Argo Georgian Bakery
June 8th, 2009Filed under: Stories
Like many Chicagoans, I make the occasional trek to Devon Avenue on the North Side to have a South Asian meal and check out the great stores there. Lately, I’ve been venturing west on this busy street to an area with a multi-national mixture of shops, including Argo Georgian Bakery at 2812 West Devon.
This is Georgia, the country on the Black Sea formerly in the Soviet Union, not the state in the United States. After having been there several times with my family to buy their long (shoti) and round (puri) breads, I wanted to learn more about it. Recently, I finally got up the guts to contact Alex Manusevich, Argo’s co-owner. Formerly a factory owner in his native Odessa, Ukraine, Alex runs the bakery with his father-in-law who grew up in Georgia. Georgians, Alex told me, “don’t put a knife to the bread,” preferring to tear it.
They opened Argo in 1997 after Alex and a Georgian man built the unique oven, called a toné. Aside from the breads, the bakers make other items like hachapuri, a tasty, savory cheese pastry. A unique and popular Georgian dumpling Argo offers is hinkali. When you first bite into hinkali, you taste a savory mixture of herbed and spiced meat with a little bit of broth. You then drink the broth and chow down on the remaining dumpling.
Argo also creates and sells Georgian ingredients like tkemali, a sour plum sauce, and adzhika, a spicy tomato paste. Georgian cuisine is flavorful, using herbs and spices like fenugreek, cilantro, saffron, and tarragon. This mountainous country is also famous for its mineral waters, wines, oranges, and nuts. One very popular Georgian dessert Alex described is church-khela, which is made of nuts sewn onto a string, then dipped in thickened grape juice, and dried.
I learned Chicago’s Georgian community is relatively small in numbers and is in the process of considering establishing a Georgian Orthodox Church here. While Alex is from Ukraine, his bakers are Georgian, and the bakery is decorated with pictures and maps of, and objects from, Georgia. I enjoyed visiting with Alex and seeing Argo from an insider’s perspective. I also left with my arms full of puri and a bottle of delicious tarragon flavored mineral water.