) street food you’ve been looking for, and completely worth sailing across a sea to eat.