TNT Diner

Get your Greek on at this weekend’s Greek Festival in Tacoma

Let’s play a fun game I call “Greek Pastry Math.”

7,271 melomakarona

+ 6,908 koulourakia

+ 4,492 paximadia

+ 8,517 kourabiethes

= get yourself to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church for some of the best Greek desserts you’ll ever eat.

Sure, you might not be able to pronounce them, but you won’t have to if your mouth is full of them.

The 53rd Greek Festival happens today through Sunday in the Hilltop neighborhood church. The festival’s primary focus is to introduce locals to Greek culture and food. On the menu is everything there is to love about Greek eats: roasted lamb, gyro sandwiches, pork souvlaki skewers and gallons and gallons of tzatziki sauce.

The volume of pastries listed above is a testament to just how many hours the army of volunteers at St. Nicholas church logs in the basement kitchen. There’s even a volunteer whose job it is to track those numbers.

Considering 9,000 diners are expected to attend the festival, that’s still less than one honey cookie (melomakarona), sesame-coated cookie (koulourakia), Greek biscotti (paximadia) and sugar-coated butter cookie (kourabiethes) per diner.

Sally Hallis, a volunteer and the one who tracked this year’s cookie counts, said the numbers are so precise that organizers usually can predict when the pastries will sell out. “4 p.m. on Sunday,” said Hallis. “We haven’t had any leftovers for two to three years,” she added.

Translation: Get there early.

What is unusual about this event is that almost everything — and not just the pastries — is made from scratch by a church member.

The rice-stuffed dolmades and the hand-pressed cheese turnovers are made weeks before and frozen until the festival. (Church members this year made 4,503 and 4,452, respectively.) In the days leading to the event, church volunteers baked 300 loaves of bread.

The tzatziki yogurt sauce, the marinade for the pork souvlaki, the honey syrup for the fried loukoumathes doughnuts — all are prepared and dished up by volunteers.

All that work is distilled into four different ways to dine during the festival:

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.


A few tips from your friendly newspaper dining critic who attends every year:

Tokens: Leftover tokens can be swapped for cash, or save them for next year.

Dancing: Don’t miss the Greek folk dancers, parish members who perform throughout the festival. Scheduled performances are at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Friday; 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday; and 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Sunday. However, dancers might take the stage at other times.

Church tour: Not only is this a festival showcasing Greek cuisine and culture, this event is an open house for the church. The Rev. Seraphim Majmudar leads a talk about the church’s history and the intricate iconography on the church’s dome every festival day at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.; with an 8 p.m. talk on Friday and Saturday.