Food & Drink

New dishes and dances entice crowds at Tacoma Greek Festival. It opens Friday

The parking lot of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma becomes a gigantic Greek kitchen this weekend.

The annual Tacoma Greek Festival begins its three-day run Friday.

It’s the 58th iteration of the tradition that brings Greek food and entertainment to hungry crowds.

“It’s a real authentic Greek experience,” said Bill Samaras, chairperson of the group that puts on the annual fundraiser. “We’re not corrupted by outside influences.”

Festivalgoers will find only Greek food, vendors and entertainment.

“Just about everything is made at the church,” Samaras said.

The food

The first stop for many festivalgoers is the gyros booth. If you’ve never quite mastered the pronunciation of “gyros,” that delicious pita bread sandwich of rotisserie-cooked meat with tzatziki sauce, now’s your chance.

Just say “YEE-ros,” and you’ll be fine. And yes, gyros is singular, not plural.

Festival favorites will return, including calamari with a garlic-potato skordalia dip, Greek fries, Greek salad, souvlakia (meat skewers) and other savory items.

As in years past, a sit-down meal will be served inside the church and feature kotopoulo riganato (baked chicken), baked white fish, roast lamb and — new this year — pastitsio (baked meat and noodles fused with bechamel sauce.)

“It’s the classic Greek casserole,” Samaras said. “It has a lot of special spices.”

Also available in the dining room will be dolmaldes (grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice), spanakopita (phyllo pastry filled with spinach, feta cheese, and onions) and tyropitakia (flaky cheese pies.)

A sweets shop will sell a variety of desserts that are seldom seen in Greek-American restaurants, Samaras said.

The Greek pastry shop, located upstairs, will sell boxes of baklava, Greek cookies, bread and other goods. They’re all made in the church’s kitchen.

“We do run out,” Samaras warned.

Food in the tent and eating area is purchased using tokens, which can be bought in any quantity with both cash or credit cards. Look for the token booth inside the tent. The pastry shop accepts cash, charge and debit cards.

A deli section will have cheese, olive oil, olives, dolmaldes and other items.

Strong Greek coffee will be on hand. Get it before the tradition dies. In Greece, iced coffee (freddo) is the rage among young Greeks.

Beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages will be for sale.

Song and dance

Traditional Greek folk dancing isn’t going anywhere if the kids at St. Nicholas have a say, according to Samaras.

“There’s a lot of songs the kids love to do, and we have to leave them in, otherwise there’d be a rebellion,” he said. “They look forward to when they can perform the big-kid dances.”

But new dances and songs will be performed during the three days.

Church tours will be given at specific times during the festival. However, festivalgoers can take a look inside the sanctuary at any time. Don’t miss the painted dome.

“If anyone is interested in the traditions, we’ll be happy to explain,” Samaras said.

The vast majority of Greeks follow the Greek Orthodox faith of which St. Nicholas belongs. Often labeled as the birthplace of democracy and western civilization, Greece has a population that now holds views placing it between East and West, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

A brochure given to festival goers explains the church’s history and provides a food menu.

Tacoma Greek Festival

When: 11 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1523 S. Yakima Ave., Tacoma

Entry: Free

Food: Prices range from $3 to 14.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.