Satatsuri: Georgian-style café culture – Culinary back streets

If there ever was such a thing as an oracle for gentrification, Eka Janashia thinks her father could qualify as one. We’re sitting in Eka’s chic Café Satatsuri, with its earthy brick walls and warm wooden floors – a space that used to be the family head’s modest two-bedroom ground floor apartment in a rather seedy corner of Marjanishvili.

The district was founded in the early 17th century by German migrants invited by Tsar Alexander I to settle in what was then Russian Transcaucasia. In fact, prior to the mass deportation of Germans and other nationalities and social groups that Stalin deemed dangerous to communist ideology, there were about a dozen German colonies throughout Georgia — Marjanishvili, in particular, was a prime spot in the capital frequented by wealthy merchants and nobles of all faiths and nationalities until it fell into Soviet hands and became even more dilapidated in the chaotic years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Recent renovations have transformed the main streets, but the side streets retain their tired, old-world charm of crumbling and neglected historic buildings.

Eka’s father had moved here in the mid-2000s to avoid the transformation of their former home (an area many Georgians still refer to by the Soviet name Pervoskaya) into Tbilisi’s premier bar street. From the late 1990s, a fleet of Irish-themed pubs settled in their old neighborhood, catering to the first wave of expats arriving in post-Soviet Georgia, oil boys brought in to work on a pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea . Sleazier bars and massage parlors soon followed, and senior Janashia and his wife couldn’t take it anymore and moved out when their kids were grown and leaving the nest.

Arriving in Marjanishvili, the elderly couple were content with the relative tranquility surrounding the early 20th-century red brick building that housed their new apartment. As a bonus, the ground floor windows also overlooked a handsome stained-glass paneled, wood-panelled historic building built in 1851 by the Armenian merchant Melkumov, who served as the consul of Persia for several years.

But their building also shared walls with an old disused Soviet clothing factory that would eventually be transformed into the coolest, youth-centric multifunctional space called Fabrika, which had hipsters crawling out of the wood paneling on Tbilisi’s Left Bank. The loud renovations and boisterous parties that followed had Eka’s father tearing his hair out until Eka and her husband, Iva Davitaia, offered to move them back to a slightly quieter street in the upscale Vake area.

Realizing that the ground floor apartment was no longer suitable for living due to increasing traffic on the streets, the couple, who had both worked with leading hotel companies in Georgia including Marriot and the Adjara Group, decided on the rising popularity of the Apartment to capitalize on the Left Bank among tourists and Western expats and try your hand at a cafe-restaurant serving comfortable Georgian-European fusion cuisine in a sleek and stylish setting.

“The idea was to offer something a few notches above other places in the neighborhood, but still keep the menu light and healthy,” Eka explains of how her Satatsuri store came about. “It’s a bit like an upscale dining room without being fancy,” adds Iva.

The couple hired interior designers and hired one of their favorite young Georgian artists, David Machavariani, famous for his illustrations in a graphic novel edition of the Georgian literary classic The Knight in the Panther Skin, to create the café’s captivating murals.

Local celebrity chef and Georgian MasterChef champion Luka Nachkhebia helped Eka and Iva put together the menu, which includes a variety of salads, sandwiches, poke bowls, filled savory crepes, soups and Georgian-inspired dishes like ajapsandali (a type of eggplant-heavy ratatouille) offers. served with fresh hot waffles, a Svaneti mashed potatoes and cheese dish called tashmijabi, which is not dissimilar to the French aligot except that different types of cheese are used, and chakhondrili, a slow-cooked meat dish heavily based on a Georgian herb called khondari (savory ) the dish based its name. All seemed fine for the planned opening day until a major setback in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed.

By May 2020, when the couple planned to launch, local restrictions had eased to allow for takeaway and delivery, but sit-down dining was still not allowed. The pair quickly signed up for food delivery apps and launched a social media campaign featuring one of their unique menu items – savory buckwheat-based crepe buns with veggie and non-veggie fillings. “The crêpes really took off in the food apps and are still among the best-selling items today,” says Eka. While the apps are helping to register the brand in public bandwidth, even after all pandemic-related restrictions were lifted, the number of visitors was still low. Being right next to Fabrika with its maze of cafes, bars and restaurants had both advantages and disadvantages. “A lot of people first spotted us when they were on their way to Fabrika,” admits Eka – but soon the café’s elegant but intimate decor attracted regulars – including ourselves – who wanted a quiet place to chat away from the busy courtyard of Fabrika.

Today, Satatsuri – which means “asparagus” in Georgian – is one of the most distinctive café-restaurants in Tbilisi’s fast-upgrading Left Bank district, and one that has become a regular pit stop for those in need of a healthy lunch or coffee interruption. Aside from the delicious pork belly sandwiches with melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and the crispy arugula salad with goat cheese, we love the crunchy fries, which are served with a tart berry sauce instead of ketchup.

The ever-expanding wine list, curated by Iva, encouraged us to extend our visits to include dinner – our final meal of pork and tashmijabi and beef chakhondrili went down with a velvety 2020 Saperavi from a small family-owned winery called Sherma, which we didn’t have heard until Iva recommended it. “We know most of the winemakers we serve personally,” says Iva, adding that one of the wines they stock is from a young winemaker who just dropped by the restaurant in person with a few bottles of his excellent one wine for Iva to taste. The collection also includes some commendable upcoming labels like M7, Do Re Mi, Anapea and Ocho wines, all of which sell for a fairly decent price of 50 gel ($18.50) including VAT per bottle. In fact, all prices here are conveniently tax-inclusive, a rarity in most high-to-mid-range restaurants in Tbilisi that can often surprise you when the bill is served (it’s easy to miss the fine print on menus). .

Although Satatsuri got off to a rocky start, the café has settled in well here at the address inherited from Eka’s father. But she admits things aren’t going so well for her parents as her father can’t seem to escape his fate. Although they have moved to one of the city’s upmarket areas and thought the chances of being chased by more development were less likely there, a new pub has recently taken over the ground floor of their current residence. “For my dad’s sake, I just hope it doesn’t get too popular and loud,” notes Eka, laughing.

Released November 24, 2022

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