For 35 years, It's been the place to go in Los Angeles for home style Greek cooking. Before that, it was a market, C & K Importing, where Greek food lovers came to buy cheeses, sausages, olive oil, wines, spices and other ingredients.
Sugar syrup, not honey, is traditional for Greek baklava, he said. A vat of it simmers slowly for hours to concentrate the flavor. Only enough syrup is added to moisten the baklava but not drown out the components. "If you can taste all these items, then we've done a good job," he said.
It was fun to hear his peppery comments while touring the market and restaurant with a small group of food writers.
One shocker was, "I refuse to cook like they do in Athens." Land is so expensive there that most restaurants can't afford space for a full kitchen, Chrys explained. Instead, they bring in food from catering firms. At Papa Cristo's, the food is village style, meaning traditional. Here is the menu for a quick meal or takeout.
And, "California wines aren't made to go with food." They're too high in tannins and alcohol, Chrys said. The Greek wine he is holding, Skouras Saint George, is more moderate. Its alcohol content is 13.5%. A red wine from Nemea, it is made from Aghiorghitiko, a grape widely planted in Greece.
Olive oil? "Extra virgin" does not necessarily guarantee top quality, Chrys said. Factors to consider are, is the oil from olives picked in the morning and crushed that day? Or were the olives held for several days? Were they picked off the ground? Were they bounced around in a hot truck?
The best Greek oils, he said, are from Kalamata and Crete. With us on the tour was George Menzelos, whose Arianna Trading Company imports organic oil from a family estate in the region of Sitia, Crete. That is "an extraordinary area," Chrys said. It's one of the olive oils he stocks.
Now it was time for lunch, and the table was quickly covered with a feast. "We cook the way our grandmothers did, but we use larger pots," Chrys said.
Sizzling Greek feta with tomatoes and Kalamata olives (above) was a great combination. True Greek feta is made from sheep's milk, which has smaller fat molecules than cow's milk and so is more digestible, Chrys said.
The breads and savory pastries that came with lunch included crisp, golden spanakopita (above), stuffed with spinach, onions and feta.
Green beans with tomatoes had a surprising seasoning--cinnamon.
Authentic Greek salad does not include lettuce, Chrys said. This one is made with cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, feta and Greek oregano.
Then came Greek coffee and dessert--the cookies melomakarona and kourambiedes as well as rolled baklava called saragli and walnut-filled kataifi rolls.
This was a huge repast, special for the tour. But anyone can eat sumptuously at Papa Cristo's on Thursday nights, when the restaurant holds a Big Fat Greek Family-Style Dinner. Click here to learn about the feast and to see the restaurant's full menu. For information on cooking classes, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Papa Cristo's Greek Grill, 2771 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90006. Tel: (323) 737-2970.