A new, strong-performing Lebanese restaurant whose portions and combo platters make it a great place to dine with a group
When a restaurant is named after a dish, the restaurant ought to nail that dish. Mr. Hummus Grill does this, but the new Lebanese eatery gets more than its namesake dip right.
Apart from kitchen matters, Mr. Hummus Grill made a smart early decision to retain the carved, highly polished wood-paneled walls it inherited from Cafe Shish Kebab, a defunct predecessor with a similar sensibility and “keep it simple” naming strategy. Another sharp decision made by this business with a casual atmosphere and food-truck roots is to offer tableware with a little panache.
This includes simple-but-attractive serving bowls and platters, and name-brand copper cups used as water glasses. The latter resemble Moscow mule mugs, but that's as close as diners will get to an alcoholic beverage in the “dry” eatery.
Nonetheless, spirits will be lifted by the strong cooking here. For a mood-elevating starter, try the Soujouk: stubby, house-made, mildly spicy sausages that recall merguez (seven for $7). A couple of the fragrant little red links — which arrive seared, juicy and partnered with lemony house tahini sauce — appear in an easy-to-inhale pita sandwich as well ($7).
The steaky Makanek ($7) — Lebanese-style, pinkie-sized house sausages — are similarly delicious but made without chili.
Lentil Soup ($4) might sound less interesting, but it's a good pick, too; a nuanced, hearty puree topped with fried pita “croutons” that attests to a finely tuned recipe.
It's noteworthy that Mr. Hummus offers several group-friendly, money-saving combo platters that include its soothing hummus. The creamy, tahini-forward amalgam is appealingly rich and thick and judiciously brightened with lemon; garlic and spices are muted to absent.
Ordering the enormous “small” Vegetarian Sampler ($15) will get your table this hummus and a basket of toasted pita wedges, plus tangy, perfectly smoky baba ghanoush; crisp, spicy, exemplary falafel; stuffed grape leaves; a refreshing yogurt-and-cucumber dip; parsley-dominated, palate-cleansing tabbouleh; loubie bzeit, or broad green beans in zippy tomato sauce; and fattoush, a lively Mediterranean-style salad with pita croutons. If I left anything out, well, it was good, too.
The highly recommended “small” Mixed Grill Combo Platter ($65), which is served in two immense courses, is said to feed three to four people. Six is more like it.
Numbers aside, it's an imposing bonanza that begins with most of the items in the aforementioned vegetarian sampler. To this, add extra-long kebabs — some likely tenderized in a yogurt marinade — that include succulent steak, delectable chicken breast, addictive chicken kafta and beef kafta made from meat minced with onion and red pepper, and cinnamon-scented slices of house beef shawarma and chicken shawarma that tasted great but were unfortunately dry. Tack on potent garlic and first-rate tahini sauces, well-executed saffron rice, prefab-but-crisp fries, plus a sizable serving of arayes — toasted pita triangles with a kafta-like beef filling — and this equals a tableside buffet you won't soon forget.
The skillfully fried Red Snapper ($20) is a more modest but still-memorable spread that will feed a party of two, or one heroically hungry diner. The served-whole fish — mine arrived with pungent whiffs that gave way to flaky, sweet, clean-tasting meat encased in a crisp golden-brown crust — comes with a giant side-dish choice that should be the colorful vegetable medley of sauteed peppers, squashes, carrots and more.
Fattet Hummus ($7) is a rib-sticking dish I love but have never seen before in a Columbus restaurant. Also called tessiyah — that's how I know it — and often eaten as breakfast or brunch, it's an intense, warm and robust, cake-like construction made with toasted pita, boiled chickpeas, yogurt, tahini, lemon, fried nuts and plenty of garlic. As per usual, Mr. Hummus nails this earthy, destination-worthy delight, too.