The more I eat khachapuri, the more I’m convinced that I want to be one of the older Armenian men who congregate at the patio tables outside of Old Sasoon Bakery on Allen Avenue in north Pasadena. They sometimes sit for hours, sipping coffee, methodically tearing apart bits of the addictive boat-shaped cheese bread, engrossed in conversation and laughter.
Those unfamiliar with the wonders of khachapuri may call it Armenian pizza. I’ve also heard people refer to it as “that pizza boat bread thing with an egg on top.” Neither is totally wrong.
Khachapuri, the national dish of Georgia, involves soft cheese baked inside, on top of or around leavened bread. The cheese bread can be found at many Armenian bakeries around Los Angeles and, more recently, at Armen Piskoulian and Casey Felton’s Hollywood Vietnamese restaurant, Banh Oui, where they recently launched Tony Khachapuri. (Tony Khachapuri is spiritually, but not physically, distinct from Banh Oui, with the exception that it has its own shingle on Grubhub.)
“We’ve been thinking about doing this now for over a year,” Piskoulian says. He grew up eating his grandmother’s khachapuri and decided to create his own version, made in what he told us is the Adjarian style of southwestern Georgia: The opposite ends are pinched to form two points with a well for cheese in the middle.
“It’s supposed to mimic a canoe and the egg yolk in the middle is supposed to mimic the sun shining on the ocean,” he says.
On a recent Friday at Banh Oui, while one of her cooks prepared banh mi for the lunch crowd, Felton rolled out the khachapuri dough, slathering it with garlic sauce, which she said was inspired by the one at Zankou chicken.
“This is not traditional at all,” she says. “We just really like garlic sauce.”
Depending on which khachapuri you order, you can have everything-bagel spice, Maldon salt or sesame sprinkled along the outside of your boat. And in the middle, a mixture of three kinds of cheese (Felton won’t divulge what’s what in there, but I suspect mozzarella — for the #cheesepull — and possibly ricotta and or a mild feta). And for the toppings: sujuk (cured, spiced, delicious beef sausage), chorizo, kale and cauliflower.
The sujuk khachapuri, which Piskoulian says was inspired by the popular post-libation snack of sujuk and eggs, resembles a pepperoni pie, complete with the tiny pools of oil in the tiny rounds of sausage.
“If you can respect the ingredients and treat them correctly, you can do whatever you want,” says Piskoulian. “We know what a real, good khachapuri is. And this is our take on it.”
The khachapuri bakes at 425 degrees for six minutes and emerges from the oven with the cheese bubbling. Felton adds two raw egg yolks to the middle before serving.
You’re meant to tear off the corners, dunk them into the yolk then swish everything around — an excellent bread-and-melted-cheese-dip situation. Or you can just pick the entire thing up and eat it like a pizza.
“So you come into a banh mi shop and say, ‘Oooh what’s that? Khachapuri?’ ” Piskoulian says. “And they like it and maybe they go somewhere else and try this kind of food.”
Khachapuri is available daily at the restaurant.
1552 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 645-7944, BanhOui.com.