Northwest dine-in/carryout Lebanese joint a garlic-lover’s heaven
Published: March 23, 2011
9201 Lakeside Blvd., Owings Mills,  363-6033, hummuscorner.com
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“I’m going to tell you how I make the garlic sauce,” announces Johnny Mattar, chef/co-owner of Hummus Corner, as he pauses to check in on the diners at this table strewn with plastic cutlery and balled-up paper napkins, the detritus of a well-savored meal. “It’s just garlic, oil, and lemon, but there’s a trick to it,” he explains with a sly smile that means, he says later, that though you might know the ingredients, you’ll never be able to make this at home. No matter. Once you try Mattar’s version of toum, Lebanon’s culinary gift to garlic lovers, you will dream about its searing, breath-spoiling gorgeousness. And you will return to this modern shopping center storefront for more.
Tradition and authenticity mean everything at Hummus Corner, Mattar assures, as he explains how he goes to great lengths to replicate his native Lebanese cuisine, even if that means importing pita bread from Canada and searching out chickpeas 14 mm in diameter (as opposed to the standard 9 mm) to create a hummus evocative of a place other than your supermarket cold case. Mattar’s hummus is sturdier, stiffer, and heartier than store-bought, more a schmear than a dip, and he doesn’t stint on the tahini either (thankfully).
Both the hummus and the toum appear on the mixed grill ($9.50), one of three “Mediterranean delight platters” on Hummus Corner’s menu, and a good way to sample many things. The mixed grill also includes chunks of fragrant kofta kebabs (ground beef mixed with a combination of six spices) tossed together with beef shish kebabs and a handful of addictive, crispy french fries (the latter not particularly Lebanese, but a great vehicle for the toum). The appetizers combo “mezze” platter ($7) hews to vegetarian choices: more hummus, three plump discs of falafel, three “Mediterranean snack rolls”—fat cigars of soft cheese, parsley, and onion wrapped in phyllo and deep fried—and a Lebanese salad tossed with crisp shards of pita and sprinkled with lemony sumac.
The rest of Hummus Corner’s menu, backlit on the wall above the counter, is more or less variations on a theme. Hummus is available in different preparations—with pine nuts, walnuts, and olive oil, with sautéed diced beef, with thyme and sesame seeds and served with vegetables. Ingredients for the build-your-own wraps are laid out behind a glass counter and assembled on request, but it’s hard to beat the combinations suggested in the chef’s recommendations, where a falafel wrap ($5) yields not only the expected tomatoes and tahini sauce, but a handful of mint and delightfully crisp/sour pickled turnip, and chicken comes paired with diced potato and pickled cucumber. In comparison, the meat schwarma ($6) lacks the same compelling mix of flavors, though the beef itself is top quality.
It’s every restaurant-in-a-strip-mall’s predicament to straddle the line between casual and serious, and Hummus Corner is no exception. The silvery green walls, metal tables, and modern lighting suggest something slightly more formal than the Styrofoam takeaway boxes, paper plates, and plastic utensils that form table service, but a small restaurant with a steady carryout business needs to be all things to all customers. And though for now the only beverages available at Hummus Corner are fountain sodas and bottled teas and waters (BYOB is not encouraged), Mattar hopes to be able to serve Lebanese coffee in the future. This would be welcome and promote the kind of lingering that the warm service already invites.
Admittedly, Hummus Corner is not going to be a neighborhood go-to for most city dwellers, but the restaurant has already found a following in Owings Mills. A Lebanese couple dining at a nearby table numbered the amount of times they stop in during the week—to feed children after sports practices, to grab takeout for home, or, as they were doing this evening, to have a rare quiet dinner for two. The food is like home, the man said, even if home is far from the northwest side of town.
Hummus Corner is open 7 days a week for lunch, dinner, and carryout.
> Email Mary K. Zajac