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The ancient and medieval network of Eurasian trade routes known as the Silk Road extended from the Far East to Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa, passing through the Caucasus along the way. It did not, to our knowledge, go through Greenwich Village — or at least it did not until now. Through the wonders of immigrant entrepreneurialism, our January Business of the Month, CafeDelia at 59 East 8th Street (at Mercer Street), bridges space and time to bring to our neighborhood Georgian cuisine, which has fused in unique ways intercontinental influences that disseminated through the Silk Road over the course of centuries. At this fast casual restaurant, you’ll find several of the Republic of Georgia’s most famous dishes, as well as a range of delicious, traditional preparations adapted to our on-the-go lifestyle.
The story of CafeDelia begins with Ramaz Kiknadze, who, growing up in Tbilisi, Georgia, harbored an interest in New York inextricable from a fascination with the American music, movies, and art that he found so hard to come by in the Soviet Georgia of his youth. This attraction might have been in the back of his mind in 2006 when, finding little economic opportunity at home, he resolved to follow in the footsteps of a friend who had immigrated to New York City. During the first few years here, he worked a series of odd jobs. Then, in 2015, noticing a lack of restaurants serving the growing Georgia population in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, Ramaz decided to open a restaurant — an endeavor with which he was somewhat familiar from growing up around a restaurant run by his family. It did well enough that he soon started mulling an expansion into Manhattan, where none of the few existing Georgian restaurants resembled the more casual sort of establishment that he envisioned. After looking in several neighborhoods, he found in the Village the spot he was looking for — small, not outrageously expensive, and on a street with plenty of foot traffic. And then the pandemic hit. This forced him to wait. But after a year, he decided to proceed anyway and launched CafeDelia, named after a Georgian term for happy state, in the space he had targeted. It was still small and now even less expensive than before; but it was also getting no foot traffic at all.
If you were one of the lucky few to wander into CafeDelia during its first year, you might have been greeted with an explanation, as Georgian jazz prodigy Beka Gochiashvili played in the background, that the food there came from Georgia the country, not the state. The point would have been driven home by a large mural containing beautiful illustrations of menu highlights and of their ingredients as well as by an artistic picture of seemingly half of the restaurant’s dishes that took an entire night to shoot.
Most of the menu items consist of familiar comfort food, like savory pies, stuffed pockets, stews, dumplings, soups, and salads, but with an exotic twist.
Walnuts recur with surprising frequency as an ingredient. The spicing tends to reflect the fusion of eastern and western influences that characterizes the cuisine, blending basil and savory with fenugreek (seed and leaf), black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander.
The restaurant’s selection features the most famous Georgian dishes, khachapuri, a cheese stuffed bread, and khinkali, which are meat dumplings.
It also contains a variety of traditional preparations adapted to facilitate takeout and hand-eating, as well as to constitute complete meals. Everything is made fresh daily from family recipes. Standouts include the vegan mushroom and spinach pie, the ajapsandali, which is a sort of differently condimented ratatouille, the walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls, and the lobio, a spicy bean stew that comes with pickles and chvishtari, a cheese-stuffed cornbread.
The menu also offers a number of traditional desserts, among which the standout must be the charismatic grape-based churchkhela. It hangs like sausages behind the counter ready to surprise with its semi-sweet, nutty tang those misled by its meaty appearance.
The foot traffic on East 8th Street has grown substantially since CafeDelia opened its doors during the pandemic, and with it, so has the restaurant’s lunch clientele. Although Ramaz still does not see as much activity in the neighborhood as before the pandemic, he feels optimistic about the restaurant’s prospects; so much so that he is contemplating menu changes and expanded hours to capture some of the breakfast crowd. Morning hour visitors may soon have the option of Georgian style eggs and breakfast-sized cheese pies to look forward to.
It has been almost twenty years since Ramaz moved to New York. By now, he feels more at home in his adoptive city than in Tbilisi. And yet, he retains a strong attachment to his native culture. Asked what satisfaction he gets from his business, Ramaz readily replies. “It’s Georgian! I’m introducing Georgian food to people, when lots of people don’t even know that Georgia exists!”
For offering an accessible window to the world of Georgian hospitality and cuisine, we are thrilled to name CafaDelia at 59 East 8th Street our January 2024 Business of the Month.
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