Until recently, Americans didn’t appreciate the simple beauty of eggs. Yes, they knew eggs could raise baked goods, enrich a casserole, and elicit a smile if presented sunny-side up at breakfast, with fat pieces of crusty potato beside them.
But where Chinese cooks stirred an egg into fried rice or dropped one into bubbling soup, French cooks added an egg and bacon to frisee lettuce, and North Africans poached them in spicy tomato sauce, chefs here were still using them in cooking — as ingredients really, rather than celebrating the perfect ovoid on its own.
Then the light dawned (or as my friend likes to say, “dawn breaks over Marblehead”), and eggs were everywhere: a fried egg might appear on a seared pork chop, a poached egg on steamed asparagus, a soft-cooked egg on a grain bowl, a jiggly egg on cheese pizza. Tender whites and yolks that spill open with the touch of a fork are extremely appealing we all discovered, and not just at breakfast.
And that’s where khachapuri comes in. Think of it as the forefather of those egg-on-pizza innovations. The idea is really as old as the hills. Khachapuri (catcha-PUR-ee), sometimes called cheese bread, is an open-faced boat-shaped cheese pie topped with an egg. Its country of origin is the Republic of Georgia, formerly under Soviet rule, just north of Armenia, where khachapuri is also on many menus.
The base is yeast dough, which is rolled into an oval, pinched and twisted at the sides to make the oval shape, filled with salted white cheese, and baked. When it’s done, cooks add a yolk to the cheese, and send it back to the hot oven until the golden orb is just set. You get it with a nubbin of butter, which melts immediately. To eat it, you break off pieces of dough from the edge and dip them into the egg-cheese mixture, which becomes a delicious sauce for the crusty pieces.
At the new pizza shop Flaming Pit, near Watertown Square, owned by Armenia-born Tigran Yesayan, Ajarakan khachapuri is twice the size of the traditional ones, made with two eggs, so the dish ($8.99) is ample for two. It’s filled with feta cheese and grated mozzarella, then a whole egg, and your butter is a pat of Land O’Lakes in gold foil.
This outsize version is sight to behold. You hardly know where to begin, so do as the Georgians do and put the butter on the yolk, break off one of the pointy ends, and submerge it into the golden center. It’s a big, wonderful mess of melted cheese, dough, salt, and crunch.
In Georgia khachapuri comes many ways, flat, square, even turnover-shaped, but one of the most popular is Adjaruli (what Flaming Pit calls Ajarkan). The dish is popular in the Armenian sections of Los Angeles, and in the neighborhoods in New York where Georgian Jews settled five decades ago.
Flaming Pit opened in October and soon after had to close because of a fire in the stove hood. The place is bare-bones with a menu of wood-fired kebabs, pizza, Italian specialties, bar room snacks, and burgers.
It’s the khachapuri that stands out here. It would stand out anywhere. Once you have it, you’re smitten. Says general manager Alexander Yeghiyan, “I personally love it very much.”
222 Arsenal St., Watertown, 617-393-0201, www.flamingpit.netSheryl Julian can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.