Because Jewish teenagers in from the Five Towns or studying at NYU get tired of swiping daddy’s credit card around SoHo, Hoomoos Asli on Kenmare Street awaits with refreshing lemonanas (Israeli lemonade with mint) and hearty shish kebabs at a decent price. This low-key joint is of value to kosher eaters downtown, who too often find themselves with limited dining-out options. Hoomoos Asli is one of a few relaxed kosher places that don’t require you to rub elbows with the party next to you or make small talk with your classmate from yeshiva grade school who also happens to be waiting for a table.
The Kenmare Street restaurant seats a maximum of 35, with wooden bar stools overlooking the storefronts on Cleveland Place and seven tables at the back. Frustrated with the American pronunciation of “hummus,” the restaurant’s Israeli owners spelled it out for their customers—“hoomoos”—when they opened 14 years ago. “Asli” means “authentic” in Turkish, fitting for the well-rounded menu of Middle Eastern grub. Vegetarian options include shakshooka ($10), Israeli-style eggs with tomato sauce, and, of course, various takes on hoomoos.
“People in New York City eat at kosher places just because they’re kosher,” said Leor S., assistant manager since 2008. “We don’t want the certification to be the thing to draw customers. We want people to enjoy themselves and have a quality dining experience at a restaurant that happens to be kosher.” Anyone who keeps kosher has likely given up hope on such a feat, but Hoomoos Asli pulls it off surprisingly well.
While the occasional nine-member family shows up for a weekend dinner, Hoomoos Asli is generally quiet, drawing lots of solo diners throughout the day. People looking to catch up on work or friends’ Facebook photos can take advantage of free WiFi without the Apple store feel of a Starbucks. In the afternoon, a regular flow of young villagers stroll in for takeout or to nosh on $5 falafel.
While anyone can appreciate a cheap falafel sandwich, especially given the recent popularity of Crisp’s $8 sandwiches in the downtown falafel world, prices on the meat dishes can seem high to those unaccustomed with kosher standards. Entrees range from shawarma, roast baby chicken ($15.95), to baby lamb chops ($34.95). A popular choice for lunch is the Jerusalem mixed grill sandwich ($9.50). Hoomoos Asli pays a monthly fee to maintain its kosher status in addition to purchasing strictly certified ingredients, and its prices reflect the obligation. Unlike many kosher restaurants in the city, the doors to Hoomoos Asli don’t draw as large an observant crowd as one might expect; some kosher-keepers choose not to eat at businesses open on the Jewish sabbath.
“We get a few religious people, but not like Borough Park,” said Leor, referring to the predominantly Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood. “We use a practice called ‘shtar mecheera,’ where the owner sells the profits from Friday night and Saturday to his non-Jewish partner,” explained Leor.
Hoomoos Asli provides a laid back ambiance typical of Israeli culture and authentic Middle Eastern food. Although they have a strong Israeli customer base, diners come from all backgrounds and locales to sit under the hamsa charms and sip hot chocolate (pareve, of course). “People can’t believe it’s not dairy,” said Leor, since kosher law requires a wait time of six hours between eating meat and milk.
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