Before Rose Previte ran two of Washington, DC’s most acclaimed new restaurants, Maydan and Compass Rose, she lived in Russia, where she picked up a taste for Georgian food, with her journalist husband.
“The first thing I ate in Russia was Georgian food,” she told us on a recent visit to the MUNCHIES test kitchen. “My husband and I were eating it way too often.”
Previte opened Compass Rose, a restaurant focused on international street food, in DC in 2014. “We try to bring things back from our travels,” Previte said. “Georgians are the most hospitable people in the world, like, ‘Come to my kitchen and I’ll give you the best of everything I have,’ and I just wanted to use that as a guiding principle.”
Not just that hospitality, though—the restaurant needed Georgian food, and one dish in particular, Previte said: adjaruli khachapuri, a boat of dough that’s filled with cheese and topped with an egg right after it’s pulled hot from the oven. Since Compass Rose opened, Previte estimates that it’s served more than 50,000 orders of khachapuri. You’ve probably seen khachapuri on your Instagram feed, but if you haven’t, comparing it to eggy, white cheese pizza wouldn’t be too far off.
When Previte stopped by the MUNCHIES test kitchen with co-executive chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan of Compass Rose and Maydan, the last bit of winter is still hanging on, so we figured, why not warm up by turning on the pizza oven and making Compass Rose’s famous khachapuri? “Egg on pizza—it’s like the American dream,” Previte said.
Compared to the khachapuri that the team has had in Georgia, Previte says their version has a little less bread and a little more cheese. The dough is a pretty standard blend of water, flour, oil, yeast, honey, and salt that comes together in a stand mixture. According to chef Gerald Addison, a high yeast content helps it rise quickly—a necessity for how popular the dish is at Compass Rose. “It can proof in an hour. It’s designed to do that,” Addison said. When it’s done, he explained, it should look like pizza dough.
After Addison forms the dough, chef Chris Morgan shows us how to prepare the cheese. In Georgia, the standard would be a cheese called sulguni, but Previte told us that it’s been hard to import it from Georgia. Instead, their team approximates the salty, stretchy quality of sulguni by mixing feta, ricotta, and low-moisture mozzarella.
In a food processor, Morgan mixes the feta for eight minutes until it looks like a thick cream. Then, he adds the grated mozzarella, followed by ricotta. Because the feta is so flavorful already, the mixture doesn’t need to be seasoned further. “The feta is nice and sour,” said Morgan. “You want it to be melty, but you also want it to be creamy and that’s why the ricotta is there.” (Once the cheese is mixed, it should sit in the fridge to solidify, which will make assembling the khachapuri easier.)
Morgan and Addison shape the dough into a log and cut it into eight pieces. They loosely form each piece into a ball—no need to knead here. “I find that forming them a little by hand helps to get the shape started before I start rolling,” said Addison. Then, they use a rolling pin to turn each dough ball into a long, almond-shaped sheet. The sheet goes onto a baking sheet that’s been flipped over and lightly dusted with flour.
Giving the dough its final form is simple: Fold in the sides, and overlap the folds at the ends. Morgan brushes a thin layer of egg wash along the seam, which keeps the lip from turning upward. Into each oval of dough, Morgan and Addison add the cheese mixture. The cheese should stay in the center, far from the folded seams, since it will expand as it melts. The assembled khachapuri then goes into a hot oven.
You’ll know it’s done when the edges of the dough have gotten a little color like a perfectly golden pizza crust, and the melty cheese has made its way across the dough. At this point, the khachapuri comes out of the oven and gets its final treatment: Morgan and Addison each drop in an egg yolk and a pat of butter. Though it’s not traditional to Georgian khachapuri, Compass Rose’s version gets finished with a dash of bright, flavorful, green za’atar—that’s a call to Previte’s Lebanese background.
While it’s still piping hot, use a pair of forks to mix the yolk into the warm cheese, and let it set up for a few seconds. To eat, slice into strips like pizza, or grab the doughy ends off the sides and dig them into the hot gooey cheese. You could eat a piece of cold pizza for breakfast, sure—or you could wrap yourself in this big warm blanket of dough, eggs, butter, and cheese.