Baklava, gyros and spanakopita — it’s all coming back for Greekfest, and Assumption Greek Orthodox Church is getting ready to feed a lot of food to a lot of people.
“It varies year to year, but we average between 8,000 to 10,000 people,” festival chair Costas Georgopoulos said.
Greekfest will be on Saturday, Aug. 23, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 24, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the grounds of the church in Manchester. Many of the festivities (including all the food) are located under the festival’s big white tent.
While many look forward to Greekfest to see community members and neighbors, the food is always the star of the show. You can get in line for a dinner or fill an a la carte plate with options like barbecued lamb, Greek meatballs, stuffed grape leaves and pastichio. All dinners also come with rice pilaf and Greek salad.
“We really do most of the prepping beginning the Saturday before. We get all the items to cook that week, and most of our cooking is done that week, to keep things fresh and not frozen. We make the stuffed grape leaves, the pastichio, the pita, the spanakopita all that week,” Georgopoulos said.
The stuffed grape leaves are a crowd favorite.
“They take a full grape leaf, they stuff it with ground meat and rice, they roll them up and let them marinate in lemon juice, which gives a little taste to it. And they’re all rolled up by hand. We do roughly about 4,000,” Georgopoulos said.
Another favorite is the barbecued lamb. At Greekfest, Georgopoulos said, they prepare the meat by cutting it and marinating it before cooking the lamb over a charcoal pit. Other Greek church festivals prepare lamb shanks, and many have their own recipes. The recipe for Greekfest’s barbecue lamb comes from Georgopoulos’ family, the original owners of Souvlaki restaurant.
“I kind of took my dad’s recipe and ran with it,” Georgopoulos said. “We cook the barbecue on big skewers, and we have a big charcoal pit that the skewers rotate on. It has all the Greek seasonings and the spices that goes with that.”
Spanakopita (a traditional Greek spinach and feta cheese dish made with layers of filo dough) is also a popular item, and Georgopoulos said there’s a cheese pita, too (without the spinach).
“We have two varieties,” he said “Sort of different, but still good.”
There’s another line under the tent for gyros, which are made with meat shaved off a rotating spit and served in a pita wrap with tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt sauce.
“We cook the gyro right there on the spit and cut off the meat, so they can see right there what it is,” Georgopoulos said.
The dessert line will feature pastries like traditional butter cookies, powdered sugar cookies, baklava, galaktoboureko (traditional Greek custard pie) and loukoumades (donut-hole-sized balls of fried dough drizzled with honey and served with powdered sugar).
“Those are amazing,” Georgopoulos said. “We also serve traditional Greek coffee. … They make it right in front of you. … It’s almost like an espresso, but we’re cooking it over a flame.”
After filling up on traditional Greek cuisine, you can browse the Greek crafts and jewelry or take a tour of the church. Kids can check out the crafts, coloring and bouncy houses all weekend in the kids corner (which will also have hot dogs, ice cream and popcorn available).
A DJ will be playing on Saturday and Sunday, and band Ta Dilina’ provides live Greek music on Sunday, starting at 2:30 p.m. (which is also when you’re guaranteed to find Greek dancing on the floor).
“It’s just like a grand old picnic,” Georgopoulos said. “For me, [my favorite part] is just people having a great time, enjoying the food and the atmosphere — just [letting] that festival feel take over the moment and enjoying themselves.”