Sunday, February 14, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 11

Much to the relief of the languishing Los Angeles lunchtime dining economy, our own severe symptoms of withdrawal from female food-based fraternization, and this blog's overabundance of posts about batter-laden mixing bowls...

...the Foodie Girls are back.

Episode 11 - Our Big Fat Greek Lunch

The carpool from the Valley had just exited the 10 freeway and headed north on Normandie when FG10's cell phone rang. A quavering voice came over the line.

FG6: Where are you guys? I'm here alone.
Us: (reassuringly) According the the GPS, we're about 5 minutes away.

We hang up, and as the nice computer lady in my car is saying, "your destination is ahead, on the right", the reason for the slight edge of panic in FG6's voice is apparent. The block is full of graffiti covered aluminum siding, some bodegas with florescent colored pinatas hanging from the rafters, and a lot of iron fences with barbed wire on top. It's bleak out here, despite the large imposing Greek Orthodox church across the street*. But the minute we swing open the door to Papa Cristo's, all thoughts of tire irons and my car windows disappear. We have literally stepped into sunshine.

Blue and white checked oilcloth-covered tables fill a spacious open room. Climbing pots of cheerful flowers are scattered about, along with businessmen, families, nurses in uniform, and couples in jeans. The door chimes as two policemen pick up takeout, and are greeted heartily by the staff. Everyone is smiling. It's so contagious that we, too, are grinning as we take in the market in the center of the space, with shelves of glistening green olive oil, stacks of honey, briny tubs of olives and wheels of exotic, flavorful cheeses. Bottles of ouzo are lined up behind the counter, and a cheerful woman is placing pieces of baklava bursting with walnuts into a pink box for a customer.

With great restraint, we go by the glass case full of bakery treats and take in the vast and colorful menu. Everything sounds good to us, and the smell is intoxicating. We step up and order, one by one, and the lovely man behind the counter beams at us. "You are getting all of our best things!" he says proudly. "Are you sure you've never been here before?" Everyone in line around us laughs. How much do we love this place?

We sit at a table by the window, and the food starts to arrive. A sizzling cast iron skillet holds a block of tangy feta cheese, plump red tomatoes, and a scattering of herbs in a slick of hot olive oil. Warm fluffy pita bread to scoop up every scrumptious bite. Flaky filo triangles bursting with spinach and cheese. Plump shrimp basking in a zesty tomato sauce. Salty lamb gyro slices generously layered over feta and tomatoes on more of that yummy pita bread, completely redefining the idea of pizza. A platter bursting with kebabs of chicken and tender beef. We are literally groaning with happiness. Who cares if the Greek salad is just OK or if the chicken kebab is not quite as memorable as the rest? Everything else is out of this world!

A portly man with close-cropped gray hair appears at the table to clear the plates and ask if we have room for dessert. As one, we begin babbling and pointing, almost incoherently at a poster on the wall showing a pile of glistening dough balls. The only label is a very long word with an L and a slew of vowels. We want the honey puffs! We want the honey puffs! He indulgently insists he knows what we mean, counts the hands raised for coffee, and leaves. Soon he is back with a plate of assorted pastries and a pitcher of incredibly strong Greek espresso. We try to mask our disappointment, and point longingly at the puffs. He just smiles and gestures for us to enjoy the coffee. A few minutes later, practically the entire staff has surrounded us, all singing "Happy Birthday" to me**. They come bearing a custard cupcake with candle, a free lottery ticket, and a coupon for $5 off in the store***.

We have only barely recovered from this bout of goodwill, when the puffs arrive. And they are heaven.

Piping hot, crispy on the outside, pillowy with yeast on the inside, perfectly sweetened with Greek honey, powdered sugar and a dusting of pistachios. Yum!

We loved this lunch. Perhaps F6 said it best:
"If I didn't already have a husband, I'd marry Papa Cristo and be Mama Cristo."

FG Final Verdict: Papa Cristo's is ON the list - Way up near the top!
FG Value rating: Fair Deal
Pricing Info: Most dishes $6.95-$14.95

* According to FG3, who has been here before, this place is completely jammed on Sundays after services. No wonder!
**It is not my birthday, but our gentleman friend had asked each of us when our birthday was, and mine, eight weeks away, was the closest.
*** Mom would love this! I used my coupon that very day to bring home some delicious fruity olive oil and a block of feta cheese. Now all I need is that cast iron skillet and I'm good to go!

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