Hummus and Borscht Play Nicely at 12 Chairs

Hummus and Borscht Play Nicely at 12 Chairs

Anyone who has swiped steaming freshly baked pita around a bowl of authentic and creamy hummus knows the real deal when they taste it.

The chickpeas are blended to a velvety smoothness with the help of tehina (sesame paste), seasoned simply with chopped or pureed garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, a dusting of paprika and parsley. Done!

Sounds so simple, but it can easily go awry.

 Lucky for us, 12 Chairs gets it just right. And it is so good, that I’ve been there four times over the last couple of months. E. is lucky enough to live in the ‘hood and goes once a week; she simply can’t resist slipping in for sizzling, deep fried falafel under a blanket of garlicky tehina or hummus topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms. That’s the we order it in Israel. AND that’s the point.

Old Photos TA

This casual and low key spot in the South Village in NYC. It has been in the same location for 17 years. The original space was smaller and owned by a Russian gent who made sure the pierogi and borscht were prepared just the right way. There were only a few more than 12 chairs at that time; lucky for us, the space has doubled in size but it’s still small enough to hear your neighbors shmoozing, unhurriedly, in Hebrew.

And you know the deal;  if the native are there to eat, the food is good enough to remind them of home.

Today, the menu is an easy mix of Israeli and Russian basics,  which suited us just fine on a recent frigid day. I brought S. with me, a sophisticated palate but not that familiar with Israeli or Middle Eastern food. Our spread was a perfect primer as we explored uncomplicated classics of two cuisines which can be much more sophisticated and nuanced.

But you come here for the basics and that’s what you get.


12 Chairs serves breakfast all day and includes some American traditions like Blueberry Pancakes and Oatmeal with fresh fruit.  But it’s the Shakshuka that’s the attraction and I noticed lots of sizzling skillets being carefully placed before hungry customers.

 There are many variations on the Shakshuka theme but eggs are always simmered in a spicy tomato sauce alongside onions and whatever else the chef deems worthy. Some include spinach, green chiles, parsley;  this one was topped with creamy white cheese, perfectly salty and familiar. I learned that that 12 Chairs imports a number of Israeli product and serves them here, including the Bulagarit (cheese) and Labaneh.


Labaneh, a bright white creamy yogurt based cheese is served as it is in Israel, surrounding a deep well of olive oil  generously spiced with zaatar and meant to be scooped up with pita bread (super fresh, warm and a choice of wheat or white) or topping your Israeli salad.

 S. ordered Borscht, and we were thankful for this vegetarian version on another searingly cold day in NYC. This Russian classic is available daily, served steaming hot in the winter and chilled in the summer.

vegetarian borscht

Either way, a dollop of sour cream is perfect topping for this melange of blended veggies studded with chunks of beets, carrots and kidney beans. The kidney beans seemed out of place but the sweet/tart ratio was just right and we enjoyed it.

 Baladi eggplant

Baladi Eggplant was one of the specials and we jumped on this perfectly roasted baby eggplant, drizzled (maybe more like BATHED but we didn’t mind)  in tehina and topped with chopped parsley and roasted pine nuts. Baladi eggplant is sweeter, smaller and more tender than the eggplant you know. Roasted til soft, it almost had a creamy texture, even before the tehina topping…Addictive!

 vegetable cous cous

CousCous was offered vegetarian style, with large chunks of carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, celery and chickpeas mounded on a huge portion of saffron tinted grain. A soup bowl filled to the brim with a tomatoey broth accompanied it and allowed us to chose how wet we like it. A little heat was great on that day and we both enjoyed our couscous doused in the steaming broth.

 Other standouts from the vegetarian Israeli camp are house made grape leaves, babaganoush, and sabich (a gloriously messy sandwich of oozing tehina, eggplant and hardboiled eggs). From the Russian side, pierogi (too doughy for my taste) smothered in fried onions, blintzes filled with mushrooms or smoked salmon or on the sweet side, with strawberries and cream, round out the offerings.


More than half of the menu is perfect for kosher-keepers like me, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices to keep you coming back.  All wines are from Israel and the coffee is served Israeli or American style. The juice presses are working all day, providing fresh orange and grapefruit, just like you love it on a summer’s day on the beach in Tel Aviv.

How do you like your hummus? Share in the comments, below.


12 Chairs Cafe

56 Macdougal Street between Houston and Prince


8 Am-11 PM, 7 days a week


Special thanks to Soom Foods for this basic hummus recipe. We love their tehina and wrote about it here.


  1. My mouth is watering. Someday I hope to read that ‘M’ accompanied you on one of your culinary adventures. 🙂
    I’d happily be your partner at 12 Chairs if you must visit again.

  2. I don’t know why I missed this when you first posted it but boy am I glad to find a hummus recipe now. I’m determined to make better hummus than the tasteless paste I manage now. Thanks for the tips.

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