In 1948, Sam Chrys opened C&K grocery in the primarily Greek neighborhood now known as the Byzantine-Latino Quarter. He originally imported foods from Greece. As adjacent space gradually became available, Sam’s son Chrys S. Chrys, who inherited the business, expanded to include a restaurant (1984) and dining room (1998). Today, the “taverna” probably offers the finest example of affordably-priced Greek comfort food in the city.
The demographics of the neighborhood have shifted radically over the years and today, the Byzantine-Latino Quarter primarily houses Latinos. The only high-profile remnants of the neighborhood’s past are Papa Cristo’s and The St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church across the street.
The hand-painted menu and overflow photos tout the taverna’s ever-expanding repertoire that includes grilled Octapodakia, Macaronia (Greek spaghetti) with burnt butter and ground Kefalotiri cheese, Souvlaki (marinated lamb skewers), Loukaniko (Greek sausage), whole grilled fish, lamb chops and roasted lamb with rice and green beans. For health-nuts, there are less flavorful but still viable options like chicken gyro patties, a half-chicken with “Papa’s red rub” and appetizers such as hummus and vegetarian grape leaves.
The sprawling dining room is lined with Greek travel posters. Up-tempo Greek music fills the air, and CDs are of course available for sale. The tablecloths are the colors of the Greek flag: blue and white.
My friend Bryan and I kicked off our gut-busting lunch with Sizzling Greek Feta ($7.99) with grilled tomato slices, Kalamata olives and supple slabs of Greek feta – served with a plate of baguettes, all the ingredients necessary to build Greek-style Caprese sandwiches.
With the Gyro & Kebab Plate ($15.49), we received spit-roasted slices of beef and lamb, a single skewer of char-grilled chicken breast kebab (with green bell peppers), luscious skin-on grilled potatoes, Greek salad, pita, tangy dill-infused tzatziki sauce and herb-loaded vinaigrette for the salad. Greasy, grill-seared gyros definitive qualify as Greek comfort food.
The fluffy house-made pita is especially good, grilled before serving until warm, which creates a delicate crust
On the side of the deli counter, you’ll find shelves of baklava. When most people hear the word baklava, they envision sheets of syrupy filo sandwiching ground walnuts, but Papa Cristo’s shows that so much more is possible. Not only do they use different nuts, but they also incorporate several shapes in their repertoire, including “fingers.”
Combination Baklava ($2.99) paired one large piece of baklava with another variety of Greek sweet. There were several options, but I chose Melomakarona, a semolina cookie seasoned with walnuts, orange juice, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. The baklava was a solid version, probably containing more cinnamon than normal.
According to Valli Herman’s L.A. Times article from February 25, 2004, which was posted on the door, Chrys Chrys planned to add a Central American market selling “feta quesadillas” and “baklava-inspired tamales, filled with chopped walnuts and honey.” Either that concept disappeared before it started or my eyes are closed, because I didn’t see anything approaching those dishes anywhere in the establishment. If I ever got the chance to eat a baklava tamale, I sure as hell would have found it.
Next time I visit Papa Cristo’s, it will be to attend My Big Fat Greek Family-Style Dinner, a feast inspired by the hit movie with a similar name, which takes place every Thursday night and includes a belly dancer. For $18.95, there’s a Greek wine tasting at 6:30, followed by a dinner of appetizers, lamb, chicken, potatoes, green beans, drinks and dessert. Count me in and roll me out.