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It’s endless summer at Greekman’s in Echo Park

Gigante beans and feta in a tomato sauce with honey and oregano at Greekman's in Echo Park.
Gigante beans and feta in a tomato sauce with honey and oregano at Greekman’s in Echo Park.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

When I look back on summer 2021 — when the Delta variant upended hopes for the pandemic’s denouement, when cultural strains stretched to near-breaking in the barely United States — I’ll remember disappearing for a couple of happy hours into the big white cube.

It sits in the parking lot at 2619 Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park. From the outside this mass looks like a cryptic art installation or perhaps a makeshift storage space. Walk behind and into it, though, and a soothing tableau reveals itself: a tarped dining room in subtle shades of white and Aegean blue, with tasteful faux vines dangling down the walls. Servers breeze by carrying lemony grilled octopus and tomato salads and platters of souvlaki. The air carries scents of grilled meat and the occasional licorice smack of ouzo.

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This is Greekman’s, the summertime pop-up from Jonah Freedman. He and his family built the cube themselves (his sister took a week of vacation to lay the floors with her boyfriend) in front of Freedman’s, his temporarily inactive restaurant. Opened in late 2017, Freedman’s channeled Jewish deli comforts into the coziness of a Midwestern supper club. For a while he embraced takeout of glazed brisket, waffle-shaped latkes and other signatures. But Freedman had also been thinking — even pre-pandemic — about opening a Greek restaurant.

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Why Greek? Mostly Freedman liked the cuisine and noted a relative dearth of Greek restaurants in Los Angeles. (The city has a century-old immigrant Greek community, scattered across the metro area now but which once had a center among the blocks that comprise downtown’s Toy District.) He considered a takeout operation, not far off from the kebab-focused Ludobab that Ludo Lefebvre operates out of closed Trois Mec, but Freedman’s chef Ryan Costanza nudged him to develop the idea into a sit-down experience.

Costanza developed the recipes — a broad, sunny, easy-to-enjoy expression of the cuisine — before leaving the restaurant to pursue his own project. Jasmine Ramirez was promoted to chef, and she’s sending out plates full of technically deft cooking full of warm, sharp flavors.

Start with something snacky: battered zucchini chips, crisp but still fresh-tasting, with herbed yogurt; crisped, potato wedges arranged over a puddle of aioli and dressed in piercing lemon vinaigrette; the must-have duo of marinated olives and feta.

Greek salad melts the senses with ripe California tomatoes, fried wisps of torn bread push composition in the direction of Panzanella. Gigante beans in tomato sauce touched with honey have a powerful hit of oregano in every third bite. A dense, almost squeaky slab of feta flops over the top.

The menu is succinct in a way that makes it a relief not to have too many decisions. Make a meal of small plates with maybe one entree-ish option: lamb chops over a sort of deconstructed tzatziki with nicely salted cucumbers, say, or mild, crackly-skinned branzino with herbs and lemon orzo. The souvlaki platter might be the simplest choice of all — skewers of chicken, rib-eye, kefta, shrimp and (a surprise standout) oyster mushrooms with hummus, pickles, tzatziki and a plush disk of pita.

The outside dining room for Greekman's, the pop-up in front of Freedman's in Echo Park.
The outside dining room for Greekman’s, the pop-up in front of Freedman’s in Echo Park.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

I’ve grown wary of the notion of restaurants as geographically transportive — the new Arts District bistro that “feels as if you’re on a quiet street in the 11th arrondissement” or the Moroccan concept that “parachutes you onto the grounds of a palace in Marrakesh.” (I’m ad-libbing these quotes but you see what I mean.) Greekman’s feels subtly evocative without any hokum and serves uplifting food that meshes with the California growing seasons. The handful of smartly chosen wines come mostly from Greece. I’m glad to still see Freedman’s dry house martini atop the cocktail list.

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Mostly, though? I’m hoping Greekman’s sticks around past summertime. Right now its run is scheduled to conclude at the end of October. If enough customers keep filling the books, maybe Freedman’s cube-shaped Greek forum will help carry us through the end of the year — and whatever the world has next in store for us.

Lamb chops with tzatziki and salted cucumbers at Greekman's.
Lamb chops with tzatziki and salted cucumbers at Greekman’s.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

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Paola Briseño-González's shrimp in poblano labneh sauce.
Paola Briseño-González’s recipe for shrimp, mushrooms and zucchini with poblano labneh sauce and corn salad.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
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