by David Cecelski
I happened to be in Wilmington the other day during St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church’s Greek Festival. I had been there once before, a year or two ago, and had a wonderful time, so I took my lunch break there on Saturday. There was traditional Greek music, dancing, and crafts, tours of the church, and cooking demonstrations—and lots and lots of food: heaping plates of lemon chicken, roast leg of lamb, braised lamb shank, and beef shish-kebob, all served with Greek-style green beans and rice pilaf. The night before, on Friday, they had also served plates of red snapper plaki.
The congregation’s talented Greek cooks prepared all those plates, enough to feed thousands. And in addition to the plates, they were also serving other dishes a la carte: dolmanthes (stuffed grape leaves), Greek salads, spanakopita (a spinach pie wrapped in phyllo dough), tiropita (feta cheese pies wrapped in phyllo), moussaka (layers of eggplant, potatoes, meat and cream sauce), and pastitsio (macaroni and meat sauce topped with a cheese sauce). I had spanakopita and a Greek salad that were deliriously good.
That was just the main tent. The festival had other tents that served gyros, fried calamari, and Greek pizzas. Another featured loukoumades, a kind of warm honey fritter that is dizzyingly good.
And then there were the pastries—the church ladies must have been working for months. They were selling finikia, a walnut cookie flavored with orange and cinnamon; kataifi, a nut and honey cookie made out of a shredded phyllo dough; folitses, which are phyllo squares also full of nuts and honey; and my favorite, kourambiedes, simple shortbread cookies that are delicately flavored with almond, orange or rosewater. They also had some incredible coconut delight and two kinds of baklava, as well as traditional breads.
St. Nicholas is the spiritual home to a Greek Orthodox community that emerged in Wilmington early in the 20th century, built its first church in 1945, and moved to its current location at 608 South College Street, across from UNC-Wilmington, in 1980. As the center of the region’s Greek Orthodox faith, members come to worship there from as far away as Whiteville and MoreheadCity. The congregation holds this wonderful open house every May. The proceeds go to the church’s building fund and to the CarouselCenter for Abused Children. To keep an eye out for next year’s Greek Festival, you can go towww.stnicholasgreekfest.com.
by David Cecelski