If anyone knows how to throw a big Greek feast, it’s the parish members and volunteers at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Tacoma.
For 48 years, church volunteers have thrown a Greek festival that has introduced countless Tacomans to baklava, gyros, melomakarona, koulourakia, paximadia and countless other dishes that many find unpronounceable but utterly delicious.
The 2010 festival starts Friday Oct. 1 and continues through Sunday Oct. 3.
The food? Homemade by an army of volunteers.
Rewind to August when myriad volunteers began hand rolling nearly 5,000 dolmathes, grape leaves stuffed with rice and seasoned ground beef.
In the following weeks, volunteers mixed the dough for 500 loaves of tsoureki , a Greek sweet bread, and next they made more than 4,000 tyropitakia, a flaky cheese-filled pie.
Church volunteers worked all-day shifts last weekend baking and packaging baklava.
Mary Koumantaros, a parish council member and lifelong Tacoma resident, has attended every Greek Festival since its inception. She started as a dancer at age 13, and now is the co-chairwoman of the deli.
How has the festival changed after all these years? Koumantaros said, “In the 48 years I’ve been here, there has been a big change (in food). The focus was the sit-down dinner; now with the expansion of the tent, we offer a lot of a la carte items.”
This year’s tent will be 18 feet larger to accommodate even more diners, she said.
There are several ways to dine at the festival (see more details in information box below).
Fish, chicken and lamb sit-down dinners are served in the dining room. The large tent holds several booths that sell a la carte food items. A bakery counter sells pastries and Greek coffee. The deli that Koumantaros manages offers all kinds of take-away foods.
Whether the focus is the sit-down dinner or the a la carte tent, Koumantaros said one thing will be the same: the food will be made by volunteers from the church.
She said occasionally there has been talk of buying prepared foods like the tzatziki sauce or the baklava, but longtime volunteers say nonsense to that.
“A lot of our volunteers who go down during the day are seniors, and we have some of them, they’re in their 80s. Some had major surgery this summer, but they were determined to go down and cook. They are very, very dedicated individuals,” said Koumantaros.
48th Annual Greek Festival
Where: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1523 S. Yakima Ave., Tacoma
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Free admission. Food costs range from $1 for a la carte items to $11-$12 for complete dinners.
Contact: 253-272-0466 or www.stnicholastacoma.org
Payment: Cash, check or credit card. Credit cards taken at the dinner ticket register, at the token booth in the tent, and in the imports store. Other purchases by cash or check only.
Other things to do: Church tours on even hours, including a glimpse of the iconography painted on the church’s dome this summer. Also, dancing performances on odd hours.
Raising money for: Church restoration and programs, and a portion of proceeds also will be donated to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.
SEVERAL WAYS TO DINE
Sit-down dinner: A full meal for a fixed price. Fish or chicken served Friday. Chicken or fish (until it runs out) served Saturday. Lamb or chicken served Sunday. Dinners include salata (Greek salad), fassolia yahni (braised string beans), rice pilaf, bread and coffee or tea. Price is $6 for ages 12 and younger. For adults, it’s $11 for fish or chicken dinner, $12 for lamb dinner.
Dining tent: Gyros, calamari, souvlaki, Greek fries, pastries, Greek coffee and beverages. A la carte tastes in the tent require tokens that can be purchased by cash, check or credit card. Leftover tokens can be converted back to cash.
Kitchen window: Dolmathes and tyropitakia served at a window in the kitchen.
Upstairs: Trays of baklava and pastry combo packs can be taken home to eat.
MY GUIDE FOR EATING GREEK
Here’s what I ate at last year’s Greek Festival in the a la carte tent or kitchen window (a sit-down fixed-price meal also is offered).
Prices remain the same from last year, organizers said.
Sampled last year:
Calamari ($5): Lightly fried calamari rings served with scordalia, a creamy, thick dip of potatoes pureed with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. My top pick last year for flavor and value.
Gyros ($5): Slices of ground, pressed meat heavy on the seasoning, nestled in warm pita bread with sliced tomatoes and onions and drizzled with a tart tzatziki yogurt sauce.
Greek fries ($3): Crispy fries dusted with dried herbs and feta cheese.
Souvlakia ($4): Skewer of marinated and grilled pork chunks served atop two pieces of toasted garlic bread rounds.
Dolmathes ($2): Also one of the best bargains. Stuffed grape leaves filled with ground beef and savory, spiced rice.
Tiropites ($2): Buttery, flaky layers of phyllo dough filled with feta, then baked.
Pastries ($1-$3 each): Galaktoboureko, a creamy farina custard baked between layers of phyllo and topped with a sugary syrup. The kataifi ek mek was layers of shredded phyllo topped with a creamy yellow pudding, chopped pistachios and cherries.
Greek coffee ($2): Greek coffee is strong like espresso, but sweetened and with an aromatic finish. Be careful not to sip and tip your paper cup; the dregs in the bottom pool into a chalky mass.
BY THE NUMBERS
Curious how much food church volunteers have created for this weekend’s event? Here’s a glimpse:
7,599 kourabiethes, a butter cookie with powdered sugar, which contain 200 pounds of clarified butter
4,930 dolmathes, grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground beef
4,656 tyropitakia, cheese-filled turnovers
64 large pans of baklava (cut into 120 pieces each), a sweet pastry with cinnamon and walnuts
525 loaves of tsoureki, a Greek sweet bread
Source: Sally Hallis, procurement co-manager of the Greek Festival