Tell people that Charlotte has an Armenian restaurant and everyone has the same reaction: “Armenian food, what’s that?”
Imagine Middle Eastern favorites — pita bread and hummus, shish kabob and the like. Next, imagine Jewish/Eastern European/Russian comfort food — borsht, dumplings, beef stroganoff. Got that? Okay, now envision them coming together on the same menu.
Armenia is a country next to Turkey that sits right on a cultural “hinge.” To its south is Iran and the Middle East. To the north lies the former Soviet Union. No wonder that both regions find expression in the Armenian kitchen.
At the Middle Eastern end of the spectrum, try the beef lula kabob sandwich. A Middle Eastern-style flatbread arrives piled high with grilled meat plus cucumber, lettuce and tomato.
“You can’t have a restaurant in Armenia without lula,” says Vardan Vardanyan, the owner of Ararat 17.
He mimes the cooking process: ground beef blended with spices, pressed onto a skewer in a spiral, then seared over charcoal or on a grill.
Fans of Jewish food may recognize the blinchik, a cousin of the blintz. Each features a crepe rolled tight and flat around a filling — cheese if it’s a Jewish blintz, savory ground lamb or beef if it’s an Armenian blinchik.
“When New Year is coming,” Vardanyan smiles, “99 percent of people in Armenia have blinchik on their table.”
I love dumplings, so I had to order khinkali — big swirls of dough wrapped around a meaty filling remind me of pierogi.
“They’re Georgian,” notes Vardanyan. (That’s not the U.S. state, but rather the wintery mountain country next to Russia.)
Vardanyan, who immigrated to Charlotte in 1996, opened Ararat 17 on the edge of Matthews last year, naming it for a legendary mountain peak. He decorated it just like eateries back home, with white tablecloths and a stylish bar featuring Armenian wines.
“We’ve become a gathering place for people from all of the old Soviet republics,” says young bartender Ovik Ayrazan.
For a sweet accent to your meal, ask him for a glass of non-alcoholic compote, bobbing with cherries and apricots, or gahta, a flakey pastry dessert.
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Address: 1361 Chestnut Lane, Indian Trail.
Contact: 704-684-0107; https://ararat17.com.