The Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo holds a Greek festival every year in the beginning of June. I started going when I was a junior in high school and my Latin teacher took us on a field trip (we also learned Greek that year, so it made sense). My husband and I went when we were dating. We missed a few years when our children were little but have been going pretty religiously since they got big enough to handle it.
This is, hands down, my favorite festival of the year. It’s held in and around the church. They put up giant tents so it is rain or shine. I admit I am nostalgic for when they called it the Hellenic Festival, but the new name probably draws more visitors in. The festival begins with parking, which is normally a hassle downtown, but Children’s Hospital owns an empty parking lot down the street and they sell parking for $4, all of which is donated to the hospital. So I walk into the festival already feeling good about that and happy to have parked conveniently!
They always have live music and Greek dancing: children, teens, and adults at different times in beautiful costumes. The dancing is always well done and very rousing. It makes me long to have a solid ethnic heritage like that. We always go inside the building because the Sunday school rooms are transformed into little shops. This year my friend and yoga teacher Kim Gionis had a shop where she sold her beautiful jewelry. After browsing the shops, we head upstairs where we inspect the incredible pastries for sale, all made by hand by church members. We walk by the traditional Greek costumes on display and then go into the church itself. I love to look at the ornate altar and beautiful artwork in the building. I always find this church very peaceful for some reason.
Then of course, there is the food. The food at this festival is to DIE for. We’ve settled on a combination of dishes that we get almost every year now and every year I still can’t believe how good they are. We always get a combo plate of savory dishes: spanokopita (spinach and cheese in phyllo), tiopita (cheese in phyllo), and pastisto (beef, bechamel, noodles and spices). The platter is supposed to come with moussaka but we don’t care for that, so we get a double order of spanokopita.
Next up are the meat dishes. We always get chicken souvlaki, which is marinated and full of flavor. The Greek salad with it is always crisp and refreshing and there is just enough dressing.
Then there is the beef gyro which has super thin beef, tomato, onion and a yogurt sauce. To die for. The best thing of all however, is the saganaki. Cheese is fried on a very, very hot griddle in front of your eyes and doused with lemon
juice and brandy – when it’s poured on and flames up, they yell “Opa!” It’s served on a pita and I could eat this every single day of the year with no problem. The outside of the cheese is brown and crisp. The inside is melted. It has a wonderful lemon flavor. Just heaven.
Someday we will find a way to be able eat some lamb too – but usually we’re just too full! After this wonderful spread we walk around a bit to make room for dessert.
Dessert is rice pudding and loukoumades, balls of light fluffy dough that are deep fried and doused with honey and cinnamon. We usually have to roll ourselves to the car after all of this indulging.
We look forward to it every single year and it has yet to