Thursday, July 29, 2010

Greek style Los Angeles

This weekend we had guests for dinner. [The Man I Love] cooked a leg of lamb over the Weber, marinating it Greek-style in oregano, lemon and olive oil, and slow-cooking it over indirect heat. The rest of our menu had a Greek flavor, with olives, stuffed grape leaves and taramasalata served as appetizers.

We get these from C & K Importing Company, also called Papa Christos, located in the Los Angeles neighborhood called, rather fantastically, the Byzantine-Latino Quarter. Although the neighborhood was home to Greek immigrants as early as 1908 this name was coined relatively recently. Current residents are primarily immigrants from Central America, but the neighborhood is graced with St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox church, built in 1952 by movie executive Charles Skouras.

Because this neighborhood is home to many old 19th century Queen Anne style houses, I like to think the "Byzantine" adjective also refers to the fantastical turrets and shingled domes featured in some of these house, neglected and re-purposed as they are.

The name "Byzantine-Latino Quarter" first appeared in 1997 after residents and local businesses got together to help battle grafitti, crime and gang violence. It was officially designated as such by the state assembly. A giant mural on the side of a large building at the corner of Pico and Normandie shows two angels in flight with the words: "We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other." Atop the building a large sign proclaims the name.

The diverse and eclectic nature of the neighborhood is perfectly reflected in the patrons and employees at Papa Christos.

Typically, you park behind the store at the valet stand. Not that this is a swanky joint, but it gets so busy sometimes they need to stack-park. We usually enter through the back door, which takes you through a storage room into the main store.

Papa Christos is a market as well as a restaurant, so the first thing you see is the long deli-counter, full of sliced meats, cheeses, and prepared foods. There's a wide assortment of olives, pickles and other preserved foods. You can choose from several different types of feta cheese. There are hot cooked foods, too; lamb and chicken and casseroles. There's another case that holds pastries and cookies.

The market shelves hold Greek and European imported foods, like jams and preserves, pasta, pickles, olive oil - lots of different kinds of olive oil. Coffee. Herbs. Spices. There are freezer cases with bread and pastries. There's also a fine assortment of Greek wine.

But hold up - don't go shopping now. We're going to eat first!

Just off to the side of the deli case, the line to order food starts. The menu is displayed on the board above the counter, with brightly colored flyers advertising specials. You order what you wish and pay, and they give you a number. Let them know where you want to sit - do you want to sit in the restaurant or outside on the patio?

The restaurant is a large echoing room, concrete-floored and set with rows of tables covered in blue-checked cloths. It's often crowded, with large families seated together after church. The walls are hung with scenic pictures of Greece and with strings of twinkle lights. On Thursday nights, they throw a party - the Big Fat Greek Dinner. For $24 (includes tax and tip) you get a full dinner, with wine tastings, appetizers, salads and desserts. They even have belly-dancers to entertain you!

Not so on a bright Saturday afternoon, our recent visit. Most weekend afternoons there's live music, a guitarist or traditional musician playing acoustic music while folks enjoy a gyro plate or felafel sandwich.

If the weather's fine, we prefer the patio. You have to exit the front door and walk a few steps east on Pico, then go back in through the gate. Here, in a little spot carved out of the parking lot, you can dine outside, beneath market umbrellas. There are potted roses and a fence covered in bougainvillea to screen you from the traffic.

The food's fantastic! Here's a lamb and feta cheese sandwich I had on one visit.

Another time, [The Man I Love] ordered shrimp cooked in tomato sauce with feta and olives.

While enjoying a meal with a glass of retsina, you can hear the murmured conversation of the other diners. A large group of older ladies, their voices twanging with East Coast accents, shared lunch. A family with a little girl sat further down, speaking in Spanish. A couple of film-industry guys over there. Back by the door, two restaurant staff took their break. Although Papa Christos still presides over the deli, the staff is quite diverse - many of the workers are Ethiopian or Somali. The Chinese-American woman who'd taken our order was taking lunch, eating with chopsticks.

Outside the fence, the Catholic church across the street rang its bells. As the traffic passed on Pico, you could hear snatches of music from cars - rap and Latino pop. A palatera went by, bells clanging.

Wow, what a good meal.

Now it's time to shop!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Oh my.

I'm about to go visit the doctor, so I've had nothing but water since 1 PM yesterday.


Cassie said...

You are making me sooooo hungry!

Blondie's Journal said...

Your lamb sounded so tasty and I loved seeing your pictures of the Greek market/restaurant. Love that Greek food!


Sue said...

Oh, you are so lucky to have access to such places. I did however get sweet corn today that was in the field this morning, so I guess we do have some good things in small towns in the midwest. Wanna trade?

M. Bouffant said...

Liking the sign in Greek, Korean & Spanish.

Your money is good here!

Glennis said...

Liking the sign in Greek, Korean & Spanish.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to point that out. All the signs are like that.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

But hold up - don't go shopping now. We're going to eat first!

That's a good move... never shop on an empty stomach.

I absolutely love moussaka, and grilled octopus is one of my favorite dishes.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I am officially hungry now!