“It’s not just a dip!”
David Nussbaum, owner of Capitol Hill’s Aviv Hummus Bar (open since September), talks about hummus with such conviction—calling it healthy, fun, even sexy, with no sense of hyperbole—that you can’t help but agree with him. He pronounces it “hoo-moos” in the traditional vernacular.
From a family of entrepreneurs and with a background in restaurant work—mostly front of the house—Nussbaum seems like a natural restaurateur. After flirting with ideas for his own restaurant, Nussbaum honed in on the street food of Israel, and hummus specifically. His parents emigrated from Israel in the ’70s, and he’s spent many vacations there. “It just sort of clicked,” he says. “There’s something so magical about that place and the food.” He couldn’t find anything comparable here, even with our plethora of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean joints, which Nussbaum bemoans for their overly broad menus. Hummus would fulfill his quest to do one thing and do it well.
But a dish so basic—just chickpeas, tahini and lemon—can be as difficult to execute as any multicourse fine-dining meal. To perfect his technique, Nussbaum spent a summer in Haifa, a northern Israeli coastal city, being mentored, coincidentally, by a chef his dad knew growing up. He ate at many hummus places and practiced at home, working to replicate Israeli-style hummus.
Indeed, the hummus at casual, colorful Aviv is a different dish than the pedestrian grocery-store variety; it’s served plain ($10) with a side of warm pita and small plate of pickles, topped with shawarma-spiced ground beef ($13) or sautéed mushrooms ($12), or, my favorite, half-mashed with plenty of lemon and garlic in a twist called masabacha ($12). It’s deeply earthy; I want to call out the terroir of Nussbaum’s chickpeas, but he won’t disclose where he gets them, though he admits to going through a few hundred pounds of the dried beans per week. Until now, I would never have put wine and chickpeas together in the same thought bubble.
The sleeper hit of the short menu, however, is the falafel: bright green from fresh herbs and freshly fried, leading to a crisp exterior and a center so light it melts away. Get it folded into a pita sandwich ($11), get it sitting atop a plate of hummus (three for $3, plus hummus)—just get it.
Aviv Hummus Bar
Capitol Hill, 107 15th Ave. E; 206.323.7483.