Grandmother's tongue at sunset

Happy hour, Georgian-style: eggplant, Russian beer, and Marko

  • Borscht

Kafe Sobaka

2469 Broadway, Golden Hill

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

Narrow but nice: Kafe Sobaka's patio

Narrow but nice: Kafe Sobaka's patio


This must be the narrowest patio west of 25th. I mean, two people can sit at each of the half dozen tables, but nobody can get past you. You have to scrinch in from either end or through a gate halfway along.

But hey, this doesn’t stop me loving it to bits. Specially now, at happy hour, sunset, when the trees lining Broadway are luminous green and people are slowing down, and the appetizers are three bucks each, and Marko, the owner, has time to come out and chew the fat.

I squeeze down at a red table with a hand-painted portrait of a blue babushka (they all have their own faces). And you get a row of us, staring into space, thinking Deep Thoughts, slurping Baltika Russian pivo — beer ($5 in HH) — and snacking on any of the tapatchkas — appetizers — that Marko has going.

Each table has a babushka painted on it

Each table has a babushka painted on it

Crazy names, of course. Pkhali, which is spinach or cabbage salad (hey, Eastern Europe. What else do you expect?) “or on special occasions, beets,” with walnuts, cilantro and spices. Or lobio, a red bean, walnut and cilantro pâté. Or a pelmeni, meat dumplings. Or a dozen others.

Me, I’m having the grilled eggplant roll stuffed with a walnut and cilantro pâté. And one of the many Baltika brand Russian beers they have. They go up in grades of alcohol level. Naturally I go for the strongest. May as well get the best bang for the buck. It’s the “Grade 9,” 8 percent alcohol. But the kick you get, I could believe it’s higher. It more than fills the nice frosted pint mug.

You get Georgian bread with your HH appetizers

You get Georgian bread with your HH appetizers

Here’s the thing: When Ksenia, one of the servers, brings my eggplant roll, it isn’t that huge, but man it is so-o tasty. For starters it just looks so wicked, with the shiny black skin of the eggplant snaking around the lime green pâté mixture, with what looks like chopped walnuts on top.

“We call it badrijani nigvzit, ‘grandmother's tongue’,” says Marko. Guess he means that sharp taste. But I love it. He says it has cilantro, walnuts, onions, garlic, khmeli-suneli. It means “dried spices” and Marko says it’s made up of “seven Georgian spices.” He’s from Georgia (the country south of Russia by the Black Sea, not the southern US).

Grilled eggplant roll

Grilled eggplant roll

I check online, and see things like coriander, dill, bay leaf, marjoram, parsley, saffron, thyme, black pepper, celery, hyssop, mint, hot pepper are often part of the mixture. Whatever it’s the spice mix that Georgians use all the time.

I’m starting to understand why. With the eggplant wrap it’s an oozy, rich mix that fills you more than you’da thought.

Of course this turns out to be just the beginning. From here it’s on to borscht and other HH stuff and, natch, lots of talk. I swear, this guy Marko has to be a contender for Most Interesting Man in the World.

More in upcoming Tin Fork.

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