In some parts of urban America, when a mechanic's shop gets converted into the neighborhood's new trendy contemporary Greek café, it's called gentrification. But for Gus and Pete Sverkosm who opened a restaurant six years ago on the site of their father's old car-repair business, it's more like continuing family tradition.
Since the Long Beach-bred brothers turned the building on the corner of 4th and Temple into Kafe Neo, their effortless updates on mama's classic Greek food has kept the location (and its ample outdoor patio) a bustling meeting ground for diverse residents from Bluff Heights and beyond.
Kafe Neo's universally agreeable reputation seems to lie in the equal attention given to each meal of the day, with the menu split between Greek-inspired breakfasts, lunches and dinners (and breakfast served until 2 p.m. every day!). Morning starts with feta-stuffed omelets or almond-crusted French toast, and dinners can include decadently spiced lamb chops or salmon pasta in a creamy garlic sauce.
For lunchtime meetings and midday catch-ups with friends, however, there is no Balkan adventure greater than the traditionalist skewer and pita plates, two of the simplest Greek dishes, both expertly executed here thanks to generations of Sverkos know-how.
The menu lists two skewer plates starting at $9.25, but an easy sale is the unwritten lunch special, which includes a single wooden stick impaled with cubes of lemon chicken, pork, beef or vegetables and a bed of cushy rice pilaf with a side salad for only $7.75.
More often an accompaniment to main courses, Kafe Neo's famously filling Greek salads are flavorful enough to be a meal on their own. Whole kalamata olives and fresh feta from the motherland top off even small portions of the green stuff, with everything from the lemon-oil-and-vinegar dressing to a generous topping of dried spices contributing to a best-kept Long Beach salad secret.
Kafe Neo's other lunch specials are forms of pita sandwiches, Greece's equivalent of an oversized soft taco. Standards include chicken, pork and gyro, along with house creations such as feta calamari and tuna stuffed inside a handheld foil-wrapped pita for less than $7. Until 2 p.m., any of the non-seafood classic pitas comes with a side of fries and a soda for only $7.75.
No matter what meat you order or in what form, the kitchen refuses to mess it up. Chicken breast always comes out still rich with moisture, beef slices fall off the spit dripping with flavor, and there is always a layer of spices to complement the thin hamburger-like patties of ground lamb and beef that make the restaurant's gyro sandwiches. With an expansive menu that spans all three meals of the day and heaps of successful dishes from traditional to revivalist, Kafe Neo is known for a whole range of Greek bistro favorites that share the Sverkos' heritage with Long Beach's finest.
Kafe Neo, 2800 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 987-1210; kafeneolb.com.