The South Sound lacks a Greek bakery, which means it’s tough to find Greek pastries unless you know a Greek grandma who will share honey-soaked melomakarona, sticky wedges of baklava or crunchy koulourakia.
Until this weekend, that is. The St. Nicholas Greek Festival is a three-day event featuring a number of ways to dine. The festival showcases a broad inventory of Greek pastries, but more on that in a moment.
The festival starts Friday (Sept. 30) and continues through Sunday at the the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma. It takes place in the church’s dining room and a pop-up dining tent that takes up the church’s entire parking lot.
As of last week, church volunteers — there’s an army of them — had already baked more than 40,000 cookies and baklava for the 55th Greek Festival. A portion of this year’s proceeds will be donated to the Wishing Well Foundation, an organization that collects clothing for children in foster care.
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Do note that the festival is much more than just a place to stuff your face with difficult-to-pronounce, delicious food. It’s a glimpse into Greek culture and the Orthodox church, including iconography painted onto the church’s dome in 2010 during a monthslong project by international iconographer Tom Clark. Church tours will highlight Clark’s work.
And don’t forget the traditional Greek dance performances happening throughout the festival on a raised stage in the middle of the dining tent.
Those wanting to taste Greek foods will find plenty to explore. There are four ways to dine. Along with the gyros, roasted lamb, spanakopita and souvlaki, cookies will be widely available.
Those cookies and pastries are not fancy. They aren’t fussed over by highfalutin pastry chefs. They’re cookies made by Greek grandmas in the church’s basement kitchen. The cookies are sold a la carte in the dining tent’s bakery case, or head upstairs to a room filled with pre-packaged, take-home pastries.
Here’s a glossary of cookies you’ll find, plus a guide to all the ways to dine at the event.
Mosaiko: This is the church’s first year selling the chocolate biscuit cake, said church member Sally Hallis, who has served for decades on the volunteer committee. “It’s called mosaiko, which means mosaic. It’s a chocolate loaf that we slice. It has almonds, chocolate and butter cookies, cut in chunks.” The cookies, she said, are soaked in Grand Marnier before being added to the loaf that is sliced into broad wedges. $3.
Baklava: Honey-soaked phyllo dough, cut into two-bite triangles, with crushed walnuts and cinnamon. $1.
Melomakarona: A honey-soaked cookie, coated in crushed walnuts and flavored with cloves and orange peel. $1.
Koulourakia: A stiff cookie twisted into a rope shape, then sprinkled with sesame seeds. A cookie built for coffee dunking. $1.
Paximathia: Greek-style biscotti with a delicate crunch. They’re a must order with the Greek coffee. $1.
Kourambiethes: Buttery cookie, with a powdered sugar coating. Think of these as the Greek version of a Mexican wedding cookie. $3.
Ouzo cake: Lemon cake soaked in the anise-flavored apertif, with walnuts. $3.
Galaktoboureko: The wedge of silky-textured pie tastes something like old-fashioned milk pie topped with crisp phyllo sheets dusted with cinnamon and a slick of honey. $3
HOW TO DINE
Seated dinner: Plated dinners are served tableside in the church hall. Salad, string beans, rice pilaf, bread and coffee or tea are included. Baked chicken ($12) will be served Friday-Sunday; baked white fish ($12) Friday-Saturday; and roasted lamb ($14) served Sunday only. Cash or credit for dinner.
Dining tent: This is the way grazers should dine. The tent is outfitted with communal dining tables. Exchange cash or credit for tokens that can be used at the booths selling a la carte items: gyro sandwiches ($6); calamari with skordalia sauce ($6); Greek fries ($4), Greek salad ($4); pork souvlaki ($5); loukaniko sausage ($4) and fresh-fried loukamodes (6 for $3). The pastry case at the rear side of the dining tent holds pastries priced $1-$3.
Kitchen window: Find it in the church hall. Exchange tokens for rice-stuffed dolmades and cheese turnovers (two for $3), served Friday-Sunday. Spanakopita (spinach turnovers) served Sunday, $3 each.
Upstairs bakery: Packaged pastries include trays of baklava, pastries by the dozen and sweet bread.
55th Greek Festival
Where: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1523 S. Yakima Ave., Tacoma.
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: Free. There is a cost for food. Cash or cards.
Benefitting: Wishing Well Foundation, an organization that collects new and gently used clothing for children in foster care.
Information: 253-272-0466, stnicholastacoma.org.
Dancers: Friday at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; Saturday at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.
Church tours: Noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.; with an 8 p.m. session Friday and Saturday.
Greek distillery opening Saturday
A Greek distillery, Mastrogiannis Distillery, plans to open for business Saturday. The Lakewood distillery will produce Greek spirits, including brandy, grappa and ouzo. Owner Ilias Mastrogiannis already has ouzo underway, with plans to make brandy from riesling grapes from a Washington winery. Following brandy, he’ll make grappa distilled from Washington grapes.
His expertise in spirits comes from a winery his family owns in Greece, where he was born and raised. He’ll keep his day job at Microsoft while he operates his distillery, which will be open to the public Saturdays. The opening is at noon Saturday at 8016 Durango St. SW, Lakewood. More information at mastrogiannisdistillery.com.