The West Village is not an easy place to grab a cheap lunch. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a wonderful place to grab lunch. There’s Market Table, ‘ino, Pearl Oyster Bar, The Spotted Pig, Barbuto, etc, etc, and so on. But the operative word in my first sentence was “cheap” and while all of those places have wonderful food, if I ate at one of them every day, I’d be broke. Which is why, upon moving here two years ago, I was in search of a place I could visit on a weekly basis, where I could eat quickly and cheaply and relatively healthfully, a place that was convenient to my apartment and convenient to the coffee shop where I do most of my work (Joe). The place I settled upon was Hummus Place.
Located on 7th Avenue just north of Bleecker, Hummus Place has a bright yellow awning, a few tables outside (in the warm weather months) and many more tables inside. The place is wildly inconsistent, both in its service, its crowdedness and in the quality of the food.
I always marvel, when I eat there (and I’ve eaten there once a week for the past two years) how wildly inconsistent the experience can be. In most restaurants inconsistency can be a business-killer, but at Hummus Place, I find it hilarious.
Take, for example, the service. There’s a waitress there with blonde hair and a smiley disposition who’s so capable and on-the-ball, I don’t even have to order when I sit down. She knows me that well. And when she’s working, the food comes out fast, the check arrives before I can ask for it and I’m fed and out the door quicker than I can say “Hummus Tahini” (Hummus Tahini is my usual order).
Other times, though, the place will be jam-packed (last time I was there, a party of 14 lawyers sat down next to me), and an under-experienced server will be manning the place, overwhelmed, and sometimes I’ll just get up and leave before I even place an order because I know this isn’t going to end well. Again, though, I find this endearing rather than frustrating.
And then, of course, there’s the food. I always order the lunch special, which is $7.95 and comes with your choice of hummus, pita bread and any of the appetizers. I always choose hummus tahini, whole wheat pita and the health salad:
As you can see, that’s quite a spread for $7.95. And very filling and satisfying at lunchtime.
But the inconsistency is, once again, hilarious. For example, the hummus tahini goes from being incredibly thick and peanut buttery one day to incredibly liquid and runny the next day. The pita bread is sometimes warm, sometimes cool; sometimes fresh, sometimes stale. And the salad; oh the salad!
I promise you this: if you were to go to Hummus Place on a Monday and you ate this salad, you could return Tuesday, order the exact same thing, and it would taste entirely different. The variations that the chefs achieve on this simple combination of cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, and parsley are astounding. Some days the salad is wonderfully acidic with lemon juice. Some days there’s no acid at all, and the salad is just drenched in oil. Some days the salad is way too salty; other days, there isn’t any salt to speak of. I almost think the salad is prepared by a mathematician who’s trying to achieve every possible permutation of salad possible with a limited number of ingredients. If I’ve gone to Hummus Place once a week for the past two years, I’ve probably experienced 104 totally different versions of the Health Salad.
But the reason the meal at Hummus Place is really worthwhile, the reason you might make it a stop on your next trip to New York (although I wouldn’t go out of your way to do that) is the little container that comes when they ask you if you want “hot sauce.” Say yes and you’ll be rewarded with this:
That’s the Hummus Place harissa and it’s truly marvelous. Fiery and packed with fresh herbs, this little ramekin takes a humdrum meal of ground-up chickpeas, stale pita and inconsistent salad and electrifies it with big heat and big flavor.
My technique is simple: I tear off a piece of pita, dip it in the harissa, then drag it through the hummus and pop it into my mouth. Without the harissa, I think it would all taste rather bland. With the harissa, I’m eating something exciting, something invigorating, something that makes me want to come back again and again.
And come back again and again I did, for the past two years. When I move to L.A. in two days, I’m sure I’ll find all sorts of new places to eat lunch. But, despite the inconsistency–or maybe because of it–I’ll miss Hummus Place. It’s one of a kind.