For about a year now, Toné has opened up literally on top of a small bakery that used to be named simply as "Georgian Bread." The only thing that remains of that tiny, sweaty place is the round stone oven used to cook all of the bread, which is the focus of the operation. The bakery still stands as a point of sale for take out customers who come here from surrounding areas to pick up shotis puri (below), the typical Georgian bread used at any meal.
For table service, the bread comes directly from the oven.
The restaurant does not have a ton of seating, and this can lead to a shortage at peak times since the place seems to already be popular with large Russian groups. They now serve well-priced bottled beer, as well as a very sweet Georgian lemonade ($2.50, below), which comes in a variety of flavors. If you want to have wine or liquor, you are allowed to bring that yourself as of writing.
It would be a shame to come all this way, to be in such close proximity to such a beautiful oven, and skip the delights that it can offer. They offer five types of khachapuri, of which I tried two on separate visits. There are many different ways to enjoy cheesy bread, the first of which is adjaruli ($13, below), which is also the most expensive. This is probably my favorite way to enjoy the bread, as an egg is opened right on top of the farmers cheese and butter that is laid within a boat-like form. As I lined up the bread for a photo, the server seemed concerned I was taking too much time and told me it had to be mixed while hot. As the thing was steaming the lens of my camera, I did not find this cause for concern.
Once mixed, the fun starts with breaking pieces of the bread off and dipping them into the concoction you have created in the center. Fingers start to get a bit gooey as you make your way inwards, but it hardly detracts from the deliciousness.
Served in a pizza-like presentation, imeruli khachapuri ($9, below) uses the same farmers cheese but also adds mozzarella. The cheeses are so rich and the bread so crisp, no dip or topping is necessary for complete enjoyment.
In addition to some type of khachapuri, it is very difficult to eat Georgian without ordering hinkali ($10, below), six steaming dumplings in thick skins. Pick up the piping hot pieces by the top and be careful as the ground beef, Georgian spices, and burning liquid inside comes rushing into your mouth.
For two dollars more you can have cheese or mushroom versions, but I have never tried these yet. The traditional versions just seem so perfect already. This might be my vote for the best hinkali (khinkali) in New York City.
A stand out of the appetizer list is the lobio nigvzit ($10, below), which can be served hot or cold. We tried the cold version, which probably allows the eater to discern individual ingredients better in each bite. Served in what appears to be a dugout canoe for Lego men, the red beans are coated in a walnut paste and a variety of Georgian herbs and spices, the effect being a powerful flavor punch.
The winner of the night was also on the appetizer list but seems more of an entree. The satsivi ($13, below) is chicken in a wonderful walnut-based sauce infused with garlic and spices. Even after the chunks of bird were gone, all four of us were dipping pieces of bread into this little bowl until every drop was savored.
The chanahi ($12, below), despite being tasty, was probably our least favorite main course. This is lamb cooked with eggplant, potato, and tomato, but compared to the rest of the dishes was much less flavorful. It is another good way to get your bread working for you though.
Lastly we enjoyed the ostri ($12, below), a type of beef stew that is tomato-based but has a wonderful tart pickled taste. The menu and servers only allude to tomatoes, onions and herbs in the mix, but there is more to this than that. Recommended.