At Tony Tabet’s Hummus Factory, the secret sauce is a spirit of playful invention (and a good dose of spice)
“I learned consistency from my grandmother, and I learned to perfect things from my Uncle Frank,” says Tony Tabet, owner and chef at The Hummus Factory, a Mediterranean fusion restaurant that opened last spring. For Tabet, restaurants are a family tradition with roots reaching back to Lebanon. His grandparents Antoine and Leila Hedary opened their first restaurant in Beirut. When they left Lebanon during the country’s civil war, they brought their cuisine to Fort Worth, Texas, opening namesake restaurant Hedary’s in 1976. Uncle Frank imported Hedary’s to Las Vegas in 2003, and Tabet’s aunt owns Khoury’s, another Vegas Mediterranean staple. Tabet cooked with all of them, venturing out on his own with a food truck in 2012. “I took the good from every restaurant,” he says.
But Tabet hopes to do more than continue a legacy. He doesn’t want to merely build off the family name. He sees the Hummus Factory as a unique creation that quite literally came from his own two hands.
We’re not just talking about the food. The bones of the restaurant itself are a product of a hands-on genealogical investigation. For instance, after he settled on a location, Tabet rented a truck, drove to Texas, and went picking for restaurant furniture in family barns. (Other family members, not just his grandparents, had owned restaurants and kept furniture and other items in storage.) He painted old chairs and cleaned up tables. “People laughed at what I had in the truck — cobwebs and junk — but I did it,” he says. “I built this restaurant by myself for two months.”
Technical skills and know-how gained at automotive school helped. New pipe typically used for a diesel exhaust system holds up a stainless shelf, and racing bolts secure some fixtures in the kitchen. When an oven malfunctions, Tabet has no problem whipping out a multimeter to diagnose the problem. He even built his own brick oven to bake his pita bread. (He boasts that it only cost him 50 bucks.) Put it all together, and the end product is an industrial, modern design, complemented by background music he personally curates from SoundCloud.
“I am really against having traditional music. The food I want traditional, but I want a different vibe,” he says. On a recent visit, the electronic duo Odesza’s “Say My Name” serenaded customers enjoying falafel and creamy hummus, and it felt right for a type of cuisine that might be called Lebanese 3.0.
Bright ideas, bright flavors
What about Lebanese 1.0? What is traditional Lebanese cuisine? “It’s kind of like Greek food,” says Tabet. An apt description, as Lebanon has been a culinary crossroads throughout a history ruled by the Ottoman Empire for a period and by the French following World War I. Despite the French influence, Lebanese food does not rely on heavy sauces, but instead features olive oil, bright herbs such as mint and parsley and plenty of vegetables. Tabet honors the role of fresh herbs in Lebanese dishes by growing mint in front of the restaurant and by drying all of his own herbs in-house. Mezza, a selection of small plates and salads, is perhaps the best way to experience the breadth of flavors created by using fresh herbs. The Hummus Factory offers an order of six or 12.
Other traditional dishes include frarej and falafel. Frarej is baked chicken, and Tabet serves his grandfather’s 64-year-old recipe. The recipe is legendary. (A Google search for frarej suggests an alternate search of “Hedary’s chicken recipe.”)
“That’s all they would sell in the beginning,” he says, referring to the earliest days of Hedary’s in Texas. The half-chicken is basted in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and served with potatoes and tomatoes. Unlike some falafel that consist of garbanzos alone, Tabet creates his deep-fried bean balls from garbanzo and fava beans and serves them in a bowl filled with fresh raw vegetables and homemade pickles. With a side of hot, pillowy pita, the dish offers enough to create several sandwiches topped with tahini.
A flair for fusion
Still, The Hummus Factory’s subtitle is “Mediterranean fusion,” so it’s not all tried-and-true Lebanese fare. Take Tabet’s self-proclaimed signature dish: the Greek burger. Lebanese cuisine does not feature many beef dishes, but when Tabet started with the food truck, he knew the perfect burger was a necessity. Today, his menu features grass-fed patties. The Greek burger is topped with spinach, feta cheese and crispy onions. On the side, you can substitute zucchini or eggplant fries for a few more dollars.
Another twist that Tabet offers to Lebanese is heat — as in peppers. On any given day, the specials board may feature a new, red-hot dish, but Tabet’s signature creations, jalapeño and ghost pepper hummus, are always on the menu. (Of the ghost pepper, the menu warns: “The Hummus Factory is not responsible for any health issues that may arise from consuming this item.”) If you just want the heat without the hummus, you can get the sauces on the side. For more twists, the menu also features pizzas made on pita bread and a dollop of kimchi added to falafel sandwiches. With such a spirit of inventive fusion, it’s no surprise he’s busy building another Hummus Factory food truck to debut this year.
“My mother and father are kind of against what I am doing. They say, ‘You’re messing with the culture,’” he says. But when Tabet opened The Hummus Factory last spring, the Fort Worth Hedary’s Facebook page announced like a proud grandma: “Tony Tabet, grandson of Antoine and Leila Hedary, makes the move from food truck to restaurant.” Tradition can be both a foundation to build upon and a maze to navigate. At The Hummus Factory, Tabet proves that the struggle can prove fruitful — and delicious.
7875 W. Sahara