518-20: Greek Festival
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
6085 S. College Road
Entry: $3; food separately priced!
Free shuttle from K-Mart parking lot, beginning at noon daily.
Mousaka—layers of thin eggplant, potatoes and meat sauce topped with cream. Pastitsio—meat sauce and macaroni with gooey, baked cheese. Tiropita—feta and three cheeses tucked in buttered filo. Dolmathes—rolled grape leaves with seasoned rice and butter sauce…
The offerings run far and wide at the 20th annual Greek Festival, hosted at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church off College Road this weekend. Bringing in over 20,000 people, to say it’s popular may be an understatement.
“It’s an event that the entire city of Wilmington can call their own!” Basile Katsikis, the festival spokesperson, says. “We in the Greek community want to share our culture, history, entertainment and faith with the people of southeastern NC.”
Having seen enormous growth over the past two decades, the festival embarks on dancing, music, mingling and more food than one could possibly indulge in one setting. Which is why spreading it over three days, Friday, May 18th through Sunday the 20th, seems rather fitting.
“It’s grown so quickly, stretching the outer boundaries as far south as Myrtle Beach,” Katsikis says. “It’s a huge task to feed tens of thousands of people who come through our gates—and to make sure that everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.”
Hundreds of volunteer hours are what make it go off without a hitch. Giving and sharing time, ideas, hard labor and recipes become the foundation of its appeal. “It’s what our community is and always has been about: giving and sharing!” Katsikis claims.
Culinarians are sated annually at St. Nicholas by the appointed head chef and staff who work toward bringing traditional Greek foods to the forefront of flavor. John Poulos and John Psilos head the kitchen in 2012, with Matt Kirby manning the gyro booth, as volunteers roll out dough, skewer meat, bake, cook and clean. From Greek-style chicken to shish kabobs, lamb gyros and even lamb shank (oven baked on the bone with a hint of garlic, that is), a feast made for the gods is on the menu. Pork souvlaki and Greek-style snapper and calamari will be served, too. “All of our seafood is prepared by Poseidon—The Greek God of the Sea himself,” Katsikis quips.
Perhaps one of the most coveted tastes from the shindig comes in the form of sweets. The pastries always manage to mesmerize, especially the traditional loukoumades, doughy fritters sweetened with honey.
“Tia Saffo and her volunteer of ladies put together thousands of pastries,” Katsikis says. “These people have spent timeless hours preparing for this year’s festival as they have in the past—God bless them!”
Prices for the food vary, but start as low as $2.50 (Greek potatoes) and work up to $13.50 (the sampler platter, featuring a little bit of everything). “I grew up on this food!” Katsikis recalls. “This is what most Greeks eat on a daily basis—it’s what our forefathers brought over to America from Greece when they emigrated.”
It’s a taste of what can’t normally be found in local restaurants either. The joviality of the festival adds a bonus.“The food at the festival is special,” he confirms. “Plus, you get the sounds, smells and atmosphere. It’s like at a party in a festive village in Greece—something you’ll never forget!”
Entertainment takes place throughout the three-day soiree. Lazaros will play traditional tunes from all areas of Greece, peppered with popular, well-known music. Youth will showcase traditional costumes and choreography, too, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the 18th; 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the 19th; and 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on the 20th. Many of the dances represent a variation of sentiments, from protest to new beginnings, celebration to historical significance.
“These are the children of the community that also happen to be one of the best dance troupes in the United States,” Katsikis boasts. “Many Greek churches in the U.S. and Canada have competing dance troupes, and ours is just unbelievable. I’m proud of these kids, they are taught by Zaharoula Katsikis, a UNCW student and parishioner of our community.”
Cooking demonstrations given by various chefs skilled in the art of Greek cuisine will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Entry into the festival is $3 at the gate, but monies collected go toward the March of Dimes. It’s a mandate of the annual Greek Festival to connect benevolently.
“We are proud to give back to the community that we belong to,” Katsikis says. “Is there anything better? Saving Babies Together—that’s the March of Dimes catchphrase—what a great organization that does so much to help those who can’t help themselves.”
More information can be found at www.StNicholasGreekFest.com, where a printable menu is available. Folks who cannot attend the event can benefit from the festival’s inaugural drive-through service; just look for the signs, choose your food and place the order for at-home enjoyment. The festival accepts cash, checks and all major credit cards. A shuttle service will be operating from the K-Mart parking lot beginning at noon daily and lasting ‘til 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday.