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 V.22 No.27 | July 4 - 10, 2013 

Restaurant Review

Chickpea Paradise

San Pedro Mart and Alquds Middle Eastern Restaurant

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
You know those moments when you’re alone with some food product and find yourself thinking, “I really hope no one walks in right now.” Like when you’re pregnant and pouring honey on a tamale, or eating that piece of chocolate cake you dropped icing-side-down on the floor, or sitting there with a spoon and a big tub of hummus with sumac powder and olive oil smeared all over your chin?

If you have any scruples about the first scenario, I suggest using contraceptives. If you have scruples about the last scenario, I suggest you avoid San Pedro Mart, the grocery/Middle Eastern bakery and café with possibly the best hummus you’ve ever eaten. Ever.

Mohammad Abdeljalil, the Palestinian owner of San Pedro Mart, says his hummus takes 48 hours to make from start to finish. Whatever he’s doing in those 48 hours, it’s worth it.

Mohammad Abdeljalil, the Palestinian owner of San Pedro Mart, says his hummus takes 48 hours to make from start to finish. Whatever he’s doing in those 48 hours, it’s worth it. The end result is a mousse-like, rich and rabbit-hole-deep version of everyone’s favorite chickpea condiment.

It would be easy to imagine yourself going to San Pedro Mart just to load up on hummus, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s so much more going on there.

Lamb shwarma with hummus served with pita, and tabouli salad.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Lamb shwarma with hummus served with pita, and tabouli salad.
If you know what’s good for you, you’ll also sit down and have lunch or dinner. The small restaurant section by the front windows is divided from the grocery by a tentlike structure of ropes, Persian-style carpets and a draped ceiling. The makeshift look of the entire complex only serves to enhance the aura of street-food authenticity.

Alquds might be rough around the edges, but its heart is grand and the food is golden. The family that runs Alquds (Alquds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem) are wonderfully hospitable, helpful and proud of their work.

Menu highlights include the hummus, shawarma sandwiches, the dolmes, foul mudammas and the hareesa dessert.

My friend and I tried the lamb shawarma ($6.49) pita sandwich. This is your answer if you want your whole meal in your hand—savory, dripping meat with the usual garnish of pickles, fresh cucumbers, tomato and red cabbage.

The dolmes (stuffed grape leaves) too, were remarkable ($2.99 for six). These are not your typical, firm, Greek-deli dolmas; these are deliquescent, very lemony, almost creamy and completely saturated with flavor.

Order a side of lebneh ($2.99) if you like yogurt for dipping. Theirs is thick and dressed with olive oil and zaatar (a thyme-heavy Middle Eastern herb mix available by the bag in the store).

Order the foul mudammas ($2.99, aka ful medames, which is probably more palatable to the English eye) if you want to try one of the more antiquated dishes. Fava beans hearken back to ancient Egypt, and foul mudammas (warm, garlicky mashed fava beans, soaked in lemon juice and oil) have served as the food-of-the-people since time immemorial.

Baklava
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Baklava
Everything else is good in the standard Middle Eastern deli way: the baba ghanouj, rich and smoky; the falafel, moist and of a happy green hue; the tabouli salad, chromatically brilliant and refreshing; the grilled meat, well-spiced and tender.

Dessert options are plentiful, if somewhat redundant and mostly structural variants on nut and honey-soaked pastries. It’s all good, but the hareesa dessert ($1.49, also called basbousa), a wet semolina crumb cake soaked in simple syrup and smattered with peanuts, is the one that might embed itself in your canon of cravings, more for its grainy-cake texture than anything.

The disappointments at Alquds are negligible. The homemade, puffed white pita is perfectly fine, but kind of vapid as far as bread products go. (The upside of this is the pita serves as a perfectly neutral hummus delivery device.) Many of the side salads are refreshing but not anything to write home about. (Though your mom would be thrilled to get an actual handwritten letter from you). But really, I’m only mentioning these very minor critiques as a sort of review requirement; none of it diminishes my enthusiasm for the excellent food coming out of this kitchen.

So eat lunch, stock up on hummus and load up on rose water, ghee and pickled eggplant. Olives are cheap here, as are sesame seeds.

You can also purchase embroidered handicrafts, keffiyehs, manger scenes from Bethlehem and t-shirts advocating for peace in Palestine and Palestinian rights.

Most ethnic restaurants prefer soothing travel brochure décor to reminders of political realities. But I like thinking about where the food I’m eating actually comes from to humanize it and ground it in an actual, real-time place.

San Pedro Mart is grounded, all right. But once the hummus hits the table, who knows what ethereal state you’ll end up in.

View in Alibi Chowtown calendar



4001 San Pedro NE
888-2921
Hours
Restaurant:
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Store:
7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to through Saturday
8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday

Price range: $5 to $13
Vibe: convenience store souk
Vegetarian options: Yes and they fry their falafel in a separate skillet.

The Alibi recommends:
The hummus, any shawarma sandwich, dolmes, hareesa, falafel
Extras—Family size platters to share
 
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