At Mimi’s Hummus in Ditmas Park, Mimi Kitani has developed a cult following for her take on Middle Eastern fare. She does it Israeli-style, keeping her cooking simple and light, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. And her hummus? Many who’ve tried it swear it’s the best they’ve ever had. We stopped by and asked Mimi what she thought we should try today.
OK Mimi, what should we have?
I think the Mimi’s Breakfast is a good thing to try. It’s really simple. Everything we do here is really simple. It’s two eggs sunny side up, a little merguez sausage, some Bulgarian cheese with olive oil and zaatar spices, toasted pita with olive oil, and some Israeli salad on the side. Normally, we serve it with coffee and orange juice.
I just feel like this is a good dish to try because this is what I eat every day. This is how I start my day. I’m from Israel, you know? In Israel we eat salad for breakfast, with eggs and maybe some cheese, and always pita. So that’s what I do here.
The eggs, I like to do over easy and sunny side up. The merguez is a little bit different than the more American style of sausage, which is usually sweeter, and made with beef or pork. The merguez is spicy and made with lamb, so it’s gamey and spicy and has a lot of flavor. You don’t need too much of it because it has so much flavor.
The Bulgarian cheese is made with sheep milk, so it’s a little bit tart. It’s like a Bulgarian feta. It has a bright flavor, which I think is good with the eggs and the sausage. I drizzle the cheese with olive oil and roll it in the zaatar spice. The zaatar is a mix of several different spices like oregano and thyme and other things. It’s very fresh and very light.
Then you have the Israeli salad. It’s just tomato, cucumber, onion and parsley with a little olive oil and lemon juice. I grew up eating this kind of salad at breakfast. I think it’s nice to have something like this with the heartier things like the eggs and meat and cheese. It’s fresh and light and it’s refreshing to have that with the other things.
And then, of course, you have toasted pita with olive oil. Always. The pita comes from a place called Pita Express. It’s a bakery here in Brooklyn, and they make their pitas fresh every day.
So you can see it’s very simple. Each of the different things is on its own on the plate, but each is very good, very flavorful, and when they are all together I think they make a nice breakfast. Like I said, this is what I eat.
You said you’re from Israel. How did you end up here in Ditmas Park with your own restaurant?
Yes, I grew up in Israel. My mom is American. Her parents came to Israel from here. My dad came to Israel from Iraq. My whole life, I grew up with lots of family around and lots of food.
I moved here when I was twenty or twenty one. When I got here, I was staying in this neighborhood and I kind of starved because I didn’t know what to eat, so I started cooking and I was like, “Ah! I really like it!”
I found that here in New York, a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants all had the same food, always done the same way, everywhere. It’s often good, but it wasn’t necessarily the type of food you would experience if you were going to go to Tel Aviv or somewhere like that.
I just wanted that kind of Middle Eastern food that I grew up with, which is a little lighter. Less spices, less ingredients. I really like simple. When there’s too much going on, it’s not my thing. Simpler dishes, simpler ingredients, fresher ingredients, and less spices. That’s how I like to cook. Maybe it’s just a little bit of a younger perspective on the food. So that’s what I started doing and then it all just happened.
I lived in the neighborhood. I worked in the neighborhood. One day I saw this space. It made sense. I thought, “Ok, we’re gonna do something to show people what Israeli food is.”
It came from a very naïve place. I just felt like I really wanted to have a place people could come to, when they finish their day in the city and they take the subway to come home to the neighborhood, where they could come inside to a cozy place full of good smells and good food. You just want to give people comfort with your food, you know? That’s what it really is.
And I just want to show people something I grew up with. I’m not sure how traditional my food is or isn’t. I don’t do something some way because it’s how you’re supposed to do it. I just do whatever. I start with recipes I grew up with, food that I know, and I put a little bit of me in it. It’s very simple. Nothing special, really.
It’s funny. When I first came to the states I stayed with a cousin that was living here in Brooklyn. I came to New York from Israel and I thought, “It’s gonna be like Sex And The City! I’m going to live in a big brownstone, and be out on the town!” [laughter.] But then you realize it’s not that easy. So, I stayed in Brooklyn and opened a restaurant. [laughter.] It just happened. I just wanted to make some food for some people, and it just kind of happened.
Mimi’s Hummus is located at 1209 Cortelyou Road, between Argyle and Westminster, in Ditmas Park.
Photography by Liz Clayman. All rights reserved.