Tom Fitzmorris July 23, 2012 15:28
Dozen Best Hummus
The dish that probably turned you on to Middle Eastern food was probably hummus. Served at the beginning of a meal, it makes such a good impression that it gives the first-time eater of Lebanese food a good attitude toward what follows. Like our first raw oyster or first sushi, we remember the first encounter with hummus. Mine was at a long-extinct restaurant called The House Of Mesopotamia in Metairie. I was twenty-three, and not yet a convert to exotic cuisine, but I loved it
Hummus (also spelled hoummus and other ways) is a simple dish. It's a puree of chickpeas, tahini (which is to sesame seeds what peanut butter is to peanuts), garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and a light sprinkling of mild spices. It's served in every restaurant whose national ancestry involved the Ottoman Empire, from the Balkans through the Middle East across northern Africa. Each nation has a slightly different take on the dish. Lebanese hummus is considered the gold standard. However, I've found Palestinian versions to be the best.
I look for a light, soft, creamy, moist texture. It should not be runny, but you shouldn't be able to dig our a chunk, either. The most underrated ingredient is lemon juice, which balances the bitterness of the chickpeas to heighten the whole flavor. Toasted pita bread is essential.
1. Lebanon's Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. The best Middle Eastern restaurant in town also makes the best hummus. They know the lemon trick: you can actually see the juice on top of the mound of dip.
2. Mona's Cafe. Mid-City: 3901 Banks. 504-482-7743. ||Marigny: 504 Frenchmen. 504-949-4115. ||Carrollton: 1120 S Carrollton Ave. 504-861-8174. ||Uptown: 4126 Magazine. 504-894-9800. If you told me you thought Mona's made the city's best hummus, I wouldn't argue with you. Here is that Palestinian recipe. In addition, they bake their own pita bread--a rare state of affairs.
3. Byblos. Old Metairie: 1501 Metairie Rd. 504-834-9773. ||Uptown: 3218 Magazine. 504-894-1233. ||Byblos Market: Metairie: 2020 Veterans Blvd. 504-837-9777. Byblos is pure Lebanese in style, and its hummus (and all the other dips from that part of the word) are first-class. The best version, oddly, comes from the little deli in the Byblos Market, which unlike the main restaurants is a grocery store.
4. Babylon Cafe. Riverbend: 7724 Maple. 504-314-0010. Hummus is not always served alone as a dip. Sometimes it's used as a sauce, particularly with lamb. Here's a great example of that.
5. Phoenicia. Metairie: 4201 Veterans Blvd. 504-889-9950. A handsome restaurant in the mall where Houston's and Chili's also are, this is the best place around there to eat. The name alone tells much: Phoenicia is the center of hummus making and eating.
6. Mr. Gyros. Metairie: 3363 Severn Ave. 504-833-9228. The restaurant is Greek, but everybody confuses Greek food with Middle Eastern these days. (With good reason: they both descent from Turkish cuisine.) In its new location, is better than it used to be.
7. Casablanca. Metairie: 3030 Severn Ave. 504-888-2209. Classic hummus uses nothing but pareve ingredients, so it was easy for this strictly-kosher Moroccan cafe to make a great version.
8. Acropolis Cuisine. Metairie: 3841 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-9046. Middle Eastern places often serve Greek dishes. Turnabout is fair play. This Greek and Italian restaurant makes everything carefully, the hummus too.
9. Zea. ||Harahan: 1655 Hickory Ave. 504-738-0799. ||Kenner: 1325 West Esplanade Ave. 504-468-7733. ||Lee Circle Area: 1525 St Charles Ave. 504-520-8100. ||Metairie: 4450 Veterans Blvd (Clearview Mall). 504-780-9090. ||Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520. ||Harvey: 1121 Manhattan Blvd. 504-361-8293. ||Slidell: 173 Northshore Blvd. 985-273-0500. Hummus is so well liked that many restaurants with no Middle Eastern connection whatsoever serve it well. Zea's version is unique in employing roasted garlic instead of raw, which adds a unique mellowness. It's a little inconsistent, a little dry, and they don't toast the pita well enough. But these are minor flaws, and we get the stuff almost every time we go.
10. Cleopatra. Harvey: 2701 Manhattan Blvd. 504-361-1113 . One of the West Bank's only sources of Middle eastern food is, fortunately, pretty good.
11. Maple Street Cafe. Riverbend: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003. Although this is a Creole-Italian restaurant, the owners are from Jordan, and they work a couple dishes from their homeland on the menu. Of which the hummus is the best.
12. Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. It had to happen. Someone would get the idea of making hummus not with chickpeas, but with red beans. Here it is, in Dickie Brennan's New Orleans-style seafood house. with cucumbers and feta cheese.