Middle Eastern High
by Trey Popp
Published: September 30, 2008
Good things come to those who wait, so perhaps it's fitting that the best of many pleasant surprises at Hummus came at the end of a four-hour holding pattern. To be fair, I was told that an order of potato bureka would take 20 minutes to fill at the new Middle Eastern joint on the western edge of Penn's campus. Customers had been ignoring the item so doggedly that the kitchen staff had axed it from their morning routine. Twenty minutes was a bit much on a busy day, so we struck a deal for a 4 p.m. snack. Judging from the lunches I'd already had here, it seemed like a good bet.
There's nothing special about the menu at Fabrice Saadoun and Yaron Netz's narrow nook, whose clean lines echo the Radian, a 14-story apartment and retail complex that sprang up over the summer on the same block of Walnut. My first thought was that $8 seemed high for a chicken shawarma sandwich considering that The Greek Lady sells $6 chicken gyros half a block away.
But the premium is worth it. Hummus' marinated thighs are so succulent I actually imagined sticking a straw into the pile of meat to suck up the juices. The depth of flavor is no fluke; the chicken on the spit is layered with lamb fat.
The falafel balls are crisp but not dry, beef kebabs ring with spices and onions and the pita bread is pillow soft. Moroccan cigars — deep-fried cylinders of potato or finely ground beef — were still so hot when they hit my plate that the Styrofoam vaporized, riddling the rim with penny-sized holes. That freaked me out a little, so I was extra glad for the thick smear of creamy hummus covering the middle of the plate.
What really surprised me, though, was the unsweetened Turkish coffee. Restaurants make truly good coffee about as often as churches serve really good wine. But the aromas wafting from this tall mug were so bewitching that I sat there sniffing at it like a tragically confused coke fiend. I'd never heard of Israel's Elnakhleh coffee brand, but it's on my radar now.
As is that bureka, the equal of any I've had in the Balkans. Pastry layers as wispy as rice paper concealed a coil of whipped potato that had an almost airy lightness, yet was as moist as its sheath was crisp. The pure carbohydrate profile takes it out of contention for lunch, but it's well worth ordering as a shared side for two. Even if it does take 20 minutes.
Hummus | 3931 Walnut St., 215-222-5300, hummusrestaurant.com
Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-mid; closed Sun.
Sides, $2.50-$5; sandwiches, salads, platters, $6-$12
All major credit cards accepted
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