Whether stopping in at Tacoma’s Greek Festival for pastries, the full-meal seated lunch or to grab a souvlaki skewer, you’ll find St. Nicholas Church to be Tacoma’s largest Greek restaurant, if only for the weekend.
The 53rd festival opened at 11 a.m. today and continues through Sunday. I’ve just returned to the newsroom reeking of Greek.
Fingers and fryer baskets flew as church members manning the calamari booth loaded the fried rings into shallow containers with a side dish of skordalia, the garlicky potato dip.
The line stalled just before noon, a consequence of one hungry attendee placing a big calamari order. It took just a few minutes for the line to snake forward. Not even an order of 15 calamari could thwart the well-tuned machine that is the St. Nicholas volunteer crew. It takes a small army to keep lines moving and the church volunteers have built several efficiencies into the event, including trading cash or credit for tokens, which means there’s no waiting for change. If you buy too many tokens, no problem. Just trade them for cash or use them next year.
The Greek Festival offers four ways to dine (see below), but I always graze my way through the a la carte tent on opening day.
Here’s what I ate. Details and prices also are included in the photo gallery on the upper right hand side of this page.
Pork is marinaded in a garlic bath, then sprinkled with dried herbs and grilled on a skewer. This item is so popular, the booth operators have trouble keeping souvlaki stocked during the first few hours of the festival. It’s the ultimate in portable food if only because you can nibble on the pork stick while waiting in line for calamari. See? I’m full of helpful tips.
Fried rings of calamari don’t get better than this. A squirt of lemon juice is all they need, but you’ll get a side of skordalia dip, a creamy mixture of potatoes blended with garlic and a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors. Don’t miss this one.
The ground gyros meat is premade, but the assembly is done by volunteers. I love the garlicky thump in the tzatziki. This sandwich is the messiest, so save this one for when you sit down.
Greek fries: $4
Can you ever have enough feta? No, no you can not. Ask for extra and get this at the same time as the calamari. They’re at the same booth. Tip: The fries pair well with the skordalia that comes with the calamari.
Greek salad: $5
With a bigger portion and with a punchier vinaigrette than in the past, this is an ideal dish for that vegetarian tag-along. Find a mixed greens salad with a garlicky vinaigrette, kalamata olives and a generous topper of crumbled feta.
The rice-and-ground-beef stuffing is a solid missile - no crumbly rice spillage here - wrapped up in a grape leaf, then covered in ribbons of creamy lemon sauce. These are my favorite stuffed grape leaves in Tacoma and it’s a shame I only get to eat them one weekend a year. Served in an order of two.
Flaky turnovers that are tricky to pronounce, just call these cheese turnovers. The phyllo dough shatters when you take a bit eof this mini cheese turnover filled with melted feta. Be prepared for flaky spillover onto your shirt. Served in an order of two.
A honey-soaked cookies sprinkled with crushed walnuts, the spiced cookie pairs perfectly with a hot cup of Greek coffee, complete with dregs.
Sprinkled with sesame seeds, I love the delicate snap of these cookies baked into a twist shape, and the tease of anise. Get two for one token.
Another great pairing for the Greek coffee, these Greek biscotti tasted a touch nutty.
Variations of these cookies show up in so many cultures - as Russian tea cookies or Mexican wedding cookies. The Greek version is buttery, with a satisfying snap. Most of the powdered sugar coating will wind up on your shirt, just know that going in.
Ouzo cake: $3
The anise flavored apertif soaked through the top layer of the spongy lemon cake, topped with crushed walnuts. This one is big on flavor, and it’s also one of the sweetest desserts in the case.
It’s everything you want a good baklava to be - crispy, buttery layers of phyllo dough sandwiching chewy layers of ground walnuts and cinnamon. Soaked in a sweet syrup, the texture is satisfyingly sticky.
Think of these as rolled baklava. Same nutty-cinnamon stuffing, just in a rolled-up phyllo wrapper.
FOUR WAYS TO DINE
Sit-down dinner: Seated dinners are available in the dining room and include Greek salad, braised string beans, rice pilaf, fresh-baked bread and coffee or tea. Greek-style baked chicken ($12) will be served Friday through Sunday; Greek-style baked white fish ($12) will be served Friday and Saturday; and a roasted lamb dinner ($14) is served Sunday only. Children younger than 12 eat for $6.
Dining tent: Purchase tokens at the token booth (cash or credit), then trade tokens for a la carte items, including a gyros sandwich ($6), calamari with skordalia sauce ($6), Greek fries ($4), Greek salad ($5), pork souvlaki ($5) and fresh-fried loukoumathes ($4). The pastry case at the rear of the dining tent has pastries priced $1-$3.
Kitchen window: Find freshly baked appetizers that can be purchased with tokens. Rice-stuffed dolmades and cheese turnovers ($3) will be served Friday through Sunday; spanakopita (spinach and cheese turnovers) will be served Sunday only.
Upstairs bakery: Find packaged pastries in small or large boxes, including trays of baklava and assorted pastries by the dozen.