Marani’s Ana Epremashvili on Authenticity and Why Georgian Food Rocks

Marani's dairy kitchen churns out the Georgian cheese bread known as khachapuri.

Marani’s dairy kitchen churns out the Georgian cheese bread known as khachapuri.

As far as this food writer is concerned Marani, a kosher Georgian restaurant in Rego Park, is one of the most unique spots around. For one thing it has both a meat kitchen and a dairy kitchen. The downstairs dairy kitchen with a selection of decadent Georgian cheese pies known as khachapuri is a point of fascination for me. Upstairs find kebabs, stews, and many other Georgian specialties, including khinkali, giant soup dumplings filled with beef and lamb. My friends Chef Jonathan Forgash and Gabe Gross of Queens Dinner Club, were equally impressed with Marani that’s why we’ve decide to have our next dinner there on Weds., June 22 at 7 p.m.  Marani’s owner Ana Epremashvili was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer Seven Questions.

So tell me about the restaurant. When did it open? What made you guys decide to open it? We opened the restaurant in 2013, we serve authentic Georgian cuisine with a kosher twist and influences. We are the only establishment to have both meat and dairy under one roof in New York City. We did not think it would be an authentic representation of Georgian cuisine without the dairy, so we were happy to get approval once all the separate kitchen requirements were met.

We try to keep the kitchen modern and exciting with reinventing of the traditional dishes, as well as sticking to authentic recipes. We felt there was a void of authentic ethnic cuisines in the kosher world, when you are kosher it is common to have Japanese sushi, steak and Israeli food all in one restaurant and none of it is authentic or any good. Only lately there have been restaurants that stick to their roots, and we are happy to be a part of that trend.

Khinkali filled with beef and lamb.

Khinkali filled with beef and lamb.

The family style menu for the upcoming Queens Dinner Club is pretty exciting—khinkali dumplings, lula kebabs, beef stew, herring and more—tell me what inspired it?
We are excited to showcase the diversity of our menu and introduce people to our flavors. We also find it important for people to understand what it means for a restaurant to be kosher and what is involved in washing greens and specific ways of butchering, once people find out what it really means, they feel more comfortable patronizing kosher establishments.

Marina's meat kitchen grills up chicken and lula kebabs,.

Marani’s meat kitchen grills up chicken and lula kebabs.

What does the name Marani mean?
Marani means wine cellar in Georgian. Georgia is the birthplace of wine and is archaeologically proven to be the first country where wine was fermented, pretty cool.

How would you characterize Georgian cuisine, what makes it unique?
Well for one thing Thrillist ranked it the fourth best cuisine in the world as of 2015, due to the complexity of flavors, use of rich ingredients like walnuts, fresh herbs, grilled meats, flavorful stews, and spices that grow only in Georgia.

I love the Georgian cheese bread khachapuri, about once  a year I eat an entire adjaruli khachapuri, by myself. The combination of the egg and cheese is so satisfying! How often do you eat khachapuri, and which is your favorite?
My favorite is the classic imeruli pie with cheese in the middle, and I have a slice probably once every two weeks. I have not had a whole adjaruli I think ever, but we have lots of people who do it. They even come up for some meat afterwards.

Where are you from originally and how long have you been living in Queens?
I was born in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. I grew up in Moscow, Russia, due to an economic and political situation in Georgia. My family finally moved to US in the summer of 2001, we lived in Sunnyside, Queens. Now we all live in Forest Hills. I love Queens, especially Forest Hills and am a true New Yorker at heart.

What are some of your favorite restaurants and markets in Queens?
In Forest Hills I love Nick’s Pizza, Wafa’s, and Red Pipe Cafe for coffee and organic goodies. In Astoria I go to Vite Vinosteria for Italian and Taverna Kyklades for Greek. In Long Island City I really love the Japanese cuisine at Hibino, brunch at LIC Market, and Italian at Il Falco.There  are so many, many more, I love Queens!

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