WASHINGTON — On restaurant menus, hummus is typically listed as an appetizer. At cocktail parties, it often accompanies crudités. But at D.C.’s newest fast-casual spot, the popular chickpea spread has been called off the sidelines, and instead, is the star of each meal.
Inside Little Sesame’s new home at 1828 L St. NW, chefs and co-founders Ronen Tenne and Nick Wiseman make more than 70 pounds of hummus each morning — and that’s just for the lunch crowd. Once blended, it gets scooped into the base of bowls and topped with roasted cauliflower or summer greens; and filled into pockets of pita with roasted eggplant or chicken shawarma.
Drawing on inspiration from Middle Eastern hummus shops, the two former fine-dining chefs say this is the way the creamy spread should be consumed.
“In so much of the world, it’s eaten as a center-of-the-plate meal — it’s truly a working lunch — but it’s never really been experienced that way here. Americans have always eaten hummus as a side or a dip. So there was a big opportunity to change the way people thought about hummus,” said Wiseman, who is also behind the Southeast D.C. seafood restaurant, Whaley’s.
Little Sesame is not a new name to the Dupont Circle lunch crowd. The Israeli-inspired eatery launched as a pop-up nearly three years ago inside a Jewish deli on Connecticut Avenue. But with its new 1,400-square-foot space near Farragut North, Tenne and Wiseman can reach more locals in search of a quick and healthy meal using a food that’s pleasing to American palates.
“Hummus is one of those deeply satisfying things. There are the major food groups, and I think hummus is becoming one of them,” Wiseman said.
In the U.S., hummus accounts for nearly $725 million in grocery sales, TODAY reports. And an estimated 25 percent of Americans keep hummus on hand. But Tenne and Wiseman say the hummus at Little Sesame is different from the tubs found on store shelves. They describe their product as smooth and creamy, but with a lightness to it.
“It’s something where you can go back to work and feel energized and good for the rest of the day,” Wiseman said.
The chefs say the ingredients they use drive the flavor and consistency of Little Sesame’s hummus. The chickpeas, which are smaller and more dense than most varieties, come from a single grower based in Montana. The tahini is imported from Israel.
“Hummus is a simple thing, but there’s so much about the process and the ingredients that you have this variability of the hummus you’ve eaten — everywhere it tastes so different,” Wiseman said.
Plates of seasonal vegetables (or salatim) round out the menu, including smashed cucumbers with pickled Fresno chili and dill, and chopped salad with tahini, za’atar and lemon. Little Sesame also offers dairy-free soft serve in two flavors: vanilla-tahini and dark chocolate Turkish coffee.
In addition to encouraging diners to think of hummus more as an entree and less as an accompaniment, the two chefs say they also wanted to bring the “vibrancy and energy” of Middle Eastern hummus shops to D.C.
Tenne, a native of Israel, said that feeling of community, served alongside authentic food, is something he has been in search of since he moved to the U.S., nearly 15 years ago.
Now, he has one — his own.
“It’s really hard to find a place that does it properly … but people are ready for it. They want it,” Tenne said.
Little Sesame is at 1828 L St. NW, and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.
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