An American Kitchen With Greek Soul
Friday February 20
By Michael Sandow
Kafe Neo patiently waits for you at the southeast corner of Temple Avenue and 4th Street. This is the only place in town where you can experience Zeus Fries. This Bluff Heights spot was once the location of The Carriage Shop, an imported car service garage. Now people are stopping in to get their palates serviced.
Back in 2007, the area between Redondo Avenue and downtown Long Beach was a place to pass through, not to stop at. There might have been a burger joint and a taco shop, neither of which served anything memorable. Gus and Pete Sverkos were about to change that. They took the best of their Greek heritage and their American birth and began serving foods that were entirely new to that area.
Only the south and east walls of the original garage remain. Everything else is new. The clean and crisp interior decor lets the food take main stage for about 40 diners. As with any good southern California restaurant, there is outdoor seating for another 30 diners, Facing north, there’s shade under a canvas canopy and a west-facing terrace is made for sun lovers.
In the early days both Gus and Pete worked full time at the restaurant. The menu contained eight items and fit on a half-sheet of paper. The housing market had just begun its decline and people found that money for entertainment and dining was scarce.
Still, the brothers were equal to the challenge and the restaurant became known for the unique dishes and the fresh quality of the food. As their third year in business approached, the restaurant had established itself as a fixture in the neighborhood.
Kafe Neo was one of many changes that gives this mid-town neighborhood the texture it now has. It’s easy to call it a mixed use area. This happened organically as younger, independent minded people took up residence on or near 4th Street, small businesses opened and, even less visible, many people work from their homes. All of these pieces mesh to create the mellow vibe of this diverse borough.
Their menu has nine pages of delights, each one more inviting than the previous one but save the last page for later. That lists the desserts. Now, about the Zeus Fries - you’ll get a generous bowl of slim crispy fries with a texture that you always expect but rarely find. Feta cheese is crumbled over the top and is infused with a spice that demands your attention. This dish is worthy of Zeus, the Greek god who rules the skies and the earth.
Is this a Greek or an American restaurant? The simple answer is yes. You’ll find about a 60/40 mix of Greek to American food. A lot of recipes are a fusion of the best of both cultures. Locally grown is served whenever possible to assure freshness. The house salad dressing is made fresh for today only and will never see tomorrow’s sunrise. Fresh food will change with the seasons. You might find a subtle difference in your favorite dish as nature adjusts her produce to sync with the world. This is how we celebrate the continuation of life. In keeping with nature’s theme, there are numerous vegetarian dishes available.
I asked Gus what dish he would say truly defines Kafe Neo. He said that it would be the Crusted Salmon, layered with handmade pesto and mitzithra cheese and baked to a crispy crust. These ingredients showcase how the familiar and the exotic can come together under a skilled hand. Lamb is also popular as you might expect from a family that is closely in touch with its Greek roots. When the guy in you begins to roar for beef, a half-pound Angus cheeseburger will give you the shot of protein that you crave.
You’re welcome to stay here and socialize. You can bring your computer if you must but there is no Wi-Fi service. Gus explained that in Greece, people will sit in a restaurant and talk, often across tables, to friends. This fosters a sense of closeness and community and encourages others to join in. He would rather see people in his restaurant communicating and sharing ideas rather than sending emails but you can do that if you wish.
Gus and Pete now have a full staff who keep the restaurant running. One or both of the brothers are there every day to keep the standards high and to add ideas and innovations. As dedicated to the restaurant as they are, Gus and Pete find their attention divided now that they have both become fathers in the last year. Whether Mixalis (Michael) and Dionysios (Dion) will follow in their fathers’ footsteps remains to be seen.
Seven years of care and dedication have made Kafe Neo another jewel in the 4th Street Retro Row crown. If you’re having a dine-in night, Kafe Neo offers bicycle delivery service between downtown and Belmont Shore and as far west as Anaheim St. Order online at kafeneolb.gimmegrub.com. Better yet, come in to 2800 E. 4th St. at Temple Avenue. You can order by phone at (562) 987-1210 and the menu is on their website www.kafeneolb.com.
As they say, kali orexi, or to you and me, bon appetite.
Friday February 20
Cesar’s Bistro at 6240 E. Pacific Coast Hwy. is holding its grand opening through February 22. The fresh and friendly atmosphere offers delicious Caribbean and South American delights. Try their Spanish omelet or Choripan – Cesar’s own recipe of gourmet sausage. Caribbean pulled pork served on crunchy plantains and topped with fresh guacamole is a favorite. Enjoy your meal with a glass of house red wine (two for the price of one during the grand opening). Dine in or take out. Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekends 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit www.Cesarsbistro.com or call (562) 494-1000.
Join us for Happy Hour at Babouch Moroccan Restaurant, 810 S Gaffey St, San Pedro, Tuesdays through Fridays 5-8 p.m. for half price appetizers and selected cocktails, house wine, domestic beer and an unforgettable dining experience. www.Babouchrestaurant.com or call (310) 831-0246.
Brix at the Shore in Belmont Shore has been boogying to a disco brunch every Sunday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. With the disco vibe comes a great menu for brunch including the Chutzpah, our pastrami burrito. We offer a $10 all-you-can-drink champagne during that time at 5372 E. 2nd St. Phone (562) 343-5998.