Greek Food Festival

By on 31 October, 2011 in Food, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 2 Comments

Concerned about the fate of the Euro and our trading partners over the pond, we wanted to do our part to stimulate the economy while reaching out to people afflicted by a new and troubling austerity regime. We did what any good global neighbor would have done and went to the 22nd Annual Greek Food Festival. The festival was held at Montgomery’s Greek Orthodox church from October 27-29, and we probably should have told you about it before it happened, but we found out late ourselves, and judging from the crowds there during our Saturday visit, there was no shortage of people interested in food, live music, food, Greek culture, food, a cool old church, gift items, and oh … did we mention the food?

First things first: We’ve never been to the Greek church before, and confess that we were even pretty ignorant of Montgomery’s small but seemingly vibrant Greek community, even though we eat at Mr. G’s and sometimes play the pinball machine (Bad Cats!) at Chris’ Hot Dogs. The term “Greek Orthodox” does not necessarily mean that the denomination’s adherents are Greek – rather, it refers to the Orthodox Church’s origin in the remains of the Byzantine Empire. Montgomery’s own Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation (on the corner of Mt. Meigs and Capitol Parkway) has been around for 64 years, and if our experience this weekend is any indication, its longevity probably has something to do with the welcoming attitude of the congregants. Food is a great way to expose visitors to a community’s culture, while bringing them into the church. When we visit each others’ places of worship, they become less like strangers and more like neighbors.

And the food! The setup was simple and old-fashioned – you went into the community center adjoining the church, approaching a table where a kindly man took cash for your meal tickets. For a ticket, you got a colored drink ticket and a surprisingly nicely printed meal ticket with your selected option circled. There were three meal options – lamb, chicken (looked like half a bird) or vegetarian. We got the latter, an extremely hot and buttery pastry wrapped around spinach and cheese. It was served with green beans, a cheese triangle wrapped in filo dough, and a styrofoam bowl of salad (Greek dressing, of course). There was also a roll – a pretty good deal for $12, and a lot of food. The line moved pretty fast, with plenty of entertaining banter among the servers keeping things lively.

We ate outside in a nice blue and white striped tent erected for the occasion, with fall flowers and decorations everywhere. Although it was a beautiful day, lots of people were taking their food to go, but this was Alabama on a Saturday after all, so there was college football to be watched. While we were there, a man started playing beautiful music on a clarinet. We regretted not coming for the evening sessions, and wondered if there would be dancing later.

The food was delicious. The green beans tasted like they had been stewed all morning, and the spanakopita was a rich and luxurious entree. And we were glad that the dolmades (grape leaves) were vegetarian. They were soft and made us wish that they could be regularly acquired around here.

Back inside, we faced down the truly vast array of pastries lining tables along an entire wall of the community center. So many combinations of honey and almond and dough and nuts, and even chocolate and powdered sugar … it was impossible to decide, so we paid $20 for an ample sampler box, figuring it would keep us sugared up all week long.

On the way into the community center was a gift shop and deli. We stopped in the gift shop and acquired some Greek cheese that was in a cooler there. It’s called Kefalograviera, and it is great. Interestingly, it has Protected Designation of Origin status in the E.U., under the same law that prevents you from saying you make Asiago cheese unless it’s from Asiago.

The back of the meal ticket explained that the festival was sponsored by Mr. G’s, Chris’ Hot Dogs, Prime and Charles Anthony’s Restaurant at the Pub. We appreciate the sponsors for making possible a festival that helps to build the Montgomery community and celebrates our ability to experience an unfamiliar culture. We stuck our heads inside the sanctuary and were surprised at the beauty of the altar area and lush iconography.

Evidently, the Greek church also holds an annual barbecue and that event, along with this festival, serve as fundraisers for a dwindling congregation. We look forward to going back to future events and learning more about this lovely sanctuary and group of folks.

As we headed home clutching our pastries, it occurred to us that the festival was a stark counterpoint to the current conversation in Alabama about immigration. When the first Greek immigrants came to Montgomery several generations ago, we hope (but cannot be sure) that they were welcomed, no matter what kind of paperwork they may or may not have had. As a result of their being here, and having children and building cultural institutions, our lives are currently enriched by being able to learn about Greece and sample their native foods. Here’s hoping that we can continue to have a welcoming environment for folks that aren’t from this country, and that we can encourage them to put down roots and build institutions and hold cultural festivals. Our community benefits from such diversity — and so do our stomachs.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Sandra Polizos says:

    Thanks, Kate and Stephen. Glad you enjoyed it. Though definitely taxing for a small community like ours, we love the opportunity to share our culture with the greater Montgomery community. The Festival, and the Labor Day BBQ, are our two major fundraisers of the year. The Festival is also meaningful to many of us personally, because it’s a way to pay homage to our parents and grandparents who came to this country and worked long, hard hours to make a place and a name for themselves and their families. We reap the benefits of those “first” citizens and are only too happy to share the customs and traditions they taught us with all our Montgomery neighbors. OPA!

  2. Dia Witherington says:

    Dear Kate and Stephen,
    Thank you for coming to our Festival! Please come again and visit us during our church services (Divine Lidurgy 10:30 am).
    Have a bless day and (efharisto) thank you again.

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