Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kavkaz Restaurant

Placed on a nondescript road in a nondescript suburb south of Charlotte, you wouldn't expect much from an ethnic restaurant in a remodeled former Huddle House. After all, driving the county highway in the newly sprawling suburb, one passes miles and miles of mundane strip mall ethnic cuisine: Korean, Chinese and Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen. But if you passed Kavkaz Family Restaurant without stopping, you'd miss something special.

Tradition holds that Kavkaz was the son of Togarmah, grandson of Japheth, son of the Biblical Noah. Kavkaz (or Кавказ in Cyrillic) is also the Russian name for the Caucasus, the range of mountains and region comprising Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. All begin former Soviet states, their influence from Russia is undeniable. But the region also sits adjacent to Turkey and Iran, which adds in a middle eastern culture as well.

As we arrived at Kavkaz, we were greeted by an exuberant and welcoming Ukrainian host. He seated our party of six right away, and had our drinks on the table within minutes. The beer selection was superb. I personally have never tried Russian beer, but both the Baltika #2 (a Kolsch-style lager) and the Baltika #6 (a very malty and nutty porter) were delicious. The Porter was so malty, in fact, it was almost syrupy sweet, like the tradition malt soft drink called Kvas.

Our meal started with appetizers of Chebureki, Dolmos, and Julien. The Chebureki was a very large pastry dough, filled with meats and spices and then flash fried into two crispy won-tons for six. Dolmos are the traditional Greek rice and meat wrapped in a grape leaf. The Julien were the most special--individual crocks of heavy cream, mushrooms, chicken and cheese, stove cooked and then baked to perfection, served like a heavy gravy or sauce, and simply delicious with the bread on the table.

After our course of appetizers, our waiter brought us two soups to share. The Kavkaz Borscht was a delicious and exciting variation on the mundane borschts I've had in the past. Served steaming hot, with strips of fresh beet and chunks of lamb, this borscht was savory and very satisfying. We had to claw it away from Becky just to get a taste. She loved it.

Our other soup was called Solianka, which was a delicious combination of chicken stock with lemon slices, chicken, lamb, Kalmata olives, and slices of Debricina sausage (like a spicy kosher wiener). This was my personal favorite!

Our meals were various forms of kebabs from beef, lamb and chicken, all heavily influenced from the middle eastern cuisine, served with a simple rice pilaf, plus a spicy cole-slaw and mashed potatoes. Luke's kebab was called Lamb Lula, which I've seen in Persian restaurants called Koubideh, a ground blend of beef and spiced lamb similar to gyro meat. Mom had a Pajharski Katlet, which was twin chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and spinach, much like a Chicken Kiev or a Cordon Bleu. But the most spectacular of all our entrées was Eddie's Beef Stroganoff, a delicious blend of beef in a heavy sour cream sauce served over rice. Every fork on the table jumped onto his plate simultaneously to snatch a taste before it was gone. The Stroganoff was magnificent.

All of this food was far, far, oh-so-far from diet fare. You had the feeling that if you were going to be sent to Siberia to work in the coal mines and work camps, this was the food you'd need to ensure you survived the winter. This was a splurge that you simply must enjoy every now and then.

For our dessert, the waiter insisted on bringing us a platter of Baklava, a gorgeous fluffy Napoleon filled with sweet cream, and the traditional Gata, the Kavkaz "super secret" recipe for crispy rolled sweet cream filled pastries. Topping it all off was the most delicious spiced black tea.

The folks at Kavkaz were spectacular. The chef at Kavkaz is one of only eight chefs (two still living) that were invited to prepare food for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Clearly so, as the food and presentation were immaculate. The staff, including the owner and his son, swooned over us as we devoured plate after plate. The Kavkaz folks had clearly put a lot of heart and pride into their craft. It was a delight to share this cultural gem with them.

Kavkaz Family Restaurant: Come casual, come hungry, and bring the kids.

Kavkas Family Restaurant
1542 Stallings Road
Stallings (South of Charlotte), NC

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