Cheap eats

An Armenian surprise

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Correspondent / July 22, 2009

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The name won’t give you a clue to what lies inside, nor will its perch in a tiny but crowded Lexington shopping center. The early breakfast hours, where the menu includes hash, might also lead you astray. If Aunt Mary’s World Cafe looks like just another deli packed into a suburban plaza, wander inside and check out the glass display case packed with Armenian salads and dips.

Owners Tim Enright and his wife, Noushig Hagopian, had long wanted to open their own place. So last year, when they saw the space for rent in Lexington, squeezed between a jewelry shop and a Chinese restaurant, they decided it was time. Enright had cooked at hotels and other establishments; his wife had catering experience. He wanted a deli and she wanted to serve her family’s Armenian food.

Aunt Mary’s does both, though it’s the Armenian specialties that shine. Enright and his mother-in-law spent hours cooking her Armenian dishes, taking the recipes she had in her head and translating them, through trial and error, into precise proportions. Sometimes he tweaked them a bit, changing the way he ground the chickpeas for falafel, tinkering with spices. Aunt Mary’s - named after a favorite great-aunt of Enright’s - is a mostly take-out place, though two small tables are wedged into one end of the shop. They’re mainly occupied by people waiting for orders; at lunch, things get a bit hectic, since Enright is the only cook.

Muhamarra (below, with a mezze salad) is the most expensive thing on the menu at $11.99 a pound, but well worth the price. The dip, perfect on pita bread, is spicy with garlic and pepper, but also rich from walnuts and pomegranate. Eech - pronounced “each’’ - ($4.99 per pound), is another favorite, a mild tomato and bulgur dish that you can indeed eat by the poundful. Like tabouli, eech is made from bulgur, but it’s smoother and milder, reddened by tomatoes.

Eggplant salad ($5.99 per pound) is rich with smoky flavor on one visit. On another, it’s sour and a bit watery. Hummus ($5.49 per pound) isn’t memorable. Falafel is garlicky and complex, and doesn’t suffer from the blandness that often befalls inferior rounds. You can buy a falafel sandwich ($6.99) but we recommend the unadulterated falafel balls. Lentil salad ($4.99 per pound) is surprisingly tart, and bright with cilantro.

Enright is trying to figure out what will make the restaurant work in this poor economy, experimenting with menu and hours. There are promotions: While you wait for your food, get your jewelry polished free at the shop next door! But the best publicity sits beside the cash register: tastes of some house specialties.

AUNT MARY’S WORLD CAFE 321 Woburn St., Lexington, 781-652-0468, www.auntmarys All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Menu $3.69-$7.99, deli $4.99-$11.99 per pound

Hours Mon-Sat 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Liquor None

May we suggest muhamarra, eech, falafel, lentil salad

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