Greek Food Festival (St.Nicholas)

By | May 5, 2006

Greek Food Festival
St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
419 S Dithridge St
Oakland, 15213
412-682-3866 (phone)
412-683-4960 (fax orders, lunch only)
May 7th – 12th
Sun: Noon-8; M-Th: 11-2 & 5-9; Fri: 11-2 & 4-10

It’s that time of year again!  A harbinger of good weather and fun times, the Greek Food Festival is upon us.  What luck I have to still be working nearby enough to walk to St.Nicholas Cathedral in Oakland every day for lunch!  Some people may not be ‘into’ food festivals at churches, but this is not one to be missed.  You don’t go just for the food – you go for the experience!

There are a couple of Greek food fests in the city, but I’ve always thought this one was special.  The St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral puts in on every year sometime in May, and its one of the nicest church food fests around, mainly because it is so genuine and unrefined.  When you go into the church, the indoor dining area is on your left, full of live bouzouki music and young church members performing traditional dances in fun costumes.  The room is chock full of tables where strangers sit together eating off trays and sipping iced tea from a carton, while the line to get in snakes around the lobby.

It’s always a great time in the indoor eating area, but the wait can be a bit trying.  If you only come to the food fest once, I highly recommend eating in the main dining area just for the fun of it!  But, really, who only comes once?!  You’ll be back….and when you are back, you might rather get food from the take out line and sit in the grass, or take advantage of their lovely tented area with an outdoor grill.  The outdoor grill tent has only a limited menu though, mostly grillables.  I recommend getting the take out for optimum choice, and then sitting in the tent if you want.  No matter what line you choose, you are in for a wait of some length (this festival is not exactly an underground secret), so make sure you don’t come starving.

The food is, of course, what the festival is centered around.  They offer all kinds of Greek traditionals that you might see in a restaurant.  Greek salad, Lamb Skewers, Moussaka, Spanakopeta, Grape Leaves (called Dolmathes here), and Baklava are some examples.  But they also have other traditional Greek dishes that aren’t so commonly found around here, which is saying a lot being that we have so many varieties of authentic Mediterranean cuisine available to us.  These include dinners like Beef Stefatho (beef cubes and pearl onions in a tasty sauce) and a la carte menu items like Pastitsio (kind of like Greek baked mac and cheese with beef), Tiropeta (layers of phyllo and multiple cheeses), and Souzoukakia (giant meatballs that are oh so good).

My personal favorite ideal best-ever meal here includes: 1 slice each of Tiropeta, Pastitsio, and Spanakopeta, plus 2 Souzoukakia on rice, Chocolate Milk, and a Diple for dessert.  But, you know, I get there, and I can’t imagine a world without a slice of moussaka and a lamb skewer in addition.  If its Beef Stefatho night, I want that too!  But restraint is a virtue (I tell myself).  Yup, just three cheesy dishes, two meatballs, chocolate milk and dessert for me!

But seriously, the Souzoukakia and Tiropeta are really good and also unusual to find.  The Spanakopeta is also very good and worth getting, even though it can be easily found at restaurants around town.  Not so for the grape leaves, which I skip in favor of getting them at, say, the Mediterranean Grill.  I also think the Moussaka is better at Med Grill, so I usually save my Moussaka savoring for later (though I will say that the festival makes a fine Moussaka overall).  The Greek Salad isn’t all that either, except for the colossal chunk of feta that comes with it.  All the main ‘dinner’ dishes are delicious, especially the lamb skewer (called Souvlakia) and the Beef Stefathos.  I’m already licking my lips!

And of course, don’t forget dessert!  The best desserts are in the main dining area.  Sure, you can get your ‘sampler pack’ at the take-out line, but there are a few key desserts that you simply cannot get without venturing into the main indoor dining space.  Fortunately, the dessert line is separate from the dinner line, so you can skip the giant queue spilling out of the room and just head for the dessert table.  The line can be sort of long there too, but I never mind because dessert is coming!  In particular, there is a deep-fried pastry tube sprinkled with honey and crushed pistachios that is off the hizook.  I think they’re called Diples – YUM!  That is one good pastry tube thing!

So run!  Run to the Greek Food Festival!  Its only one week long, and you have to fit in so many lunches and dinners – better get started early!  Like, Sunday, May 7th, from Noon to 8pm!  Have a Moussaka and end the weekend right!

Sunday: Chicken Oregano & Souvlakia
Monday: Chicken Oregano
Tuesday: Beef Stefatho
Wednesday: Souvlakia & Fish Plaki
Thursday: Beef Stefatho & Chicken Oregano
Friday: Souvlakia & Fish Plaki

The festival is cash only, BUT there is an ATM on premises!  How nice of them!  Kind of funny though, an ATM in a church……