Georgian Cheeseboats Sail into Williamsburg
Walking into Cheeseboat, the new family-run Georgian restaurant at 80 Berry Street in Williamsburg, my aesthete’s heart is overjoyed. I am immediately put at ease by the soft, romantic lighting. The boldly-patterned table coverings are ornamented with tea lights that provide a lovely glow. A stunning piece of woodwork surrounds a table tucked into the wall, reminiscent of a hobbit hole and designed by the incredibly talented Charlie Baker of Baker Structures. We are warmly greeted by Shako, one of the family members who will be our server for the evening. I ordered the house red, which is a surprisingly good Malbec bursting with fruit. We start our meal with the vegetarian dip trio, which includes a smoky eggplant paste, a spinach and herb pesto, and a chargrilled onion hummus served with delicious bread. We enjoy our dips but are anxious to move onto the star of the show– the cheeseboat.
Yes, my friends, it is every bit as wonderful as you imagine. Also known as khachapuri, a boat-shaped vessel made of yeasty bread is filled with hot, gooey cheese, butter, with a bright golden egg yolk in the middle, shining like the sun, which is in fact what it represents. Sailors’ wives in the Black Sea region traditionally made this dish for their husbands, wishing them a safe journey. Our waiter is kind enough to instruct us on the authentic way to eat this item, which is, happily, utensil-free.
Tear off a piece of the delicious bread and, using the bread, mix the egg and butter into the cheese, all the while savoring the smell of this glorious concoction wafting upwards. This is better than any fondue you will ever have. Delightful as the dipping process may be, the real highlight of the cheeseboat experience comes when the sides of the boat have been gobbled up and it is time to move onto the cheese and butter soaked “hull.” These were some very fortunate sailors.
We move onto the soup dumplings, or khinkali, another traditional Georgian dish. I hate to admit it, New Yorkers, but I am not a dumpling person. I know— a sacrilege– but I can’t help it. This dish made me realize that maybe I’m not a Chinese dumpling person, but these dumplings? I’m onboard! Again, the proper Georgian way to eat these is with your hands. The key is to bite and slurp, so you achieve the perfect amalgam of dough, meat, and soup. The result? Instant comfort. Therapists should hand these out.
For dessert, we go with the apple cobbler. Is this a traditional Georgian dessert? Maybe, maybe not, but there was a chill in the air and my autumn-obsessed self was consumed with excitement. Traditional or not, this is every bit as delicious as the rest of our meal. The cobbler is reminiscent of a bread pudding, dense and delicious, and the vanilla gelato a perfect compliment to the tartness of the apple.
After our scrumptious meal, I have the opportunity to chat with Maria and Netty Davit’ashvili, the two lovely sisters who helped dream up this family business. Netty, a Williamsburg resident, recalls visiting the other restaurants in New York that serve cheeseboats and wanting to bring their family’s version from their hometown of Tbilisi to Brooklyn. She explains that the dish is very regional and each town does a slightly different version. She speaks about bringing their home country to Brooklyn while still embracing modern flavors and trends, and describes Cheeseboat as Contemporary Georgian. Whatever it is, I love it. This gracious, friendly family somehow manages to evoke both a rustic, home-made feeling and a Brooklyn trendiness without sacrificing a thing. I sail on into the evening, admiring the pink September skies a little bit more, with a full belly and a smile on my face.
Cheeseboat is located at 80 Berry Street, at the corner of North 9th Street. They are open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am – 3pm & 5:30pm – 11:30pm.