This is the Hummus Duo "V": Hummus dip and four Falafels… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
I get a shiver of satisfaction bordering on smugness when I find a little restaurant that does one or two things well, or that offers an out-of-the-ordinary menu, or that dishes up low-cost comfort food. So I feel pleasantly snooty that I visited Hummus Corner before some of my foodie friends.
True to its name, Hummus Corner occupies an end unit in a strip mall that includes pizza, Chinese and sub restaurants. Plenty of dining choices and all of them predictable offerings. And all of them serve a densely packed zone of apartment and condo complexes around Lakeside and Owings Mills boulevards. So it's reasonable to guess that if you could pull off something a little different, Hummus Corner's corner would be as good a location as any.
12:15 p.m. My first impression of the place is that it's seems more spacious than you might expect from a glance at its exterior. I decided the effect was created in part by like-brand-new clean surfaces: counter; display glass, walls and floor tiles; and also because the dining area was empty. Smallish, lacquered wood tables suitable for two line the walls and a few larger round ones occupy the center. Lebanese music played softly but, without the chatter of diners, it filled the place.
My second impression, checking out the menu boards that loom over the counter, was that you could probably afford to eat here regularly. We ordered three platters that looked like they'd give us a pretty good range of the menu. Add a couple bottles of Gatorade and the entire meal came in at just under 30 bucks. You could easily get by for far, far less.
12:24 p.m. Our orders were called and we picked them up at the counter and returned to our table with lots of hummus, fries, and pita triangles. We were still the only customers.
The namesake hummus is the star. It was included with all our meals, as was pita bread. The Corner's hummus style is moist and smooth, approaching the consistency of whipped cream cheese. It has a tangy spirit and played well with everything on the platters. Second best: a garlic sauce, about the same texture as the hummus but crushed-ice white. It really lit things up.
12:27 p.m. The first of our three platters was an appetizer combo with falafels, cheese-filled pastry rolls, and a salad. The falafels were toasty and heavy compared to the lighter rolls. They brought a crunchy, gritty feel while the rolls were flaky crisp outside, chewy soft inside. At $7, it was more than enough for one.
The appetizer combo included the salad, which I returned to for welcome contrast to the heft of chickpeas and the heat of the garlic sauce. The vinegar and oil mix on the cucumbers carried a slight watermelon sweetness.
The Arayes platter ($8) featured minced beef and herbs sandwiched between grilled pita. These kofta and pita sandwiches were flat and lean, with the brittle shell housing the tender filling.
The lamb in the mixed grill platter ($9.50) had a sausage-like consistency and a wisp of mint overtone: highly savory and arid. The beef was less aromatic, but add garlic sauce and pita for a pungent, earthy profile that — note to carryout customers — screams for strong coffee or robust red wine.
The fries featured in two of the platters were fresh from the bag, nothing fancy, but the Corner gives them just the right salt and oil touches to make them comfort-food addictive. Less than a week later I had the same fries at another, more upscale place, but they didn't best the Corner's version.
12:47 p.m. About halfway through our meal, other customers trickled in. My dining companion and I heard them order, eavesdropped sporadically on their conversations, and guessed that a few of them had been here before. We suspected that on busier days the Corner has a homier feel.
12:55 p.m. We were theoretically done but still nibbling fries when Hummus Corner owner Johnny Mattar stopped by to ask us if we enjoyed our meal. He was so sincere, and to me seemed grateful to the point of relief when we nodded our approval, that we were immediately endeared to him and his restaurant.
1:01 p.m. We paid and left with a big, full, foam carryout box. I might return here for the Corner's hummus, or maybe for the fries. I'll definitely be back to check out the do-it-yourself wraps and subs. It was an affordable foray into an experience you won't find in every strip mall.
• Write your own review of Hummus Corner in Owings Mills.
Where: 9201 Lakeside Blvd, Owings Mills
Lunch hours (same menu): 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Lunch entrées: $4-$9.50
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]
Dining time: 46 minutes