On a cold and wet Monday, Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village is looking far from the appealing, vibrant area that was described to us. Students mill around neon-lit entrances to pubs that reek of stale beer. Minetta Tavern, our planned destination, looks closed but the door opens to reveal a venue too crowded to fit us in anyway.
But, a few doors up MacDougal Street, we find Hummus Place. It's small and dimly lit but it looks inviting: the "Zagat Rated" sticker and only one empty table seal the deal.It is tiny inside: barely three metres wide and a kitchen area that is almost the same size as the dining room mean that this place truly fits the cliche of "shoebox-sized". It seats about 24 people, with two-person tables dominating. The simple decor - just a few coloured platters on the wall - mean there is little distraction from the excellent food.
As the name suggests, this is a specialist venue. Of the eight entrees (mains), four are hummus-based. But don't be put off - this is hummus like you've never had before. It is gloriously thick, with a rich, complex layering of flavours that puts supermarket versions to shame. It is served with a basket of puffy, home-baked pita bread that will be replenished as often as you need. Hummus masabacha ($6.95) is plain hummus, topped with whole chickpeas and a dusting of paprika. Other hummus dishes come topped with whole fava beans and a boiled egg, tahini or sauteed mushrooms and onions. The unadorned version allows the pure flavours to shine through, but the caramelised mushrooms and onions add an extra layer that offsets the richness of the creamy hummus.
Before you get to hummus though, be sure to sample some of the five appetisers (entrees) on offer. Labane ($3.95) - a dish of strained yoghurt cheese with za'atar and olive oil - is a dish that sounds simple - perhaps even off-putting to some - on paper. But the description does not do it justice: the texture is similar to that of thick, whipped cream without the heaviness, and there is an underlying flavour reminiscent of spring in its fresh lightness. This sublime dish is perfect in every way and it is impossible to stop at just one scoop.
The roasted eggplant ($3.95), topped with tahini and lemon dressing, is also worth trying: the eggplant melts in the mouth, while the tahini topping adds a subtle smokiness.
Another specialty of Hummus Place is the shakshuka ($7.95), a rich stew of tomatoes, roasted capsicum, onions and eggplants topped with two fried (organic) eggs. This is a hearty and satisfying dish, yet it doesn't leave you feeling heavy or full afterwards.There is a dinner special served Sunday to Thursday, with two appetisers, two entrees and a bottle of house wine (from Israel) for $39.95, which is a great way to sample the menu.
A place that is essentially a one-dish show might not sound lucrative but Hummus Place is now a mini-empire with five venues. But small can be good: this is a place that has its eye firmly on its product and has perfected it to the finest degree.
99 MacDougal St (Bleecker St)
Also at four other locations: see www.hummusplace.com for more details.