Tbilisi-Bakurtsikhe-Lagodekhi, Tbilisi, Georgia
A Bakery Restaurant Loved by LocalsLocated off the busy highway that leads from the airport to Tbilisi, there’s a remarkable restaurant specializing in cuisine from Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region. Local truckers love the takeout bakery window, where golden khachapuri (cheese pies) preen in their many cheesy varieties. Inside: low couches, stone walls, blue and white-painted ceiling, black-and-white vintage photos. Huge burnished bread loaves, leavened with natural hops, are made with an old mother starter and baked by the young resident baker (once a classical flautist). Jumber Khunadze is the portly, unstoppable hospitable manager, who makes sure guests are happy, fed, and have their glasses filled with house wine, such as the inky young Saperavi. On the locavore menu: velvety walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls, plump meat-filled dolmas dabbed with thick buffalo yogurt, interesting cheeses—from the supple Suluguni with a purple Saperavi-washed rind to Gouda ripened in sheep’s skins. Seasonal specialties might include delicate kalmakha tree mushrooms, which are sizzled in a clay skillet called a ketsi, then strewn with walnuts and tarragon blades. Owner Chichiko Goletiani, who is also a Microsoft rep here in Georgia, opened the restaurant as a hobby and labor of love, sourcing everything from the lush organic farms of Kakheti. His pride is the sizzling meats, whether it’s the sweet baby lamb chops that taste like meat lollipops or the succulent mtsvadi (kebab) from fat Kakhetian calves. This is farm-to-table—not as a fad, but as a way of life. Tea from mountain herbs gathered by shepherds is served with homemade preserves in such flavors as Cornelian cherries.